Nfld. & Labrador

American meets Newfoundland family she didn't know she had at Corner Brook's Come Home Year

Rachel Dorsey flew to Corner Brook from Washington State for a family reunion to remember.

Rachel Dorsey embraced by relatives she discovered through DNA matching

Cousins Cora Butt, left, of Stephenville Crossing and Rachel Dorsey of Washington State met for the first time last week. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

In the midst of Corner Brook's Come Home Year celebrations, one American woman is having a remarkable family reunion, as she tours around the city with relatives she didn't know existed until a year and a half ago.

For decades, Rachel Dorsey's Canadian connection lay at the fringes of her life in Washington State, with Dorsey armed with only the most basic of facts about her father's heritage.

"I knew he was adopted from Newfoundland, but he wasn't in my life growing up," said Dorsey, who only met her father twice.

Dorsey's father was Robert Ingram, born in Corner Brook in 1950 and adopted soon after to an American couple stationed at the Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville. 

Fast forward to December 2017, when Dorsey grew curious about her roots. With her father and paternal grandparents deceased, she turned to a DNA test, and uploaded the results to an online genetic database.

Rachel Dorsey, with a picture of her father Robert Ingram as a teenager. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

That website spit out a surprise.

Not only had Dorsey matched with someone else's DNA on the site, there was a phone number to go with it — Cora Butt's, of Stephenville Crossing.

"I called Cora, and Cora said, yes, my aunt had given up her son for adoption years ago, and we've been looking for him ever since," Dorsey said.

A 67-year search

On the other end of the line, Butt could not quite believe what was unfolding. In her family's lore, Butt's mother had never wanted her sister to give up her newborn for adoption.

"My mother had gone to the hospital to get him, but when she got there [Robert's mother] had already signed the adoption papers," Butt said. 

"She used to always tell us to look for him."

Butt and her siblings took that to heart, and tried to find out what became of the adopted baby — their cousin — even after Butt's mother passed away. They wrote to the adoption agency, posted on adoption Facebook pages, and tried to flag the media.

I ... felt like my dad never gave me anything, but he did. He gave me a family.- Rachel Dorsey

Then, Dorsey dialed that long distance number.

"We connected right from the beginning," said Butt. 

"We were on the phone, pretty much at least once a month, for the last year and a half," said Dorsey.

Coming home, for Come Home

As the cousins chatted, it became clear they needed to meet. And what better excuse than the big celebration happening in the heart of their connection.

"Her sister Stella brought up that I should come home, for Come Home Year. Yeah — I should come home for Come Home Year," Dorsey recalled of the conversation.

"It's a piece of me. It's like the missing piece to the puzzle."

Dorsey booked the trip across North America, and landed at the Deer Lake Airport 14 hours after taking off from Washington.

"I was tired, but it was awesome," Dorsey said. "It's been kind of surreal."

The days since have been a blur of relatives, retracing roots and experiencing Newfoundland culture, from berry picking to moose sightings.

The experience has also had Dorsey reflecting on her own personal history, and coming to terms with her past.

Robert Ingram and Rachel Dorsey as kids. Dorsey sees the family resemblance not just between herself and her father, but with her other newfound Newfoundland relatives. (Submitted)

"I had maybe some abandonment issues, not having my dad around," she said.

"With this family that had searched for him for 67 years, they welcomed me with open arms. I kind of just felt like my dad never gave me anything, but he did. He gave me a family."

Come Home Year wraps up on Sunday, but Dorsey and Butt both agree this visit isn't Dorsey's last. There are already plans for more trips between Western Newfoundland and Washington in the works.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.


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