HARTFORD, Conn. — While coronavirus pandemic restrictions have kept untold families apart this year, Jane Anderson Holmes could not wait another day after 40 years of searching for her biological siblings.
Last week she returned to Connecticut, where she grew up with her adopted parents and attended Danbury High School, to meet for the first time two of her brothers and one of her sisters who, unbeknownst to her, had been just 90 minutes away in Massachusetts when they were children.
Decades later, after commercial DNA testing finally broke the logjam in the family’s search for answers, they were together at last this Labor Day weekend in Holyoke, Mass.
Even in the midst of strenuous coronavirus precautions and testing, the newfound family knew the trip already was worth it when Holmes ran across the terminal at Bradley International Airport and into the arms of Kim Henn, her long-lost sister, for the very first time last Thursday.
“When you’re adopted, you really don’t have anybody you look like,” Holmes said. “You just had this feeling you really don’t know who you are. As soon as I talked to these three, my heart just filled up and I knew.”
Holmes is the first-born child of Nancy Stephens, the late matriarch of an extended family split up by several adoptions over a decade in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Stephens was just 17 years old when she traveled from Massachusetts to Florida to have Holmes and chose to place her first daughter for adoption.
Holmes then grew up in Florida and Danbury before attending college in West Virginia, where she has lived ever since. She knew she was adopted and was raised with an adopted brother, but she never pursued questions about her biological parents and never considered whether she had other siblings until college.
“The older I got, the more curious I got, and the more longing I had in my heart to know who I was and where I came from,” she said. “Did I have siblings? Was my mother still alive?”
Those questions began a lifelong quest for Holmes, who had just a small amount of information from her adoption attorneys and medical paperwork to go on in a pre-internet era. Even a private investigator struck out in the search nearly 20 years ago.
But Holmes did, in fact, have several siblings and they were on the hunt for her all those years, too.
Tim Cutler was born two years after Holmes and David Cutler two years after that, David said. Their mother and father did not stay together long, but the boys and their mother did.
In 1964, Stephens gave birth again to a boy, George, and another two years later gave birth to a girl, Kelly. Both were placed for adoption.
Finally, Stephens gave birth to her youngest child, Kim, whom she raised with Tim and David.
There were always hints growing up that the three children had other siblings, but Stephens never shared specifics. Any stories and details she did have were still locked away when she died 17 years ago.
But her children took it upon themselves to seek out the family members they knew they had but could not locate.
“One of the things she always said before she passed was that she wanted to know that all her children were happy,” David Cutler said. “That was her biggest wish. She put the emphasis on that ‘all.’ I understood what she meant.”
The Cutlers also struggled to make headway on their search in the early internet era, finding it just as discouraging as Holmes did during the same period. Both sides began to piece things together through Ancestry, the genealogy service, in more recent years but still had not found one another until this year.
Across the country, commercially available DNA testing has led to a wellspring of family reunions as curious people submit their own samples for analysis to sites like 23andMe to find out more about their family history. Like Holmes and the Cutlers, some use the tool to intentionally seek out family, while others have unwittingly and painfully learned about secrets their parents and families kept from them years ago.
“We are very blessed to have had a very, very good happy result for this, and I know there’s a lot of people that don’t,” Holmes said.
In late July, Holmes received notification from 23andMe that she had matched with a first cousin and reached out to her. It turned out to be David’s daughter, a U.S. Navy member serving on a destroyer in the Indian Ocean, who knew of her father’s search and realized she had been contacted not by a cousin, but her long-lost aunt.
David Cutler had suspected another woman was his sibling, but as soon as they spoke on the phone, he knew he had finally found his biological older sister. They immediately set out to navigate the coronavirus restrictions and precautions to arrange a safe, COVID-free reunion back in their home state of Massachusetts.
“The first thing David said is, ‘You have mom’s eyes,’” Holmes said.
The family was spending Labor Day weekend trying to catch up on far more than could ever fit into four days, visiting Stephen’s parents’ graves and telling stories about their own children and grandchildren. They hope to get every newfound generation of family together in one place as soon as the pandemic dissipates and public health measures allow.
Until then, there is yet more work to do for the siblings.
George and Kelly are still missing pieces of their family puzzle, so Holmes and the Cutlers are expanding the sites to which they submit DNA samples to try to find the right matches.
“Mom always liked puzzles, and she left us the best puzzle we could ever have, and it’s really brought us all close together,” Henn said. “I think this is what she really wanted.”
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