It was only when Joanne Perkins was sitting on the train to Toledo, Ohio on her way to meet her biological family for the very first time that she grasped the significance of this journey. The train was taking her to the family she hadn’t seen since she was eight years old.
Everything started back in June 2016, when Joanne was sitting in her Trenton, New Jersey living room and watching TV. A commercial for MyHeritage came on, inviting people to research their family history and find their relatives. After so many lonely years, Joanne decided she had nothing to lose. She decided to take one last chance and look for her family on MyHeritage.
Joanne signed up to MyHeritage with a free account and wrote a request in the MyHeritage Community section, looking for help locating her family:
Joanne didn’t expect a response to arrive a mere few hours later. She was surprised to see that the response was from the founder and CEO of MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet, who was reviewing the MyHeritage Community that day, helping people personally while practicing his hobby as a genealogist. She was shocked to read his message. He was writing to let her know that he has found her relatives:
“I found lots of family members for you. And lots of details about your parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and more. For example, here is the gravestone of your brother who died close to birth:
But this wasn’t all. Japhet shared with Joanne a large collection of documents he found about her family, including an article from a local newspaper about the passing of her brother, and her parents’ marriage certificate. Finally, there was a photograph of two women:
“I have found living family members for you on Facebook. You have what seems to be a lovely family, including the following two first cousins of yours.”
Joanne was overwhelmed with emotion. Japhet asked Joanna to tell him a bit about herself so he could look for more details about her family. Amazed by the idea of a “genealogy angel” volunteering to help her in such a meaningful way, she decided to open up and tell her story and share it with the users of MyHeritage.
“I lived with my mother until I was eight,” she said. “My father served in the Army and was sent to Germany. My mother had a mental health episode and was hospitalized, so my aunt and uncle sent my siblings and me to live in an orphanage. A short while later, my mother ended her life. My father ended up marrying someone else. I very badly want to meet my biological family. You have fulfilled a dream I’ve had for such a long time. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Based on the information Joanne provided, Japhet continued to research her family and sent her even more details about the family, including photos of her relatives and their up-to-date phone numbers. Suddenly, all that stood between Joanne and her family members was a phone call. She decided to pick up the phone.
Joanne tells about her first phone conversation with her cousin, Tammy:
After many hours spent on the phone, the family decided to re-unite, and Joanne’s relatives invited her to come for a visit in Ohio. Having until recently thought that she was all alone in the world, Joanne accepted the invitation, hanging up with tears in her eyes. Scenes from the past, which she thought she had forgotten, flooded her memory once again.
“I suddenly remembered the last time I saw them, when I was eight, right after Mom died. I remembered the day the family all got together to try to figure out what to do with us three kids — me and my brothers.”
Several days before she got on the train to Toledo, Ohio, a messenger knocked on Joanne’s door and handed her a rolled-up package. When she opened it, she was happy to find another surprise from MyHeritage’s CEO: a giant printed family tree, featuring no less than 50 of her biological relatives.
“No one has ever done something like this for me,” Joanne said. “I never imagined that one day people who don’t even know me would come and, out of a desire to help, fulfill a dream for me. The trip to Ohio was a dream come true.”
In accordance with the family’s wishes, the emotional reunion in Ohio took place away from the cameras. After so many years and difficult memories, they asked that this moment be private.
Joanne summarized the meeting: “I have closed a circle. When I showed them the family tree I received from MyHeritage, suddenly everyone found themselves on it and understood the connection between us. I didn’t think I’d ever get to this moment, but today I’m no longer alone. I have a large family that loves me and who never forgot me.”