Finding Family, Far Removed
Until recently, Melbourne resident Jill Mimbs, 51, did not know much about her family tree. A married mother of two and owner of a local insurance agency, Mimbs knew that she was born on Oct. 1, 1966 to a teenage mother in a hospital in Savannah, Georgia and adopted through Catholic Charities by Noreen and Jack Kirby of Melbourne Beach. The Kirbys were always open with their daughter about the fact that she was adopted — but they themselves had little information about who Mimbs’ birth parents were and what had become of them.
“Through the years, I’d made a few attempts at connecting with my biological family, just because I was curious,” Mimbs said. Nothing ever popped though.
In recent years, Mimbs completed the steps to join Ancestry.com and 23andme. Both sites tell users details about their origins and can connect users with family members if they desire. Mimbs chose to include her information in a public database on both but did not receive any connecting information after initially completing the registrations.
Then in March, a new development through 23andme led Mimbs to believe she may be close to finding her birth mother, or father, or both. With that information, and some other online research on social media, a friend of hers quickly found Mimbs the information she wanted — leading Mimbs to tracking down her birth mother and two siblings in California, and the five children of her birth father who live in Michigan. In the months since, she has met her birth mother, her stepmother and her seven younger siblings.
Gail Gutowski Riggins of Sacramento, California was driving home from work when she received a call from a man identifying himself as someone who was trying to help a friend complete some missing data in her family tree.
“As soon as I answered, I asked him if this person he was calling about was born on Oct. 1, 1966 in Savannah,” Riggins said. “It was really overwhelming and emotional to learn that after all this time, my daughter had found me.”
Riggins had become pregnant at the age of 16 and was sent to a Catholic facility in Savannah to complete the pregnancy in private. It was in Savannah that Riggins signed the paperwork to give her newborn daughter up for adoption and Riggins then returned home to finish high school in Daytona Beach.
“That was just the way things were handled back then. I never told Jill’s father. I came home and it was like nothing had happened,” Riggins said.
After earning a degree in computer programing at FSU and moving to California, Riggins got married and had two more children, whom she never told about their older sister. Though life continued on, and changed, Riggins says she thought of her oldest child often.
“Birthdays were the hardest. I wondered what had happened to her. If she had a good life. I hoped she did,” Riggins said.
Two days after Riggins learned that her daughter was looking for her, Mimbs and Riggins connected on the phone, hearing each other’s voices for the first time in more than 50 years.
“When she answered, she said ‘So it’s finally you.’ That was such an emotional moment,” Mimbs said.
As the conversations started flowing, mother and daughter discovered that they had a lot more in common than a shared bloodline. Riggins had never learned the name of her firstborn daughter. The Kirbys named her Jill Marie. When Riggins had another daughter in 1981, she named her Jill Marie, too.
Mimbs and Riggins also discovered they had shared interests and similar personalities. Riggins already had plans to come to Daytona Beach for her 50th high school class reunion, so plans for a reunion of another sort in Brevard started to take shape.
On Mother’s Day, Riggins went to Mimbs’ home in Melbourne where she hugged her daughter for the first time since giving birth — and got a chance to meet the Kirbys.
“We were so happy to meet her. We just gave her a big hug and told her ‘Thank you.’ We thanked her for letting us have Jill in our lives, for letting us raise her,” Noreen Kirby said.
Nate Brousseau, 39, of Edwardsburg, Michigan received a 23andme kit for Christmas from his mother. In March, he got back his results and there was one strange hit.
“There was this one match that was 25 percent, Jill Mimbs, and the site told me it was possible that this person was my grandmother,” Brousseau said. Having met all four of his grandparents, Brousseau asked his mother about it. She was unaware of who the person could be. He brushed it off as a glitch in the database system.
But then Brousseau received a few emails, and a phone call, from a man in Florida referencing a friend whose family tree he was helping fill out. The conversation led to the suggestion that Brousseau could have a half-sister he had never met.
Brousseau’s father, Doug, passed away on Jan. 1, 2015 following a heart attack. Nate Brousseau reached out to his father’s brother and asked if it was possible that his dad fathered a child as a teenager.
“My uncle didn’t know for sure, but confirmed that it sounded like something that could have happened,” Nate Brousseau said. From there, he was the first point of contact with Mimbs, quickly moving from caution to embracing his half-sister from afar.
“I did some online searching, as people do nowadays, and as soon as I found her picture, I knew she had to be related to us. She has my dad’s eyes,” Nate Brousseau said. Mimbs has since met her extended family in Michigan, which includes five younger siblings.
“We don’t believe that Doug knew about Jill. It was never mentioned,” Kathy Brousseau, who later married Doug Brousseau and raised five children with him, said.
“But I’m just thrilled with all of this. Jill feels like a daughter to me,” Kathy Brousseau said.
Finding both sides of her biological family has brought Mimbs peace and given her new insight. She is making more plans to visit with both sides of the biological family tree.
“Everyone has just been so open to getting to know me and my family, and I feel so blessed to have found them,” Mimbs said.
Check out this article in our DIGITAL MAGAZINE.