Man Discovers He Has 37 Secret Children

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Mar 27, 2024

What would you do if you discovered you had 37 children? That is what happened to Peter Ellenstein, a California man who learned about his children after one reached out to him through text in 2017.

How did Ellenstein have 37 children he knew nothing about? And how did he discover them years later? Let’s get into it!

Ellenstein Discovers His First Child

Ellenstein explains in The Telegraph that he was sitting in a café in San Francisco when he received a Facebook message on his phone. The message was from a young woman named Rachel.

Peter Ellenstein standing under the Eiffel Tower

Source: Peter Ellenstein/Facebook

Rachel explained that she was born in 1994 due to in-vitro fertilization, and believed that Ellenstein was the donor.

How Did Ellenstein Have So Many Children?

Shocked and delighted by the message, Ellenstein knew that there could be some truth to Rachel’s claims.

A woman in a vest and glasses holding a green tube

Source: Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

He admits that he was a frequent visitor to two sperm banks in Los Angeles during the late 1980s and 1990s when he was working as a theater producer and artistic director. He found that donating was a good way to make money during this time.

Ellenstein Frequently Made Donations

Ellenstein reportedly made hundreds of donations over five or six years, making at least $45 per donation. While Ellenstein often made donations frequently, he believed that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines would keep him anonymous.

Peter Ellenstein in a purple shirt petting a dog on a trail in the woods

Source: Peter Ellenstein/Facebook

However, Ellenstein did agree that his offspring could track him down if there was a medical emergency such as bone marrow transplants or an organ transplant.

Ellenstein Was Shocked to Discover Rachel

As the years went on, Ellenstein forgot about his donations and continued toward his dreams as an actor, producer, and director across the United States. Ellenstein married, but never had any children of his own.

Peter Ellenstein and child hugging in a house

Source: Peter Ellenstein/Facebook

Then, Rachel reached out, telling Ellenstein that she had been trying to find her father since she was eight years old.

Ellenstein's Identity Was Never Revealed 

Shocked by the news, Ellenstein reached out to the sperm bank to see if they had revealed any information. The sperm bank said they had not revealed his identity to anyone but made details about Ellenstein available to those who asked.

Photography of Person Peeking Through Blinds

Source: Noelle Otto/Pexels

The available information included the donor’s date of birth, height, weight, and career. From this limited information, Rachel was able to find her father.


How Did Rachel Find Him? 

Rachel’s journey to find Ellenstein was not easy. Ellenstein later discovered just how much work the young woman had to take on to find the man who shared part of her DNA. Rachel put together various pieces of information and tracked Ellenstein down through a film industry website.

Silhouette Of People Walking On Seashore During Sunset

Source: Delcho Dichev/Pexels

When Rachel and Ellenstein video chatted for the first time, something clicked. “I wanted to know her: she opened a different part of my heart and brain that had not existed before, a way of being in the world that I’d never previously contemplated,” Ellenstein wrote.


Rachel Reveals There Are More Children

At some point during their conversation, Rachel revealed more shocking news to Ellenstein. She wasn’t the only one of Ellenstein’s children.

Silhouette Of People Raising Hands During Golden Hour

Source: Min An/Pexels

Two weeks after Rachel and Ellenstein met in person, Rachel revealed that she knew of 11 children who were the offspring of Ellenstein. All the children had connected through the Donor Sibling Register and 23andMe, the DNA ancestry company.


Why Did the Children Reach Out?

This news was understandably overwhelming to Ellenstein. What do you do after you’ve just learned you have at least 11 children somewhere out there in the world? For Ellenstein, he turned toward articles to help manage his expectations.

Peter Ellenstein and some of his children sitting on a balcony

Source: Peter Ellenstein/Facebook

Studies discovered that donor children might be looking for their donor for a simple medical and biological history or a paternal relationship.


Ellenstein Meets More Children

Ellenstein chose to remain open about what the children might want from meeting him, despite his fear that he could not emotionally manage the relationship with all the children.

Woman Pouring Juice into a Glass being held by a man in a dark shirt

Source: fauxels/Pexels

By the end of November 2017, Ellenstein met four of the girls. “We had a Thanksgiving party and seeing them talking to each other gave me such pleasure: in some way, I was responsible for their lives. My mother, brother, and sister were there too,” Ellenstein said.


Ellenstein Is Also a Grandfather

In total, Ellenstein discovered that he had 37 children. However, he had only met 34 of them who ranged in age from 35 to 23. Ellenstein also discovered that he was a grandfather through the process.

Baby Lying On White Fur With Brown Blanket

Source: kelvin agustinus/Pexels

“The exciting part is that I now get to see a bit of those grandchildren growing up, an experience that I didn’t have with any of the children,” Ellenstein said.


The Silver Lining

While Ellenstein does not consider himself to be a parent, he does believe that his “children” are the most important part of his life. The relationships have deeply affected Ellenstein, having him reconsider his role in the world and his children’s lives.

Peter Ellenstein and his family posing for a photo outside of a house

Source: Peter Ellenstein/Facebook

Having 37 children is deeply unconventional, but that’s the beauty of life. While each child presents something new in Ellenstein’s life, he seems grateful to be included in something bigger than himself.