Our Stories: Mysteries from beyond the grave

Our Stories: Mysteries from beyond the grave

jeanSince joining MyHeritage a few years ago, Jean Park has encountered some incredible surprises. After believing that her mother was an only child, it was a revelation to discover that, in reality, she had an entire family branch she never knew existed.

Her father, a Canadian serviceman, was born in Scotland and raised in Canada; her mother was British. They met in London during the Blitz in WWII, when her mother was in the British Air Force. After the war, her father returned to Canada, and her mother soon followed him. Jean was 2 when she arrived in Canada.

She was educated in Canada and England, married a boy from down the block, and had two children (a girl and a boy). After her first husband died at 44, Jean moved from eastern Ontario to Alberta, where she still lives. A few years later, Jean met and married her current husband, and they have been married for almost 30 years.

Jean became interested in family history at a young age but felt that she never had the time to indulge herself until much later.

My mother’s personal history was always shrouded in mystery as she was in a foundling home from a very young age. She would drop hints but my two sisters and I were forbidden to do any research until after she passed away. I always paid close attention when she would mention things and had some tips stored up in my memory which formed the base of my search.

Jean remembered the house address where her mother claimed to have been born, her mother’s father’s name and the fact that he had served in WWI, but little else. Her father rarely spoke of his family. Jean knew his siblings, and she knew a few of his aunts and uncles. He was estranged from his father, and his mother had died before Jean had even arrived in Canada as a toddler.

Jean’s maternal grandparents had two children, Bill and Norah. Shortly after Norah (Jean’s mother) was born, her parents (who had never married) decided to separate. It was decided that the father, Jean’s grandfather, would take Bill and the mother, Jean’s grandmother, would take Norah.

Because Jean’s grandmother was in bad health, she placed Norah, then about  age 3, in a foundling home. This home differed from ordinary orphanages and was rather like a village. The children, separated by gender, lived in cottages with housemothers or housefathers. They went to school and, as they grew, were taught a trade and prepared to take their places in society.

Jean’s mother Norah, and her best friend “Auntie” Kitty.

Norah became quite attached to her housemother and when she “aged out,” they even lived together as mother and daughter. This was the grandmother Jean grew up knowing, and she believed this lady’s family was her family. It was only after using MyHeritage that an entire new line of the family, Jean’s true biological family, opened to her.

Last year, I found my real family due to an historical record sent to me. The rest is a dream come true! I was contacted by my cousin, the daughter of my mother’s half-brother. We connected the dots slowly and carefully and, when we were completely certain that all the pieces fit, we arranged to meet. We flew to Britain – what a fantastic happening! They invited us into their homes, and introduced us to others and shared info. It was an amazing holiday and, next year, they will come to visit us.

I have delighted in finding this wonderful group which were unknown to me a year ago. Most of the people who comprise this body of work are from Canada, Great Britain or the USA. MyHeritage Smart Matches continually provide me with little “bonuses” which help fill in the blanks and tie up loose ends.

After having known nothing about this branch of the family, Jean is beginning to clarify the family she never knew. The consensus is that Jean’s maternal grandfather was an interesting character. Jean’s “new-found” uncle believes (and says that it was suspected by others in his circle) that there might even be another family of his somewhere out there!  Jean now has pictures of her grandfather, with snippets of stories from her cousins and uncle.

I am coming to feel like I sort of “know” him.

There are currently 22,302 people in Jean’s family tree. Some are relatives of her first husband, located as a part of documenting her children’s family history. Another group is part of her current husband’s family which includes a large French-Canadian contingent. The rest are her own family line.


Jean’s husband, Jean, and “Auntie” Kitty’s son Michael, summer 2016.


All of this new family knowledge left Jean with the dilemma of how to deal with the people whom she had been brought up with as cousins all her life (from the family that her mother had built for herself).

Well, I dearly love these folks and I visited with them while we were in Britain last year, as well. And this summer one of them will come and spend a week or so with us!

Jean has some good advice for those just beginning their genealogy journey:

  • My advice to folks who are just beginning their search is to “never give up.” The next big clue might be just a click away. Talk to everyone connected with your family and follow-up however possible.
  • Use family social events to ask questions. For example, we are going to a Highland Games next month and will be spending time with my husband’s cousins. I will take my laptop and see if they can help me fit names to pictures and children to aunts and uncles. We find this is fun for all and it never fails to generate spirited discussion.

Above all, Jean is thankful for her newfound family:

Thanks so much, MyHeritage, for all your help and continued support. Family can be very special when you have searched for a long time.

Are you on the brink of an exciting family history discovery? We’d love to hear about it. Let us know at stories@myheritage.com.