For more than 50 years, Sylvia Gray has wondered about her family—and when she finally uncovered her history this year, her life changed forever.
Gray, a 58-year-old life coach with a contagious laugh, currently lives in Houston. Her mother left her in foster care when she was four months old, and she grew up never feeling like she belonged, never knowing anyone who looked like her. As an adult, Gray searched records to try and learn about her family but wasn’t able to make much headway until she sent her DNA to 23andMe. She finally discovered her father’s name and a cousin in New York—but the road seemed to end there. When she connected with the cousin, he suggested she try Ancestry’s DNA test, too.
Gray received her Ancestry results early this year and found another cousin, named Eric Boyle. She reached out to Boyle through the Ancestry site but didn’t receive a response. When she talked with her New York cousin about the situation, he suggested she dig a little further into Ancestry to learn more about Boyle. When she did, she discovered that he wasn’t her cousin after all; he was her brother. Suddenly, the urgency of connecting with him was much stronger. She kept sending him message after message in the hope that she’d finally discovered her direct family.
“She was very persistent,” says Boyle, a 55-year-old IT director in Fairfax, Virginia, who also grew up in foster care. “I had a roof over my head,” he says of his upbringing. “I wasn’t very hungry. But I didn’t learn the importance of building healthy relationships.”
While Boyle had an Ancestry account, he didn’t check it often, as he was juggling family and work. When Gray first reached out and mentioned being his cousin, Boyle admits he didn’t think much of it. But given her repeated overtures, he decided he couldn’t blow this person off. “I looked back at the messages and was like, ‘You idiot, that’s my sister!’” he says. He quickly texted her.
When Gray received the text, she had to take a breath before she texted Boyle back—and a few seconds after sending her text, she decided to take the leap and call him. They ended up talking on the phone for more than four hours.
“Even though we didn’t have very pretty beginnings, our core values are the same,” Gray says of their connection. “It’s really weird.”
Since they’d never met in person, Boyle booked a trip to visit Gray as soon as he was vaccinated. When he boarded his United flight to Houston, the flight crew asked him if he was excited to meet his sister, catching him by surprise. Gray had reached out to United ahead of her brother’s flight and told the airline about the reunion. When Boyle walked off the plane, his arrival gate was filled with sky-colored balloons and excited United employees, as well as Gray.
“Eric walked out, and they hugged probably for 10 minutes,” says Sevan Karabetian, Airport Operations Manager at Houston. “We were all in tears. This is the best part of our job.”
Boyle knew before he even met her that his sister was strong. “Knowing the statis- tics of foster children, the fact that she’s still here means she’s resilient,” he says. “My big sister’s a warrior.”
“If you have family out there, never lose hope,” Gray says. “I finally found someone who looks like me. Nothing could prepare me for seeing him walk off of that plane. It was the best moment of my life.”