When Michelle Lynn Kelly was growing up in Kearny, she began trying to solve a mystery — one that would take decades to unravel. “Kelly” is Michelle’s marriage name; kids who went to school with her here will remember her as Michelle Maass. No relation to Clara — but it turns out she is related to someone whose name many locals will recognize, and that is the heart of this amazing story.

Michelle, who will celebrate her 34th birthday Nov. 13, began her quest at age 11, and it ended just a few weeks ago.

She was born in Kearny to a then-single mom, Tracey Ann Maass, who, when Michelle was in her early teens, married Michelle’s stepfather, Robert Bredamus. Both were loving parents. However, Michelle recalled, “When I was 11, I figured out I did not know who my birth father was.” And her mother “never told a single soul,” including the inquisitive child. “So I kept it (her search for an answer) to myself until after my mother passed away in 2009.”

But Michelle was always searching. She remembers visits to the Kearny Public Library, where she would pore over high school yearbooks, “to see if I looked like anybody.”

No success.

After her mother’s death, Michelle began opening up to friends and family about what had been “a very private matter.”

‘”They all had the same answer,” she said.

They “had no idea” who her father might be.

And, in case you are wondering: Michelle’s birth father himself had no idea he had a child. A lifelong resident of Kearny, he had met Tracey Ann in the early 1980s and they eventually had “a brief romance.”  He remembers her as “a really nice person, well-liked and well-respected.”

But, he told us, he was planning to leave New Jersey for Louisiana, and it was “probably within a week of our encounter” that he moved away — never even learning that she had become pregnant. And when he returned to Kearny in 1987, he still never learned about the birth.

From 1991 to 1997, father and daughter later realized, they had lived within six blocks of each other: he, at Elm Street and Stewart Avenue; she, at Stuyvesant Avenue and Argyle Place.

With the advent of the Internet, the still-searching Michelle had more resources available, including websites with various public records. But still no answers.

“I was under the impression my birth father had moved away, but I was looking in the wrong direction the whole time,” she said. In fact, on more than one occasion, all she had to do was literally look over her shoulder.

The big reveal: Michelle’s father is Len Twist, with whom she has been friends for a half-dozen years, thanks to their common love of and dedication to animals.

Len is a leading advocate for the Kearny TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) program, which ensures safer, healthier lives for feral cats, and has promoted similar programs to communities across the state. Michelle — with her aunt Kathy Kerekes —-co-owns the Bone Appetit Barkery and Spa and has worked with Kerekes at the adjoining Canine Corner doggy day-care center (corner of Midland Avenue and Elm Street, Kearny).

The venues have played host to multiple pet-adoption events, at which Len often volunteered, and also served as a donation site for TNR. In addition, Michelle and Len have worked together at Kearny’s annual Halloween Pawrade and she has spoken as a TNR advocate at council meetings.

Another link: Len is an active member, and now vice commander, of American Legion Post 99 in Kearny; Michelle is a past commander of its Women’s Auxiliary.

And neither of them had a clue as to their true relationship.

The answer finally came after Michelle (now living in Barstow, California) began doing family research on, including taking a DNA test. The site provided her with a list of relatives. “I messaged quite a few of them,” she said, “but got no answer.”

Recently, though, “they updated their algorithm, so there’s a much more accurate match now,” Michelle said. The updated results included the name of a former Kearny resident, Lorraine Bonanno, described as likely to be Michelle’s second cousin.

“I looked her up on Facebook,” Michelle said, “and found we had three mutual friends — one of them being Len.”  Michelle then phoned Len, who said Lorraine was his first cousin. Half-jokingly, Michelle “loudly responded, ‘I bet you’re my father!’”

Michelle — her heart racing — then asked if he would be willing to take a DNA test, and he said, “Absolutely.”

“I contacted LabCorp,” Michelle said. “They mailed swabs to the both of us. We put them in the mail that night, and three business days later, we had the results.”

Which were: The odds of Len Twist’s being Michelle Kelly’s natural father were 99.9999%.

Astonishment, joy, jubilation, euphoria, etc. It even took my breath away when I was talking to her by phone.

Len is planning a huge “family reunion” party when Michelle and her husband, Lt. Col. Timothy Kelly, return to Kearny in December. They moved to California when the Army officer was reassigned, and he is currently on his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan — but their home is here.

Len is still over the moon about the news — as is his wife, Juliette, whom he described as “super excited,” adding: “She likes the fact that Michelle and I were friends before we knew we were father and daughter.”

“What I like most about this whole exciting story,” Len said, “is that Michelle’s long, long quest is over.”

And what about Robert Bredamus, Michelle’s stepfather?

This is not just a mystery-solved story; it is a family-love story.

“He’s very happy for us,” Michelle said. “He knows how long I had been looking. And I have told him that he’ll always be my dad. He was the one who walked me down the aisle. And he was the one who was there for all my life’s events. He will always be my dad.”

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