2017-10-12 / Front Page

Long-lost family

Courage, faith, fate lead Gaines woman to blood relatives
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

GAINES – JoAnne Robinson always knew she had another family somewhere out there; and, although she was curious about who and where they were, she didn’t want to disrupt their lives.

But thanks to a simple twist of fate and a huge leap of faith, the Gaines woman found her long lost family and they have welcomed her into their lives with open arms.

“I don’t remember when I found out (about being adopted),” said Robinson, who grew up in Lennon and graduated from Swartz Creek High School. “My mom said she told me all the time. She asked if I wanted to pursue (finding relatives), but I always said no.”

James and Donna Wittbrodt adopted Robinson when she was 3 months old. They already had an adopted daughter, who is five years older than Robinson.

“They wanted a boy,” Robinson said. “When the agency called and said they had a little girl, my dad said no. He wanted a son. But (Catholic Social Services) kept calling, and my dad finally agreed to go look.”

As legend has it, James Wittbrodt took one look, fell in love “and we became a family,” Robinson said.

For years, Robinson only knew that her birth parents were very young, that she was born on May 31 at Flint Osteopathic Hospital, and that there was a request that she be raised Catholic.

Following the passing of her adoptive parents, Robinson did a little sleuthing, but hit dead ends and put the matter on hold until fate intervened in December.

“A co-worker told me about an Ancestry DNA special,” she said. “She told me not to expect a lot, but maybe it would give me some roots.”

Robinson decided to give it a try and, in June, her results came back, as did the names of 10 people whose DNA indicated they could be first cousins, or closer.

“I was shocked,” Robinson said. “I composed a generic message telling them my name and where I was born, what little I knew, and I asked if they knew how we might be related.”

Of the 10, only one responded.

“A half-hour later (after sending the message), a man responded. He gave me a phone number and said I could call him and he’d give me the information he had,” Robinson said.

That man turned out to be the younger brother of Robinson’s birth mother.

“He said he had always wondered about me,” she said.

Robinson learned that she has five brothers and a sister, all of whom live in the Flint area. Her mother also still lives locally.

“My sister is a server at a restaurant,” Robinson said. “She has waited on my husband and me several times.”

She also found out that she had met her uncle and aunt before, at a funeral for the son of a mutual friend.

After the initial telephone conversation, Robinson arranged for her husband, daughter and herself to meet with her aunt and uncle at a restaurant.

“It was weird, but wonderful,” she said. “Before I met them, I had a million questions. When we met, I couldn’t think of one.

“They were very warm. They brought pictures of my biological family. We talked. I asked about health issues. I still wanted to meet my siblings, but they still didn’t know about me.”

About four weeks later, Robinson received a call from her aunt, who suggested a “reunion” with some of the siblings. That reunion happened in September, and it included Robinson’s sister, two brothers, another aunt and uncle, several cousins … and Robinson’s mom.

“She hugged me very tightly,” Robinson said. “She said she loved me and she kept apologizing. I told her not to apologize: I had unconditional love growing up; and that’s all I could ask for. I reassured her that she did the best thing for me.”

Robinson said she looks a lot like her sister.

“My sister said she couldn’t wait to meet me: she always wanted a sister,” Robinson said. “My brother’s first words were, ‘I always thought I was the oldest.’ When I say, ‘my brother’ now, it’s weird, but good weird. He texts me now and he says, ‘Hey, sis.’ It’s incredible.”

Robinson and her family are slowly getting to know each other.

“It’s still so overwhelming,” she said. “I’m not trying to replace the family I grew up with. I just have more now.”

Robinson said she hopes her journey can inspire someone else.

“Don’t give up,” she said. “Keep searching.”

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