Switch at birth revealed 75 years later
DUBOIS, Pa. (AP) — Sometimes in life, timing is everything.
On Christmas 2017, Sandra Baronick Pyne, of DuBois, had been gifted an AncestryDNA test kit by her in-laws who were creating a Baronick family tree.
When the results came back in March of 2018 showing that Pyne, who grew up in a Slavic family, was predominantly Italian, she and her family brushed it off thinking there was some kind of “mix-up.”
Fast-forward five months.
Debra Monaco Zaffuto, formerly of Brockway, was anxiously awaiting her AncestryDNA results.
She and her husband, Barry, now living in Ebensburg, enjoy learning about their heritages. They had been to Italy several times to research an Italian village and church records. That quest persuaded Debra to learn more by sending a sample of her DNA to ancestry.com.
They had no idea they would be in for the shock of their lives when the results finally came back on May 14, 2018 - they showed that Debra had a sister living in DuBois.
The sister’s name was revealed to be Sandra Baronick Pyne.
Stunned and confused, Debra called her brother, Ron Monaco, of The Villages in Florida, to discuss what she had just learned.
Further research found that Sandra Baronick Pyne was born in the same hospital and on the same day, Sept. 22, 1942, as the sister they grew up with, Sandra Monaco Smith.
The two siblings also discovered Sandra Baronick Pyne’s Facebook profile picture - the striking resemblance to Debra, who was left speechless, could not be denied.
“That looks just like Mom,” Ron Monaco recalled saying.
“If you’re familiar with the AncestryDNA, you can click on her name and then it says, ‘shared matches,’” Debra Zaffuto said. “And that’s how you know what side of the family the person is from, your dad’s side or your mom’s side. But when I clicked on hers, she was related to both sides so she had to be a full sister not a half.”
About a week later after this discovery, Debra finally “got up the nerve” and attempted to contact Sandra Baronick Pyne online but didn’t get an immediate response.
Also, a letter she sent Sandra via email to explain the situation hadn’t been opened yet, either, so Barry Zaffuto called Sandra’s son, Michael Pyne, a DuBois chiropractor, and got him to read the email.
Immediately upon learning the news, Michael then visited his mother at her home to find her, along with his brother, Tom Pyne, reading the email.
“The same day that Barry contacted Mike, I just happened to get on my computer and my other son had come in and I said, ‘Tom, you have to read this. I don’t believe it. It doesn’t make any sense to me,’” Sandra Pyne said.
It took a while for the gravity of this incredible discovery to sink in for all of them.
Sandra Baronick Pyne’s sons eventually had their DNA tested as well by AncestryDNA and confirmed that they were Debra and Ron’s biological nephews.
Ron Monaco’s DNA test also confirmed what they already knew - that Sandra Baronick Pyne and Debra Monaco Zaffuto were his sisters.
DNA tests on Sandra Monaco Smith showed that she was predominantly Eastern European. Those results and those on her family also confirmed that they were not biologically related to the Monaco family but were a match with the Baronick family.
Sandra Monaco Smith was ill with cancer and all families involved chose not to tell her and burden her further with this discovery. Consequently, she was not able to meet her biological family. At the age of 76, Sandra Monaco Smith lost her battle to cancer on Nov. 30, 2018.
After everything that had transpired, both of the families came to the realization that George and Lucy Monaco, of Brockway, and Robert and Josephine Baronick, of DuBois, went home with the wrong child when they left the local hospital in 1942.
There could be no other explanation.
Proud and happy as both parents were that day, they would never know the story that would be revealed 75 years later. George Monaco passed away in 1992 and Lucy Monaco in 2010. Robert Baronick passed away in 1978 while Josephine Baronick died in 1960 when she was just 44.
The truth may never have been known if Sandra Baronick Pyne hadn’t tested her DNA in the first place. The results remained in the ancestry.com database to ultimately be matched with Debra Monaco Zaffuto’s a few months later.
“When I opened it and it said that I was Italian and it had names on it that I didn’t even know, I told my kids, ‘This is a big mistake, I’m Slovak,’” recalled Sandra Pyne. “And I called my sister-in-law and said, ‘They mixed my test up. I’m Slovak. Both of my parents are Slovak. I don’t believe in this DNA.’ And I forgot about it. I never even thought about it again.”
Years earlier, someone did suspect that she was Italian, however.
“My husband’s grandpa. When Jerry took me over and we were going together and he introduced me, he (grandpa) said, ‘You’re Italian?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m Slovak.’ He said, ‘I don’t believe you, you’re Italian. You look like my own daughters. So much like my own daughters. I’m going to change your name to Buronico,’” Sandra said with a laugh.
“Probably the saddest thing of this whole story is that she (Sandra Monaco Smith) was sick and couldn’t be told,” Barry Zaffuto said. “If she had enough time and she wasn’t sick, she would have processed this and said, ‘Ah-ha!’”
“She (Smith) would say, ‘I’m the black sheep of the family. I’m nothing like you and Ron,’” Debra Zaffuto recalled.
Early Monaco family photos show Sandra Monaco Smith as a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl that grew up in the Monaco’s Italian household. George and Lucy struggled to understand and explain the striking difference that was obvious to all their friends and family. Lucy especially fumed over hurtful comments and jokes made.
Sandra Baronick Pyne admitted that if she dwelled on the fact that she will never know her biological parents, it would make her sad.
“But I’m trying to look at the good side. I have the family I was raised with, and I have this new family,” she said.
The three siblings are thankful they now have the opportunity to make up for lost time.
Debra and Sandra phone or text each other daily, shop together and enjoy lunches and dinners together.
“We may not have been sisters all of our lives, but we will be sisters the rest of our lives,” Sandra Pyne said.
In turn, Debra said Sandra Monaco Smith will always be her “lifelong sister,” but Sandra Monaco Pyne is the “rest-of-my-life” sister.
In addition, Ron has traveled from Florida to be with his sisters in their homes several times. All three have recently spent time together in Estero, Fla., at Debra and Barry’s winter home and in The Villages, with Ron and his wife, Cherre Monaco.
They are finding they have much in common but the one thing that stands out the most is that “our family is important to all of us,” Sandra Pyne said.
“In the end it is all about family,” Michael Pyne said. “I am happy that my mother gets a chance at age 76 to know her biological sister, brother and family. She is a very strong person emotionally. Having more family is definitely keeping her busy.”
Despite knowing in May, it wasn’t until July of 2018 that the families decided to meet face-to-face.
Michael Pyne hosted the Pynes, Monacos, and Zaffutos at his home with children and grandchildren. It was a day spent getting to know each other, sharing pictures and stories of a time lost, laughing, and planning future get-togethers.
“I felt like we really knew each other. There was never any strangeness. We weren’t trying to be different. Everybody felt natural,” Debra Zaffuto said.
“It was very comfortable, being from Brockway and DuBois, it just seemed like we knew a lot of the same people, teachers and schools,” Michael Pyne said. “It was nice to learn that my grandfather, George Monaco, played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals minor league organization. My grandmother, Lucy Grecco Monaco, I am told always dressed very sharp. She loved to cook, especially Italian meals. I am told my mother is so much like Lucy.”
It turns out the two Sandras knew of each other when they were much younger.
“I knew who she was to see her,” Sandra Pyne said. “Her first husband was a boy I graduated with. I’m sure she knew who I was, but we were not really friends. We never really had any kind of social activities together.”
Sandra also said that her biological father had worked in the office at Brockway Glass.
“I worked there for almost 31 years, and he may have walked through Plant 1 several times,” Sandra Pyne said. Debra added that Plant 1 was very close to the Monacos’ family home.
On a recent doctor’s visit, Sandra told her physician that she learned that her family medical history has changed. After telling the story, the doctor asked her if her family was from the local area.
“I told her that they were originally from here, but now my new sister lives in Ebensburg and my brother lives in Florida at the Villages,” Sandra Pyne said. “Suddenly, the nurse said, ‘Oh my, you’re Lucy Monaco’s daughter!’ And I said, ‘I never mentioned a name. How did you know that?’ And she said, ‘because I’ve been trying to figure out who you remind me of, and you look just like her. I had her as a patient 20 years ago.’ And she said, ‘She was the sweetest lady you’d ever want to meet. You look just like her.’”
And just this week, the family found out that both Sandra Pyne and her biological mother had their hair cut and used the same hairstylist in Brockway at the Rainbowtique.
The two key players in this story were the two girls who were switched at birth. How and why they went home from the hospital with the wrong parents may never be known.
Would their lives have been different had this never occurred?
At this point, the Monacos and Pynes realize they cannot change the mistake that happened more than 75 years ago.
What they do know is that the DNA results do not change the love and affection they have for the family and the extended families in which they were raised.
“Nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned with my uncles, aunts and cousins I grew up with all my life, especially our family in DuBois,” Michael Pyne said. “It’s all we ever knew.”
They all look forward to the future and the families growing larger together as they continue to get to know each other.
“At this time in our lives, this was probably a good time to find out,” Sandra Pyne said. “I think our parents would have been heartbroken.”
They all agreed that everything seems to have fallen into place as if it were meant to be.
“It is such a blessing that we found out about it now,” Debra Zaffuto said. “We could have gone for the rest of our lives without ever knowing.”
Information from: The Courier-Express, http://www.thecourierexpress.com