At 56-years-old, Cathy Johnson could have never imagined she'd find her birth family alongside an all-star cast of rock music legends.
Cathy's birth father and his bandmates in the early 1960's
Our client, Cathy Johnson, was born in Orange, California in 1966 and was adopted into a wonderful, loving family. She had never really given much serious thought to finding her birth family until a couple of years ago. The birth of her first grandchild made Cathy realize that she wanted to know more about her origins and family medical history so that she could pass that information on to her children and future generations.
Cathy with her granddaughter
When she first came to us, Cathy had a little bit of non-identifying information about her birth mother but the only information she had about her birth father was that he was believed to be Scottish. Fortunately, Cathy had already taken a 23andMe DNA test so I started digging in.
It was clear to me right from the start that most of her DNA matches were on one side of her family—most likely her maternal side. After just a few days of working with her DNA results, I identified her birth mother and found that she was still living. Cathy was excited and nervous and feeling exactly the whirlwind of emotions many, if not all, adoptees feel upon receiving this news.
After several weeks of trying to get a hold of Cathy's birth mother, we finally received a response: a request for no contact. She could not have been clearer. Cathy was understandably devastated.
It can take a long time to process something like this. It was not the turn of events Cathy had hoped for. No matter how long I do this job, it never gets any easier to deliver that news.
Cathy displayed such an incredible resilience and strength as she navigated through this experience, and to this day I am in awe of her. So when she inevitably asked if anything could be done to try to identify her birth father, I suddenly felt a lump in my throat. Cathy had just one or two DNA matches from her paternal side—certainly not enough for me to work with. I told her her only remaining option would be to take an AncestryDNA test to see if there were any more paternal matches she might be able to gain.
I reiterated how important it was to keep her expectations in check: the vast majority of people who take consumer DNA tests are Americans and so if her birth father was indeed Scottish, the odds were very much stacked against her of finding much more (if any) information to aide in the search. Cathy agreed that she had nothing to lose but understood to not let her hopes get too high.
Then her AncestryDNA results came in.
Cathy's birth father and his children, her four half-siblings
If you had asked me, based on my experience solving hundreds of previous DNA cases, to bet on whether Cathy's AncestryDNA test results would provide the information we would need to identify her birth father, I would have said her chances were slim to none. But sometimes you get a one in a million case that defies all odds. In fact, the thought that runs through my head when I think back on this moment in Cathy's search is that there must really be someone up there looking out for her ...Because her DNA test results were downright miraculous.
Not only did Cathy's top DNA match share an absolutely enormous amount of DNA with her, he had an undeniably Scottish last name: MacFadyen. But since Cathy also inherited some Scottish ancestry on her birth mother's side, I had to be sure that this wasn't a maternal DNA match.
After a quick bit of sifting through the rest of her test results, I was able to determine that this strong DNA match was, in fact, from her paternal side! And—wait for it—he was close enough to be her half-brother. I knew this was big so I immediately called Cathy to tell her what I had found.
By the end of that afternoon, I not only confirmed for Cathy that this DNA match was absolutely her half-brother, but I was able to give her the name of her birth father: Lachlan MacFadyen. Sadly, I also had to inform her that he had died only a few years ago. But the bright side was finding out that Cathy had more paternal half-siblings: another half-brother and two half-sisters.
A short time later, Cathy called to let me know that she had FaceTimed with one of her half-brothers, Corey, and that she had an unbelievably cool story to tell me.
Their father—who was very much from Scotland!—had been the lead guitarist for The Liverpool Set, a popular Canadian rock band in the 1960's. His stage name was Dave Donnell. His band had opened several times for Chuck Berry and had even toured with The Rolling Stones!
Cathy's birth father hanging out backstage with The Rolling Stones
The Liverpool Set posing with Chuck Berry
Finally, when I asked Cathy if she saw a resemblance between her and her birth father, she said yes, that the likeness was definitely there. But the real resemblance was between her birth father and her two sons:
Cathy's birth father as a young man, alongside Cathy's sons, Brandon and Hunter
What a remarkable journey this turned out to be for Cathy! And yet, as truly amazing as the stories are of her birth father's life as a rockstar and music producer, to me the best part of Cathy's story is her newfound connection with the half-siblings she never knew she had.
While on the phone with her recently, Cathy described her half-brother, Corey, as a "lovable, teddy bear type of guy" who now calls and texts her regularly to check in with his new sister. It almost makes me tear up thinking about it, especially after such a emotionally difficult first chapter of her birth family search. I just couldn't have hoped for a lovelier turnaround for a lovelier person.
Personally, I have to say that working Cathy's case is an all-time highlight. In large part, that's thanks to the multiple twists and turns and genuinely shocking moments we encountered along the way. But most of all it's because during that time I got to know one of the kindest, most gracious people I have ever met in my life. I challenge you to find anyone with a bigger heart or a braver soul than hers.
I always say that it's not just our clients that get the chance to accept the blessings that come their way during their search—it's truly us that get the blessing of knowing them and the honor to get to share in some small part of their journey.
Everyone has a story, and we want to hear yours! If you or someone you know is looking for biological family, start here.