When Jan Seely and Erika Young came down the escalator at the airport, they spotted the crowd.
The mother and daughter from the Tri-Cities figured the excited crew clutching balloons and waving was there to greet another group — perhaps some of the travelers behind them.
After all, the women had never been to Newfoundland before. They were there to visit family, but it was family they’d only recently found.
So they weren’t expecting a hero’s welcome.
But that’s exactly what they got.
The crowd was made up of long-lost relatives, thrilled at the prospect of connecting with Seely and Young.
My mother went from having no family to a huge clan of amazing people here on the island. They have the warmest hugs, the friendliest faces and the (most) charming hospitality. They have my mother’s mannerisms, and I know we found a piece of home.
Erika Young, on her mother Jan Seely finding her family
The Tri-City women were touched. In that moment, “my mother went from having no family to a huge clan of amazing people here on the island. They have the warmest hugs, the friendliest faces and the (most) charming hospitality,” Young later wrote of the experience. “They have my mother’s mannerisms, and I know we found a piece of home.”
The airport welcome was a happy ending — or rather, a happy beginning — for the mother and daughter who spent years searching for Seely’s birth family.
Seely’s mother, Ida Murphy, died when Seely was a young girl. Seely was adopted by a Tri-City couple and knew almost nothing about her birth parents.
She thought her mother’s name was Ida, perhaps. Or maybe Irene.
She had a few fleeting memories and a pair of dolls she suspected might have come from her mom. That was about it.
But in recent years, the plethora of search engines and agencies, plus a change in Washington law, shook things loose.
Before she knew it, Seely was on her way to Newfoundland to meet her mother’s kin and to see the beautiful, distant place where Ida grew up.
It was such a good experience that Seely and Young are planning another trip to Newfoundland next year.
“Just looking around the room (while we were there), it was like, this is my family. For real,” Seely said.
It sunk in.
“It was so warm. They were so accepting,” Seely said.
The 57-year-old lives in Kennewick with her husband, Kelly. She works at Hanford and has spent the past 14 years volunteering as an advocate with the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center.
She loves to cook, she loves cats, she loves the ocean. She’s devoted to her daughter and loves spending time with her. “I’m a simple person,” Seely said.
But for as long as she could remember, something was missing. She longed to know about her heritage, about her early years.
Her life felt like a puzzle with some key pieces missing.
Seely spent years searching for answers, but with so little to go on she didn’t get far.
When Young, now 33, was a teen, she threw herself into her own search. But like her mom, she hit dead ends.
Then a few years ago, state law changed to allow adults adopted in Washington to obtain their original birth certificates.
Seely sent off for the paperwork. When it came, she finally had Ida’s full name.
Young got back on the case, using resources such as Ancestry and the Seattle nonprofit Washington Adoption Reunion Movement, or WARM.
Eventually, a fuller picture emerged.
Ida was one of 13 siblings born into the sprawling Murphy clan on Crawley Island.
She was delicate and lovely. She wore cat-eye glasses. While working at a military base near her home, she fell in love.
She and the young airman got married and made a home in Spokane, where he was stationed.
But their love story ended tragically when he became ill and died.
Ida eventually married again and had Seely. But her own life was cut tragically short; she died at age 32 from a brain tumor.
Seely was 5. She lived for a short time with her biological father — he has since died — but then was adopted.
Back in Newfoundland, the Murphy clan was largely in the dark about Seely’s fate. They knew Ida had passed, but not much more.
They did what they could, but it was a different time then — long before the Internet and cell phones, before today’s immediacy and ease of communication.
“As soon as I got a computer 20 years ago, I tried to see if I could find Jan. I didn’t have the (right) information. I was looking in Walla Walla,” said Walter Parsons, who’s married to Ida’s sister Anna.
When Seely and Young finally made contact, the Parsons “could hardly believe it,” Walter said.
“It was sort of like a fairy tale thing. We never expected to find the family after that amount of time. It’s something that I’ll never forget. We made a very strong connection, and it will last,” he said.
Walter Parsons wrote Seely and Young a song, called The Find of a Lifetime. He played it for them on their trip to Newfoundland.
“To just see those faces that were missing so long/and now we had finally met/We’ve been separated for way, way too long/But you’re family, don’t ever forget,” it goes in part.
“It’s such a great blessing you entered our lives/we’re happier than we’ve even been/Our lives will be fuller and richer by far/with Erika and Janet Lynn.”
Seely and Young now stay in regular touch with their Newfoundland family via FaceTime and the like. They’re excited about making another visit.
For Seely, the puzzle is finally in place.
She’s learned about her mother — about what she was like, the person she was.
For years, the best Seely hoped for were photographs of the woman. Now she has several, plus actual living kin who can animate them with stories, with memories.
The connection feels good, Seely said. It fills her up.
Besides the Newfoundland clan, Seely has few other relatives.
Her adoptive parents have both passed.
In her search, she learned she had a younger biological brother, Shawn. He was born not all that long before Ida passed, and he died at age 2.
Seely honors him and holds a place for him in her heart.
She hopes others find inspiration in her story.
Not all adoption reunions end the way hers has — with many questions answered, with a happy and fruitful connection made.
But finding her Newfoundland kin has meant to the world to her.
In some cases, “there is light at the end of that tunnel,” she said. “Surprises do happen in life — joyful surprises, where you have that instant connection with people you haven’t seen in 57 years or ever got a chance to know.
“It’s an amazing thing.”