British Columbia

B.C. 'search angel' discovers fate of Ontario woman's long-lost father

Gina McCormack was looking for her father. He walked away from her Toronto family decades ago. Her plea for help on social media brought out the 'search angels' and the mystery was solved in minutes.

'It was emotional. We were both crying, laughing, talking for two hours'

Thomas Smith Hammond was born in October 1934 in Scotland. In this undated photo, he stands in High Park in Toronto, Ontario. (Gina Hammond Mccormack/Facebook)

Gina McCormack, 57, of northern Ontario spent a lifetime looking for her lost father.

Hours after publishing her plea for help, she got word from a an internet "search angel" about a half-brother she had no idea she had —  a connection that would also reveal what happened to her father.

Seach angels — that's what they call loose-knit groups of volunteer genealogical researchers who help people find long-lost loved ones and missing people — for free —through internet sleuthing.

Some join ranks with groups like Search Squad or Search Angels.

Independent 'angels' like Abbe Vance of Surrey B.C., volunteer for sites like this.

"I feel like everybody has a right to know where they come from," she said.

She has solved many family mysteries and in only in a few minutes managed to solve the one that ate at McCormack for a half-century.

"She calls herself a 'search angel'," said McCormack who would grant Vance wings if she could.

Gina Hammond McCormack spent decades looking for her biological father. Search Squad members found him in a few hours. (Gina McCormack/Facebook)

The same day Vance linked McCormack to her family, McCormack called her newly-discovered half-brother, Gordon, who teaches tennis in Las Vegas. Once they connected, they talked for hours.

It turned out her long-lost father had died, but her half-brother knew her family existed.

"His mom has been pushing him to try to find us and he was happy that I contacted him. But it was emotional. We were both crying, laughing, talking for two hours," said McCormack.

"I don't need DNA testing. He looks just like my brother!"

Gordon Hammond and his half-sister talked for hours once they finally connected. (LinkedIn)

She and Gordon hope to meet up someday.

The dad who disappeared

McCormack was raised by a stepfather, but she always knew that her biological father had walked away.

She initially put out a plea for information.

Gina McCormack said she felt a primal urge to keep searching for her father who left her as a child. (Gina McCormack/Facebook)

McCormack says it was Oct. 31, 1961. Her mother was pregnant with her fourth child, a boy. They came home to find her father had disappeared. 

Who was he?

McCormack knew that her father, Thomas Smith Hammond, was a police officer in Scotland and worked for CP Rail in Canada.

She got a call from a man claiming to be her dad 23 years ago, but then the trail went cold.

"There is a piece of you missing," said McCormack who now lives in Owen Sound, Ontario. 

Thousands of people like her are seeking lost loved ones.

Who are the 'search angels'?

They are helped by groups of researchers who band together when needed to reconnect families.

Tennessee Realtor Bonnie Holley started Search Squad four years ago with four other women.

Her 85 researchers have celebrated 300 reunions over the past five years.

"You know at night time we help people," said Holley.

"We do it with babies on our laps or whatever," said the seeker who uses DNA databases and often reunites children who were adopted with family.

"We do have some sad stories, but most of our stories are people very happy to be found."


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award (2017). Got a tip?