Our Stories: Uncovering a brood of half-siblings

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When Cathy Combs of Spokane, Washington began researching her family history, she had no clue what discoveries were awaiting. She uncovered a huge chunk of family that she never knew existed.

MyHeritage has played a pivotal role in the documentation of my family history, and research that enabled the discovery of my half-siblings!

Cathy and four of her six siblings, at a 2014 reunion

It all started with Jean McDonald Clark. Jean was born in Chicago, but raised in Minnesota. She married Ernest Rucks in 1946. Between 1947 and 1950, the couple had four children. She was a young bride with an unfortunate domestically turbulent home life. While pregnant with her fifth child, she fled to California to safely give birth and process for divorce. In the early 1950s, battered women in such situations had few options or resources.

Jean left her other four young children behind to be raised by family members. After giving birth, she left the fifth baby with her sister and moved on with her life. She met and married Wilfrid D. Combs, and had two more children. Unfortunately, Jean once again found herself in the same situation. Again, she fled the violence, returned to Minnesota, and left the two children with their father.

Jean married a third time and spent her remaining days in Minnesota. When she died in December 2000, two of Jean’s three children living in California knew nothing about the existence of their other siblings.

Back in July 2012, Cathy Combs – Jean’s sixth child – began researching her family’s past. She began by reviewing more than a century’s worth of family information collected by her paternal grandmother. Dreading the thought of having to organize all the information, Cathy researched how she could best document her family history online.

Enter MyHeritage.com. What a godsend!

I began reading through all the material my grandmother and great-grandmother had compiled. I quickly realized that I needed a database management tool to convert the hard-copy to current media and storage methods. I’ve built many database tools for businesses over the last 25 years, but this project seemed daunting to me. I’m no expert, but I know enough to get by. I did some searching on the internet and found MyHeritage. Once I realized how dynamic this tool is, I was excited to begin cataloging the information that had been with my family since the early 1900s.

After starting her family tree on MyHeritage in January 2013, previously unknown information about Jean was revealed. This resulted in the shocking revelation that Cathy had many more siblings than she knew existed. Through MyHeritage, Cathy uncovered five siblings she never knew about.

SmartMatching was immensely helpful. It got me started in the right direction. Recent search changes to MyHeritage have also been helpful to either provide information or to confirm what I’ve already compiled.

Following the discovery, Cathy and five of her six siblings scheduled an initial conference call to meet each other. This was followed by multiple letters, emails, and phone calls. The first gathering for all of the siblings was held July 4, 2013. Although not every sibling attended, most did.

It was, at first, overwhelming. After a lifetime of my biological family unit being just my younger brother and me, I had the “ugly cry,” recovered and went about contacting everyone. It was an exciting time for all of us.

Sadly, third sibling James Harold Rucks (1947-2015) passed away in July 2015, not long after their reunion. Cathy remains in close contact with her remaining siblings: Del, 68, and Rose, 67, in Minnesota; Lane, 64, in Virginia; Marty, 62, in California; and John, 56, who lives near Cathy in Spokane.

A reunion of the siblings in 2013, before Jim passed away.

We continue to be that excited about all this. Whenever we’ve been together, we haven’t done a lot of posing for pics. We’re just too busy talking and spending time together.

Cathy has learned some important life lessons from her experience researching her family history, and uncovering unknown siblings.

The more research I do, the more it seems that we humans are more connected to each other than you can possibly imagine. Be kind to others. Everyone has a story, so LISTEN. You may not get a second chance.

Did you enjoy Cathy’s story? Do you have a story to share? Let us know at stories@myheritage.com.

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  • Frances


    May 24, 2016

    fantastic, congratulations on all your wonderful discoveries!

  • Cathy Combs


    May 25, 2016

    Thank you for publishing! A sad note to add. Please see the link below. Another add-in to this article. Through MyHeritage, I was introduced to FindAGrave.com and FamilySearch.com, while all 3 have been paramount in this journey, MyHeritage continues to play the pivotal position as “keeper” of the family information.
    http://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=clark&GSfn=james&GSmn=irwin&GSbyrel=all&GS
    dy=2016&GSdyrel=in&GSob=n&GRid=163003986&df=all&

  • ELIZABETH J HEILIGER


    May 25, 2016

    As a friend who met Patti Combs in Stillwater, OK, I was glad to learn about her husband’s family. Jim Dailey and I are focused on helping youth through their school work be challenged in their classwork to find a “treasure” that helps to start the storytelling by their elders. Hope you can keep going back some generations and learn more as you continue. Glad you found each other!

  • Deb Lindsley


    May 30, 2016

    Amazing story! Thank God for your grandmother’s hoard of family memorabilia. It’s a story similar to mine, only I believe the two half-siblings I know of have already passed away without me meeting them. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were others. When I first started my genie research 21 years ago, I thought it strange how siblings could exist without me knowing of them, but now I know it’s not so unusual. Thanks for sharing a wonderful story with a pretty happy ending, though I’m sorry you didn’t really get to know your mom.

  • Yvonne Franks


    June 30, 2016

    Yvonne Franks I am very happy to have found out about my biological family. If it hadnt been for My heritage, I do not know if I would be here today. They have found so many of my genuine members, ranging from the Jurds of Jurd Jungle Juice fame along with the Gaynors, Websters and also Frews. It is a wonder that it hadnt happened a lot sooner.

  • HELEN SONNIER


    June 30, 2016

    AWESOME!!!!

  • Jayne Cockcroft


    June 30, 2016

    It is a great story but not all of the other family contacts go as happily as yours Cathy. I became aware as a teen I had another family of relatives however it wasn’t until a few years ago I decide to do some searching. I have used several sites and made contact with family in Canada, America and Australia. Sadly once they became aware of who I was, contact stopped. Enjoy your continued search, I do it more for the social history than anything now.

  • Julia E Summers


    June 30, 2016

    My search has led to a family to which everyone in the nation must claim as a relative, the TOLLIVERS!!!

    I love it. I started looking for my maternal grandmother who is now known and I’m sure as I keep looking I will find a link to living cousins.

    Hey living FREELAND (S) from the Louisiana branch, get in touch, please.

  • Stella Murphy


    July 1, 2016

    I just love to hear this sort of story!

  • Kathleen Lawrence


    July 5, 2016

    what a wonderful story. I love reading about this kind of things.