The search for family roots 

Seeking out our ancestors is becoming a global phenomenon

click to flip through (6) Douglas family picture 1911. In this Douglas family picture, John Barker's mother is the one-year-old seated on the ground on the left next to her sister, Margaret, with the bow in her hair — third from the left on the bottom row;
  • Douglas family picture 1911. In this Douglas family picture, John Barker's mother is the one-year-old seated on the ground on the left next to her sister, Margaret, with the bow in her hair — third from the left on the bottom row;
 

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For North Vancouver actor Bill Lawrie, it came the via social business network, LinkedIn.

Lawrie had known since he was young that he was adopted.

"We were all gathered around for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I guess I was probably 11," he said. "My cousin was about nine, and we were sitting around the table, the whole family, my uncles and aunts and my cousins and my family, and he pipes up, out of nowhere, 'How does it feel to be adopted?'"

Lawrie said his mother went ghost white and whisked him off to a bedroom to explain that he was "their little, adopted boy."

Lawrie said it made zero impression on him whatsoever.

"All I could think was that I wanted to get back to the dinner table to finish eating," he grinned.

Fast-forward to about three years ago.

"I had been working a night shift and came home at 4 a.m. and there was an email in my in-basket," said Lawrie. "It said something to the effect, 'Looking for William Lawrie. I may be your cousin from your biological mother, Frieda Sawatsky.'"

When his adoptive mother passed away, Lawrie had found his adoption papers. So he knew that his birth name was Ronald Sawatsky and that he'd been adopted at Burnaby General Hospital.

The name fit, so he printed off the email but thought it might be some kind of scam.

When he contacted the email writer, who turned out to be a birth cousin living in Toronto, she told him she'd traced him through LinkedIn.

Lawrie learned that his biological mother was still alive and living in Chilliwack and had asked relatives to try to track down her son.

And it turned out that, after giving up her son for adoption, Frieda Sawatsky had adopted two daughters of her own.

Lawrie has met one of them but he never did meet his birth mother.

"She didn't want to meet me, for whatever reason," he added. "She obviously had the motivation to look for me but, when she found out I was findable, she decided she didn't want to see me. The feedback I got was that she might have had some micro strokes and was having difficulty speaking. She didn't want to meet me in the mental condition she was in. She passed away 18 months ago."

Lawrie still doesn't know who his natural father was.

"That was information she took to her grave when she passed away a couple of years ago."

For East Vancouver family doctor, Laurie Martz, it took a trip to the Maritimes to accidentally connect her with her family roots.

Her father Joseph was born in Poland, one of seven kids — six of them born in Poland — and lived in a little village called Klimintov.

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