My husband’s Heritage – by Cathy Pouw Beresford

I am writing this on behalf of Joe Beresford. Joe and I were married in 1985, but after over 30 years of trying to keep it together, we separated in 2018. We had 7 children together, so I continued my work on his family history for the kids.

Joe was born in Quebec City, Canada in 1955, and placed for adoption immediately. He was adopted by a childless couple in Cincinnati, Ohio and brought home at about the age of 5 months. He was very much wanted, but in some ways, for all the wrong reasons. His adoptive father was an alcoholic and his mother wanted to “have” a child to call her own. I put “have” in parenthesis for a reason. His adoptive mother wanted someone to dress up and take pictures of. Someone to take to functions and take pictures of. Someone to buy presents for and take pictures of. You get the picture. No pun intended, lol. He was a medal of honor for her. A prize to be proud of, for her. It really was not about him. She always feared he would be taken away from her if “they” found out he was not happy. So, she always let him get away with anything he wanted. He is a very smart human being and realized, early on, that he had the power to make her let him do what he wanted by acting like he was not happy with her. As you may have picked up by now, I’m not mentioning much about his adoptive father. He didn’t play much of a role in Joe’s life. He would go to work, then the bar, then come home and yell a lot. By the time I met him, he had stopped drinking, but was a very low key person that would rarely say much unless his wife really pushed him to.

Joe found out he was adopted when he was around 9 years old. It was explained to him with a lot of fear and trepidation. He picked up, very quickly, that his mother felt that he was rejected by his birth family and that she was terrified that he was not permanently her son, based on his level of happiness. He never actually learned to *be* happy. He learned to USE the guise of happiness to manipulate his mother (and later, me).

Fast forward to our first date, in 1983. While waiting for the movie to begin, we exchanged the typical questions and answers “where are you from” etc. I quickly learned he was adopted and that he was born in the city of Quebec, about 1.5 hour drive from where I was born, near Montreal. After we were engaged, he and I traveled to Canada to introduce him to my family. We decided to include a day trip to Quebec City to, maybe, walk the grounds his birth mother may have walked. While there, he called his adoptive mother for some addresses of the orphanage, adoption agency, etc. She said she needed some time to find it all and asked him to call back at a certain time. We went to eat at a sidewalk cafe and called her back. By then, she was hysterically crying. She was terrified he was going to leave her and that it was all my fault, even though I still had not met her. He calmed her down and managed to get some addressed from her. The adoption agency address was in a building that was converted to condos. The orphanage had been torn down and had been earmarked for apartment buildings. It was very disappointing for Joe, but he felt somewhat complete that he had, at least, been to the city where he was born.

Then we were married and had our first few children, out of seven. During one of the numerous counseling sessions he went to, he was convinced that he needed to start the search for his birth mother. Through the help of my brother, who had adopted two children himself, I found out about a government agency that would help. Joe applied for help and, two years later, sadly found out that his birth mother died the year before he applied for help. She died of what they, then, called “Friedreich’s Ataxia”. A form of MS which would later be known as L’Ataxie spastique de Charlevoix-Saguenay. A unique form of MS that developed in the Charlevoix-Saguenay area of the province of Quebec. I later found out that her brother died of the same ailment.

No mother’s or father’s name were offered.

At that point, he gave up the search. Given that his adoptive mother was terrified of any possible results, thus rendering Joe paralized in the search, everything was dropped.

Meanwhile, our dysfunctional marriage continued with all blame being placed, by him, on his adoption and his mother’s mishandling of her parenthood. Joe developed alcoholic tendencies. He was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which is much more common among adoptees than the general public. He never managed to connect with me or any of his children. It was always about meeting his needs before him being able to consider meeting anyone else’s needs (very Borderline thinking).

Christmas of 2013, I bought him a DNA test through Ancestry. He took the test and found out he is mostly French. He left it at that.

In 2014, the marriage became more physically abusive, in front of the kids. I was done, but agreed to stay with it due to the advice of our counselor.

That Christmas, I offered to do the research necessary to possibly find his ancestors. At that point, I had given up on the marriage, but wanted this information for our children. He agreed to the gift. I, then, started my search in earnest, keeping my eyes on the prize for the kids.

I soon found a Facebook page for people related to a particular man, which Joe was related to. I connected with several people there, but still could not find the correct DNA connections to figure out the immediate family. Eventually, I found a relatively close cousin named Gus. I invited him to that page, and eventually we both found more information. But, still not enough to answer any of our questions.

A few of the people I had connected with offered to help with the search. A name surfaced. Therese Gagnon. But, nobody could definitely connect her to Joe via DNA. But, the name kept coming back as a possibility.

About a year later, I casually checked Joe’s DNA matches on Ancestry and up popped a super close family connection. A brother or half brother! I contacted Karl and discovered that he was likely a half brother through Joe’s birth FATHER. At that time, Karl did not know if his father was alive, since he was estranged from that part of the family. He told me the names of the children he knew through his father. After lots of research, I connected with a half sister, Florence, who confirmed that Karl was her half brother. But, she knew nothing about any children outside of her father’s marriage, other than Karl. She confirmed that Sebastien, her father, was alive and living near her. She also talked about how he was known to have had relations with many women. Sebastien, by this time, had alcohol-induced dementia. So, his memory was not good anymore. She invited Joe, and any other family member who wished to come, to Sebastien’s 85th birthday party in Quebec City. It was quite a deal to plan, since our part of the family now lived in the Atlanta area of Georgia, USA. Plus, Joe no longer lived with the family, having left us a few months before. But, we made it all happen. Florence sweetly offered us several rooms at her house, so that we could make it work to have Joe meet his father, with me as a translator (Joe only speaks English, Sebastien only speaks French). Our two youngest daughters were able to be there, too. Karl and several of Sebastien’s children were also able to be there. Later in the day, even Gus, his son, and his birth mother and brother were able to join us for dinner.

Joe with his father Sebastien and Joe’s half sibling Karl

All the direct blood family of Sebastien present at his party. Missing is one son and one daughter. My son looks a whole lot like one of Sebastien’s sons, Joe’s half brother, Mario. We did not get to meet him.

Three new cousins!

My son, Evan, and Mario

Sebastien’s dementia was not too bad that day and I was able to have several good chats with him. The next day, he seemed to still remember us at breakfast. The whole family, including Sebastien, agree that we needed to test his DNA to make sure we had the right connections. We pooled our money, and Karl took charge of the process. We soon had concrete evidence that Sebastien was indeed Joe’s birth father. There was no doubt in our minds, after seeing them together, but it was good to know for sure.

Soon after, the province of Quebec opened up adoption records. If a birth parent was deceased, and had not submitted any paperwork forbidding the release of information, adopted children could gain the names of birth parents. Thankfully, Gus connected me with the name of someone very helpful within the agency in charge of international adoptions. She was so very sweet and helpful. She expedited the process and soon called with information. She confirmed the name that I had previously been researching Therese Gagnon. She was not at liberty to tell us specifics regarding birth or death dates. But, at that point, I knew that I was on the right path in my research. She also could not confirm the name of his father, but I had already confirmed that, via Ancestry. During that conversation, we were told that Joe was the THIRD birth of his birth mother and they could not say if more births happened after him. They could not say if the previous births were living, what their genders were, what their birth dates were, or anything at all. Just that the births existed. During this whole time, I had a team of “Search Angels” helping with my research via a private Facebook Messenger chat. They were so helpful with pointing me toward names and research. One of them pointed me toward a niece of Joe’s birth mother, a daughter of her sister. There had been some talk in the family about Therese having had some babies, but exact numbers and dates were not known to the nephews and nieces. I began my conversations with this niece very gently. She was very enamoured of her aunt and I did not want to rock the boat too hard. She sent me pictures of her and I immediately saw the face of one of my daughters in her.

I eventually asked this niece if it would be possible to do a DNA test on a member of Therese’s close family. She told me that there was one living sibling of Therese, but that he was in a nursing home. They asked him if he was open to it, and he agreed. That test proved positive that I, indeed, had the correct Therese!

During that whole process, another one of Therese’s children made a connection with Joe. Luc made a connection, via the same amazing helper at the agency in Quebec. Luc informed Joe that there are a possible 3 more brothers out there, thus a possible 5 children that Therese placed for adoption. Joe and Luc do not speak the same language, but I have been open to translating their letters. Joe has been reluctant to communicate with him, but I continue to encourage communication. About 3 letters have passed between them. Nobody is getting any younger. Now is the time to make those ties.

I encourage anyone reading this to never lose hope. Keep searching. Take a break when you need to, but always stay open to the possibility that someone is looking for YOU. The outcome may not always be perfect and beautiful, but the truth is always a good thing to discover, no matter what. Join groups on Facebook which are very usefull and especially AACDQ.

Cathy Pouw Beresford
Always learning, always searching.


This story was prepared by Cathy Pouw Beresford in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this story are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Adoptees from Quebec’s Creches (AACDQ).

Visitor comments


24 Oct. 2020

It’s incredible how you can find someone when you least expected and hopes are down. I’m so grateful to have found you and your family and be part of this incredible story and family. My love to you all, cousins!

Your comments are grately appeciated

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