“All I ever wanted was to meet my biological family”

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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:

Gravestone of Joanne’s brother, Robert Morton Perkins.

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:

Judith and Barbara – Joanne’s first cousins.

 

“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.”

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  • Janice


    December 9, 2016

    A beautiful story.

  • Basistha


    December 10, 2016

    Great, continue to be in family please

  • Elaine Wood


    December 10, 2016

    What a wonderful story and pleased to know there are people like MY Heritage that can reach out and assist people in finding their families. I also do this in my small way using the great Resources that are available in this day. We all like to know about the family we have been born into and that we are not alone Thank you

  • Peg Wienke


    December 11, 2016

    Joanne,

    I am so happy for you. I too, lost my mother as a child of 2 and was put in an orphanage with my siblings. I found my biological my when I was 28 only by receiving a hand-written birth certificate by mistake (or by the grace of God) on Christmas Eve. From there I found my father, stepmother and 2 of my 3 brothers and 9 half-siblings. I have used a genealogy program ever-since. I also did the DNA test a few years ago to trace my families origins. People who did not lose their family as a child and live in an orphanage can not appreciate what it means to find your family and know they never forgot you. It makes one feel whole again!

  • Anniedear Woeltz Chappell


    December 11, 2016

    Wow, I love stories like that!!!

    I have no clue about the origins of my Woeltz family (paternal side), other than my great grand father split from his father and siblings in Paducah, Kentucky, USA, to start life in San Antonio, Texas. They are all gone now, my immediate family, so I did DNA because I did not know my mother or her family and my life as a military child kept me from ‘asking questions’. I presumed my mother to be of English descent because of their last names, Taylor and Turner, and were Christian. My father said our 2 x great grandfather came to America from Alsace-Lorraine, and were full German and Athiest, which puzzled me. When I was older and went to Germany, I found zero Woeltz’s and I felt zero for the people or country. In three trips there, nothing ‘felt German’ to me. by 2012, I did DNA and found I was in fact, Jewish. So my Woeltz side had to have been in Prussia – my guess. One must keep at it to find those ‘angels’ along the way!

  • GypsyBlu


    December 11, 2016

    What a great story! I am thrilled that you received some great help. My dream is more people willing to share some spare time to work on these projects.

  • Elizabeth


    December 13, 2016

    HI Joanne,
    So lovely to read that a family who lost connection with one another have now completed the circe once more.
    Very sad you had to grow in an orphanage but you survived for this to happen.
    My Grandmother had 3 marriages with breakdowns in family connections but we are now in contact with the 1/2 cousins etc and recently stayed with them in Manchester UK for the 3rd time.
    Also in contact with other cousins of my mother’s in Australia and we all seem to enjoy being part of that extended family circle.
    Blessing on you all.
    Yes there are many of us ‘out here’ in the world who help with your sort of connection.
    Most kindly,
    Liz Cossar Pryor New Zealand!