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Joe Nickell met someone for the first time in 2003, and when he looked into the woman's eyes, he saw something familiar in the stranger: himself.

"It was the strangest feeling," the Town of Tonawanda man said. "It was like I was imagining it. Here, in this person I never knew about, I saw generations of the Nickell family."

The woman was his daughter, a 37-year-old mother.

She was born to his college sweetheart. The young couple had dated while attending the University of Kentucky in the 1960s. But they eventually parted ways.

Although Nickell said he later saw his former sweetheart around campus and noticed she was pregnant, he assumed the child was that of her new boyfriend, whom she ended up marrying.

After college, Nickell's life ranged from protesting the Vietnam War and marching for civil rights to prospecting for gold and dealing cards in the Yukon Territory.

The years passed, and he eventually became a full-time investigator with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal at the University at Buffalo. He was married briefly. But he says what he missed in life was a family.

In October 2003, that changed.

Cherette Roycroft grew up in North Carolina, where she still lives today. She had a penchant for writing poetry and an inquisitive mind that led her to question things.

While many children take on the personality traits of their parents, Roycroft was like the man her mother knew in college and in many ways the opposite of the man who raised her.

"I noticed the differences between me and my father, and it always led to questions, but I would never ask," she said.

Then, in 2003, she did.

"I had asked my mom who my real dad was," said Roycroft, adding that she had an intuitive sense that there was another man out there who was her biological father.

She talked to her mother, and in the end, what she had suspected turned out to be true.

Nickell and Roycroft exchanged letters and set up a meeting in a bed-and-breakfast at the University of Kentucky.

Both father and daughter were apprehensive, but the meeting went well, and they were pleased with the experience.

"We seemed to have so much in common, there was definitely an immediate connection," Roycroft said. "We had written to each other, so it wasn't really a surprise. Everything went pretty much as I expected.

"It was just wonderful . . . He feels things the way I do, and we see things in a lot of the same ways."

Nickell said that while everything went well, he was a bit overwhelmed to meet his daughter and find out he was a grandfather to two boys, Chase, age 6, and Tyner, 4.

"It was extremely exciting, gratifying, rewarding and scary," he said. "I mean, here's this person who's my daughter, and really a total stranger if you think about it. But we just hugged and I knew it was right."

This Thanksgiving, they'll be having dinner together again, this time in Western New York. Though 37 years have passed, it will be the first Thanksgiving for them.

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