February 21, 2017, began like any other day, but by 1:30 p.m., the day lost its ordinary status when a message on our Ancestry.com account alerted us to a new, very close DNA match. With a few clicks, we determined this close match connected to my birthfather’s side—the side that previously logged only third cousins and more distant relatives. And this new very close match had discovered us before we found her.
I phoned my husband to tell him we had most likely solved the fifty-plus-year mystery. Being considerate of his work-day time, I attempted to get all the pertinent details into a non-lengthy conversation. But remember, his mind did not then, nor does it now, operate in the same detective-agency mode as did, and does, mine and my daughter’s. “I’ll tell you more when you get home,” I finally concluded, then squeezed in one more detail. “Oh. You’ll never guess what her name is. This new, close match. Donna.”
I laughed, he groaned at the improbability that she shared the same name as the two other females we’d connected with in the past two weeks, whose DNA had each solved a mystery unrelated to mine. First there had been “Donna the niece”. Followed only hours later by “adopted as an infant Donna”. And now we had discovered “Aunt Donna”. My birthfather’s sister.
“Way too many Donnas . . .” was hubby’s mumbled end to the conversation. You can read all about the exciting hours and shell-shocked days following this monumental discovery here.
Anyway, Aunt Donna could not have been happier to have a long-lost, hither-to-unknown relative. She oozed excitement and bubbled with enthusiasm. And the online family tree she’d been working on casually as she awaited her DNA results? It expanded by leaps and bounds as she plunged into connecting with several generations of the extended family, gleaning dates and pictures to personalize the tree’s expanding branches. With her brother’s blessing, she added me and my small tribe to the tree as well.
Aunt Donna and I chatted and exchanged messages a lot in those very early days, catching up and getting acquainted all at the same time. In early April, she announced “ . . . I was thinking that I would like to come for your birthday this year and spend it with you!!” She hoped to bring her daughter, my first cousin Honey, along as well.
Another in-person connection to await anxiously. Hawaii in September, to meet bio dad and sister, already loomed too far in the future. But November was like forever away.
As the months ticked by, the number of Ancestry.com users swelled significantly, in turn creating new DNA matches almost daily. Every time a new common match appeared, I felt more related to my birthfather and Aunt Donna. Family tree/history mania swept through my new paternal side, spurring many to get on the DNA-testing bandwagon. When their results popped up—a couple first cousins including Honey, a half-brother, two half-nephews—each came in at exactly the right amount of shared DNA to confirm the relationship. We could have been the “poster family” for validating Ancestry.com results and their matching processes. From no blood relatives to SO MANY in a matter of months.
September brought the unexpected visit from brother Alan—awesome. Followed two weeks later by the meet-bio-dad-and-sister trip to Hawaii—incredible. And before we knew it, the calendar flipped to November, bringing with it my first birthday after identifying both birthparents and the Aunt Donna/cousin Honey visit.
This duo’s eagerness to make the cumbersome jaunt to rural Indiana was both extremely humbling and more than a little nerve-wracking. Oh, I wasn’t nervous about meeting them—that excited me. But I worried their enthusiasm would wither what with the tiring travel arrangements to get here and the less-than-thrilling attractions our area has to offer. But it was too late to move to a more exciting locale. Or assume less-ordinary lives.
Text alerts while traveling confirmed their continued giddiness, and they arrived all smiles and hugs despite a very early morning departure. We met for lunch at the local fast-food hang-out followed by an area tour that included cruising by the houses I’d grown up in, our church, and where my parents now lived, as well as a drive by our home so they could easily locate it later for dinner. We dropped them off at their hotel to check-in and rest and then scurried home to cook.
The getting-to-know-each-other continued around our dining room table that evening. We again pulled out the photos that had made the trip from Maine with Alan then traveled with us to Hawaii. They spurred many memories for Aunt Donna, as they had for brother, bio dad, and sis. Donna’s remembrances and stories filled in the gaps for us too young or too far removed from the family to know or recollect.
Conversation turned to tomorrow, my birthday. “We don’t care what we do or where we go, as long as we’re with you,” Aunt Donna announced when I hesitantly admitted I wanted to visit where I’d been born, a desire that had been stirring for weeks. Honey confirmed the sentiment, so I put aside my why-would-they-want-to-do-that concerns, and the next morning we headed out with my daughter and grandson in tow. They were clearly not disappointed in the day’s plans, me or my family, or the boring place we lived. I’d been silly to waste time worrying about such trivial things.
I was so happy Honey had been able to carve time out of her busy schedule to make the trek from Pennsylvania. I have really good memories of growing up with my first cousins. Both the ones within ten miles and those a thousand miles away in Florida were important fixtures in my life. And now I would be spending a birthday with a genetically-related first cousin.
Blue skies and mild temperatures accompanied us as we headed for my hometown. Our first stop was the house where I’d been found where Aunt Donna insisted we not only stop but turn the moment into a photo opp. She prodded me to stand by the tree then sit on the front step, so she could take a picture. She waved away our “but what about the homeowner?” concerns and busied herself with setting up the perfect shot. My daughter would later tell me she and Honey, secure in the van, had plotted a quick get-a-way should law enforcement or an angry homeowner appear on the scene. Thankfully, neither happened.
We took a short jaunt around the block to the house adjacent across the backyard where my birthmother and brother had lived. Again, I peered through the trees and shrubbery to the back door where she’d placed me and pondered the same who, when, and how questions that would never find answers. Aunt Donna snapped some more pics.
Our last stop was the cemetery where my mother, her brother, and her parents are buried. A venue, in general, well-known to my historian daughter and her tag-along son who is more familiar with cemeteries than any youngster I know. They peered down at their grandmother/great-grandmother’s stone and announced we should have brought the gravestone-cleaning supplies that accompany us on yearly Memorial-Day-grave-decorating-excursions.
I sighed, remembering too late that I had noticed a need for a good cleaning when I’d visited the past June. Well, the next time I said. More well-staged photos captured quiet moments of reflection thanks to Aunt Donna. I remarked again on the peaceful setting, the family’s gravestones grouped together under a tree. Several of us noted how well-maintained the grounds were. Lost in the pensive type mood a cemetery visit brings out, we meandered in different directions among the other plots before finding our way back to the van.
A bit of cruising around the town where I might have grown up if circumstances had been very different brought our adventure to an end, and we headed home.
Later, we enjoyed an early birthday celebration dinner due to my daughter’s family’s previous engagement, which meant we had the restaurant nearly to ourselves and our loud laughter and silly behavior didn’t bother other more serious-minded diners who might not have appreciated the unique situation that had brought us together. I insisted on lots of photos before, during, and after the delicious Mexican dinner. Again, not wanting to miss capturing for all time this special occasion. Aunt (Donna), daughter (Honey), and niece (me) spent the rest of the evening just lounging around at home, like I’m sure we would have done dozens of times over the years if we’d lived our lives in the same locale. Comfortable like family.
Too soon it was time for farewells, but I felt certain this was a “see you later” rather than a “goodbye.” Pennsylvania is like eighty percent closer than Hawaii. Surely this wouldn’t be the only time we’d be together. I was banking on that.
The birthfather mystery would have remained unsolved for who knows how long, if not for Donna and Honey. When watching TV together one night, prompted by one of the many Ancestry.com commercials that stream across televisions everywhere daily, Aunt Donna announced that she would like to test her DNA. Honey secretly filed away the casual comment and purchased the Ancestry kit for her mom for Christmas 2016. Donna later shared she had no idea where the notion came from that particular evening or why she blurted out such a statement. Hmm . . . I know where the idea came from.
Thank you, Aunt Donna and Honey, for your role in finding answers for this doorstep baby and for welcoming me to the family.
There’s one crucial person in this story who doesn’t have a dedicated “Bio Family” chapter . . . yet. Can you guess who? Stay tuned for the next chapter . . .
If you’re just tuning into my adoption search/reunion story, catch the beginning of the story here.