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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.

 

 

 

 

 

DNA Update

We’ve been pretty quiet since the Fall, which is typical once the weather gets cold. Among other things, we’ve spent a lot of time working with our travel agent looking for my perfect retirement celebration trip. It took a few months, but we did find it. That post will be coming in the next few weeks. I can’t wait to escape winter and celebrate what will be one of the most exciting events for me in 2019.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a My Heritage DNA test. I can’t tell you what a fascinating journey that has continued to be. It truly is an all-consuming adventure when you get into it. I initially didn’t tell too many people in my family as I wasn’t sure how they would react, specifically my mother. While I don’t remember a time we didn’t know she was adopted and it was always something that she was very open about I wasn’t really sure what she would think or how she would feel. Honestly, I’m not sure why it surprised me so much when she was so curious about my result and said she wanted to do one. Of course when she said that, I was all over it like a wet blanket.

To ensure we got the best matches possible I also had my son and daughter do one. The more of my mother’s direct descendants that do a DNA test the easier it will be for me to weed out the matches we are looking for.

Being adopted in Nova Scotia is a very frustrating circumstance. You are allowed little to no access to your birth information/adoption records which not only affects you but all of your descendants. What you do get is vague and typically non-identifying. I don’t know how much the agencies or government considers the long term impact of not knowing. It doesn’t just impact the adoptee, but all of their descendants. There has to be a better way.

My mother has since sent another request to the province for information pertaining to her adoption and much to our surprise they are sending new documents. It takes months and we have no idea what we will see, but at least it is something. I would suspect that it is happening because her birth mother is now dead, so there is no risk of unwanted contact between birth parent and adoptee. Too bad for the birth mother and her family, they missed out on knowing some pretty spectacular people.

To be very clear, my grandparents, aunt and uncle could never be replaced. They are our one and only true maternal family. I can’t even say there was ever a desire to engage with the birth family. We really just wanted to know who they were, what did/do they look like (do any of us look like them) and was there anything important we should know. Knowing one side of your family history doesn’t give you a true picture of yourself or your history – what makes you ‘You’. Maybe at some point there would have been a ‘why’ or a desire to engage but that time has long since passed.

Anyway, with the identification of my mother’s birth mother and the retrieval of her obituary from a local newspaper’s archives I was able to identify and find records for numerous other birth relatives. These include her birth grand-parents, her birth sister, many birth step-siblings, an aunt and recently deceased uncle along with many nieces, nephews and cousins. Along with all the usual search tools the Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics site has been one of the best resources I found. While we don’t have a complete medical history I was able to find patterns using death certificate information. I also found, and visited, the cemetery where many of them are buried. That was an oddly emotional experience. It was also really strange as it was part of the province I had never really been to or even knew of.

Now, while we wait for whatever paperwork is coming, I am on a mission to find out what I can for her birth father. We know that at the time of her adoption she had an older sister born in 1947 and we believe her mother was not married to her father – but that is just a guess at this point. We think he may be Greek/Italian or something of that nature due to the DNA location results for each of us and some of our physical features. He is proving to be a challenge but one I am happily taking on! I have emailed a resource I found on a Facebook DNA group for help, as I think this search is going to be more of a challenge and may be out of my league. We had enough information on the maternal side to have a good starting point, we have nothing on the paternal side.

Time to get my detective hat on!

The other really interesting thing about my DNA journey, unrelated to the adoption stuff,  has been finding out about my father’s mothers side. I never knew her very well and have few memories. My grandfather died when I was two years old, he was 52 and my father had a heart attack and stroke around the same time, he was 26.  She wasn’t really part of our lives due to the impacts these events had on her. My father and I did reconnect with her some 20 years later and were a part of her life until she died two years later.

We have always identified as Acadian, which we are, but much to my surprise we are also Scottish on her side. I don’t know if I was told or just assumed because of where she was from that she was of German descent. Her side wasn’t just Scottish, they were very Scottish – names like ‘William Wallace Spears’ and ‘Robert Bruce Spears’ appear many times over in her tree.

Armed with this new information I have decided that mapping out the known path of both my father and mothers ancestors is the next logical step in my journey. Someday I hope to walk on the same roads my ancestors did.  Scotland is on my bucket list for sure!

Deciding to do the DNA test has led me on a journey I never could have anticipated. It has been everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I know more about myself than I ever have and I have discovered a passion that will carry into my retirement when I am able to focus more time on it.

I have recently done a second DNA test with Ancestry to see if their database will bring up any results that open my search up better. The DNA companies don’t share their data. GEDMatch and companies like My Heritage and FTDNA, do allow you to upload from outside sources but people actually have to take the time to do that. I would guess those that aren’t actively working on family histories aren’t doing that.

While this journey hasn’t physically taken me away, it has mentally and emotionally. It has been exciting and rewarding. It has me dreaming of new destinations and adventures. It has brought true meaning to the saying ‘Life is a journey; you never really know the destination.’

If anyone reading this has any tips, please feel free to share them with me.

Summer 2018 – Road Trips

Where we had a trip to Ottawa already planned and are saving for a big trip to celebrate my retirement in 2019, we decided that we would stick to Nova Scotia for the rest of our vacation.  Nova Scotia is beautiful in the summer.  With so many places to explore you can do a different road trip every weekend.

Peggy’s Cove is always a must visit.

As is Mahone Bay.

Drives to the Valley for us are mainly to get fresh produce, you can’t get better strawberries anywhere, but the views are pretty nice too.   Oh and I discovered the many Vinyard’s so well, now there are more reasons to go!

Lunenburg is busy this time of year but definitely worth a visit.

We visited Truro’s Victoria Park for the first, but definitely not the last, time this summer.  Absolutely loved it and could not believe we hadn’t know about it until quite recently.

We also visited Nova Scotia’s longest beach, Martinique for the first time.  It was a very foggy day but still easy to see how nice it was.  Lots of surfers and body boarders.

Finally, we grabbed our granddaughter and headed to Halls Harbour on the Bay of Fundy.  The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world.  Walking on the ocean floor and then a few hours later watching it fill in is always amazing.

That’s it for day trips.  I hope you enjoyed my little Nova Scotia tour.  Our next few weeks are super busy so we probably won’t get any more in until mid-September.  By then the weather should be starting to change and the colours of fall will slowly arrive.

Next up though, our fantastic trip to Ottawa!

May 2018 – 50? What do you mean 50!

We love visiting Moncton and try to get there a few times a year.  The vibes, entertainment, food and city as a whole are great.  I turned 50 in May of this year and decided no big parties (cause you know who ends up cleaning up after them).  What I really wanted to do was have a true Casino experience.  Vegas isn’t an option for us right now, so we decide to head to Moncton.  Yes, there is a casino in Halifax, but we prefer Moncton.

This would be the start to three nights celebrating and it was fantastic.  They upgraded us to a Marquis Suite and left a few treats in the room.

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By the time all was said and done, it cost us nothing to go and we still had a few extra dollars in our pockets.  Great way to start the celebrations!

As a 50th birthday present to myself, I decided to do a DNA test through MyHeritage.  I have always known my paternal ancestry for the most part, we are Acadian, but my mother is adopted so I have never known nothing of that side.  I feel like part of my history and what I am is missing.  I certainly don’t need to meet or engage with anyone.  The grandparents, aunt and uncle I have are some of the best people I know.  I don’t need any more than what I already have.  It’s the history and the where, not the who that I am interested in.  I want to know where I come from.  Who I am.

I always said that I would love to the visit the places of my ancestry, a pilgrimage if you will.  But honestly I wasn’t prepared for the results.  Scandinavian?  Like what? Although, my son said if I was a Viking that would explain a lot. Not sure that was a compliment.

My Hertiage

So now I find myself on a journey and when I get into it I can’t stop.  I had to force myself to take a break from it over the summer.  So many names in my DNA matches that aren’t familiar to me and some very surprising ones that are.  I have had a few really incredible email contacts as well.

As well as I know my father’s side, I didn’t know much about his mother and her side.  I have also made some pretty interesting discoveries there to.

I plan to retire in 2019, and for my first order of business I plan to start mapping out what I find.  I want to build a tree for my children so they know where they come from.

That should be an interesting journey!

For now though it’s time to move on to less serious stuff!

 

Fall 2017 into Winter 2018

Been a while since I have posted, but that doesn’t mean our adventures stopped.

No Nova Scotia fall is complete without a trip to the Annapolis Valley. From apple and pumpkin picking to the simple beauty of the fall colours, it is so worth it.

We love day trips. Fall is just such a pretty time of year.

Lots of festivals in the province that time of year!

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December saw my husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. His job prevents us from doing much to celebrate at that time of year so we are planning a special Mexican vacation at a better time in 2018.

Christmas gave us a ‘weather bomb’. Crazy windy! Lot of roofs, including our, damaged and trees down.

That storm began what was one of the windiest weeks I can remember. Lots of damage.

January brought our first snow. And while I am not a Winter person even I have to admit it is pretty.

January also saw my sister-in-law take her first real vacation in almost 29 years. She owned her own business in Cape Breton and after 29 years, closed it down Christmas Eve. Farewell to the Beaver Cove Takeout!

Now it’s time to start planning Lisa and Stephen’s 25th Wedding Anniversary Excellent Adventure! I can’t wait!

Spring Turns to Summer

Been a few months since I last posted.  Not really much going on to post about, but that is about to change..Summer is here!

One thing about being from the Atlantic Coast, there is nothing better then when Spring arrives and the transition to summer begins!

Everything coming to life and awakening after a long Winters sleep is what makes getting through Winter worth it.  These are a few pictures from around our home as Spring sprung.

The scenery all around us is second to none.

My hubby managed to get a lobster dinner in for his birthday.

Lobster

He also was able to visit his family home in Beaver Cove, Cape Breton.

Me, I visited the city and made lots and lot of wine!

We got things summer ready around home, I visited Sobeys Big Red Chair and most importantly, we celebrated Canada 150 with the rest of Canada.

My 21 year old son bought himself a 31 year old car, which much to my surprise turned out pretty good.

Nissan

Halifax had visitors from the US Navy here for Canada Day and we had a visit from the largest container ship to ever to come!

We are just a few short weeks away from starting our Canada 150 vacation adventures and escaping this cubicle jungle.  I can’t wait! Cubicle