Praying for the family that I never knew

How a popular ancestry test provided answers I long sought

Photo: MeganBrady/Shutterstock

My family life was less than ideal. My mother and father separated before I was born. I was raised by my mother, who lived with my maternal grandmother. My grandfather already died a few years before my birth. My last name, Looney, is my mother’s name. And my mother was adopted into the Looney family.

All of my life, I never really knew anything about my ethnicity and because everybody on my mom’s side was an only child, I had no family tree. I could tell you Looney was Irish. If you visit Ireland, you can visit O’Looney’s in County Clare. But I knew it wasn’t my blood.

On Black Friday last year, I bought one of those AncestryDNA kits, a decision that has forever changed my life. My intention was only to discover my heritage. Could I confirm that I was really Irish? The results came back a few months later, and I was surprised and disappointed: 2 percent Irish. I contacted a relative on my father’s side who confirmed their family ethnicity which helped me narrow down my mother’s genetics in my DNA.

Could I confirm that I was really Irish?

If you have ever done AncestryDNA or any of the comparable kits, it’ll also suggest possible familial matches. I didn’t make anything of them, and I really didn’t care about that feature. A few weeks after my DNA was analyzed, I received a message from a person telling me that I was strongly related to their family. We conversed, eventually met, and through DNA comparison, we were able to identify my mother’s biological father. It’s a fact my mother never knew in her life. I remember going home after finding out this information, and because I had not yet celebrated Mass, I offered my Mass intention for his eternal rest.

Identifying my mom’s birth father and family was not life changing. It was just a piece of a puzzle and information I was happy to know. But three months ago, the next AncestryDNA message, was the life changer.

I received a message from someone who said, “You are my highest familial match, and I don’t know how.”

The person went on to say, “My mom was adopted so I don’t know any other information except her name.”

Given that my mother was adopted, you might have thought I would have put some pieces together right away. But it took a lengthy texting conversation to figure it out. I responded to the message saying that my mom was adopted, and back in 2011 we opened her adoption record and discovered the birth mother’s identity. I also said that I knew who my father was and my mother’s biological father was identified through AncestryDNA. I was willing to help and solve the mystery.

As we texted back and forth trying to identify common relatives, and if any were on my dad’s or my mother’s dad side, we determined there were none. Further questions and answers made it clear our mothers were related. Sharing pictures of our moms only confirmed that they were sisters (in fact people have mistaken her mom to be my mom), born three years apart, to the same woman, who put both of them up for adoption.

I’m an only child, of an only child, of an only child. I have little contact with my father’s side of my family. Given that everyone on my mother’s side is deceased, finding a first cousin was an amazing discovery. I ended up meeting this cousin for lunch one day and the family connection was strong. We had so many common interests. And given both our family histories, we were grateful to be family and in time have become friends.

Finding a first cousin was an amazing discovery.

This November as we remember the faithful departed, our beloved dead, I’ll be praying for new family members. AncestryDNA and the family research I undertook as a result has made me aware of all the family members for whom I should be praying for.

Finding obituaries for the biological mother, father, and biological grandparents, aunts and uncles, revealed that some did not have a funeral. As a priest, I’ve been able to offer a Mass intention for them and will continue to have Masses offered in the future. And not only have I prayed for my mother’s relatives, I’ve also prayed for and offered Mass for my cousin’s mom.

And in my prayer, I’ve wondered what that heavenly family reunion was like?

Padre Pio once said that he would wait at the gates of heaven until his spiritual children all entered the kingdom. I can only imagine that a mother, who never knew her kids in this life, might do the same, waiting for the day that her children joined her in the afterlife. And what must my mother have thought, to meet her mom and sister? These are thoughts which occupy my mind and meditation. I hope that reunion was as joy filled as I imagine it. And I can’t wait to meet all these relatives.

During this month of November, I will remember them and pray for them, knowing that from their place in eternity, they are praying for me, too.

Will I See My Relatives in Heaven?

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