When I did the Ancestry DNA test, I was hoping I might find some distant relatives, but not in any way expecting to finally unravel the whole story of my genetics and birth familys’ heritages. This test showed much more ancestry from Great Britain and Wales, not as much German, and some Eastern European. But what was most exciting were links to three possible first cousins, which, after contacting them, have turned out to be two first cousins from my maternal side and one first cousin from my paternal side.
This is the story of my ‘first contact’ with my birth family. I got my results and immediately messaged all three first cousin matches through the Ancestry program itself. I told them about how I was an adoptee looking for my birth parents and gave a bit of the non-identifying information my mother had given to the adoption agency, such as that my mother was one of five girls, from somewhere in the south, that I was born in 1954 in NYC, and that she was divorced but her last name was Harrison (that bit of information I got from looking up babies born on March 12th, 1954 in Manhattan, there were only two, a boy and a girl, female baby Harrison.) I also said she had a ten year old daughter and a twelve year old son.
Only one person answered, but as it turns out he was the magic key as well as a master genealogist with over 8 hundred people in his own family tree, a great story teller, and the one who pieced together my story. He said his name was Rich (each match on Ancestry can use a code rather than a name) and that there were some similarities with his family and my story, but he had some more questions.
I sent more of my meager information and Rich texted back that there were too many similarities to be a coincidence. He said his aunt, who was divorced but had kept the last name Harrison, was one of five girls from Sylva, North Carolina, and that she had stayed with her sister, Rich’s mom Bueton, in NYC for most of 1954. Rich told me that there were five sisters, Nellie Mae, Dorothy, Iva Dean, Bueton, and Clara Sue. He said Iva Dean left her son with her parents Phillip and Amanda, and brought her daughter JoAnn to New York for that year, JoAnn’s third grade. Iva Dean waitressed all that year and returned to Sylva, NC with her daughter at the end of the school year. Rich said he would talk to his cousin JoAnn, who still lived in Sylva, and see what she remembered from that year in the Bronx.
All this time I am so excited, that this man’s aunt might be my birth mother, I can hardly wait to know more. Rich told me his aunt had died in 2004, along with my half-brother Kenny. I wasn’t really surprised because she was thirty five when she gave birth to me, and I’m now sixty four. But there were moments of grief in between my excitement about finally finding family, sadness that I was too late to see and hear and talk to the woman who gave me my life, to thank her and to hear her story, the sound of her voice, the voice I heard for the first nine months of life. To see if we were like each other at all, if we liked any of the same things, if there were family traits that were similar, if I looked like her at all.
This reality was hard. Before I could always imagine that I might have a reunion with my mother, no matter how unlikely, but now I knew for certain that this would never happen. And really, I don’t know if she were still alive if she would have even wanted to see me. And now I never will know. These certainties are hard, a small core of what will never be. But surrounding that core is the spiraling, expanding wonder of this new discovery of cousins and half sisters and nieces and stories and pictures of grandparents. When Rich first signed his text “Cousin Rich”, I felt indescribably happy.