Australian woman spends Christmas in N.S. with dad she found through online DNA test

Caroline Centa could never explain why she loved acting and mushrooms when the rest of her family didn’t. The shape of her eyes didn’t make sense either.

The Perth, Australia, woman didn’t share these traits with her mom’s side of the family, and for 40 years, her dad’s side remained a mystery.

Centa’s mom had her when she was 17 and she spent most of her life believing a certain man was her father, after having been told so by her mother.

But then she took an online DNA test in 2015 that eventually led to Paul Menhennett from Truro, N.S.

He was a stranger living on the other side of the world, but suddenly everything fell into place.

‘Very surreal’

“It feels like I’ve got memories that I don’t actually have because I feel like I’ve known him since I was born,” Centa told CBC’s Mainstreet. “Like, I’ve already been living with him my whole life. It feels weird. It’s very surreal.”

Centa, 41, travelled to Nova Scotia with her husband and two kids to be with Menhennett over the Christmas holidays. It was the family’s first time in Canada.

And their first time seeing snow.

“We didn’t have enough to make a snowman, but we had enough to throw snowballs at each other,” Centa said.

She’s long been interested in her family tree and is able to trace her mom’s side back to the 1400s.

Centa travelled to Nova Scotia with her husband, Shawn Centa, and kids, Katala, 10, and Raistlin, 12. (Emma Smith/CBC)

She always wanted to know more about her dad’s side, but when she used an online DNA resource, it ruled out the man she thought was her father. The results led her to members of the Menhennett family, including Paul. She began messaging family members.

In March 2018, Centa contacted Paul Menhennett on Facebook and asked if he knew her mom. Menhennett, who’s now 61, wasn’t sure if he did, at first. But after sleeping on it, he remembered meeting her when he was just 19.

“It was a little unbelievable at first,” he said. “I thought there’s got to be some mistake. But then as I thought about it and the memories came back, it was 40 years before, but I still remembered.”

He agreed to take an official paternity test to confirm what the father and daughter both suspected.

‘We ended up calling each other Apple and Tree’

Menhennett was born in Australia, but married a woman from Cape Breton and moved to Truro about 30 years ago, never realizing he had a daughter.

He’s now divorced and has two sons in their 20s.

Menhennett said the connection between him and Centa was instant.

“The more Caroline and I talked to each other, the more obvious it was that we were related. We ended up calling each other Apple and Tree. She was the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said.

A surprise trip

Father and daughter met in person for the first time in November 2018 when Menhennett took a surprise trip to Perth.

Now, he’s hosting his daughter, son-in-law and grandkids at his home in Truro.

The family spent the holidays enjoying the cold weather and exploring the province. They sampled maple syrup at Sugar Moon Farm and learned about the Halifax Explosion at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Centa’s kids have also been able to spend some quality time with their new grandfather.

“I love him and I love coming over and saying hi, and I enjoy being at his house and staying near him,” said 12-year-old Raistlin Centa.

It was the family’s first Christmas together, but it didn’t feel that way.

“It really is quite remarkable how quickly they became family,” said Menhennett.

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