Using the power of an ancestry website, Alta Apatenco has finally been reunited with her daughter, Melissa Highsmith, who was only 22 months old when she was abducted.

Before Melissa’s adduction, Alta placed an advertisement in the newspaper searching for a babysitter who could care for her daughter. It was the babysitter who allegedly abducted baby Melissa from her home in Texas, leading to an extensive decades long search.

Over the years, Melissa has gone by the name Melanie Walden and was completely unaware of the former life that was snatched away from her in 1971. This all changed last month when a DNA match on ancestry website 23AndMe connected Highsmith’s children to their grandparents and her long-lost parents using genetic genealogy.

23AndMe uses the power of DNA and genetic genealogy to help create family history profiles which cleverly identifies relationships between individuals. Genetic genealogist, Rachel King from the DNA Doe Project, explained that uploading DNA samples onto ancestry sites are what’s used to trace back to other family members which can be helpful when identifying missing people.

While genetic genealogy cannot be trusted to locate all missing individuals, it was certainly successful in this case. Following the positive DNA match, Melissa met with her biological mother and her partner on the 26th November.


Melissa and her biological mother

Melissa and her biological mother

While there has currently been no information about the kidnapper, the family are still overjoyed. The following was posted in a Facebook group dedicated to finding Mellissa:

We are beyond thrilled to announce that we found Melissa! There are so many details we would like to share, but for now, we would just like to say that we followed a 23&Me family DNA match that led us to her. Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police/FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations.

Following the reunion, Melissa commented that while the news was overwhelming, it was a wonderful feeling too. Alta Apatenco expressed similar feelings of gratitude as she never thought she would see her daughter again.

The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) have since announced they will continue to investigation into Melissas abduction.  A spokesperson commented:

The Fort Worth Police Department will be conducting official DNA testing to confirm Melissa’s identity, and the department will provide an update once the official results have come in.

Spokesperson for The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD)