‘The Greatest Mother’s Day Gift I Could Have Ever Received’

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This is Part 1 of a Two-Part Series on the making of a Surprise 50-year reunion between Arthur Shepard and his daughter Brenda Sawyer. The father and daughter found one another through Ancestry.com and Facebook. Part 2 of the series will conclude next week with the result of the Surprise Reunion, which is taking place on the evening of Friday, May 10, 2019.

A daily prayer was always on the lips of Arthur Shepard. “I prayed that before I close my eyes for the last time, I would find my daughter,” recalled the 66-year-old. Just over 700 miles down the road in Warner Robins, Georgia, a school teacher by the name of Brenda Sawyer was also praying to one day find a close relative. “I prayed that before I took my last breath, I would find my father,” said the 49-year-old.

On Good Friday, April 19, 2019, the prayers of both Shepard and Sawyer were answered after the father and daughter connected as a result of Ancestry and the online social media networking service Facebook. Shepard recalled the message he received from Sawyer that day on Facebook.

“I was at a friend’s house when I received the message from her on Good Friday. She wanted to know if I knew the name of a women that lived in Washington, D.C. At first, I thought someone was playing with me. And then, I just fell apart because I knew this was my daughter.”

The name of the woman Sawyer had given, was that of her biological mother. Sawyer was able to contact Shepard using Facebook after a persistent, decades-long journey.

“She was looking for Tony, which is my nickname,” said Shepard. “All of these years, she was looking for the wrong person, and so was I. But neither one of us gave up.”

Sawyer utilized Ancestry to contact family members of Shepard, which eventually led to her correspondence with him on Facebook. The two then utilized AncestryDNA to confirm they were father and daughter.

The Ancestry brand family encompasses Ancestry, AncestryDNA, AncestryProGenealogists, and more. Sophisticated engineering and technology harnesses family history and consumer genomics, combining billions of rich historical records, millions of family trees, and samples from over 10 million people in the AncestryDNA database to provide people with deeply meaningful insights about who they are and where they come from.

“We took the DNA testing, and everything matched,” said Shepard. “We have been talking and sending pictures back and forth ever since. It’s like I am watching her grow up all over again. The last time I laid eyes on her, she was two days old. We will see each other again when she comes to Baltimore in May.”

Little did Shepard know at Baltimore Times press time that the visit would be coming much sooner than he expected. With the help of Shepards’ children and other relatives, Sawyer is coming to Maryland on Friday, May 10, 2019 for a surprise visit.

“I can’t wait to see him,” said Sawyer. “It’s going to be a family reunion. After contacting him on Facebook, everything catapulted into now. I will turn 50 this year, and this has been one of the most amazing things I have ever felt.”

According to Sawyer who was raised by her grandparents, the first clue she received as to who her father was, came from a relative.

“My relative told me his name was Tony,” she recalled. “I named my son who is now 20 after him. I knew Tony could be many things, so I named my son after what I thought my father’s name was – Anthony.”

She added, “I kept that name Tony with me all my life. Sweet 16, then 18, and 25, and now I am almost 50. My fiancé gave me AncestryDNA for Christmas. Through the test, I was able to connect with family members, and eventually my father. Some say it was AncestryDNA, and others will credit it to Facebook, but I know it was God. This is the greatest’s Mother’s Day gift I could have ever received.”

Sawyer said her son, who is a sophomore at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, plans to travel to Maryland with her to meet his grandfather for the first time.

“All of my siblings and other relatives have reached out to me,” said Sawyer. “They have really poured out. We talk on the phone for hours. They are so loving to me.”

One of those siblings is Toni Saunders.

“When my father told us about the call that he received from his daughter, my initial thought was ‘What in the tarnation is going on?’”, said Saunders with a laugh. “As he went further into how she found him, I said ‘Look at God.’”

She added, “As we approach this Mother’s Day weekend, let us not forget that, yes we are uplifting the mothers who birthed, cared for and nurtured us…but within this miraculous story we are celebrating those who don’t give up.”

Coming in next week’s edition: The Reunion. Also be sure to log-in to baltimoretimes-online.com/ to see video and photos captured from the long-awaited reunion of the father and daughter.