By Sue Tiffin
In a framed photo on a desk in her Haliburton office Kathryn Kidd sits next to her partner Gord and dozens of smiling family members with whom she shares a resemblance.
A family photo on a desk might not typically warrant more than a passing glance from most visitors to the office but when Kathryn welcomes people in to the Minden Haliburton Hearing Service they eagerly ask to hear the story behind the reunion – how Kathryn went from living with no family to being surrounded by aunts uncles cousins and even a brother.
In 1964 Kathryn said babies weren’t adopted right from the hospital but instead were taken into care for three months to give their biological mother a chance to change their mind.
“All I knew was I was born in Cavan which is Peterborough that’s where my mother was sent to live and then adopted out of Ottawa which is where her family was. So I knew that much. I also knew I had been named after my mom’s favourite sister Diane. And I knew my birthday. Other than that I knew nothing else.”
After the adoption her name was changed to Kathryn. Her life was not always a joyful one in her adopted family and later in life she found herself estranged from the only small family she had known.
“Having said that I went on to have a wonderful life” said Kidd. “It didn’t affect me. I never looked back and said ‘oh boo hoo me’ I just went on to live this wonderful life and you don’t miss what you don’t have.”
About five years ago a co-worker had signed up to a DNA database through Ancestry.ca that connects users through their DNA to insight into genealogy. Besides offering information about geographic origins the service can also identify potential relatives through DNA matching to others who have used the same test according to the website. Her co-worker bought a kit for Kathryn and it sat on a shelf for six months.
“I just think I didn’t feel I was missing anything” said Kathryn. “I was really happy that was just me. But oh maybe it’ll be fun.”
Kidd didn’t know anything about a potential family – who her parents might be or if she had any siblings. Though she acknowledges she was curious about that she said she didn’t pine for something she might not have or might never get to know and she didn’t want to be hopeful and then disappointed. So she collected her saliva in a tube that was sent away to the company and awaited the results.
When the AncestryDNA results came in Kathryn learned that she did in fact have a Scandinavian background as she had heard people throughout her life guess based on her jet black hair and pale skin. She also found that she had a distant cousin named Donna. Kathryn had never had a cousin and this one was fourth removed a concept Kathryn had never had to understand. Donna was interested in family trees which had never been an interest to Kathryn who didn’t know of a family to research.
Her cousin reached out to her after seeing the match through her own Ancestry account wondering where exactly she fit in the family. Kathryn explained to her what she knew; her birthday that she was named for her mom’s favourite sister Diane and Donna was stumped.
“She said ‘OK’ we’ll leave it here and I’ll do a little digging” said Kathryn. “So Donna goes over to Diane my aunt and she was the only one that knew my mom was pregnant. The only reason she knew was she vaguely remembered my mom’s boyfriend – my dad – and his parents coming over and she was in the kitchen listening. So she heard ‘situation’ you know so that she knew. She never told a soul. Not her husband none of her siblings. Nobody.”
Both Diane Kathryn’s aunt and Heather her mom had kept Heather’s secret of an unwed teenage pregnancy from everyone in the family. So had Grace who beams from the centre of the family photo.
“Grace is actually the woman who when I came into the world it was into her arms” said Kathryn. “And she’s still alive and she still lives in the house where I was born.”
Diane one of about nine kids besides Heather’s mom who died about five years ago then began to tell the family including the brother Kathryn never knew she had.
“When John tells the story he said I knew something was coming down the pipes because there they are going on and on about ‘well you know things sometimes happen and we have to roll with it maybe it’s a good thing’ so then they say well guess what your mom had a baby. The first thing he does is he says ‘really?’ whips out his cellphone and says ‘is she on Facebook? What’s her name?’ … So they find me and I look like my mom so he goes ‘oh my God there’s mom.’”
When meeting her Aunt Diane and Uncle Steve for the first time her newfound family told her they actually had family related to Steve in the area.
“‘We’ve got relatives up in Haliburton’ they said. I could give you their address and we just do a quick meet and greet there. And I said ‘well who is it?’ And she said Judy and Fred Phipps.”
The Phipps live just down the road from her on the same street.
“I said you don’t have to send me their address I could walk to their house I know them very well” laughed Kathryn.
A few weeks ago marks the third year anniversary of when Kathryn met her brother John. She was 53 and he was 46.
“He said he couldn’t be there he was away and then he walked in with a happy first birthday balloon” she said. “It still gives me goosebumps.”
Now the siblings celebrate every birthday together as well as holidays. Kathryn and Gord renovated their office into a spare room now that they have family to come visit and while Kathryn turned John on to her love for Christmas he has turned her on to his love for tanks so much so that she has what she calls a ‘command centre’ where with a gaming headset she plays online tank games with him.
“For three years we’ve never missed a morning where we say good morning and then a goodnight and we chat every single day” said Kathryn.
She’s also been able to meet John’s dad her mom’s first husband who immediately dubbed her his ‘found daughter’ her biological aunt and grandmother on her dad’s side and has communicated with her biological dad.
“This is just mind-boggling because I went through life just with myself and just you know holidays Christmas we just went to friends’ houses. You didn’t have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.”
Now her schedule is full with family events and family is sharing heirlooms with her that once belonged to her mother.
“They tell me ‘you’re so much like your mom’” said Kathryn. “Things I do or say they say ‘I can’t believe you never met her and yet you’re just like her.’”
Kathryn said one of those moments was when she first met her brother.
“I have never in my life ever ever ever cried saying goodbye to someone ever” she said. However after her first meeting with John as he was lifting her bag into the car she broke down.
“I just all of a sudden I could feel the waterworks coming and I’m thinking oh my God stop stop stop and he turns to give me a hug and I burst into tears. He said ‘oh no no this is just the beginning.’”
Kathryn said she was a mess leaving Gord perplexed about whether to drive away or turn back.
“I texted John when I got home and said ‘I’m so sorry I don’t know what came over me’” said Kathryn. “He said ‘you know what your mom came over you’ because my mom cried every single time she said goodbye to John. To this day I cry when I see him and I still cry when I leave. It’s not quite as waterworky but I’m so sad and I cry. He says ‘you’re so my mother.’”
Besides the crying connection giving her goosebumps the name connection between her and her cousin Kathryn and learning that her last name Doyle is the same as the maiden name of her best friend Linda Heeps Kathryn said something else took her breath away.
Kathryn’s mom married a second time Klaus. Klaus told Kathryn they had once visited Haliburton for a week.
“Klaus can’t remember exactly when it was there was a clock shop here owned by a German” said Kathryn. “To think I could have walked down the street and walked by them and not known.”
But instead of the what ifs Kathryn instead is thinking of what she has found and how her future has changed.
“So now I have this huge huge family” she said looking at the photo she so lovingly presents to the world. “I just feel so blessed. You don’t miss something you didn’t have but I’ll tell you these last three years have just been incredible.”