The following feature appeared in Peace Arch News’ Indulge magazine, published March 26.
Rummaging through her parents’ belongings while they were out of the house, British teenager Maria Vincent found a clue that set her on a lifelong journey of discovery.
She happened upon her adoption papers, which included her biological mother’s name, but not her father’s.
Although she had been told at age seven that she was adopted, she decided not to search for her biological family until after her adoptive parents passed away.
Then, for more than a decade, Vincent, now 62, followed a trail of breadcrumbs from England to Australia.
The pathway she was on eventually led her to a locked door. On the other side of that door was the answer to every question she had.
Unbeknownst to her at the time, that door led to Canada – more specifically, White Rock. And the key, it turns out, was DNA.
• • •
Vincent’s first step in finding her biological family was to figure out where her mother, Anne, grew up. She learned that Anne was born in Herne Bay, a seaside town in Kent, southeast England.
About 15 years ago, Vincent left messages on the Herne Bay school website, as well as town message boards and adoption sites.
A few years later, she received an email from a man suggesting he knew her mother. However, that turned out to be a different woman of the same name and age.
“I accepted that and I left it,” Vincent told PAN via Zoom from the U.K.
“As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it. And then, nine years ago, I come home from work one day and there was a message on the answering machine. This guy said, ‘Hello, I’m Alex, I’m trying to get in touch with you.”
Vincent assumed he had the wrong number. The man, Alex Bushell, phoned again and said that he was calling from Australia and he would keep trying until she answered.
“I still thought it was the wrong number.”
Then Vincent spotted something unusual. One day, while on LinkedIn, she noticed that a woman named Cindy Bushell – married to an Alex and working as a banker in Australia – had viewed her profile. Vincent started digging.
“There was a family blog, I looked at … pictures of their children. One of their children looked so like one of my children. At that point, I emailed and said, ‘Who are you? Why are you looking at my profile? Why is your husband leaving messages on my phone?’
“They got straight back to me and said, ‘We may be your family,’” Vincent said.
It turned out that Cindy was Vincent’s sister-in-law and Alex was her half-brother, who had been told about her when he was 15. He had looked for her, on and off, over the years and discovered a message Vincent left on one of the adoption websites.
Vincent made a trip to Australia to meet her long-lost family, and learned that her mother was still alive.
With one mystery solved, another unfolded before her.
Vincent was put up for adoption at three months old, but by now Anne couldn’t recall the name of her father.
Vincent was told that her mother was only 19 when she got pregnant. At that time, people younger than 21 couldn’t marry without their parents’ permission. Anne’s mother wouldn’t let Anne see Vincent’s father.
“I think the only way she coped with it was to blank it,” Vincent said.
“I think it was all caused by the thought she had to give me up. It was so traumatic. There was no counselling in those days and she obviously had no support whatsoever.”
After getting so close to finding the answer she was looking for, Vincent now found herself standing in front of a metaphorical locked door.
Then she saw an advertisement for a MyHeritage DNA test.
“I thought, I’ll get myself one, so I did. And it came up with this DNA match for a Colin Lewis and the match was very close. It was either a half-brother, grandfather, nephew, or uncle… But there was no contact details.”
The DNA test provided information for a few other people Vincent matched with. She contacted the matches and asked if they knew Colin Lewis.
“And there was no matches… brick wall again.”
One good thing to come out of the COVID-19 lockdown, she said, was that she had more time for internet sleuthing. She found an article about a Colin Lewis and his time in Ireland when he was a child. The article mentioned two brothers, Barry and Brian.
“And we found a couple other articles. And one of them mentioned he had a wife named Jackie.”
• • •
Vincent first contacted Peace Arch News on Feb. 10 with an unusual request. Vincent explained she was on a search to find her biological father, and that a recent DNA test indicated that she shared DNA with a Colin Lewis. She suspected Lewis was an uncle.
In an email, Vincent shared a link to a Peace Arch News article from June 3, which quoted Jacqueline Lewis. Vincent’s investigation, she wrote, indicated that Colin Lewis lives in White Rock, married to a Jacqueline, and are about the same age as her uncle.
“She and her husband fit the profile of the people I am looking for,” Vincent said, asking PAN to put her in contact with the Lewis family.
PAN forwarded Vincent’s email to Jacqueline, and Jacqueline reached out to Vincent.
Vincent’s suspicion was confirmed: Colin is her biological uncle. Her father, Barry Lewis, died in 1991.
• • •
Finally, after 15 years of searching, Vincent found the answers she was searching for when she met with Colin and Jacqueline over Zoom.
“It’s like the last piece has gone in a jigsaw puzzle. You’ve just been searching for it, you know it’s somewhere. It’s one of those puzzles where you do a bit, and then you put it down because you just can’t do it anymore. You look at it, and there’s a little bit more,” Vincent said.
Colin and Jacqueline, who were “delighted” to be contacted by Vincent, shared photographs of her late father.
It was the first time she saw what her biological father looked like.
“I’ve got his eyes. You look at a photograph and you think, do I look like him? What bit of me looks like him? It’s the eyes.”
Barry was the artistic type and not into sports, while Vincent is quite the opposite.
“What I have inherited off of him was a wicked sense of humour and he was a practical joker, which is me, I’m the one at work always getting in trouble.”
On learning that her father had died, Vincent said she felt sad that she didn’t get a chance to meet him. Vincent got in contact with Barry’s widow. She told Vincent that Barry kept a photograph of her.
“But he always kept a photograph of me, apparently, and showed it to people. That was nice. I knew that he sort of wanted to know,” Vincent said.
Vincent said once COVID-19 restrictions lift, she will be booking a flight to Canada to visit her long-lost uncle.
Jacqueline Lewis told Peace Arch News they were excited to be contacted by Vincent.
“The whole situation is amazing, really, that she was able to connect and how she was able to connect,” Jacqueline said.
Jacqueline said Colin had his DNA tested to confirm a connection to a long-lost cousin in Ireland. Colin and his siblings, from England, evacuated to Ireland during the war. In Ireland, their mother died and the siblings were put in orphanages where they lost contact.
“We had no idea that Barry had another child,” Jacqueline said. “It was a surprise to us.”
After they grew up, Colin and Barry were reconnected with the help of the Salvation Army.
Colin and Jacqueline moved to Canada in 1967, and eventually to White Rock in the 1970s.