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A family reunion 69 years in the making

St. Albert's Rick Boyd found out about his siblings thanks to DNA test

A previous version of this article incorrectly named Rick Boyd's father as Gordon Wilson. His name is Gerald Wilson. The Gazette regrets the error. 

After nearly 70 years, St. Albert resident Rick Boyd is getting to know his side of the family for the first time.

Two years ago, Rick's wife Wendy bought him a DNA testing kit from Ancestry, hoping to put to rest a decades-old mystery. It all started when the man who raised him told Rick he didn't think he was his biological father, explaining he believed his real father had died decades earlier.

The 69-year-old said he mostly pushed the idea aside. Although their relationship wasn't a close one, he said he believed their lineage was – until years later, when he got the results back from the DNA test. That's when the missing piece of this family puzzle finally fit into place.

"I opened up the email, and it said I had two relatives,100 per cent, both named Wilson. No names, just Wilson," Rick said. 

It showed the two relatives were from Digby, N.S., about an hour away from where Rick had grown up in Greenwood, N.S. Three weeks later, a third-party collaborator came back with news that flipped Rick's life upside down: he had four siblings – two brothers and twin sisters. His father, who died at a young age in 1973 from a heart attack, was named Gerald Wilson.  

"To me, that's amazing. For 70 years, I didn't know that I have these people who didn't even know I existed, and they're blood to me. It's a pretty neat feeling."

At the same time Rick received his results, his brother Gordon Wilson, who is currently Nova Scotia's Minister of Environment, got a notification from Ancestry that someone named Boyd had connected with his family tree, five years after taking the test himself. With help from the collaborator, the two brothers spoke for the first time over the phone last February.

The two talked for about an hour, exchanging stories of their families and joking about political parties.  

"I had tears coming to my eyes, it was emotional – here's my brother," Rick said.

On May 13, Rick saw the new but familiar faces of his four younger siblings, Gordon, Doug, Janet and Joanne, for the first time over Zoom. They've been catching up and learning more about each other ever since, making up for lost time.

Through those conversations, Rick learned his father was an avid golfer, a dedicated family man and was skilled at mathematics, much like himself. While exchanging family photos, the siblings talked about how much Rick looks like his father.

"It was joyous, it was overwhelming," he said. "As soon as Gordon called me the first time, I felt instantly comfortable. And when we did the Zoom call, I knew it was going to be an easy transition."

Separated for decades

Years before his biological father Gordon was married, Rick's mother had a brief relationship with him after they met in Digby in 1951. 

They broke up, but during that time his mother had gotten pregnant with Rick. His mother then married another man, but she never told her son or Gordon about who the real father was. Meanwhile, about an hour away, his biological family lived without him, unaware of Rick's existence. 

After joining the military, Rick said he has only seen the father who raised him three times in his life. On one occasion, he called Rick and asked to meet him in Shearwater, N.S., in 1982 to tell him "something important." Rick flew down to have lunch with him, where he told Rick he didn't believe he was his real father. 

"He just said, 'I believe your real father had died in 1973 from a heart attack, and I'm telling you this because you need to make sure you don't have a heart condition that he may have had,'" Rick said. "It caught me off guard, but I didn't think a lot about it."

His family was in disbelief at first too – they kept comparing his likeness to his father's, but Rick knew he didn't share the same resemblance as his other two siblings. That mystery went unsolved for decades, until Wendy got him the Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas in 2019. 

Lucky choice, too. Had Wendy chosen another brand of DNA kit, his biological brother Gordon would have never gotten a notification about a potential connection. Both brothers used the Ancestry DNA kit, and Ancestry offers the choice whether to contact any DNA matches. 

"I would not have known at all. The results would have just come back and said there's no Boyd, but it wouldn't have said anything about the Wilsons."

'I knew my life had changed'

The siblings discovered they had crossed paths multiple times without knowing it. 

Rick and his younger brother Doug had both gone to Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., just at different times. Rick was friends with people in the military who knew his sister Janet Denyes' husband. 

"I drove right by their house to catch the ferry, not knowing that those four kids playing in the yard could have been my brothers and sisters," Rick said. 

Denyes said while the news was a surprise for all of them, talking with Rick for the first time felt "extremely comfortable."

"It's strange to say, but even though we haven't met face to face, it really feels like we've known him for a long time," she said.

She said her family strongly believes they would have met decades ago had her father known about Rick. As soon as she saw a picture of him, she said she had "no doubt in my mind that he was related to us."

"I can't see this being anything but positive moving forward – we're going to have a great time getting to know them even better."

The families are looking forward to meeting each other in person for the first time, Rick said. Earlier plans to meet last summer were cancelled due to the pandemic, but the siblings are hopeful they can organize a road trip for their families to meet in N.S. this fall. 

Wendy said in a way, lockdown measures from the pandemic have been a silver lining for the families as they get to know each other. 

"I think it's given time and distance for everyone to take their time and get to know each other. So when we go there, I don't think it's going to be awkward at all, because we're forming a relationship with them," she said. "But now, we're ready to go!" 

Rick said he is glad to know this reunion will also connect his daughters with family they never knew they had, for generations to come.

"I will never look back and say, 'What if?', because that doesn't prove anything. I'm looking forward to what's ahead," Rick said. "When we opened the email that day, right away, I knew my life had changed."