Last fall I wrote a couple of columns relating how I had been adopted and through AncestryDNA had come in touch with three members of my biological family, cousins living in Surrey, B.C.
It wasn’t really a surprise to me that I had biological family out there somewhere but it was certainly a surprise to them. My birth, to May Roberts, my mother and their aunt, had obviously been a well-kept secret in the family because a cousin by marriage, Roy Long, exactly my age, hadn’t heard about it either.
In any event it was only natural that we wanted to meet.
That took place a few weeks back, my son Blake and I driving to B.C to meet my newfound family, sisters Colleen and Joanne McNally, who are my second cousins, and Joanne’s daughter, Demi Montes..
I had planned to drive to B.C. because I wanted to visit relatives from my adoptive family and friends on the return leg of the trip. Donna Kreutz, who had been of immense assistance on my search and with whom I shared DNA through a great grandfather, was one I especially wanted to see.
My family, unnaturally I thought, was somewhat aghast at an 86-year-old making such a run by himself so Blake came along to share the driving and, I suppose if truth be told, to take care of the old man.
When I originally began to plan the trip I expected it would be with some trepidation. After all, I was going into such new territory. But I quickly came to realize there was none, only excitement at meeting members of a family I had only imagined was out there..
I think my cousins and I had spent so much time emailing back and forth and seeing posts on Facebook that I had a good sense of the people I was going to meet. At the 50-mark they were close in age to two of my own children, daughter Charles-Anne Wardlaw and son Chris, and very similar in their views on life.
So was the visit all that I anticipated?
It was that and more.
The cousins, who live together in a very nice home almost on the border with Washington State, couldn’t have been more welcoming and generous.
Joanne was the first to greet us at their home and it was like we had always known each other, the meeting, with hugs, seeming so natural.
It was the same when the always-smiling Demi appeared and later when Colleen got home from work.
We spent parts of three days together where I picked up some information on family but a lot of time was spent just visiting. There were certainly no uneasy breaks in conversation.
We had a seafood dinner in White Rock, which is next door to Surrey, on one night, a dinner at a Greek restaurant on another. The latter tab was to be mine but the cousins would have none of it.
We spent an afternoon with Roy and he, when we were introduced, looked at Joanne and said, “Oh, yeah.” He had gone through some old pictures and provided me with two containing my birth mother, the resemblance in the one face-on noticeable.
It is a resemblance that now encompasses four generations, from me, to my son Sandy, to his son Brett, to his son Averman.
My odyssey actually began last fall when Joanne’s name appeared at the top of my list of matches on AncestryDNA.
I approached her in a message on the site and it turned out she had an aunt who was named May Roberts who shared the same birth date as the May Roberts who was my birth mother.
As I said in a column at the time, it was like a runaway train after that, our ties through May Roberts becoming certain. The family of Thomas and Annie Roberts, with children Alex 17, May 12, Eliza (later to be known as Laura and become Joanne’s grandmother) 11, Ralph 10, Fred 5, Thomas 4 and Annie 3, emigrated from Newfoundland to Canada in 1908.
Within three weeks I also knew who my biological father was. Censuses for 1911 and 1921 showed my birth mother had worked as a maid for the family of William Nelson O’Neil. I asked Lori Kay, with whom I shared DNA and been corresponding, if there were any O’Neils in her family. When she answered yes and after further investigation discovered one was William Nelson O’Neil in the same home in Vancouver in which my biological mother worked, it all fell into place.
Playing around with the help would indeed have been frowned upon back then and in some circles even in the morally exempt world of today, but you won’t find me complaining.
On the return trip I met Donna Kreutz and her brother John and sister Heather at a Swiss Chalet in St. Albert for lunch. Blake and a friend joined us during the afternoon and we didn’t get out of the place, where staff had treated us royally, even moving us to a larger table, until 6:30. In appreciation, Blake and I returned an hour later for dinner.
I should mention that other obvious relatives are beginning to appear high on my list of DNA matches.
Through the appearance of Todd Mumford I discovered through further investigation of the Newfoundland connection that there were two other members of the Roberts family, One died at six months of age from bronchitis but the other, Harold Charles Roberts, the eldest of the children, I think it is safe to assume went west with his father prior to 1908 and remained there while his father returned to Newfoundland to retrieve the rest of the family.
Harold’s daughter, Dorothy, married Gene Kujahara, who changed his name to Mumford during the Second World War. Their son, the Late Paul and his then wife Sherry, had four children, Todd, Serene, Brandi and Jared, the latter showing up as No. 3 on my list of DNA matches. .
Most of the family members live in the Chilliwack area but Todd lives in Maple Ridge.
I am sorry to say I was not able to arrange any contact with them on my visit to B.C.
Joanne had been No. 1 on my list of DNA matches but there is now new match on top that does not go by a name, but by the pseudonym 16REO78D9.
I have messaged this person, whose DNA match to me seems to come from the Roberts side, but have not received a reply.
Which says there may still be more to come in my attempt to discover my roots.