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The story of how a B.C. man found his birth mother

All Dave Rogers knew of his life before adoption was that he was born in 1947 in Tetbury, England, and that his mother had him out of wedlock, which led to him being adopted.

Dave, a Richmond, B.C., resident who works in the tourism industry in Vancouver, grew up in what he calls a loving home with two adopted parents and three siblings, also adopted, each from different backgrounds: an Indian girl, a First Nations boy from the Coast Salish and a First Nations girl from Nisga’a.

“My adopted parents gave all four of us an amazing, absolutely amazing life, and brought us up with morals and everything I cherish to this day,” Dave said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.

As the four children grew older, their adopted mother encouraged them to find their birth parents. Dave says he felt guilty about doing it while she was alive.

“I thought it was disrespectful.”

Tracing his roots

After his adopted mother passed in 2013, Dave decided it was time to begin his genealogical journey. He spent a few years doing his own research, then in 2017, his close friend Louise helped him by creating an AncestryDNA account, filling in all the information he knew and submitting his saliva sample back. He gave her access to his account, where she would share all the new discoveries and insights that came with the profile.

Joy Sproston, Dave Rogers’ birth mother, died in Tetbury, England in 2004. (Dave Rogers)

It opened up a treasure trove of information, learning that his birth mother, Joy Sproston, passed away in 2004, and that the name on his birth certificate was Alan James Sprowston. He discovered his cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents worked odd jobs, in coal mines or managing the Mont Dore Hotel in Bournemouth, which opened more than 250 years ago.

Dave says all the credit goes to Louise, who led the charge on the project.

“She would send me all sorts of different things regarding this,” he said. “She dug in so far into this stuff. I did what I could, but she would ask me different things and then come back with some amazing stuff.”

Now armed with plenty of intelligence and aching to learn more, Dave wanted to fly to England in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans. In 2023, after travel restrictions were lifted, he booked his ticket to England to find his mother.

A trip across the pond

The only things Dave knew about Tetbury were that his mother died there, his grandfather was buried there and King Charles owned a private residence there.

When he arrived in England, he learned no trains go to Tetbury, so it took a few buses and taxis to get to his hotel, The Ormond. After checking in, he walked into a pub, explaining to a server named Lorna that he was a Canadian in search of his mother.

Lorna connected him with a character named “Lord Carleton,” a local in his late 60s who spent his entire life in Tetbury, seemingly knowing everyone who resided in the small English town. He heard Dave’s story and insisted “we’ll go look for her.”

The two went through all the local cemeteries, with Dave unable to find either his mother’s or grandfather’s gravesites. A few days later, he went to Tetbury Funerals, where he met Philip Horgan, one of the home’s directors.

“He got so enthralled in my story of what I’ve been doing in my life, my family, what I was doing there,” Dave said. The two agreed to meet at 10 a.m. the following day. Philip mentioned it would be his day off, with Dave saying he didn’t have to join him.

“Oh no, I want to do this, this is very interesting,” Philip told him.

‘Your mother’s in the next room’

When the two met the next morning, Dave said he remembers Philip having this big beam on his face, that he was happy, jovial. The plan was for the two to drive a few kilometres down the road to the graveyard Dave’s grandfather was buried in to try and find him.

“There’s a wee wrinkle in this whole story,” Philip told Dave.

“Oh yeah?” Dave replied.

“Your mother’s in the next room.”

At this time during the interview, Dave pauses, saying each time he thinks about this moment, he chokes up. After taking a breath, he shares that since his mother never married or had other children, her ashes went unclaimed at the funeral home.

“She was waiting for you,” Philip told him.

After the initial shock, the two drove out to the cemetery to find his grandfather, but after four hours of walking through the unkempt area, they never found him.

When they returned to the funeral home, Philip presented Dave with an option he could never have imagined.

“You can take your mother home with you. I bet she’s never been to Canada,” Philip said. Dave agreed, and after Philip signed all the paperwork, Dave took his mother’s ashes with him to Heathrow Airport in London, eager to show her where her only child was raised.

When he arrived at the airport, the ashes were already tagged for a security check. Dave says the security guard, a giant of a man, looked at him and asked what he was declaring.

“I’m taking my mother home. After nine years of searching, I found her,” he told security.

The guard looked at the box full of ashes, then walked around the security Plexiglas and approached Dave with a question.

“Can I give you a hug?”

‘You will always find something’

Dave says a year after he and his mother arrived in Richmond, he took her back to Tetbury on the 20-year anniversary of her death. He returned to the same hotel from the previous year, and reconnected with all the characters he met along the way: Lord Carleton, Philip, Lorna and the hotel staff. He recounts memories of sharing pints with them at The Ormond, briefly experiencing the life that could have been.

Dave says Louise is trying to write a book on his background and journey to England, and that the experience has been enriching for him at this stage of his life. He also encourages anyone to start their own genealogical journey, whatever the reason may be.

“Anybody looking for any history on their little life, do it. It’s worth it in the long run. You will always find something.”

CTV News asked readers to share their discoveries after using 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage and other genealogy websites. These websites surfaced stories of uncovering family secrets, locating long-lost relatives and exploring family trees. More than 100 people responded to our callout.

Visit CTVNews.ca Monday mornings to read the latest in our DNA Diaries series.

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