Guess Who’s Coming to the Family Reunion?

Most people who know me, know that I hate to fly. On Friday last week I got on a plane and flew, by myself to Connecticut. The drive is 6+ hours so this made sense.  I was invited to join the Guillet Family reunion, so I went!  I stayed at Nil’s Charming New England home complete with pool, sugar house and vintage car garage. When I got there,  the yard was already set for Saturday’s event.  The Guillet’s know how to throw a party!  Big tent, bounce house, corn hole and enough food to feed a small army!  Aunt Gloria, Kristen, Brittany, Ryan, Cory and Nil did it right!  On Saturday afternoon, the family started to arrive. First was Aunt Gloria, then Aunt Jan, then Aunt Francine and Uncle Bob then it became a blur of Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces and Nephews. The weather was a perfect 68 degrees.  Sunny and bright. Some of the brave kids went into the pool. The water was 70 degrees! On top of it all it was Cousin Greg’s birthday so there was lots of cake.

Cousin Kim’s little daughter, Brooklyn had us all laughing when she went into the bounce house wearing her floaties and bathing suit and ran out stark naked! What fun is a family reunion without one streaking naked kid!

As the day progressed, I mingled with family and tried to connect with them all. Everyone hugged me, all welcomed me. I had cards made up for the blog address for those who were not on Facebook. I took about 40 cards with me and came home with none.  I got to meet Eric Jr. Eric is the cousin who went to Nil’s house and told him about me. Eric got extra hugs and thank yous!  I was also thrilled to see cousin Lisa there. Lisa is an Ancestry match with me and we’ve talked for more than a year. She was working with me and Aunt Gloria to help me as well. What a treat to get to meet them all.

When my Mother’s side of the family found me earlier this Summer, it was joyous. They had been looking for me for many years, and they found me.  My Father’s side of the family never knew about me,  but the welcome was just as sweet and honest from every single Guillet.  I say it all the time but it’s true. I am so very lucky to have the life and family that I have….. then at the right time, this happens. My family has grown exponentially overnight.

The reunion party lasted into the night with a camp fire and fireworks then a few Chinese lanterns went up and we watched them until they went completely out of sight.  There are a few name connections on the Guillet’s side. Cory and Brittany’s dog is named Daisy. Daisy was the name of my first pony.  I collect jewelry with Daisy designs.  It’s my favorite flower, and who could not love a sweet Yellow Lab named Daisy!  My Father, Nil,  has a cousin named Gayton Roy. When he was here he mentioned Gayton several times.  It’s pronounced exactly like our last name, Gaitten.  My Aunt Martha insists there are no coincidences. All things happen the way they are supposed to. I believe that.

Early on Sunday morning, before my flight, Nil and I drove about 20 minutes to Ansonia, Connecticut. This is the Town where he met Linda when they dated. Both families lived here in 1965,  just around the corner from each other. Nil was about 24 and Linda 20.  Nil drove me down the street where she had lived but he could not remember the exact house. My half sister, Kelly had called while we were in the car and she remembered it (it was her Grandparent’s house she’s seen photos).  She said it was across from a cemetery. We were definitely on the right street. We went by the house where Nil lived too.  The Town of Ansonia is absolutely charming with rich architecture in it’s historic homes and churches. I’m so glad we went.

On the way to the airport, we stopped at Ryan and Kristen’s house for a quick goodbye,  then we were off.   We got stuck in a 2 mile backup which delayed us a half an hour. Luckily, Hartford Airport is pretty small so I actually got all checked in before the plane even arrived.  Once I got on the plane, there was a man sitting in my seat by the window. He jumped up, apologized and moved quickly to his aisle seat. I said “no problem”. I didn’t care if he kept the window seat. I don’t really like to look out. But, he stayed in his seat. We chatted on and off during the flight. He was commuting to DC to catch a connecting flight to Belgium for his job. He asked if I was leaving home or going home and I said “going home” from a family reunion. I told him that I had just connected with my family this Summer for the very first time. Of course, that lead to more questions.  I told him some of the story and found one last card with the glog address on it hiding in my bag,  so I gave it to him.  He said it would be fun reading on his 7 hour flight.  When the plane landed, we got up and he said it was nice meeting me and I asked his name. He said “My name is Joe and I’ll never forget yours because my wife’s name is also Kelly”. This is significant. Those who have known me for a long time know that my first husband’s name was Joe and our marriage did not go well.

I won’t bore you with the details.  The quick thought on that, if I were still married to Joe, none of this would even be happening. I would not have had the courage or support from him to have started the search or even gotten this far. My self esteem and personal value was so low at that time in my life,  I would not have even tried.

Fast forward to 1999 when I married my love, Steve. Steve is my perfect soul mate. He allows me to be who I am.  I’ve grown so much as person,  just being with him and I adore him for that.

I know how lucky I am. I don’t know if it will last and I don’t know where the journey will end, but my heart is open.  I’m going where the path leads, ready for the next bend in the road.

Finding Brother Ryan

Shortly after my Mother’s side of the family found me, I went in search and actually located my biological father, Nil.  My research journal provided rich detail on the Guillet side. There were 10 children, but my journal only provided me with 8 names. Of those, one would be my Father. Of those 8 people, 5 were men and I had their names addresses, birth dates and I could see that three of them had already passed away.  My Mother’s sister remembered that she had dated Nil so I began my search there. Based on the latest data, it looked like Nil and Eric were the only sons of my Grandparents, who were still living.

One clue I already had, Eric’s son, Eric Guillet, Jr. was already a 1st cousin match to me in my ancestry DNA group. I was pretty sure Nil was the person I was looking for.

Nil was not easy to locate. I was given a phone number and email, neither worked. I Googled his name and found his business but no website. I went to Facebook and there, located his Facebook company page.  I sent a message through Facebook messenger simply asking how to reach Nil for a “Private Family Matter”.  Imagine my surprise when I got an immediate response!

I had my research journal so I was fairly confident that I could share that with whomever was on the other end of this conversation and they would understand but I was trying to be cautious. The conversation went something like this:

me: hello. I am looking for Nil. Do you know how I might reach him? It is a private family matter

Ryan:I’m family.. what is the issue

me: I might be his daughter. no joke. I’m the daughter of Linda Louise Marchand. Given up for adoption in 1966. I realize this is not a good way to present this but there is really no easy way. I want nothing but to let him know I exist and that Linda’s family has been looking for me and finally found me.

I did not know the person on the other end of this message WAS Ryan, my half brother. He took it well. He has a great sense of humor too!   I immediately sent him the research journal and we talked on the phone back and forth for several days to figure out what do to next. Ryan called his Aunt Gloria (Nil’s sister) to see what she thought would be the right way to approach Nil.

In the meantime, my Ancestry match 1st cousin, Eric Guillet and I had been discussing this. I told him I’d made contact with Ryan and what the DNA research journal information was and Eric decided he would go over to Nil’s house one day and have a chat. And he did! I got a message from Eric one afternoon that Nil would be happy to talk with me. He did not remember my Mother but with more information, he might and he was “open” to having a discussion.

I called Nil right away and he was jovial and very open to this discussion. He said he did not really remember much about Linda but knew that they grew up around the corner from the Marchand family and that Gloria and Linda had been friends in school. Nil was 4 years older than Linda.  We had a very nice chat and at the end I told him that Ryan and I had planned to do a sibling DNA test. Nil said he would prefer that he and I do that so we could be absolutely sure.   I appreciated that and the test was ordered, sent and received in a few days. The hardest part was waiting for the results because we sent our kits in right around 4th of July so there was a holiday holding up the mail.  On 7/11/2017, I received the DNA test results. I was really afraid to open it but I already knew the answer….Nil and I were a 99.9995% match for parent/child. No denying it- he was my Father.

I emailed it to Ryan and we talked on the phone for a bit. Then I think I called Nil. I can’t remember the day was a blur but I’m sure I sent it to Ryan before calling Nil so he could get a printed copy.  Ryan then sent a copy to his brother, Cory. Cory had no idea about any of this so I can imagine his shock!  Everyone took it well and then I called Gloria to let her know she was “off the hook” for telling Nil. I thanked Eric for his help and let him know we had the extra DNA test so that was that. Nil came to visit us for several days in August. That story is written please enjoy!

Pictured below:  Me with my half brothers, Ryan on the left, Cory on the right.

Next up- the Guillet Family Reunion!

The Stress Test

Yesterday, I had to go to the heart doctor and have a stress test. Not because I’m stressed but due to the fact that I was born with a heart murmur and have had several episodes of irregular or missed beat over the year that were a bit concerning.  It doesn’t happen often, but the doctor said let’s do it for a baseline to have in the file.  When I went to my annual appointment with Dr. Aziz, I updated my medical forms. Now that I have discovered my family, I now have a ton of medical history.  Sadly, there is heart disease on both sides. My biological mother, Linda, died from a sudden and massive heart attack at 62.  There is plenty of heart disease on my Father’s side as well.

We scheduled the stress test 4 weeks ago.  I have had to move it 4 times due to work conflicts!  Finally, I got there yesterday afternoon. As the nurse was prepping me for the test- putting the electrodes on for the EKG and monitoring during the test, we chatted. She asked if I had any changes, symptoms or worries that had brought me in for the stress test. My answer was “yes” but only because I had recently found my birth family and I now had medical history to share. She was intrigued and asked me more questions.  I showed her the photos of me and Kelly and told her the story that we have the same name. I continued with more of the story as we worked and as I began the test. Walking at a slow speed on a 12 grade incline gets your heart rate up quickly so I was out of breath but I she kept asking more questions simply enthralled so I shared this blog address with her so she could read the entire story and see more photos. I’m happy for you to share this with anyone who might find it interesting or who might be going through something similar.

I love to tell the story. People always ask me how do I feel? There is no simple answer.  Of course, I’m excited and happy!  I found both sides of my family. My Mother has passed but I have her brother and sisters and I know now she’s been all around me my entire life. She never forgot me and did the very best thing she could for me.  I have 4 half siblings that I never knew about and my Father is alive and well.  We have met and will spend more time together. We all have a lot of catching up to do on both sides of the family.  There doesn’t seem to be enough time for all we want to do but we are trying to make it work every spare weekend we can and we keep in touch by phone, Facebook, texting and Facetime.  I am enjoying meeting and talking with everyone, learning about their lives and families I am only just meeting.  It’s fascinating, amazing, enchanting, joyful and sometimes a bit overwhelming (in a good way).  I still feel like I’m talking about someone else at times then I realize, this is MY story!

Ok, back to the stress test. There are 7 levels. No one ever makes it to 7.  If you get to the 4th level,  you are golden…..I made it to the 4th level!  By the fourth level you are on a 21 grade incline going about 5 mph. The only issue I had was my biceps started shaking because I was hanging on so tight to keep my feet on the treadmill.   My heart and body are healthy. I am in excellent shape for my age.  I had only one PVC (Premature ventricular contraction), right at the beginning.   I never knew what it was. It feels a little like a shock or a bump then it goes away. It showed up on the EKG and it’s benign unless they become more frequent.  I am thankful that I have found my family and for the medical history that they have shared with me.  I have always been proactive about my health,  instead of reactive.  Now I can do more because I know more.

Live well, be well.

More updates are coming soon.  Next weekend is the Guillet Family reunion. I will travel to Connecticut to see my Father, Nil and meet my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews on the Guillet side. I’m very excited. I will update you and post photos soon!

Support System

Where would we be in life without someone to support us in our dreams, plans and projects?  After a busy few weeks of meeting my newly found family, I am reflecting on the outpouring of love and support. Support not only from my immediate family, but from friends, new and old.  I don’t mind sharing my story. Please send this blog to anyone who might enjoy it.  If I can help someone who is thinking of wading into their own search, I am happy to do it.  I can’t imagine how I could have gotten this far alone. My husband Steve, has been my rock through all of this. He hears me laugh and cry (happy tears) while I get through my days and weeks of discovery. My story reads like a daily soap opera. So many characters, so many things going on but he keeps track of them and he’s always up for the daily “update”.

Steve is the main reason I actually sent in my DNA test.  He’s the reason I do a lot of things. He pushes me to find more and do more, whether he realizes it or not.  He’s the voice in my head who tells me that I can succeed, even when I don’t believe it.

Stevenkel

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” – Booker T. Washington

My Mom, Pat is also my biggest cheerleader and has been incredibly supportive of any endeavor, my entire life. As a child she and my Dad pushed us to try new things and encouraged us to not just start, but finish a project to the end. I did not always do that but I tried hard.

I thank Steve, Mom and my  family for lifting me up and cheering me on even on my darkest days. We have all been there. Don’t go it alone. The buddy system works.

My Father’s Name is Nil

It’s a GIRL!!!  Nil J. Guillet just turned 75 in July. Imagine his surprise to find out he has a daughter that he never knew about.

GolfDay

Back up a bit to December 2016. I received my Ancestry.com research journal from Michael Miller. He’s a top notch researcher who worked with me to build my family tree backward. When you are adopted and your records are sealed, well you don’t know what name is on your original birth certificate, so you haven no starting point to build a tree using Ancestry.com.  All I had to work with was my DNA.  Michael’s report provided me with all of the data including the names of my grandparents and a comprehensive list of their children noting one of these is mother on Marchand side and one is Father on Guillet side.  I’ve had this information for 7 months but had no idea what to do with it.   I had an indication from my Aunt that my Mother (Linda Bresnock) had dated Nil Guillet. In fact, they all grew up around the corner from each other in the same town. My Aunt Martha on my Mother’s side and his sister, Aunt Gloria are still friends today.  More calls, questions and answers and the puzzle pieces fit right into place. I was sad to learn that my Mother, Linda, passed away in 2010. I would never have the chance to meet her.

Nil was ecstatic to find out he had a daughter. On my original birth certificate the only thing listed for Father was “Unknown”.  Nil did not know about me or remember much about Linda, but was open to hearing the story. The research journal was so thorough that there was no question he or one of his brothers was my Father. His brother, Eric was ruled out because Eric Jr. was already a 1st cousin match on Ancestry.  I thank Eric Jr., my newly found half brother, Ryan and Aunt Gloria for their help in breaking the news to Nil in a way that didn’t give him a coronary!

His other brothers were out of the area during the time frame or too old to fit the puzzle.   A parent/child DNA test confirmed we are 99.9995% match.

GuilletTree

50 years have gone by – this is was a birthday surprise for sure!

This past weekend, Nil made the trip to Virginia to meet me and to visit with Steve and I.  We took him to meet my Mom, Don, Deena and Ed and today, he met Steve’s parents too!  Nil brought photos of the family that now help me put faces to the names on the two dimensional family tree. My grandparents are pictured below. George Guillet and Olivet Roy Guillet.

OlivetandGeorgeGrandparents

Nil Guillet was one of 10 children. He was born in Vermont where he learned as a child to tap maple trees and make syrup by a local farmer.  His “sugar” hobby really started about 15 years ago in earnest and he now produces enough to sell at the local farmer’s market and keep his friends and family in syrup for life.  The official title is a “Sugar Maker”. This is becoming a lost art form. Of course, he brought us some and now we are hooked.

His interest and passions span from syrup to cars. Nil enjoys NASCAR racing and actually driving race cars when he gets the opportunity. He is a car enthusiast and has quite a collection including two Thunderbirds;  one of the first and one the last ones made. Nil drove the newer one down here for his visit.  Nil also restores antique John Deere Tractors. He was a tool maker by trade which is helpful in his work with cars and tractors. He is also a builder which is sort of funny since I am a Realtor.

Thunderbird

Nil is a beloved Grandfather to his 5 grandchildren. His sons, my half brothers, Corey and Ryan, live near their Dad. They are a tight knit group.  They all work together in the family business started by Nil many years ago. Ryan and I have connected by phone, email and text and we chat regularly. Ryan’s wife, Kristen, has already reached out and “hugged” me into the family by phone, text and FB.  I can’t wait to meet them all. Corey and I have just started trading texts and photos. I look forward to meeting him and his wife Brittany and all of those new Nieces and Nephews, and Aunts and Uncles.  syrup1

This weekend was time spent with someone I never knew I had. He’s part of my DNA but we have had very different paths. I can see some resemblance (thank you for the eyebrows) for sure. There are also funny things like vertigo and claustrophobia I am going to credit Nil with passing along to me. All in good fun. He’s a happy fellow with a quick laugh and tons of great stories. We shared some of ours too. It’s easy to make him laugh.

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One thing Nil and I have in common is golf.  Playing golf with a Dad you never knew you had is a very special thing. We went out yesterday and had the time of our lives. Most of our friends at LGCC know the story. Steve could not help himself he told everyone the first weekend we found out and our friends are amazing and very supportive.

Yesterday, Nil might have been a bit overwhelmed at the amount of friends stopping over to say “hi”, but we had to show him off and introduce him all around. He took it all in with good humor. We enjoyed our time on the patio afterward with our hard earned drinks!

A weekend is not much time to catch up 50 years. I know there will be more time to connect and enjoy. More trips are planned – lots more family to see and meet. Life is good. Ancestry is great. It’s allowed me to finally find and tell my story.

For now, I’m humming along to one of my favorite songs that I always associated with my Father, Don Lynn. The only father I ever knew- he was my idol and my inspiration.  “Silver Thunderbird” by Jo Dee Messina. This song still makes me think of him.

Now, I have a new appreciation for the lyrics and somehow it also links my connection to Nil.  https://itun.es/us/KeVge?i=68874150

More updates on the adventures as we have them.

 

 

Cousins

I have many new cousins! Although my Aunt Jeanne lives several hours away in PA, my Aunt Martha and Uncle Victor live within an hour’s drive. We could have all passed in the grocery store. We have surely passed each other on the road.  Martha’s son, Mark is 3 months older than me. Aunt Martha told me that she was pregnant with Mark while her sister (my Mother) was pregnant with me. Martha said Mark was her reminder of me. Looking at him kept me in her thoughts.

I was very excited to meet Mark and his wife Jennifer and their daughter, my 2nd cousin, Mariana yesterday. They live in Strasburg, VA which is maybe an hour from my house. We decided to meet in the middle. Jennifer suggested Joe’s Steakhouse in downtown Winchester. What a gift of a day it was. The weather was perfect. Joe’s was the right place to have a quiet brunch and get to know your family.  Mark and Jennifer also live in an old house and we caught up on each other’s lives for the brief hour and a half we had together.  Mark is funny and grounded. He and I would have been big buddies had we grown up together- I just know it.  Jennifer is his perfect match. They finish each other’s sentences and razz each other in a fun way. Mariana is 13.  She is a home school student and extremely bright and articulate. She shared funny stories and brought her sketch book to show me one of her abstract drawings. She’s a gifted artist. You can see that immediately. She asked me not to flip through the book. Another trait of a good artist. I respected her request,  but I was dying to see more. We are connected now on Instagram so I can review her art as she posts it.  Mark and Jennifer are already connected to me on Facebook as are many other cousins. It’s going to take time but I’m getting through the list and meeting everyone as time allows!CousinMarkJenniferMariana

Siblings

edkeldeegrandad

My recent discovery of my birth family has caused several revelations that I did not expect.  I have 4 half siblings that I never knew about, nor they did not know about me. I always wondered if I we met would we have an instant connection. Kelly Marie and I had that immediately the first day we talked on the phone. We have had completely different lives yet we had some common bonds, similar habits and lots of stories to tell. It will likely take us the rest of our lives to “catch up”,  if we ever do.

However, my brother Ed and my sister Deena are my life long siblings. We have a deep connection. They have more dirt on me and can push my buttons like no one else.  You see, my parents adopted me and Ed because they thought they could not have children.  2 years after I came home, my Mom had surgery and magically my sister was conceived! Still, our parents loved and treated us all the same- fairly.  They loved us beyond words. We were not wealthy, but my parents worked hard. We had all any child could want or need. We were a complete and happy family unit. Oh, there was drama, mostly caused by me. My sister, Deena has all the dirt and can bring up things I’ve long forgotten.  Deena and I share a love of horses that began when I was 5. She, being 2 years younger, followed me, and fell in love with horses too.  It all started when Daddy brought home a pony in the back of a pickup truck for my 5th birthday.  We named her Daisy.  I would not say I was spoiled, but my Dad loved doing things like that for us, because he could.  We enjoyed daisy and he built a little barn for her and my Mom’s horse, Dolly.  Dolly was too big for us to ride so eventually we got more horses and started showing them at our local barns.  Deena and I would spend summers at the barn from dawn to dusk. All of our friends rode horses. Dawn and Colleen were another pair of sisters who rode together and we are still friends today.  My brother, Ed and I also spent time together but he was not an outdoor kind of guy.  I give him full credit for my love of music and my “geeky side”. I say that with true affection.  I am the middle child. We are all 2 years apart. I always had someone to play with or hang out with.  Ed had us playing board games & card games. He collected records and we would play them all the time. Some over and over again. He spent his summers reading books and watching TV and he always had Star Trek or sci fi movies on. He found the most interesting things to watch on TV because he always had the TV guide. None of us ever got to look at it. He carried it around with him constantly.  Ed is talented- he has a beautiful singing voice.  We used to do duets in the car on family road trips. He engineered skits for us and we did “shows” for our parents. All three of us would perform something silly for them after dinner on the makeshift stage in the basement.  Our parents took us camping. We ate dinner together every single night.  I can say without any regret, say my childhood was amazing!

So, as all stories go here is the sad part……In 1991, Daddy passed away from lung cancer. I was 22 years old and my Mother was a widow in her mid 40’s.  My brother and sister and I we were all over 20 years old,  but still very close. Losing our Dad was the single worst experience of our lives. This man raised us and loved us without measure. He adored and treasured his children. We were very close. The loss only strengthened our family bond. The four us leaned in and held on tight. Mom is a rock, an angel and the most amazing person in the world. She taught us so many things.  How to grieve, deal with that huge loss, then how to live life.  She adopted two children and made them her own. She continues shaping our lives, even to this day. I speak with my Mom on the phone every single day.  There’s always something to share or enjoy with her, or advice that I need.

Ed and Deena and my Mom are who I am, and who I have become.  They might not share my DNA but I would go to the ends of the earth for them, and they would for me.

I very much look forward to meeting my other half siblings, Ryan, Corey and Doug. I am curious about their summers growing up, and what they learned and who they have become.

Deena, Me, Ed, Mom in 2015                            Deena with Daisy, Me with Slippers