Tuesday 17 July 2018

New Found Family: A DNA, Ancestry, Facebook success story

The following story was sent to me by a friend who thought Discover Genealogy readers would be interested in a happy and successful discovery of new family members, at least new to each other. I agreed, so I am pleased to present it here. Never underestimate the possibility of chance meetings, in person or online.

New Found Family: A DNA, Ancestry, Facebook success story
Guest Post by Janet Matiisen

My friends, I have got a story to tell you. 

This goes on for a bit. Apparently, I’ve decided to write a novella.

My family is a small, tight group. My sister, Melanie, and I are the best of friends; our parents, Arne and Carolyn, are loving and amazing. Mel’s husband, Loren, is the best man I know and their daughters, Arabelle and Lucia, are shining lights in my life. Our aunt Eda (Dad’s sister) has been a terrific influence and force in our lives. We have wonderful family on my Mom’s side as well: Uncle Grant and Aunt Carolyne, and their sons (and their families), Mike and Kara, Brad and Meredith, and Mitch and Angela. We are blessed to have such a small and vibrant family unit.

Dad was the middle of three kids, Eda is his younger sister, and Hendo was his older brother, each born four years apart in Estonia. The Matiisen family story could be made in to a movie – fleeing Estonia in the early stages of the WWII to Sweden, and eventually settling in central Alberta, near Eckville. There are a handful of Estonian settlements in Alberta, most prominently near Eckville and Stettler.

Dad’s brother, Hendo, passed away in Edmonton in 1987. He had never married. Neither he nor Eda had children, so we have no Matiisen cousins (we thought). Mel and I are two of the Last of our Matiisen line.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, around 11:00 pm, when I noticed a Facebook message from an unknown person. Having a curious nature, I opened it up and started reading. My eyes just about popped out of my head.

Hello, my name is Michael K...... I’ve found you by way of Ancestry.com, and then through Facebook. In what must seem like an odd message from out of nowhere, it would seem that we’re related...”

Wait! What now?

He went on, “... it was not until I was in my 20’s that I was told by my mother that my father was a man named Hendo Matiisen, an engineer with whom she had had a brief relationship in the summer of 1967 in Fort McMurray... Apparently, my mother never communicated her pregnancy or my existence to Mr. Matiisen – they immediately lost touch, as she returned to her life as a nursing student in Red Deer, having only been in Fort McMurray on a road trip with a friend. I was born on April 9th in Red Deer.

Again, what now?

I’ve never quite known what to do with the information about Mr. Matiisen, particularly while my mother and step-father were alive. They both passed away in 2009 and 2014, respectively. More than this, I’ve never quite known if the information was true. A few months ago, for fun, my wife and I decided to join Ancestry.com along with her parents who were interested in their DNA story. Last month, I checked my results, which, with ‘extremely high confidence’ predicts my relationship to ‘A.M. (managed by Carolyn Matiisen)’ as ‘close family’.

The message continued on very respectfully and I was quite sure this wasn’t some Nigerian prince looking to unload several million dollars if I would just forward him my banking information. 

I started frantically texting Melanie, in all caps, “ARE YOU AWAKE WE HAVE TO TALK HOLY CRAP YOU HAVE TO BE UP.” No immediate response. “WAKE UP AND TALK TO ME WE HAVE TO TALK RIGHT NOW.” I copy/pasted Michael’s message to her in text form, and she did finally (maybe all of six minutes later) respond. We had simultaneous meltdowns. She’d deleted the message from him without reading it, assuming it was, in fact, a Nigerian prince scam. 

The message seemed legit; this guy seemed really normal. It was well written and grammatically correct, the dates all lined up, and holy s--t! Now what?

We decided to invite Mom over to Mel’s for spontaneous coffee the next day and show her the message. We would also try to get Eda on the phone at the same time. The next couple of days were crazy. Mom reacted in shock, as did we all, but moved on quickly from shock to excitement. We didn’t contact Eda by phone right then, but Mel talked to her shortly afterwards. We didn’t want to respond to Michael without having all of the family in the know and had a chance to collect our thoughts. 

We responded a couple of days later, and that started an avalanche of correspondence. We have a Matiisen cousin!

Fast forward again. Michael said that he and his wife Kathy (they live in Tucson, Arizona) would be in Abbotsford, BC, for a couple of weeks visiting Kathy’s parents, and maybe they could come to Calgary while in Canada. 


For the last couple of days, as I write this, they’ve been here and we’ve gotten to know each other. Michael and Kathy are so, so lovely. We also got to meet Michael's sister, Jennifer, who, as it turns out, lives in Calgary, too! Our hearts are full; our lives are enriched; our family has grown; and we are all so grateful to have discovered each other. We each have said over and over that we wish it hadn’t taken this long to meet each other, but we’re so happy that we have come together. 

And here are a few pictures of our very happy family reunion. We can’t stop smiling!

Janet, Michael & Melanie
Eda, Michael & Arne
Lunch at River Cafe - Carolyn, Kathy, Arne, Janet, Michael, Eda
A new and expanded family: Janet, Lenore, Eda, Jennifer, Kathy, Michael, MNelanie, Arabelle, Carolyn, Arne, Loren, Lucia