Gina McClelland grew up as an only child in Scarborough, Ont., not knowing anything about her biological father, except his name.
She searched for him on Google for years, with few results.
Then, one day in 2008, a photo caught her attention. It was of a man, Larry Cooper, who worked for a real estate company in the Dominican Republic. His bio said he’d moved from Canada to start a new life.
“There was something about his picture that looked like one of my daughters,” McClelland, 46, told CBC News.
On a whim, she emailed him.
“The next morning I got a response,” McClelland said. “‘Yes, I am your father.'”
She knew it was true because of her childhood nickname, Mouse.
“[My father] didn’t know me by my name because he had taken off before I was named. And at the end of [Cooper’s] email it said, ‘Thanks for contacting me mouse.'”
Almost a decade later, with the help of a DNA test and some of her own investigative work, McClelland has also found three paternal sisters around Ontario and a brother from the Dominican Republic.
After McClelland connected with Cooper, they met in Toronto. They talked for hours and he told her she had two sisters and a brother, but wouldn’t share their last names.
He later pitched the idea of having everyone meet in the Dominican Republic.
But as months went by, McClelland thought something might have gone wrong.
“I had this feeling like, maybe the sucker’s dead. So I Google his name and his obituary came up,” she said. Cooper was dead, at 60, three years after she found him.
But McClelland also noticed a comment from a woman looking for details on how Cooper, her father, had died.
That’s how McClelland found her sister, Wendy Gray, 51, from Courtice, Ont.
“And then she told my younger sister Laura [Cooper] about me,” McClelland said. Each of the women had a different mother.
For Gray, the shock was mutual.
Her father had told her about Laura, 39, who now lives in Kingston, Ont., and her brother in the Dominican in their sporadic meetings growing up. But McClelland was a surprise.
“It’s exciting now. Once you come to the realization that it’s true and it’s hard to believe … Now we’re just trying to catch up,” Gray said.
Another surprise sister
The siblings got to know each other, even took trips together, but their story wasn’t over.
For Christmas 2017, McClelland’s children bought her a MyHeritage DNA genealogy test.
McClelland says she didn’t expect to learn anything more from the test, but when the results came back, she got quite a surprise.
“It comes up that you have a sibling match. And I’m like, ‘What?'”
She contacted Bridgette Currie, her match, in early 2019. The Oakville, Ont., woman also grew up in Toronto and is just nine days older than McClelland.
Currie never knew her biological mother, and believed she was raised by her biological father.
“That left me kind of wondering, ‘OK, wait, what’s going on here?’ I thought I knew who my dad was,” Currie said.
“I wanted to get some more testing just to confirm that we were related because I was a little hesitant at first.”
The man Currie grew up with had died a few months prior, so she turned to surviving family members. Through several other blood tests with them and her newfound sisters, they discovered Cooper was, in fact, her biological father.
“We don’t know a lot of answers from how I ended up with, you know, the man who I thought was my father,” she said. “I kind of connected with Wendy and Gina within a year of my dad’s passing. So for me it was nice … to have family around me.”
“From the first time we met, we all clicked and we have so much in common. It’s kind of scary, actually.”
The revelations have given the siblings a lot to work through, but they’ve all begun to bond.
The sisters went on a cottage trip together this summer. They also got matching tattoos. And they plan to welcome their brother to Canada for a visit — which is especially exciting for Currie.
“It’ll be nice to meet him. The last piece of the puzzle,” she said.
As for their father, McClelland still has a lot of unanswered questions.
“I always wanted to know where I came from,” McClelland said.
“Not knowing my dad was like this cloud that hung over me my whole life … but meeting them has helped me understand myself.”