May 15, 2020 - Stories

Connecting with Family Across Borders

Tree Overview

For International Day of Families, 23andMe wanted to share with you what amounts to an international family story.

Life has been good for Paul Knoll.

He and his wife raised two sons and a daughter. For years, he operated a successful professional staffing agency in New York City. Then not too long ago he moved back to his hometown in Nebraska, to retire. And he took more time to visit his kids and spend a little more time with his five grandchildren.

Life is good.

A French Canadian Connection

Adopted at nine months, Paul grew up in Nebraska with five siblings, four others were also adopted. But since he can remember, Paul, 67, had a nagging question he was never able to answer. Who were my birth parents, and why did my mom leave me in a Catholic home in Quebec, Canada, for unwanted children?

“Over the years, I tried to find out more,” he said. “But I never was able to find much information about them.”

Paul traveled to Quebec a few times to see if he could find records of his adoption, but the records were sealed, and the nuns gave up little information on his origins. All he learned was that his birth mother was a teenager when she became pregnant. Eventually, he gave up trying to find out more.

That all changed after his daughter, Katie, gave him a DNA testing kit as a gift two years ago. She too wanted to know more about her father’s origins, his ties to Quebec, and his Acadian roots. But neither expected what came next.

Someone in Omaha Love You

Soon after they both tested, opted into 23andMe’s DNA Relative tool, Katie told her dad that Paul’s half-sister had contacted her. And his half-sister said to them that Paul’s birth father, Pierre, is still alive and thriving at 92.

“I was floored,” Paul said.

For years all his focus was on his birth mom. He never expected to find his father. He’d been wondering about his mother. But instead, he’d suddenly connected with a sister and learned the identity of his father. And the surprises didn’t end there. Paul had six other half-siblings, five sisters and a brother. With email and phone calls, he soon had connected with all of them.

“All of a sudden, I got a whole family here,” he said. “We were just ecstatic over this news.”

In June of last year, Paul traveled to Montreal to meet his brother and sisters. They spent a few days together learning about their lives and adding to their family story. He brought his siblings t-shirts that read, “Someone in Omaha Loves You.”

Paul was struck by how much in common they had with each other, from their looks to their mannerisms. Paul, it turned out, was the oldest. He was born before Pierre married his half-siblings’ mother, who is also still alive. And a little after their gathering in Montreal, Paul, and his siblings learned that there was one other half-sister out there. There was another child born to unmarried parents and put up for adoption. Paul is the oldest, then the other half-sister who’d also been adopted, and then their six other siblings.

Paul has yet to meet his father.

“Pierre is in excellent health,” Paul said. “He knows about me but hasn’t hasn’t had the opportunity to meet yet as he lives in New Brunswick (Canada.)”

He’d like to meet him. He’d like to find out more about his birth mother and what happened to her.

But for now, he feels blessed by meeting his sisters and brother. A true friendship has grown between them. Their accomplishments humble him; one is the dean of a university, the husband of one of his sisters is a Parkinson’s disease researcher, another is a wilderness guide.

His family now sprawl across Canada and the United States. They’ve all agreed to meet again when it becomes possible. Maybe he will get to meet his birth father. Perhaps he’ll find out more about his birth mother. But, for now, Paul has what he needs.

“Meeting them all is good enough for me,” Paul said.

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