Ever met any long-lost relatives? How'd it go?

As an adoptee with approximately 7 zillion biological half brothers and sisters (okay, I exaggerate…there are 9 that I know of), I have got pretty much a lifetime’s worth of possibilities for meeting people I am genetically related to, but had zero connection to, or even knowledge of, while growing up.

The back stories would be much too long to tell here (readers would fall asleep before I was even a third of the way through the Byzantine explanation of my bio-family roots), but I’ve met genetic relatives on three occasions, including one just an hour ago, which is why I pose the question. It seems like people have a wide variety of experiences when they meet a long-lost relative, especially when adoption is involved.

For me, in all three cases it has turned out well. The first instance, a half-sister, is now a wonderful friend who I can without hesitation refer to as “my sister” (or half-sister, for people who know I grew up as an only child and would be confused if I said that). We’ve know each other for 20+ years and I have never felt a moment’s regret that she tracked me down.

Second instance, a half brother - we met once, liked each other, and that was pretty much the end of it. I chalk our lack of long-term contact to, “life is complicated, even without adding semi-sibling people with an exhausting backstory into the mix, despite the fact that they seem pretty nice.” I have no doubt that if we somehow were in close geographic proximity, we’d meet again and “click.” But the effort to stay in touch without a shared history is beyond what any of us feel like doing. (This goes for several other relatives as well, with whom I have exchanged occasional emails but never met or tried valiantly to stay in touch with.)

Third case, a half sister, I just met, along with her son (my son was there too) today. It was lovely! The first 20 minutes or so were a bit awkward - really, what do you say to someone with whom you share a totally evil sociopathic child-abusing parent, but virtually no other history - but we pretty quickly realized we were people who, if we met under more usual circumstances, would become friends.

Anyway, I’m curious how it has worked out for other people. I’d love to hear stories from Dopers.

My father had a younger brother who was estranged from the family for some reason that was never shared with me. He had not been heard from since I was about 8 years old. When Facebook became popular he found one of my sons there. We have a very uncommon last name and since my husband took my last name when we married (long story), my boys have my uncommon maiden name. Anyhoo, when my uncle saw the last name, he knew we were related. He corresponded with my son for about a year before my son happened to casually ask me if I remembered ______. I nearly fell off my chair!

I contacted my uncle and we corresponded for 2-3 years until he passed away. I am grateful to FB for reuniting us.

That’s an amazing story on many levels! I can relate to the uncommon last name issue; my mother had a probably-mangled-at-Ellis-Island maiden last name, and EVERYONE with that name (not that many people, but a well-knownish tennis pro and a few others) is related to her…and to me, if you subscribe to the idea that a legal adoption is as good as genetics. (I do feel just as related to my legal-but-non-bio-relatives; I assume that people like ZPG Zealot would disagree, but so it goes).

So - if you don’t mind my asking (tell me to f-off if you do, I will not take offense), how come your husband took your name when you married? If it’s a long story, no problem. I lurve long stories like that.

My mother was estranged from her two sisters. All three of the siblings had children, but we spawn never really knew each other past toddlerhood.

Long story short, I contacted one of my cousins whom I learned lived in a town I pass through when I drive to visit my parents. She invited me to stop in for a visit.

We share many characteristics, some of which were entirely unexpected: Our sense of humor, our choices to live in self-reliant ways, among others. Her style of writing is incredibly similar to mine. I have no idea why we share these traits, since we had almost nothing to do with one another growing up. But it was obvious we think alike in many different respects.

One big difference, though: She is a fundie Christian and I am an atheist. Her beliefs made her very wary of my lifestyle, so we didn’t draw close. I liked her and she seemed to like me, but she wasn’t comfortable trying to find common ground with a non-believer. Too bad, because I would have enjoyed spending time with her now and again.

I extended an invitation to her to bring her family to visit me, but she’s never taken me up on it. That was at least a decade ago.

So it goes.

My grandmother was tracked down by a brother once. She’d known she was adopted but didn’t know that she had had siblings in her previous family. It didn’t go that well. He could remember her, but she couldn’t remember him, and he was expecting a glorious family reunion after 50 years of painful separation from his baby sister while she saw a random guy from the street trying to force his way into her family. After a few weeks she asked him to just stop contacting her because she wasn’t comfortable with how fast he was moving. They exchanged a few holiday greeting cards after that but didn’t ever meet again.

My sister gave up her son for adoption when she was in high school. She’d thought about him a lot over the years, and she finally hit the point of wanting to find him. I don’t recall the timeline exactly, but I know it took several years and a bunch of letters to the adoption agency to be forwarded to him or his adoptive parents.

Finally, when he was about 30, they had a reunion, and eventually, he and his adoptive parents were subjected to the whole crazy family. My sister discovered she’s a grandmother, and she traveled to meet her granddaughter a few months after the initial meeting. While her son lives thousands of miles away, his adoptive parents live in the same city as my sis, so he’s been there a few times since the reunion. The adoptive mom made my sis a photo album of her son as he grew up - I thought that was really sweet of her.

One sad note, tho - my dad died long before this reunion took place. He had stayed in touch with the adoption agency over the years, and I know he’d have loved to meet his grandson. I suspect he didn’t really want her to have given the baby up, but I understand why it happened that way. And all things considered, I think it was for the best.

Back in the ‘70s, my dad did some genealogical research and left some documentation with a small-town Indiana library. Decades later we were contacted by a relative who had discovered the papers while doing his own research. The man (“Charles”) is my third cousin; we share a great-great-grandfather.

Charles and his wife love to travel, and I’ve met them several times. We seem to have a bond of some sort and enjoy each other’s company and corroborating on genealogy. Charles is able to travel for research; I have lots of family documentation and photos. It’s worked out quite well.

Recently a first cousin sent me a box of old family correspondence. In it I found a postcard from Charles’ great-grandfather to his nephew, my grandfather. It is the only known memento of the great-grandfather. The next time I saw Charles, I gave him the postcard. He almost cried. We both stood there silent for a while, overwhelmed by the fact that we were touching something our ancestor had touched a hundred years ago.

When my Dad died* the number of complete strangers who came to the funeral claiming to be my relatives was astronomical. I had no idea my family on his side was so huge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of them since then either.

They weren’t really “lost” though. They all seemed to be clear on who we all were.

*many many years ago now

My father’s family came from England, mostly in second class, not steerage. Most of them stayed in New York, and remained practicing Jews, but a few moved up to Connecticut, and quietly started going to the Episcopal church, and stopped contacting the rest of the family. This was around 1900 or so.

Around the year 2000, I was contacted by a third cousin because she was returning to Judaism, and she wanted to know specifically about our family’s practices. There wasn’t much I could tell her, because most of my traditions come from my mother’s side of the family, or from my aunt. We’re not even sure whether my father’s family (the part she was related to) is Sephardic or Ashkenazic.

I did invite her to holiday celebrations for several years, and Shabbes several times. I gladly helped her with her return to Judaism, but eventually she got married (to a Jewish man), and it was harder just to come down for Shabbes with her family once she had kids, plus, I went back to Indiana, so I have not seen her in a long time, but we are Facebook friends, so I keep up with her.