FARMINGTON — Hours of research led to the meeting of a Farmington woman and her father, who had no idea that he had another daughter.
“It has changed my life and perhaps even saved my life,” Jessica Chouinard said of her friend, Crystal Nersessian’s, research efforts. “Thanks to Crystal, it is a happy story.”
Chouinard messaged Carl Ouellette of Lewiston on Facebook on Jan. 18.
“I think you might be my father,” she wrote as part of a longer message. “I’m only looking for answers, nothing more.”
Ouellette was eating lunch in a local restaurant when the message popped up.
“After the first three questions, I said yes, yes and yes and then started sharing it with people … ‘Hey, check this out,'” he said as he showed his phone message. “It was a done deal. I went home and asked my youngest son, Cole, to take a ride.”
Within 10 minutes they were communicating. Two hours later they met at the Farmington House of Pizza, where Chouinard has worked off and on, she said. It was one day after her 31st birthday.
He came up and said he could tell it was true. Chouinard said she tried to be skeptical. She was wary of being hurt.
She grew up not knowing about Ouellette. She had a stepfather who died when she was young, but she didn’t know he was her stepfather until she registered for school.
Chouinard had made attempts to find her biological father. She was given the name of a man who had attended the University of Maine at Farmington in the mid 1980s. She found him three years ago, but testing proved negative for paternity.
Then she met and became friends with Nersessian who loves to do research and has been involved in genealogy searches for more than 20 years.
They shared family history and Nersessian went into Ancestry.com databases trying to link Chouinard’s DNA to other people.
There is a whole community of genealogists who try to help people find their lost parent, something she would like to continue doing, Nersessian said.
The database provided lists of people who matched Jessica’s DNA. She found second and third cousins and even eighth cousins, she said.
But then she found a match related to Ouellette’s great-grandparents and followed it down to where it indicated Ouellette’s father could be Chouinard’s grandfather.
Apparently, Ouellette’s father had recently taken the DNA test, likely a holiday special featured on Ancestry.com, to look for ethnicity, Nersessian said.
“The grandfather’s DNA was enough proof to know this is my father,” Chouinard said.
She talked to her mother who said it was a possibility.
Her parents met while students at UMF. They dated briefly and went their ways. Her mother left school to raise Chouinard. They then spent a year and a half in Massachusetts for treatments, because she was born with a dislocated hip.
Ouellette grew up in Lewiston and graduated from UMF, where he was an athletic standout, in 1990. He has three grown children, a daughter Jessamy and two sons, Kade and Cole.
His wife was doubtful, but after spending a short time with Chouinard, she said she could see similar characteristics between her husband and the young woman.
Ouellette has taken the DNA test and is waiting for results, but both feel it is only a formality.
Nersessian spent hundreds of hours researching databases, archives of obits at the Sun Journal and genealogy searches. There is no way to repay her, Chouinard said.
But when Nersessian found an article about Ouellette and a hereditary cholesterol problem, it was a shock, Chouinard said. She suffers from the same genetic condition.
At age 8, Chouinard was diagnosed with the high-cholesterol disease. She was treated for a while, but turned away from it.
At age 34, Ouellette suffered a massive heart attack and had five-way bypass surgery.
“My cholesterol was around 500 and the doctor said my heart looked like an 80-year-old’s,” he said. Ouellette’s father and other family members also have the disorder.
Now at 50 years old, he is doing well and said he couldn’t wait to meet his grandchildren.
“This is lifesaving for me,” Chouinard said. “I could have left my children without a mother. I’ve made an appointment with the doctor for me and my children.”
Both Chouinard and Ouellette believe people should have DNA testing.
“You may help another’s life or other people looking for answers. We have to help each other,” she said.
Father and daughter Carl Ouellette of Lewiston and Jessica Chouinard of Farmington met last week for the first time at the Farmington House of Pizza. (Ann Bryant/Franklin Journal)
Carl Ouellette, left, met his daughter, Jessica Chouinard, right, for the first time last week at the Farmington House of Pizza. Chouinard’s friend, Crystal Nersessian, middle, found Chouinard’s biological father through genealogy research. (Ann Bryant/Franklin Journal)