Genealogy was the key to finding a first cousin nobody knew about

Bonnie Mattson

Bonnie Mattson

Two years ago, Bonnie Mattson, of Concord, California, discovered a first cousin that no one in the family knew anything about. He was 68 years old.

“My father had one sister, Grace,” says Bonnie. “She was married during World War II. She had one of those marriages where she was dating a boy, and they were afraid he would die in the war, so they got married quickly.”

While her husband was away in the service, Grace fell in love with a man at work, and they had a son, William. When her husband came back, they were divorced. The father of her child was unable to marry her at that time.  Through an advertisement in the paper, she found a couple in Chico, California, who were looking to adopt a baby. Grace moved to Chico and gave her child to this couple to adopt.

“Thirty-five years later, she was still with the father of her child, whom she had married,” Bonnie said. “They had five more children. I think my mother knew about the adoption, but it was never mentioned after it happened.  Because Grace was living away from home on her own, they were not sure if anyone else knew about it.”

Many years later, William’s adoptive mother died, and his father informed William and his sister that they were both adopted. So William decided to try to find his biological mother.

It wasn’t easy—he searched for more than 35 years. She had given a false name for herself on the adoption papers, and he didn’t know that. But she did provide an accurate birthplace and birth date. As he searched in the small town in North Dakota to try to find her, he learned that no one had been born there by the name she had given on the adoption papers.

“Fast forward another 33 years,” Bonnie says. “William moved to Idaho. There at his church he met a woman who was interested in genealogy. She became his friend, and she tried to help him find his mother. He had DNA testing done and came up with a last name. After months of analyzing and talking with experts, his friend was searching on the Internet for people of that name.”

William's mother Grace died while he was still looking for her. But his genealogist friend found Bonnie on her blog about her Aunt Grace’s funeral. Bonnie had gone to the funeral, taken lots of photos for her blog, and included the obituary, which said where and when she was born in North Dakota.

“So this lady found William's family for him,” says Bonnie. “They knew immediately that the photo was his mother from my blog post—he looks like her. He recognized what had happened, and it took him a few days to get used to it.

“He sent a letter that reached all the kids [his siblings] at the same time, telling them he was their brother. They all were so thrilled. All the siblings and their spouses spent four days together, loving and hugging each other. They said they felt complete for the first time—that they had always felt something was missing.”

Bonnie hasn’t yet met her cousin William, but she and he correspond all the time, she says. “When I see a picture of him, it reminds me of my dad—he looks so much like him. Talking with him will be like talking with my dad.”

Pondering how to describe that wonderful experience, she said, “You know how you feel when we do temple work and connect a family on the other side? It's magnified 100 times when it happens on this side.”

To read “Amazing Grace,” Bonnie’s blog post about her Aunt Grace, click here to visit her blog.

Permalink to this story (opens in a new window)