Identifying a Canadian Birth Mother: A DNA Story

Melanie Mohler

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Marie shares how she helped a cousin with Identifying his Canadian birth mother, and how this discovery helped their family solve a 120-year-old family mystery.

In 2017 Marie Hunt* was contacted by Buddy Brown, who had just taken a DNA test and appeared to be Marie’s cousin. Hunt is a very common surname in Quebec, where Marie’s paternal ancestors were from.

“Everyone whose DNA matches me at the first cousin level was adopted in the 1940s, as was I,” Buddy told her. He found out he was adopted when his adoptive mother died, and didn’t know who his biological parents were. When Buddy obtained his birth certificate, he was given a potential clue that his birth mother’s name was Clara. But the only thing that he knew for certain was the hospital where he was born.

For years, a number of Buddy’s matches shared the Hunt surname, making it easy to assume that one of his parents’ surnames was a Hunt. For five years, Marie and Buddy tried every imaginable combination to see if it would yield the correct level of matches among the Hunt families. Buddy tested at other DNA testing companies, but still there were no good matches.

Finally, Buddy received a surprise DNA cousin match at 1100cM on Ancestry. This match, Steve Xavier, was very receptive and wanted to help Buddy and figure out the truth. From the amount of shared DNA and their ages, Buddy and Steve appeared to be first cousins. Knowing that first cousins have the generation of connection at the grandparent level, that meant that one of Buddy’s biological parents would be Steve’s aunt or uncle.

Identifying a Canadian Birth Mother

That hint about Buddy’s birth mother he had gleaned when he obtained his birth certificate suddenly seemed relevant. It was discovered that Steve had an aunt named Claire who, at the time Buddy was born, lived in the same city as the hospital where Buddy was born.

There was a rumor that Claire had given birth to a baby boy while living in Buddy’s city, but the baby died. Claire couldn’t be tested as she had already passed away, but fortunately she had a daughter, Michelle, who was considerably younger than Buddy and agreed to be tested. Voilá! Michelle is Buddy’s half-sister, meaning that Claire was Buddy’s mother, and the rumor about the baby having died was most likely told to not have her family know that she gave the child up for adoption.

But how was Marie connected to the Xavier family? This question remained unanswered. And as Steve had more of his family members test, Marie’s DNA match list got longer, too! It was time to look into their connection.

120-Year-Old Family Mystery Solved

Interestingly, fresh insight came when the Xavier men took a YDNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. They found that they actually had Hunt YDNA! The Hunt family (not their real name) were early pioneers in Quebec and their YDNA has been documented by many hundreds of men. As was explained by one of the volunteer researchers at FTDNA, if a genetically-Hunt male had a different last name, this means there was a different father than expected–a different rooster in the henhouse, so to speak. But where and when did a different (Hunt) rooster get into that (Xavier) henhouse? The Xavier family went into full DNA test mode, testing living siblings of Claire who were in their late 90s and in nursing homes. The results were surprising, especially with Claire’s youngest sister.

Clearly, the Xaviers (who were genetically Hunts on the paternal line) shared a common ancestor with Marie. The only place in their trees where the Xavier family crossed the Hunt family was in a New England town between 1900 and 1907. While the Xavier family was living there, they unfortunately experienced the deaths of five children in a row. Marie suspected the break in the line was at this generation, especially since the Xavier family moved back to Quebec a short time after their sixth—and only living—child was born.

One of the Xavier cousins said he had enough. He began demanding either that the whole older generation of aunts and uncles get tested or they tell him the truth. One told him the story. In 1904 after having had five babies die, their great-grandmother took a job at a local company where Walter Hunt (Marie’s great-uncle) was employed. They had an affair and the “Xavier” grandfather, Bertie, was born.

To keep Bertie, their only living child, the Xaviers moved back to the family enclave in Quebec and told no one. However, the boy simply did not look like anybody they knew and the family had its suspicions. On his deathbed, the great-grandfather revealed the secret.

Genetic family tree of Buddy Brown. This chart was created with Lucidchart.**

Pictures of Marie’s great uncle Walter were later found, and he looked so much like Bertie that they could be twins. The mystery was solved. The Xavier paternal line was really the Hunt line. From 1904 to 2022, it remained hidden to the rest of the family. One person’s quest for his parents (Buddy’s) and another’s quest for the truth (Steve’s) finally brought it to light.

The moral of this story is to keep digging, have an open mind, try everything, and make sure you can put the people together in the same city at the same time as the person was conceived and that all parties are ages that work out. This is a 120-year-old mystery solved.

Solving this mystery required contacting several of Marie’s and Buddy’s DNA matches to gather clues and do the genealogy. Contacting your own matches could be just what you need to untangle your own family mystery! Download our free guide to contacting your DNA matches so that you know what to say about how to reach out.

Contact Your DNA Matches

*All names in this blog post have been changed.

**When you purchase using these links, Your DNA Guide may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

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