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Summerside man tracks down birth family in Tignish using DNA test kit

Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca.
Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca. - Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

The smell of turkey dinner wafted from the kitchen Wednesday evening as a family gathered in a Summerside living room.

Blair Marsh, 51, sat on the floor, leaning against the armchair in which his mother, Irene Arsenault, sat. His mother, he was still getting used to the idea. This was his mother and he is her son.

"I got my mum," he said, as a toothy smile crossing his face.

Marsh and Arsenault met for the first time just a week ago, on Feb. 5.

He was put up for adoption as a baby and spent his adult life wondering if he'd ever find the woman who gave him life.

After decades of hoping, a DNA test from ancestry.ca made it happen.

"I can honestly say that in the last 40 or 50 years there wasn't a day I hadn't thought about it – wondering who she was."


Family life

Blair Marsh, centre, with part of his birth family. From left are sisters, Pamela Arsenault, Darlene Arsenault, his mother Irene Arsenault and sister Traci Arsenault-Bernard.  - Conributed
Blair Marsh, centre, with part of his birth family. From left are sisters, Pamela Arsenault, Darlene Arsenault, his mother Irene Arsenault and sister Traci Arsenault-Bernard. - Conributed

Marsh grew up in Summerside. His adopted parents are Glen and Colleen Marsh. He has four siblings from his adoptive family, all of them adopted by the Marshes as children.

They grew up and were loved and provided for. They were told about their adoption early in life.

"It was open in our house ... we talked about it."

Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca. - Contributed
Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca. - Contributed

He didn't think much about it as a child, but as he grew older, he started to ask questions about his birth family.

"I can honestly say that in the last 40 or 50 years there wasn't a day I hadn't thought about it – wondering who she was," he said.

In the mid-1990s, Marsh approached Catholic Family Services looking for information, but that was a dead-end. He didn't search again until 2019, when he asked officials at Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., for a copy of his birth certificate. He was again rebuffed.

Adoption records were sealed on P.E.I. until the end of January 2020. Records sealed before that date won't be opened until Jan. 31, 2021, and parents who gave up children and children who were adopted have until that date to file a veto with the province, declaring they don't want contact with the other party should they reach out.

Click here for the P.E.I. government's adoption records information page

With nowhere else to turn, Marsh debated having a DNA test done a few years ago and ultimately decided to wait. But, after his search for his birth certificate failed, his daughter-in-law, Chantelle Clements, bought him a DNA test for Christmas.

He figured it was long-shot that the test would turn up anything other than general ancestry data.

"(I was hoping for) anything really ... just to give me a piece of where I'm from and who I am. That's something that I lived with every day that I didn't know. It's always on your mind – always on your mind," he said.

He sent the test sample off shortly after Christmas and received the results on Feb. 4. They showed a close relative in Marsh's family tree, a biological first cousin named Lisa Pitre, in Ontario. Pitre, along with her mother, had a similar test done a few years ago.

Once Pitre, Marsh, and his wife, April, connected, things progressed quickly.

Within 24 hours he'd found his birth family.

"Lisa basically threatened us," laughed Marsh.

"She said, 'I don't know who you are, but you're in my family now and we're going to figure out where you belong.'"

"We couldn't be any happier. It was one of the happiest moments of my life."


Growing family

Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca.  - Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
Blair Marsh, of Summerside, and his birth mother, Irene Arsenault, of Tignish, just found each last week. Marsh was sent for adoption as a baby and was able to track down his birth family using a DNA test from ancestry.ca. - Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer

Marsh discovered that his birth parents were Irene (Gaudet) and Francis J. Arsenault. He was astonished to learn that they, along with three biological sisters, lived in Tignish, P.E.I. – just 83 kilometres away.

Pamela Arsenault is one of Marsh's new-found sisters. She and siblings Darlene Arsenault and Traci Arsenault-Bernard grew up knowing they'd had brothers adopted out – but only knew of two. They reconnected with one, Vincent Goguen, of Bouctouche, N.B., about 20 years ago, but knew there was another out there somewhere.

They didn't know there was a third.

So when Pamela and her sisters found out about Marsh and asked their mother if his birth date matched that of the brother they were looking for, Irene originally said no. However, after thinking about it some more, Irene called her daughters back and revealed that they had a third brother and his birth date and birth name matched Marsh's.

"We never knew about this guy, we were never told," said Pamela.

"That was a whole shock to our system."

"She kept me all to herself, in here," said Marsh, holding his hand over his heart.

Finding another brother was an incredibly emotional moment for them all, said Pamela, and they are overjoyed to know Marsh.

"We couldn't be any happier. It was one of the happiest moments of my life," she said.

"I thought of them. When they went – I said they'd be back."


Coming home

Irene explained that when her sons were sent for adoption, it was a turbulent time in all their lives.

Her mother died when she was 19 and she was the oldest of 15 siblings still at home. She inherited much of the responsibility of caring for her brothers and sisters, helping her father, not to mention her own children.

She and her children's father, Francis, were together throughout this time but were not married, which was significant at the time in the staunchly Catholic community.

It was decided by community leaders, without much input from Irene, that her sons would be better off with new families.

"They figured it was too much for me – I don't know," she said with a sad shake of her head.

"I wouldn't talk for myself."

But she never forgot about her boys and always believed they'd find their way back home.

"I thought of them. When they went – I said they'd be back."

"Here I am," interjected Marsh.

'It's more than I expected. Way more. You can't explain it."


Missing brother

Ancestry.ca offers DNA test kits which people can submit and have their genetic heritage revealed. The kits retail for $129 on the company's web store. Blair Marsh, of Summerside, was able to use his kit to find his birth family. - Contributed
Ancestry.ca offers DNA test kits which people can submit and have their genetic heritage revealed. The kits retail for $129 on the company's web store. Blair Marsh, of Summerside, was able to use his kit to find his birth family. - Contributed

Marsh's only regret about this whole process is that he didn't have the DNA test done earlier.

His biological father died three years ago. His adopted mother, whom he said would have loved to meet the Arsenaults, died in 2004.

With that in mind, he is hoping media attention about his story will help him find his remaining missing brother.

If he's looking for his birth family, they would love to meet him.

The third Arsenault brother was born at the Alberton hospital on March 9, 1964, and his birth name is Joseph Patrick. The family can be contacted via email at: pamelaarsenault1970@gmail.com.


Looking ahead

Marsh is still riding high on the excitement of finding his birth family.

He's busy trying to meet as many of them as he can. He's planning a trip to New Brunswick this weekend to meet his brother, Goguen.

Wednesday's turkey dinner was the first time his adopted father, Glen, and sister Catherine Blacquiere met the Arsenaults and there are more reunions in the works.

He loves his adopted parents and siblings dearly, and they will always be family –  but there is something about shared blood that is indescribably special, he said.

'It's more than I expected. Way more. You can't explain it."

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