For 49 years, she kept a small black-and-white photo of a newborn safely tucked away in her hope chest. Sally Darrow of Lake Havasu City rarely looked at the photo, but she occasionally pulled it out when the mood struck.
Still, she didn’t need to look at the photo to trigger questions about the infant. How was she? Was she having a good life? Where is she? Since April 1970, Sally wondered about the baby girl in the picture.
Then the long-awaited day came when Sally could give the photo to the person who was in the picture. By now, the baby was a grown woman. But one thing never changed about the girl — she was family — Sally’s long-lost granddaughter, Joie Jager.
Making the connection
As so often happens these days, DNA test results are what brought Sally and her granddaughter Joie together.
“I had my DNA with Ancestry. Joie had hers through 23 and Me. My third cousin was with 23 and Me. That’s how he and Joie connected,” she said.
After several emails in early 2019 between Sally, the cousin and Joie, it was discovered the two women had a blood tie to Joseph D’Hondt — Sally’s great-grandfather. Sally told her cousin that she was all but certain that Joie was her granddaughter. On Feb. 14, the cousin told Joie about her grandmother.
“What a Valentine’s Day present!” Joie wrote in her opening email to her grandmother. Joie had been trying for years to locate her biological family.
The two women spoke over the phone for several months and finally met face-to-face on Nov. 1. That’s when Joie also met her father for the first time.
The two had spoken by phone many times after Sally initiated the connection, but that day was the first time Ray Darrow laid eyes on his daughter.
In the falloff 1969, Ray Darrow and his girlfriend Frances learned they were expecting a child. When Frances delivered the baby in April 1970, they named her Sue Lynn. The infant was immediately put up for adoption because Frances was still in high school.
“I didn’t even have a say in the matter,” Sally said, even though her son Ray was the child’s father.
Young Sue Lynn was renamed Joie by her adoptive parents, who raised their baby girl in northern California.
As the years rolled by, the fact that Ray and Frances had a baby was not a family secret, Sally said. But since the child was given up for adoption, her existence wasn’t openly discussed.
“It just wasn’t talked about,” Sally said. “But when all this happened, Ray told me, ‘I knew I’d be getting a knock on the door someday.’”
Some catching up to do
Deborah Ford, also of Havasu, is Sally’s niece. She said the family learned that Joie is a well-known international jewelry designer who lives on the East Coast.
“She does beautiful work,” Deborah said. Sally produced some of the rings and necklaces her granddaughter made and gave to her.
Deborah slipped on one of Sally’s rings and toyed with it. Made of a hammered gold tone metal, the bar ring covered her finger from the base to beyond the knuckle.
“Joie told us, ‘This is the ring (design) that made me famous.’ She said Kim Kardashian was seen wearing the design at a televised Lakers game, and after that, everyone wanted to know where she got it,” Deborah said. “Joie and her jewelry were also on the ‘Today’ show. She has a good business.”
(For more information, visit Soixante Neuf online or on Facebook.)
Sally said she and Joie talk on the phone every week.
“When I was talking to her the other day, she was in California. Somebody in the background was trying to talk to Joie when she said, ‘Not now. I’m talking to my grandma,’” Sally smiled broadly. Clearly, it was music to Sally’s ears to hear Joie identify her as “my grandma.”
Lost, then found
“It’s just mind-blowing,” said Joie. “To know I have a grandmother, cousins and my parents – well, I’m just so happy. I felt comfortable with my dad right away. It’s still taking time to get used to it all, but I can’ tell you how great it is to have people out there who think about me.”
The timing couldn’t have been better. Joie said that in the last few years, her adoptive family support system unraveled through multiple deaths and divorces, leaving her feeling adrift.
“I’m like the little puppy that everyone loves when it’s little,” she said. “But when the puppy gets older, it’s not cute anymore and everyone forgets about it.”
The family reunion
The Darrow family gathered to meet Joie in Havasu for the weekend of Nov. 1.
“She got to be with her dad for about five hours before she met any of us,” Sally said, explaining that her son Ray picked up his daughter from the Los Angeles airport. “They got to drive together to Havasu and catch up on so many things.”
Ray confirmed that.
“I am amazed at how similar we are. Even our birthdays are five days apart. Things Joie’s been gravitating toward in life are things that I like,” he said, marveling at the power of genetics.
When Ray and Joie arrived in Havasu, the celebration shifted into high gear.
Thirty members of the family turned out to meet and embrace their long-lost relative. Sally created poster boards with photos of family members, helping Joie understand who she was and from where she came.
“It turned out great,” Sally said. “I know sometimes it doesn’t. But it did for us.”
Deborah nodded in agreement. “Joie fit right in with all of us,” she said. “We found out we have so many traits and interests in common.”
Joie believes she strongly resembles her dad.
“I look like both my parents, though. When I met my mom Frances, I thought ‘Those are my legs, too!’ I never looked like any of my (adoptive) family, so it’s pretty cool. I have a tribe.”
Ray said intends to be in Joie’s life from here on out. He has always been her father, but now he has a chance to be her dad.
Should you do it?
New family connections are discovered every day as more people contribute their DNA samples to databases such as Ancestry or 23 and Me. It’s a service that Sally supports because it is how she found her granddaughter.
“Little did I know I would find my granddaughter Joie through it. I also found a lot of cousins,” she said.
Still, tracking down long-lost family members isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“If you think there’s something funny in your family, don’t do it. But for everyone else, I’d recommend Ancestry or something like it,” Sally said.
Joie agreed, saying that it was more of a fluke that she found family though 23 and Me.
“I wish I would have gone on Ancestry, too. I probably would have found everyone sooner,” she said.