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A senior took a DNA test decades after being adopted. He found 6 siblings he had never met

An Alberta man was nearly in his 80s when he found out he had six siblings across Canada. He poses with his two sisters. (Photo provided by Pat Atkins) An Alberta man was nearly in his 80s when he found out he had six siblings across Canada. He poses with his two sisters. (Photo provided by Pat Atkins)
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Fred Atkins always knew he was adopted, but what he didn’t know until he was nearly in his 80s was he had six siblings spread across Canada.

CTV News asked readers to share their discoveries after using 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage and other genealogy websites. These websites surfaced stories of uncovering family secrets, locating long-lost relatives and exploring family trees. More than 100 people responded to our callout.

One of those people was 83-year-old Fred.

The Alberta resident said in an interview with CTVNews.ca that he took a DNA test in 2020 because his granddaughter was curious about the family’s genealogy, after she recieved a message from a stranger suggesting a connection to Fred.

Until this time, Fred knew of one sister, Madeleine, who was adopted into the same family he was.

But in their quest to find out more, they discovered a connection with a stranger who turned out to be the daughter of a sister Fred never knew he had. And the discoveries kept coming.

The first match

This previously unknown niece said she'd been waiting for a DNA match to appear through the testing site she used, explained Fred and his wife, Pat.

This niece, Laura Cram Madalsa, was able to get in touch with Fred through his granddaughter, and so began a journey of uncovering the decades-old mystery that was the rest of Fred's biological family. Laura had been doing her own research, and helped piece the family back together.  

It took a few months for the newly acquainted niece and uncle to meet up because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but once the rules loosened, Fred and his wife went to Langley, B.C., to visit the niece and her mother.

It was on this trip west in 2021, that Fred met for the first time his sister, 86-year-old Lois.

Fred Atkins' family reunions have been emotional after the 83-year-old recently found out he had six siblings across Canada. Pictured are Fred's sisters Irene, left, and Lois, right. (Photo captured by Laura Cram Madalsa)

More siblings emerge

Only a year later, another DNA match popped up for Fred and his sisters.

This time, an Ontario resident who turned out to be cousin of Fred's niece reached out through an ancestry-tracing website. With the cousin came another surprise for Fred; he learned he had five more siblings.

He hasn't had the chance to meet them all. One brother had died by the time Fred learned of him, and another brother hasn’t been in contact with the rest of the family.

But he was able to connect with the remaining three, sisters who all live in Ontario.

Fred Atkins, an Alberta man, was nearly in his 80s when he found out he had six siblings across Canada. He poses with his new found sister Irene. (Photo provided by Pat Atkins)

“They all knew each other," Fred's wife, Pat, said. "They had no idea there was these other siblings. They wanted proof. They wanted to see birth certificates."

Pat said Fred's sisters took DNA tests as well to confirm their relationship

Digging up the family's roots

Research into the family's background, some of which was conducted by Fred's niece, Laura, revealed Fred's grandparents were homesteaders, part of an agricultural phenomenon in the late 19th century that attracted immigrants to Canada for cheap land under a policy.

Fred's mother had emigrated from Ireland, settling in Acme, Alta., a village located about 80 kilometres northeast of Calgary. She lived there for some time with a husband and three of Fred's siblings.

Pat said Fred's mother and her husband split up at some point, and that she went to work in Calgary, leaving the three kids in the care of their grandparents for a time.

Fred's mother had a relationship with a travelling salesman, who Pat said she and Fred knew about. She had three more children with the salesman, and gave them up for adoption. Those children were Fred, Madeleine and Lois.

Fred's mother then picked up her first three children and moved to Ontario, where she later married a man and had two more children.

The family's research suggests she had a total of eight children.

A future family meet-up

Pat and Fred said some of those eight siblings have met each other, while others haven’t yet.

Lois went to Ontario to met the two sisters in Ontario. I haven’t yet," Fred said.

Pat and Fred Atkins said some of those eight siblings have met each other, while others haven’t yet. Pictured is Fred's sisters, Lois, left, and Delores, right. (Photo provided by Pat Atkins)

He and Pat have, however, met his sister Irene during a family camping trip in the summer of 2022.

The family reunions have been emotional.

"It’s very overwhelming but also wonderful," said a teary-eyed Fred.

"They’re all wonderful, lovely, nice people," Pat said.

These reunions have also been complicated.

One of Fred's sisters has six kids and another has four, and Pat said the extended family members were leery about meeting anybody in the beginning.

"It took some time. Their children were concerned it might be upsetting for them, given that they all were totally unaware of the existence of the other three siblings (Fred, Lois and Madeleine)," Pat said.

But some came around to the idea, and Lois met with two sisters in Ontario sisters in the fall of 2023, Pat said.

Fred, too, said he wasn’t sure he initially wanted to find out about his family line.

"My sister had always been curious about the family when we were younger. I had no interest in pursuing anything until my granddaughter made this amazing discovery."

Now, he said, "I’m very happy"

The siblings' age is also a factor.

Pat said the two sisters she and Fred haven't met are in their late 80s and in two different long-term care homes, but she said she hopes a meet-up can happen this fall.

"We’re thinking we probably need to do it before too long, given everyone’s ages. It makes it hard for all of them to get together," Pat said.

While they plan to meet more of their suddenly expanded family, Fred's own branch of the tree continues to grow with the recent addition of a great-granddaughter.

The new additions have filled up not only the family tree but also his heart.

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