By Jeanne Erdmann
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Erdmann

Somehow, in the one-stoplight town of Melbourne, Arkansas—population 1,500, a secret was kept. And not just for a few years, but more than three decades.

But that secret began unraveling four years ago when Ronicia Smith, 35, was searching for a special Christmas present for her father, Ronnie. She decided to create a family crest for him by digging into his genealogy, giving him a DNA kit to confirm what she learned online. While she was at it, Ronicia ran her own DNA. And that’s when things got confusing.

Related: Genetic Testing: The Story of You

Ronnie, it turned out, was related to kings of England. Ronicia, however, turned out not to be related to Ronnie. In fact, she was one-quarter Asian, which didn’t make sense knowing either of her parents.

"I asked my mom if there was a chance someone else is my father,” says Ronicia. “I told her I just wanted to know the truth.” Although her mother admitted, in tears, that she did have something to tell her daughter she wouldn’t disclose who Ronicia’s father was. But someone else Ronicia confided in was willing to take an accurate guess: her best friend since Kindergarden, Talisha.

“I’ve always believed that we had the same father,” Talisha said, pulling out a picture showing her dad, who was half-Asian and the spitting image of Smith. As it turned out, Ronicia and Talisha’s mothers had been best friends in the 1980s and had been with the same man. For Smith’s mom it was a fling but he and Talisha’s mom stayed together until his death at age 24 from a car accident.

The truth brought Ronicia and her best friend closer than ever. “We’ve always been in each other’s lives,” says Smith. “Now we make more of an effort to be there for one another.” Not to mention that there was also an instant bond with her new-found family.

But the truth also created a rift between Ronicia and her parents. Although they live half a mile apart, they didn’t speak for eight long months as they worked through their grief and pain. A letter expressing her feeling that Ronicia mailed to her parents ended the silence.

Today, the family has picked up where they left off and enjoyed the recent holidays together. “Things are actually better now than before between me and my mom,” says Ronicia. “I believe her heart has been changed through all of this, and I think deep down there has to be some sense of relief that she does not have to keep that secret inside anymore.”

Ronicia credits her faith in God and her belief in the truth for healing the deep pain on both sides, and for pulling her family through. “Some people get so stuck in that hurt and pain and anger they have a hard time going forward. I hope that my story inspires them to keep moving forward and press through that hurt because there is a blessing on the other side waiting for them,” says Ronicia. “The research that led to uncovering my true identity was the real gift.”