My DNA Journey – The Paternal Side

Before getting too into my mother’s story, it’s only right that I talk about my father’s a bit.  It too provided some interesting discoveries and honestly some of the information I found on the internet was heartbreaking.

Growing up I always knew we were of Acadian descent. The beauty of being Acadian is that your history is so well documented. My DNA results made it easy for me to build my family tree on that side. So far I have been able to trace my roots to a direct ancestor who was born in 1570 at Pouilly-en-Auxois, Cote-d’Or, Burgandy France.

For those who may not know who the Nova Scotia Acadians were, they were French settlers primarily from Aunis, Saintonge and Poitou in France.  They first arrived in Nova Scotia around 1603, with the first permanent settlement being established in 1632. My first ancestors arrived around 1644. Two of their children were baptized at Port Royal.

Acadian

The Acadian people got along well and lived quite harmoniously with the local Mi’kmaq populations. The Acadians were skilled farmers, fishermen, and dike builders. They lived in relative peace for the times until 1755 when what has become known as the ‘Expulsion of the Acadians’ started. In a nutshell for several years, the British by any and all means possible, forcibly and inhumanely removed the Acadian people from their families, lands and homes in Nova Scotia. If you ever have the opportunity to read testimony or archive stories from this event you should. It is utterly devastating to read what these people endured and should serve to remind us that we cannot allow those sort of atrocities on our watch.

The Acadians in many cases were separated from family and ended up scattered throughout other coastal areas of the US and Canada. Some were helped by the Mi’kmaq and were able to safely hide in Nova Scotia. In 1763 the war ended and the survivors began to return, reunite with family and start life over. My people went to Cape Breton where many of them still live today.

Acadians are a very proud people and driving across the Maritimes you will see their flag and symbols proudly displayed. This is my fathers paternal history.

His maternal history turned out to be quite a surprise. His mother’s people were generally from the Sheet Harbour, NS and Murray River, PEI areas. For some reason that I don’t know they had always assumed she was solely of German descent.  She was not, her family was as much Scottish as it was German. With names like William Wallace Spears and Robert Bruce Spears in the tree it was pretty obvious her father’s family were Scottish.  They arrived in Nova Scotia in the mid to late 1700’s. Her mother’s family were German and they too settled in Sheet Harbour as well as Lunenburg in the mid-late 1700’s. When I told my aunt this, she had no idea. Like the rest of us she only ever heard details for the Acadian side of our family story.

So as it turns out my brothers and I are a whole lot more Scottish than we ever could have guessed. With my mother’s both maternal and paternal ethnicity being Scottish and my father being at least 1/4 Scottish, there is a lot to work with.  Trust me, I plan to.

As I was going through my DNA matches I was able to actually identify relatives that my mother and father have in common. Thankfully they are several generations removed but none the less it is interesting and something I plan to look into more.

I read somewhere that if you go back six generations we will all find that we have a relative in common somewhere, so far that has been true. In a small province like Nova Scotia where immigration was so heavily encouraged by the powers that be of that time period I don’t think it would be much of a surprise to find that many of us have relatives in common. For those families, like mine, who have been here for hundreds of years it is not uncommon to also find Mi’kmaq ancestors. We are all connected in some way.

Nova Scotia is a wonderful melting pot of different cultures and I hope we continue to be for years and years to come.

Next up, I delve into the journey that is DNA testing and adoption.

 

 

My DNA Journey – The Beginning

There are all kinds of journey’s we take during our time on this earth. Some take us to new places, some come from the pages of a book or they joy of watching a well made visual production.  Each is a unique and wonderful experience.

Over the last year or so though, I found myself on a personal journey so fulfilling it caught me totally off guard.

I have mentioned in a few posts that I did a DNA test through MyHeritage in 2018, but I haven’t gone into too much detail. Lately I have been reading a lot of stories from people who are going through similar searches. I thought I would share my journey and maybe give someone else hope that even when it seems impossible you can find answers, but be prepared to accept that some of those answers may not be what you want them to be.

My father passed away in 2013. When he died I took all his personal papers to my home so I could go through them as I felt up to it. Some things I went through right away and others I set aside. In 2018 I decided to go through a folder he had on family history. Initially I didn’t see much that I didn’t already know but then on one page was a name that stopped me in my tracks. It was my mother’s birth mother. He had been doing research on finding information about her. I was shocked. I had no idea he was doing that, no one did.

I have always known that my mother was adopted, she was very open about it and of course as her children got older and into serious relationships she had done what checking she could to make sure there were no blood relations. You would think that would be easy to do but it’s not. In Nova Scotia adoptee’s are only provided with limited information and none of it can be identifying, unless the birth parent(s) ok’s it. It is very frustrating to say the least. Even trying to get detailed family medical history is impossible.

Anyway, after finding my father’s papers I decided I wanted to do a DNA test. I wanted to know who I am, what is my mother’s history and who were her people. The curiosity and need to know consumed me.

I researched the different companies and decided on MyHeritage. The results were surprising to be honest. I had no idea I was Scottish, and not just a little bit – on three sides. We grew up always focused on our Acadian heritage, but clearly we were so much more.

Initially I kept the fact that I did the test a secret, but then as people started messaging me wanting to know how we were related I thought maybe I should say something. So I told my mother and much to my surprise she wanted to do one as well.  I was all over that like a wet towel. I also had my adult children do one as well to improve the quality of the matches.

At that time she also gave me what information she had on her birth mother and then decided to call adoption services to see if there was anything knew. Much to her surprise, they told her they could now release everything to her. We had no idea why or what changed, but as it turns out once the birth parent(s) has died if you request it you can get it. I wish we had known that 10 years ago. The lady at adoption services told us it would be a few months to get everything together and they would be in touch.

While we waited for the DNA results I put my investigator hat on and went to work with the little bit I had. The internet is a wonderful tool for situations like this and sites like findagrave.com are so helpful. Nova Scotia Vital Statistics also has online genealogy search tools that were beyond helpful.

I found the graveyard where her birth mother, and several other family members, were buried. My husband and I took a drive up one day last summer to visit. It’s an odd thing, but it is the only way we can ever connect with her/them. It is the only way we will ever meet. I can’t really explain it, but I think other’s in this situation will understand.

After doing some research I was able to get a copy of her birth mother’s obituary.  From that I know who her husband was and her other children’s names. At the time my mother was born her birth mother already had a two year old daughter, this is something we’ve always known, and then after she married she had an additional five children. She also had a brother (died in late 2018) and sister, who is still living. Through the wonders of social media I was able to find pictures of some of these folks which opened up a whole other bunch of questions, most importantly – who does my mother look like?

Imagine for a second that your whole life you have never known who you look like or take after? Imagine for a second that you never may. It’s something that seems so small but really is quite significant.

We haven’t contacted any of her birth mother’s family, we don’t intend to. I will share the reasons for that in a future post. However, if they contact us we certainly are open to it.

Adoption is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong. My mother was raised in a loving family. My grandparents were incredible people, I have so much more respect for them after going through all of this. They really were amazing. My aunt and uncle are clearly products of their parents. She was very lucky to have such a wonderful family. However, adoption does rob the adoptee of their identity and in a lot of cases leads to a lifetime of insecurity – why wasn’t I wanted? Those of us who were secure in a loving environment have never had to deal with that. We can truly never understand those emotions.

My mother never outwardly wanted to meet her birth mother, just didn’t want to risk it I guess, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want to know and maybe someday have the option. I think that adoptee’s rights really need to be considered during the adoption process. Who speaks for the future interests of the child? Someone needs to.

I’ve learned a lot through this process and will continue to share my story in my next few posts.

I will finish this post by saying, if you are adopted do the DNA test and don’t give up searching.  One small door opening may lead to a flood of others.  It most certainly did for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort

We first discovered Akumal Bay in 2010. We had hired a driver to take a group of us there but it was a windy day and we ended up at Yal Ku Lagoon instead.  Really wanting to see it my husband and I returned on our own another day.  It was so worth it, but who knew that it would lead us to where we are today.

The Akumal Beach Resort, as it was known at that time, has always had a very loyal following.  It was a three star beach resort that was ridiculously expensive, for what it was, and almost impossible to book.  Very few suppliers even sold it in Canada.  But where we had heard about it from so many people we had to see it for ourselves.  So we visited the town and then, after fulfilling his dream of snorkeling with the turtles of Akumal Bay, we headed off to walk the beach.

The beach itself was beautiful.  Not riddled with resorts, very natural feeling.

Akumal Beach Resort was pretty much as we expected. Nice place with fantastic beach but way over priced.

In 2012 the resort began a major renovation and we started to watch it closely.  After a few years it really seemed like it had come into it’s own and we started looking for packages.  But low and behold, this resort is not for the last minute booker – which we used to be.  It sells out for the period we travel every year. In 2016 I was determined and I watched closely for something within our price range and finally got it for 2017.  That first trip was amazing.  You read reviews and wonder how much of what they say is true but with this place 95% of what we read was bang on.  When we went in 2018 we were astounded that it was better than the 2017 trip and again this year we were overwhelmed with how they continue to maintain such a high standard of customer service.  In my opinion it is the number one thing this place has over any other place we have been.  The Majestic Colonial in Punta Cana and the Decameron Club Caribbean in Jamaica are the only other places we have been to in all our travels that even come close to the same level of customer service as Akumal Bay.

Now this resort is most definitely not for everyone.  There is no glitz no glam no marble statues or towering fountains, it is pure simple elegance with a strong focus on wellness and being environmentally conscious.  There aren’t 2000 rooms spread out over a vast area, there are 310 ocean view rooms spread out over four beachfront buildings.  There no cheesy nightly shows, it’s a live band and dancing every night.  There’s a disco, but we’ve never managed to find time to get there.  There’s no swim up bar, thus the pool is very clean – honestly who is there for the pool anyway.  There are several pool/beach bars and pool/beach service so your never without a beverage.

Guests are generally happy and very friendly.  You see the same faces over and over so you feel like you know each other and you can easily make all the friends (or none) that you want.  We found this with other small-medium resorts we’ve been too as well.  It’s a very ‘homey’ feeling.  It feels good.

From the moment you arrive

and see your room (pictures are of regular junior suite, penthouse junior suite and corner junior suite)

You know you’re in for a treat.

From the drinks

To the food

To the buffet

and many other spots around the resort

There really is something for everyone.  And while for my husband it’s the snorkeling

For me it’s the views.  From sunrise to sunset they don’t disappoint.

Whether it is sipping on a coffee watching the sunrise or filling the tub and watching the stars with a glass of wine, it just feels so peaceful.  For a little while all the stresses of the world are gone.

The only bad thing I can say is that we are now very spoiled.  We measure all resorts based on the standard Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort has set.  And let me tell you that has proven to be a real challenge when it comes to short listing places for our annual southern escape.

I think there is a fit for everyone when it comes to traveling.  A place that fits you as well as you fit it.  I truly believe when you find it you know.

We will try other places again, the world is too big not too, we just need to find something that will make us as happy as we are at Akumal Bay.  Until then, I guess we’ve found our home away from home.

Akumal – Till We Meet Again

Way before we started staying at the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort we would visit Akumal.  We discovered it on our second trip to the Riviera Maya and truly fell in love with it.  Aside from the fantastic snorkelling, the town is a great spot to spend an afternoon, eat, drink, shop and just explore.

Just up the beach from Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort and Secrets Akumal there is a restaurant/bar called Lol Ha. If you google it, there is a web cam that overlooks the bay on the top corner of the restaurant.  The service there is great and the view is amazing.  We ate at the Lol Ha last year, it was so good.

Walking past here will get you to the path that takes you towards town where you can see the much talked about Akumal Arch.

Past the Arch is shopping, food and pretty much everything you need for a day or week long stay at the beach.

I can’t imagine a trip where we don’t visit Akumal, even if just eat at the local places. I highly recommend a visit.  I would like to think that someday we could rent one of the many condo’s nearby and see how that feels.

Next up – Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort

Akumal – New Friends, Great Memories

Over the many years we’ve been together my husband and I have done a lot of different types of trips and along the way we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as travellers.  We’ve done family, friends, couple, group and just us trips. While they are all wonderful experiences, each offering their own pro’s and con’s, for me none is as good as the just us trip.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything about any of the trips we’ve done or experiences we’ve had as they’re all part of discovering who you are as a traveller, but the just us trip is uniquely special.  When you’re not accountable to anyone else you can experience the adventure on your own terms.  There is so much more freedom to explore, experience new things, and meet new people.

The people we have met over the years, no matter how we travel, have come from everywhere – home here in Nova Scotia, all over the rest of Canada, the US, the UK and Germany etc.  I wouldn’t trade the experience of meeting all these wonderful people for anything.  They have all enriched our lives, given us great stories to tell and we continue to stay in touch with many of them to this day.  Below are just a few of the folks we have met or travelled with over the years during our southern vacations.

 

This year we met some pretty fantastic people and while I regretfully don’t have pictures of everyone, we do have so many great memories and stories.  As it turned out, several of the people we ran into had been there at the same time as for us the last two years.  We actually did meet a few of them last year, realizing it in one of those true déjà vu moments on day one this year!  Only one person from the group of us that met last year missed this trip. Considering our timing was different and none of us had talked to each other since last year, it’s pretty amazing that we all were there together again this year.

Drinks, listening to the nightly band, chatting, sharing experiences, pictures and everything else with these folks made this year so much fun! Our last night together I tried to get everyone together for drinks and well, we ended up shutting the place down! It was awesome, such a great ending to a fabulous vacation.

 

We were missing our new friends from the UK, Natalie, Steve and the amazing Ethan, when we did the group shots. They were fantastic folks and I regret not getting any pictures.  Ethan has one of those personalities that just shines, especially with a few tequila in him :). He is truly a fine young man who makes me smile. He knows how to vacation! Guess we all just have to go back and do it again!  It’s funny, everyone was asking everyone else  ‘Are you coming back?’ and the general answer was ‘I don’t know, we like to try new things.’ but then as everyone was leaving it was with a ‘See you next year!’ So who knows. With Nikki and Sophie already booked to return, we shall have to wait and see what next year will bring.  In the digital world we are lucky in that we can stay in touch and remain part of each others life even though we are many kilometres or an ocean apart. Maybe, just maybe, we will see each other again.

I believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason, be it a short time or a long time they are meant to be there.  There is a purpose.  It’s not about how much time you spend with someone, it’s the impact they have on you however big or small that may be.

When we first started going to Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort three years ago we knew it had a very loyal following.  It turned out to be the single most welcoming resort we’ve have stayed at hands down. The staff is just incredible. These are just a few of the staff who really become part of your vacation.

 

 

So, in closing – I say go out, put yourself out there and meet new people as you travel this great world. We all have something to offer each other.

Next up – Till we meet again Akumal!

 

Akumal – Off Resort Adventure to Bacalar

As I mentioned in my last post, Bacalar was our big off resort trip this year. I still can’t believe how amazing it was!

The van picked us up around 8:00am (about a half hour late due to traffic). We then picked up another couple in Tulum – which I might add was the first time we had been there unrelated to a ruins visit. We were truly surprised by how much there was around and how big it is. First stop after that was Muyil. I knew these ruins existed but I knew little about them and after a short visit here we decided we will have to go back. We really didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate the site.  The architecture here is similar to what you find at Tikal in Guatemala. They only began restoration of the site in 1998 so it is still fairly new.

A good half day trip would be grab a cab to Muyil and then spend a few hours shopping, eating and exploring Tulum. On the agenda for a future trip!

From there we went on the long drive to Bacalar. So many cool sites along the way. We stopped for ‘organic’ fruit and fruit juice snacks, which was really just a stand on the side of the road.

Bacalar is home to the Lagoon of Seven Colours and there truly are seven. It’s also home to sulfur mud which is used to exfoliate the skin. That was so much fun! All of the sun burns disappeared after playing in the mud.

We also stopped for lunch at what my husband called a ‘Harry Potter’ restaurant. From the outside it looked small and you really wouldn’t have noticed it, but you walk in and it grows as you walk from room to room until you finally arrive at an outdoor restaurant in the back. Just like the tents in the Harry Potter movies. Pretty neat!

We investigated the town a bit and were lucky enough to have the group guide take us on a personal tour of San Joaquin Church. The church was the site of a brutal massacre during the Caste War. It was very eerie but peaceful in there.

Being Canadian we watch a lot of sports, so we are used to the group gatherings where everyone cheers for their favourite team. The bars in Bacalar all have outdoor patios and there were loads of people so we ventured over to see what was going on. Everyone was watching soccer and cheering away. It was pretty neat, just like at home when Team Canada plays.

Bacalar was one of those experiences where you know you have to return. Honestly, you need to do a overnight trip here to have time to fully appreciate everything it has to offer.

We returned to the resort around 8:30 that night so it was a very long day, but absolutely worth it. I would return in a heart beat.

Next up – new friends, great memories and til’ we meet again!

Akumal – Off Resort Adventures

As fun as being on the resort is, you really miss out if you don’t take the time to investigate the area you are visiting. You really can’t say you’ve experienced a destination if all you’ve ever seen is resort properties.

Resorts provide us with a utopic view of a destination, not the reality.  Part of the draw of Akumal is that there is so much within walking or cabbing distance.  You really don’t need guided tours, which is fantastic. The walk to town is less than 10 minutes and Tulum the town is only a 10 minute cab ride away.  You can also walk the non-resort area’s of the beach for very long stretches.

We walk to Akumal most days and after discovering the golf cart rental last year, that has also become something we look to do.  It allows you to see and experience that much more of the area. After trying a few golf carts this year we ended up with the pink hot rod they use for advertising.

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This cost 800 peso’s for four hours with a 400 peso deposit, returned to you when you bring the cart back. Well worth it. It’s a great way to explore the area.

 

 

After last year’s visit we knew we wanted to go to La Buena Vida and try the food. It didn’t disappoint. My husband said his burrito was the best he’s ever had anywhere.

 

For the rest of our time we just drove around checking out places we saw last year.  Great way to do a self guided mini-tour! The walk back is always great too.

 

We didn’t stay up too late that day as we left for Bacalar early the next morning. We’ve seen a lot of things as we’ve traveled Canada, the US and Mexico but Bacalar was incredible. I can’t believe we hadn’t heard of it until two days before we went.

Our first morning at the resort we visited our tour rep from Air Canada to let him know we had our own transportation to the airport. He asked what we were thinking of doing and we mentioned that we wanted to do something off the beaten path. We really aren’t interested in the whole tourist park thing – you can do that anywhere, we want a more authentic experience. He mentioned Bacalar so we did an internet search and yup, it looked nice. We headed off the to resorts tour desk to get their thoughts and you could just tell by the way they talked, it was special. Originally we had thought of going to Holbox but Juan really thought, based on what we were looking for, we would love this.  He was right.

I was going to do my off resort post as one but I think Bacalar deserves it own.  It was special.

From what our guide told us it is the educational and artistic hub of the Riviera Maya. It wasn’t hard to see that everywhere you went. It is a city with lots of buzz.

 

Dreaming of being able to wear flip flops in the sand everyday.