Reconnecting Old & New Roots

A chance event brought a disjointed and previously unknown family link from Ontario to Newfoundland back together with emotionally satisfying results


There’s a reason we call them family trees. Like a tree, the roots of a family can extend far and deep, meandering through soil, slowly cracking bedrock, and forming the foundation for what so much is built. 

A Chance Connection

For 85-year-old Jim Pittman of Merahseen Island, the family unit he had come to know throughout his lifetime was all but set. That all changed as if by happenstance when his daughter, Lisa Stoyles, ordered a genetic testing kit on a whim. 

Following a health concern, Stoyles purchased the 23andMe ancestry kit online as a prudent means of detecting potential inherited health concerns to watch out for. Opting for the option to match up with relatives across the globe, Stoyles would link with Josh Ewener of Halifax, leading to some miraculous discoveries that extend back to her father. 

In 1932, Jim Pittman’s mother  – who was raised as a strict catholic – became engaged to an Anglican man. Upon discovering the proposed union, the woman’s parents forbade the union, leading to her betrothed to leave the community. 

Soon after, Pittman’s mother would find out she was pregnant, though the lack of communication in the period made reconnecting with her lover near impossible. 

And so it was that Jim Pittman would grow up not knowing his father, with only a name as a link to his past – Maxwell Lockyer.

Hands of Fate

The serendipitous hands of fate would intervene some eight decades later, as the ancestry kit that brought Lisa Stoyles and Josh Ewener together would reveal that Josh’s grandmother Sylvia Ewener was Jim Pittman’s sister, and that Maxwell Lockyer was indeed Pittman’s long lost father, who had relocated across Canada and formed a large family of his own, a family with roots that traced back to Newfoundland and Labrador and Jim Pittman. 

“My dad found out he has six brothers and sisters he didn’t know anything about,” Stoyles shared. “They knew nothing about him. They accepted us into their lives as if we’ve known them our whole lives.”

Within weeks of the discovery the family would descend upon Newfoundland and Labrador from Ontario to meet the relative they never knew they had. Sylvia Ewener would travel with son Mike, his wife Dorothy and daughter Kathy Sokol and Josh. 

“They all came to Newfoundland within a week and a half of knowing about this,” says Stoyles, explaining that Sylvia had immediately taken to having her new relatives call her Aunt Sylvia. 

‘Completely Accepted’

“She hugged us and she hugged my dad as if she knew us her entire life. It was completely accepted. There was nothing but love there. If I saw this in a movie I’d have a tissue crying.

“It has changed a bunch of our lives,” adds Stoyles emotionally. “It’s changed everyone’s lives.”

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