Every time we turn around, another family member appears

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Lynne Cope Hummell

We already know that families come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and all configurations.

Some families have a dad and a mom, while some have a dad OR a mom. Others have two dads or two moms.

When it comes to siblings, the sky is the limit for configurations. As parental relationships dissolve and change, the relationships of their offspring might take a few turns as well.

I grew up with a mom and dad, two older sisters, an older brother, and a younger brother and sister. When I was about 8 years old, I learned that the older kids were my half siblings: one sister is from Daddy's previous marriage, and the other sister and brother are from Mama's prior marriage.

I have never called them "half" anything. They don't refer to one another as step siblings. We are all simply brothers and sisters.

We had lots of cousins, because both our parents came from large families - Dad had six brothers and sisters, mom had eight.

As if that's not plenty of siblings and cousins, we recently have learned of more relatives - thanks to technology and serendipity.

In the past year, my older brother and sister discovered - in their 70s! - that they have half siblings. Their father, who left our mother when the kids were little, moved back to Chicago and they never saw him again.

As my sister-in-law was doing genealogical research for my brother, they decided to look for him. The man's obituary was found. In the list of survivors were a son and a daughter.

A Facebook search led to the daughter, and a message was sent. They wondered if she would respond.

She did reply, and she and her brother came south to meet up. They instantly made a connection. A vacation is being planned so all the "old" siblings can meet the "new" ones.

But internet searches aren't the only way to find long-lost family members. It can happen serendipitously.

Several years ago, my year younger sister had a flat tire on a back road in a small town on a Sunday afternoon, heading home from the beach. The only folks she saw nearby were a man and a young couple standing in the driveway at the house across the street.

She walked over, told them the problem and they offered to help. The young man took the tire off and drove it to a friend to have it patched.

Shirley and the man, whose house it was, stood chatting in the driveway. After a series of "Where did you grow up" and "Who is your mama" questions, they established that the man is our second cousin Jerry, the elder son of cousin Fran on our mother's side.

Though we had never met him, we knew his younger brother and sister very well.

Another cousin was discovered because of Shirley's name plate, including our family name, at the school where she works. A woman came to visit, saw it, and said "My maiden name is Cope! I wonder if we are related?"

Lo and behold, her daddy James is our cousin on our dad's side! His granddaddy and our granddaddy were brothers. We plan a mini-migration to the tiny town of Cope, near Orangeburg, where many of our ancestors are buried.

These stories all have happy endings, and we have heard others that weren't as pleasant. It's understandable if one is cautious when deciding whether to contact any "leaves" on the family tree, but it might also be fun to discover a whole new family.

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