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The Gift of a Lifetime: A Whole New Family Thanks to a MyHeritage DNA Kit

When Penny Fox of Vancouver, Canada received a MyHeritage DNA kit for her 64th birthday, she couldn’t have imagined what a tremendous gift it would turn out to be. After a lifetime of searching for information about her birth family, the DNA test turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle that not only gave her the answers she was looking for, but also connected her with a whole new family: a half-brother, an uncle and two aunts, and dozens of cousins, nephews, and nieces.

Penny was adopted two days after she was born, and for most of her life, had no information about her birth family. She says her adoptive mother didn’t understand why she would be interested in finding out about her birth family and refused to help her, so she didn’t even know where to begin.

Grasping for clues

During the mid-1980s, a change in the law made it possible for her to reach out to authorities for information. She received 25–30 pages of material, “but all names and dates were redacted in black. I tried to locate the lawyer who handled it at the time with no luck, and even a private investigator couldn’t help. He said, ‘it’s worse than the KGB, someone went through a lot of trouble to hide all this’.”

However, Penny did have one bit of information to start with: her full birth name. Using various records, such as immigration records, and with the help of a social worker, she was able to track down more information about her biological mother: Dorothy Hale Coutinho.

Originally from England, Dorothy lived in Singapore with her husband during WWII. At some point she immigrated to Canada with their young son, but when her husband joined them in Canada, he didn’t like the way she was raising the boy, so he took him away and left her. He moved to live in the Fraser Valley, 75 miles east of Vancouver.

According to the social worker she was devastated and wanted to have another baby. She was in a brief relationship with Penny’s biological father, and that’s how Penny came to the world.

Dorothy’s estranged husband lived in the Fraser Valley until 2 years ago. His name and signature were on the adoption papers because he was considered the legal guardian, so Penny tried to reach out to him over the years, but “he didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

In 2010, while Googling her mother’s name (as she did from time to time) Penny found a message on a website from someone who was also looking for information about her birth mother. Penny contacted that person and discovered it was her maternal brother’s partner and mother of his 2-year-old daughter — Penny’s niece. The brother, Michael, was missing: his car was found burned, but the body was never found. Penny also learned that her birth mother passed years before, “and from that point I decided to concentrate on my paternal side.”

A crucial detail

Nevertheless, not long after, Penny’s adoptive uncle revealed some crucial information that explained all the secrecy around the records. It turns out that Penny’s birth mother babysat for this uncle — and his older brother decided to adopt her baby. “She was carrying a baby, and my paternal adoptive grandmother knew that she didn’t have a partner — not her husband and not the father of her child — and offered to help,” says Penny. “She knew that her daughter in-law desperately wanted to have children but was unable to have children of her own. This is how my adoptive parents found a baby. They paid her $500 for me.”

“He shared this information before his death,” says Penny. “He wanted me to know that my mother was very beautiful, and that she babysat him when he was little.” Penny doesn’t even know what her biological mother looked like. “I didn’t see a photo of her, but according to a physical description I got I look nothing like her,” Penny laughs. “She was five foot nothing with curly hair, while I’m so tall with straight hair.”

Penny first took a DNA test with a different company and received matches to two cousins. “They recommended that I do a MyHeritage DNA test, knowing that many family members are MyHeritage users,” she says. “They even had a guess as to who my brother might be.”

So Penny’s husband bought her a MyHeritage DNA kit for her 64th birthday.

She and her husband spent the winter of 2018 in Palm Springs, CA, as they usually do, and that’s where they were when they received notice of a DNA match to a half-brother: Richard Smith, 14 months older than her.

‘I look like all of them’

“I sent him a message with the topic ‘is this awkward’ and wrote ‘I know about you, but I’m assuming you know nothing about me,’” Penny recalls.

Richard, who is 14 months older than Penny, lost his younger sister a few years before. He wrote back to Penny: “You might have heard I lost a sister and I’ve been searching for a new one.”

Their biological father, Richard Henry Smith, was a lithographer born in 1920, and he had died 20 years before Penny and Richard found each other, in 1999. He came from a very big family — he was one of 8 siblings. One of his siblings, David, is still around at age 92, as are David’s wife, Joan, and Ann, the widow of another of Richard’s siblings, Ronald.

Penny’s birth father, Richard, who died in 1999

Penny’s birth father, Richard, who died in 1999

They all met for the first time in the spring of 2019 in Victoria.

“When I left the party, I was crying… no, I was just sobbing,” says Penny. “It was so wonderful and also so emotional. I was overwhelmed. They were all very welcoming and seemed truly happy to have another in their midst.”

Penny was struck by the family resemblances: “I immediately noticed that I look like all of them, and I look like my father,” she says. “I got his eyebrows, and I definitely got my height from him. My brother and I are quite different, though. He is quiet and introspective, and I’m a social creature, chatty and energetic.”

Penny (back row, center, in the navy jacket) reunites with her birth family

Penny (back row, center, in the navy jacket) reunites with her birth family

During the meetup, Penny had dinner at her aunt Ann’s home, and she spent the night there along with Ann’s 4 daughters. “We all got into our jammies and then took off our socks to compare toes — which we found are indeed similar,” says Penny. “I never had a sister, and it was like suddenly having four incredible sisters at once, in my 60s.”

The newfound family has gotten together multiple times since that first meeting.

Richard lives only a 40-minute drive away from Penny. He hosts her along with his two children and two grandchildren for annual pool party “to celebrate all our birthdays together.”

Richard (right) and Penny (second from right) with Richard’s kids and grandkids

Richard (right) and Penny (second from right) with Richard’s kids and grandkids

Penny says that “I always have a standing invite to come whenever I can” to see her uncle David and has visited him several times already.

Uncle David shows Penny a family photo album

Uncle David shows Penny a family photo album

She also regularly has lunch or coffee with two of her cousins, Kim and Susan — daughters of her father’s siblings — who live nearby. Susan’s sister, Brenda, lives in the Netherlands, and has a special relationship with Penny, who says they Facetime regularly.

Together with Brenda, Penny organized a get-together for the whole family in Victoria in 2020 and 2022.

The warm relationships she has formed with her newfound family “just keep getting better and closer,” says Penny. “It has been a wonderful journey.”

Penny’s story shows how the MyHeritage DNA kit can be a life-changing gift — and it’s currently on sale for the lowest price EVER! Why not gift your own loved ones for the upcoming holidays and find out what they discover?

Order a MyHeritage DNA kit

The post The Gift of a Lifetime: A Whole New Family Thanks to a MyHeritage DNA Kit appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Source: My Heritage

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