Tom Dewey of Boothbay has been busy connecting with newly found family for over six months. Tom was the youngest of two, he and his sister Debi, but in mid-June last year, he found out he had a younger half-sister, Lisa, who was given up for adoption.
Lisa reached out to their mother, Faye, after being linked as a likely mother-daughter match through AncestryDNA tests both had taken. After some deliberation, Faye broke the news to Tom through a bombshell letter: Not only did Tom have a half-sister younger than he is, but his older sister Debi was actually his half-sister.
“I love you more than I can ever tell you or prove to you. I sincerely hope that you do not hate me and never want to see me or be around me after you read the following. I have been pushed to finally disclose to you the sins of my wayward youth.”
“Honestly, when I read it I just started laughing because I'd been trying to find out information about my biological father for years and she always claimed it was my sister's father,” Tom laughed.
Years under the assumption “Dewey” as a starting point would be a safe bet, Tom found out the name was a variation on James “Jimmy” Peterson or Pederson. Faye and Jimmy met only once and he was gone before she could tell him she was pregnant. And because she could not be sure of the spelling, Tom ran into a plethora of iterations.
Tom decided he was going to do an AncestryDNA kit of his own. Sunday, June 17 was Father's Day and Ancestry.com had a promotional discount. In an age of “push, click, send,” the hardest part was waiting the six or so weeks for the results.
When they came in, Tom dove in, drawn instinctively to his mother’s side of the tree considering he just found out about his sister Lisa a little more than a month before.
“I was focusing on the maternal side and I said 'Wait a minute' and I went over to the paternal side. I had over 400 DNA hits just on my dad's side.”
Tom sent emails to a few cousins on his father's side just hours after receiving the results. Dixie, a second cousin, asked him to send a better photo of himself so she could see if there was any familiarity between him and her family.
“You're definitely a Peterson,” Dixie replied. “I'm going to send out some emails to your brothers and we'll see what happens.”
“’Brothers’ double,” Tom asked himself. Not exactly.
It turned out Tom had four brothers and two sisters – Jeff, twins Stephen and Stephanie, twins Kurt and Kent, and Julie. Dixie got Tom in touch with Stephen and Jeff, and Tom got a reply and Facebook friend request from Stephen almost immediately.
“And within two hours of all this happening, I was on the phone with him. It was some pretty intense stuff, pretty amazing.”
Unfortunately, Tom found out his father had died a few years ago as did one of his siblings, but the relatives filled Tom in on everything they could think of. The family is from a small town called Viroqua, Wisconsin and the siblings are currently scattered between the hometown, Colorado, Texas and Ohio.
They told stories of the father they knew and gave another twist to the story that made the reunion even more surreal. When Jimmy and their mother first met, they had their first child out of wedlock. Taboo at the time, the baby was given up for adoption, but the couple later married and had their family. After years of searching, Jimmy and his wife’s firstborn, Chuck, found the Petersons through Ancestry just months before Tom.
In late September, Tom traveled west to Washington where his mother lived to help pack up her house and move her back to Maine. With Colorado in the middle of his planned route, he sought to meet with his brothers Jeff and Stephen.
However, in true Tom Dewey fashion, it would not do simply to reach out and schedule a lunch. Instead, Tom reached out to Stephen’s and Jeff's wives who helped him set up a surprise meeting at a Colorado Springs brewery. Tom brought it a level further by getting in touch with the brewery, giving it the short version of the story and asked to pose as a server to his brothers' table. The brewery was so on board, it gave him his own shirt and set him up to take the order.
The hardest part for Tom was containing his excitement as his brothers and their families took an inordinate amount of time to order.
“Finally, they ordered a bunch of beers and I walked out with them. Steve was sitting at the head of the table and Jeff had kind of a better view. So, I come around the corner and flop the tray of beers down very unprofessionally and I said, 'Here’s your beers. I don't know what to do with them or who gets what.'”
Pushing the rudeness to get Stephen to look at him, Tom said he did not know the difference between the Pilsner or IPA or stout, so they would have to figure it out. “I just know I got some colored water.”
Finally, after looking at everyone at the table like “Can you believe this guy,” Stephen finally looked at Tom and recognized him almost immediately.
“You could just see his eyes start to recognize what was going on. It was totally a priceless moment because he was without a doubt just completely floored I was there.”
Tom said it was a perfect surprise and an awesome time meeting two of his siblings and their families for the first time.
“I along with my siblings and my father had no idea. Nobody knew in our family,” Stephen said in an email. “It was so nice to hear his story, learn about his life, (see) what he looked like, what his sense of humor was like. I could go on and on … Just the short time I've known Thomas, I can already see some of the same personality traits he has with our birth father.”
As Tom and Faye continued their cross-country journey, they stopped to meet Lisa for the first time.
“It was amazing being able to meet my mother and brother in the flesh and hug them,” Lisa said in an email. “I’m very emotional to begin with so this sent me over the edge. The next night we met my aunt (Faye’s sister), my cousin and her family.”
Tom said Lisa was a spitting image of their mother, an initial reaction Lisa also had when she first set eyes on Faye’s Ancestry profile picture. “I knew I was looking at the face of my birth mother.”
In addition to connecting with family he never could have otherwise known existed, Tom said he has learned so much: He is primarily Norwegian, Scandinavian and Hungarian and his ancestors traveled to North America on the Mayflower alongside his wife Stephanie's ancestors. Both Tom and Stephanie have traced their families back to the American Revolution and the Civil War.
“It's opened so many doors,” Tom said showcasing his family tree, clicking from one person to the next. “Every one that comes out, it just grows exponentially from there. It just goes from this tree that you start with to this huge forest basically.”