As Pam Fostek and her cousins sat on her front porch, enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and each other’s company, the sound of laughter filled the spring afternoon.
For Fostek, experiencing the joy and friendship that cousins can bring was something she had never experienced, going 60 years questioning who her family was and feeling like her heritage was a mystery.
“I wanted to find my family because I never knew them, on my mom’s side and my dad’s side; I never knew my dad,” Fostek said. “When I found out who he is, he’s passed away; he passed away in 2014. I have two half brothers, which as of yet, I haven’t heard anything back. No, I wanted to find my family. I’m old enough to know them. I want to know who they are.”
The St. Joseph native met her cousins, Doug Rininger and Brenda Ewing, on May 13, after the brother and sister drove from Colorado to meet her. The three were reunited months ago through Ancestry.com’s DNA test, discovering that their mysterious families were connected.
“We did the ancestry DNA, and before I knew it, I’m getting a text back from Pam,” Ewing said. “I didn’t know who she was, and she said, ‘I’m pretty sure we’re first cousins. I’m pretty sure our parents were brother and sister.’”
The family was split across the country during the Great Depression after their biological grandmother gave up Rininger and Ewing’s father and Fostek’s mother when they were young children.
“At an early age our parents were adopted out,” Fostek said. “My mom was seven, and their dad was six or seven. Their dad had a twin sister, and she was adopted into the same family. From what I understand a doctor made money off of taken the children out of homes. Then he let rich people adopt these children.”
Fostek, Ewing and Rininger all said their parents recalled the years they were apart, with tales of their names being changed and having their tonsils removed in a dark basement. While the separation was traumatic for the separated siblings, Ewing and Fostek said both siblings were adopted by caring people.
“It was during that time in the Depression when people were struggling, and people maybe took advantage of that,” Ewing said. “But people who wanted children, like my dad’s parents that adopted him, they wanted children and couldn’t have children, and they wanted to provide for somebody so that was their mission in life to do that.”
Fostek said she heard from her mother throughout her life about the family that she lost, and this gave her the desire to finally meet them.
“I don’t think she ever got over that,” Fostek said. “Being adopted at such a young age, and I think she grieved her family her whole life.”
All three said they were happy to finally reunite the family that was torn apart almost 90 years ago, and they look forward to spending more time together, possibly having their next reunion in Colorado. Rininger said that he would encourage anyone who is considering taking a DNA test to take the leap.
“I think if people want to do it, they should do it,” Rininger said. “You don’t know what you’re going to find out there, you really don’t.”