When Strangers Become Family: Dreams, Synchronicity, & AncestryDNA

Vid and his mom Virginia, 1945

Two days before my dead husband Vic’s birthday, I received an email from a stranger in England. Kel Mansfield had found Vic’s first cousin in Canada through AncestryDNA, and she told him about Vic. After looking at Vic’s website, Kel knew Vic was his half-brother.

Vic’s posthumous website includes his scientific and philosophic papers, and videos of talks. It also has a story to explain synchronicity—Vic’s story of being guided to visit his dying father who had abandoned him. That same father had abandoned Kel’s pregnant mother.

Kel Mansfield 2007

Kel wrote a gentle and articulate letter, politely introducing himself and explaining our connection. Messages sent to Vic’s website are forwarded to me.

“I don’t want to upset you,” Kel wrote.

“You’re not upsetting me, Kel,” I wrote. “I’m glad to know about you.” I was also glad Kel hadn’t suffered under their abusive alcoholic father but had been brought up by a loving mother and grandmother with his stepfather’s last name. He only learned his last name was Mansfield when he got a copy of his birth certificate to apply to the Royal Airforce at age 18. Now decades later, DNA testing offered a new path for revealing ancestral mysteries.

Vic and David

“I met Vic in my dreams last night,” Kel wrote in his second email. “We were in a large room and Vic was wearing the same striped beige shirt as in the video of his book talk. Unlike that event, the room was not full of people, just a couple of young women standing several feet away. Vic was addressing them and I was standing close beside him. Vic smiled at me, put his right arm around my shoulders, and continued talking to the women. It all felt very natural.”

“It’s just like Vic to hug a man he loves in that way,” I wrote back. “Do you dream often?”

Kel’s mom Moira and Aunt Blanche

“I dream every night,” Kel said.

“Vic was a dreamer, too,” I wrote.

Kel’s email about his dream had arrived on Vic’s birthday. That got my attention.

Vic and I shared dreams for over forty years. On one of the last day he could speak before his death in 2008, Vic told me a dream.

“The Spanish King is dead and I don’t know about it yet.”

Victor E Mansfield 1940 (father who deserted his sons)

Vic was too sick to say more. After his death, a Jungian therapist helped me interpret: Vic as the explorer of new worlds, (the Spanish King) was dead and Vic hadn’t accepted it. The night before this dream, Vic and I had discussed his future. He faced that he couldn’t teach or write or guide students again. With the help of a dream, Vic surrendered to death.

My son David sent his new found Uncle Kel a photograph taken about thirty years ago. Vic’s right arm was lovingly draped across David’s shoulder the same way it was draped over Kel’s shoulder in Kel’s dream. A brotherly, affectionate, comforting hug.

Kel 2022

Amazed by the synchronicity, I wondered: “Are the dead closer than I imagine?”


Kel and I continue corresponding and both my sons have exchanged email with their new found uncle. Through the mutual Canadian cousin Flavia, Kel has learned more details about Vic’s father’s family. This is an ongoing story of discovering lost roots for Kel and my sons David and Anthony. I watch in amazement, feeling how close Vic still is.

Have you used Ancestry DNA searches to find lost family? (I have not.) What did you discover? For a story about Vic keeping his father’s abandonment a secret (until he met me), see My Lover’s Secret. For a story about Vic’s last dream about the Spanish King see When Dreams Tell Our Future.

  1. I’m glad you are having this experience. What a gift. Through ancestry DNA, my family has experienced 3 situations of finding or reconnecting with family. Those have had amazing synchronicity which made the connection even more memorable. It can be a bit unnerving at first when emotions and misunderstandings could flare, but ultimately, it was healing and filled in historical gaps for us.

    • It’s amazing, Monica. I don’t have any “lost” family, so never looked for anyone. I wish Vic were here to interact with his brother Kel but Kel and I are exchanging messages and I know my sons interacted with him by email at least once and maybe more. We’ve only had good vibes with Kel who knew nothing about us but now has nephews. And my sons have an uncle! Sometimes life brings a delightful surprise. Thanks for sharing your experience with reconnecting with family.

  2. Elaine, I was particularly moved by this post. Finding someone so connected & yet so unknow is truly a strange experience. I’m glad both you & the boys have this in your lives now. Who knows what will unfold?!


    • Thanks for your reflections, Karen. Yes, who knows what will unfold? This is new and both my sons have spoken of wanting to find a way to meet Kel. We’ll see what happens next. Sending you love.

  3. How beautiful, Elaine!

    It feels like a gift to all involved. I am so glad you are still discovering connections after all this time. The fact of Kel’s email arriving on Vic’s birthday is a kind of confirmation to me too.

    Best wishes,


    • Casey, it was an exciting few weeks in our small family after Kel’s email arrived. Then the photo exchange and stories began. My sons have an uncle and I have a brother-in-law in England! We never suspected this possibility although we had heard Vic’s dad sired a son in the southwestern US when he was in the military. Vic never tried to find him, but Ancestry DNA makes these connections possible. Amazing!

  4. I looked back at the post “My Lover’s Secret” and discovered that I was the first commenter. The year 2014 seems like such a long time ago. It’s hard to believe that we have been connected in this space since them. The most poignant line for me in that post: “Telling the truth meant he trusted me with the places that hurt.” Of course he would; he sensed that you are trustworthy and that you cared…deeply.

    DNA offers secrets but shows us that our genes don’t spell our destiny. Kel is obviously a man of integrity and made different choices from those of Vic’s dad. How sweet that the correspondence hss extended to your sons as well.

    My favorite photo is the one with Vic’s arm draped on David’s shoulder. What an affectionate, expressive man he was!

    I have not used DNA ancestry searches personally although Cliff has. One of my grandsons is also curious about his ancestry, so I bought him a kit (23 & Me) for Christmas. He seemed pleased with the results, but I don’t think he made any unusual discoveries in the process.

    Elaine, you offer a bittersweet reflection here and also show the power of dreams. Thank you!

    • Marian, it does seem a long time ago. That’s the year my book came out. I agree our genes don’t spell our destiny, but they can provide surprising connections. Kel never met their dad or knew a thing about him until I shared some stories. He only knew his birth certificate said “Mansfield.” Stories about Vic and Kel’s dad weren’t sweet, but I imagine that’s what Kel expected. They were sad and always made me feel sorry for Victor Sr. as an abandoned child. I wish Vic were here for lots of reasons, but right now to interact with Kel. My sons are happy to have an uncle and Kel is happy to have nephews. This is so new and we don’t know where it’s going, but Kel and I stay in touch and share new stories and reflections.

      Isn’t that a great photo of David and Vic? And how wonderful that Vic had his arm over Kel’s shoulder in the same way in Kel’s dream–before Kel saw that photo. And also wonderful that Kel’s a dreamer like Vic. I’ve never had a reason to search AncestryDNA because my family was small and I know everyone’s history, but there could be hidden surprises. DNA led to Vic’s cousin. Vic hadn’t known her well, but she had kept in touch with Vic’s mom and knew about the name change to Mansfield and how to find at least one other cousins. Kel has been in touch with her, too. Kel has been a wonderful surprise for my family.

      • As you say, researching your family could reveal “hidden surprises” too!

        • I doubt it, Marian, but we never know. I know the history of the last few generations of my family on both sides. I have photos of the matriarchal lineage that goes back 6 generations to the mid 1800s. Vic’s family was different because we had less contact with his father’s side of the family and also because of his father’s untethered life. I’ve learned to forgive the pain he caused others.

  5. Oh Elaine, how very moving!

    • I agree, Christi. I’m sorry Vic isn’t here for many reasons, but now a new reason. He didn’t know about or get to meet Kel.

  6. What a special find – makes me wonder what other family secrets are out there for us to uncover!

    • Hi Grace. I never heard of any deserting men on the Santaniello side of the family, but we never know. Vic’s dad was such a mess in so many ways and had a tragic childhood. Kel is a lovely human being–a writer and a man with feelings. He’s half Italian and half Irish, so of course he has feelings. Like Vic, he was raised mostly by women. I hope you and your daughter are well. It’s a challenging time for most everyone, but I appreciate hearing from you.

  7. Yow, Elaine. It’s so amazing. I’m kinda like you, not much family, no lost family members. Not that I know of anyway. How incredible to have someone pop into your life like this. I wish you and your family much joy in all this. Cheers!

    • I agree, Robin. Amazing. Both my sons are amazed, too, and corresponded with their new uncle. It’s a gift and I imagine more will unfold, but I have no idea what that might be.

  8. Elaine, this is a very moving story for so many reasons, including the synchronicity that you mention. I wonder how long it took for you and David and Anthony to come back down to earth after figuring out you have such a close biological relative.

    It’s remarkable that we feel such a bond to biological relatives at times. They say you can’t choose your relatives, but sometimes there are some very strong connections, similarities, or threads of love that can’t be easily explained. (And sometimes not at all, but that’s not part of this story.)

    You asked whether anything like this ever happened to any of us? Indeed I never suspected such a thing, but a few years ago we found a first cousin of mine through DNA testing, who had been given up for adoption as a newborn. I won’t go into the circumstances, but it was practically unbelievable to think that such a secret could have been kept for years in my family. I feel very bonded to Ellen, and we have many similarities. Of course, she looks like a relative, she also grew up in Chicago, and she is only a few years younger than me. She was adopted into a Jewish family and recently retired as a nurse. Remarkably, our values are in close alignment.

    I hope that your family and Kel will meet someday in person. While it might be sad that you didn’t know each other much sooner, it’s wonderful that you now have a “new” relative who feels so close. This story would make a great appendix to Vic’s book on synchronicity! Thank you so much for sharing it with your devoted readers.

    • Hi Myra. We all responded differently. It was emotional for my sons in different ways, but somehow I took it all in stride. I’m still corresponding with Kel and waiting for the book he wrote to arrive. Kel has Vic’s jaw and nose, love of dogs, and a kind of tenderness I recognize. He’s also extremely articulate and sensitive to how his appearance might be received. It’s amazing what secrets families keep. It’s lovely that you connect with this cousin in wonderful ways. No one told Kel his mom’s secret.

      I hope my family will meet Kel someday. David hoped to visit his friends in Slovakia this summer (and fly thru London), but going to Slovakia is probably out until war stops in Ukraine. Anthony travels a lot and sometimes flies through London. I doubt I’ll go to England, but who knows. Kel is welcome to visit here, but I know his wife isn’t well, so that may not be possible, but we’ll try to make a meeting happen. Vic would have loved this–or so I believe.

  9. This is so wonderful for everyone Elaine – you, your sons, Kel, his family. I read your 2014 post and I agree with Marian that Vic knew he could trust you with his secret. Everything about this current story is amazing.
    I haven’t done any ancestry hunting. My sweet sister has done some. In fact she’s in the UK at the moment visiting her daughter and grandsons and there’s a plan for her to do some investigating in Wiltshire where there are apparently some very strong connections on my paternal grandfather’s side. On Neil’s side one of his cousins is investigating the various arms. I’m interested in my Norwegian maternal grandmother and would like to investigate further. Her maiden name corresponds to a small town in Norway.
    But before I get carried away, let me wish you all well in these newly formed ties. Love, susan

    • Thank you, Susan. I haven’t looked for family history, partly because I know where most ancestors came from and approximately when they arrived. I’m sure I could find out more, but I wish I’d asked my maternal grandmother more questions about her life in Chicago before she became a farmer’s wife in Missouri. She had one brother who died young, but she had a few cousins who visited the farm in Missouri. Much of my mother’s family history is preserved in photos (including names) sent back to Denmark to show the family was doing well in Ohio. They had to flee from Denmark to avoid being conscripted by the German Kaiser. Let me know if you find interesting information about your family. Maybe I’ll get inspired to look, but for the moment my focus is on my Monarch book. (It’s not easy for me to stay focused, but I’m trying to keep a little discipline so I can finish this
      project. I’ve done a lot and now I’m working on weaving in a small amount of mythology. I can’t write about butterflies without bringing in Psyche and a few Native American stories. Sending love and health to you.

  10. Magical and yet so down to earth! I love it.

  11. Incredible!

    I am just taking this in. ❤️

  12. What a gift life has brought you and your sons! I love your story and am excited for you. Your connection with Vic’s brother and the surrounding synchronicity seems destined to be.

    I’ve had my DNA tested and found lots of people I’m related to very distantly: i.e. 3rd, 4th cousins connected through great, great grandparents I never met, etc. but no one closely related who’s living now. I do have a half brother who my full brother, Jimmy, and I met once years ago, but for many reasons it ended there and Jimmy and I are good with that.

    • Kel’s appearance in our family life is a gift. I have no idea if the connection will continue, but hope it does. Now I’m curious about your half brother, but it sounds best to not pursue that connection. Family is always complex and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Vic’s relationship with his father was rare and memorable by being unpleasant and frightening. I’m glad two of his sons (Vic and Kel) did well on their own.

  13. Beautiful story about re-union

  14. Wow! It’s a fantastic story, my dear Elaine. What a great uncovering! I have never tried such an Ancestry DNA search. As you know, I am an immigrant, and I think that it makes no sense to try it here in my new home. But anyway, I am so happy for you and your sons to find such a wonderful new uncle. It is incredible synchronicity, and as you said, the dead are closer than we imagine. Stay well, and blessings.

    • I’ve never done an Ancestry DNA search, but Kel didn’t know the origin of his last name. Fortunately Vic’s cousin submitted her DNA sample in Canada, so that made the connection. I have a few friends who found lost relatives or siblings this way. I would need the motivation to look for someone or answer a question about my own past, but I know the pieces of the family puzzle. My family is small and there were no missing relatives. I tried to find a few friends from my youth before there was AncestryDNA and did online searches. I finally found an obituary–which is sort of what Kel found although he now has information about his father and his father’s family. Finding an uncle touched both my son’s hearts.

  15. Dear Elaine,
    There is so much about this post that fills me with joy–not only for you, your sons, and Kel, but also for all of us searching for meaning and magic in this life. Such synchronicity provides a reminder of the interconnection (not only among the living) that is always present but so easy to miss. It’s especially wonderful when the synchronicity is so big, as in this instance, that it is impossible to miss! After reading Kel’s dream, seeing the photograph of Vic with his arm draped around David’s shoulder, and learning that Kel’s email about his dream showed up on Vic’s birthday, it seems like a special gift from Vic. (I always liked that the hobbits in Tolkien’s books celebrate their birthdays by giving gifts to others.)
    I’ve never done an AncestryDNA search, though your entry makes me think about the few relatives (cousins) I know of but am not in touch with. There was so much sadness and pain in both my mother’s and father’s families growing up, and they distanced themselves and us from their families.
    I look forward to hearing more about what unfolds for all of you with Kel over time.
    Sending love and spring blessings your way, Anne

    • Thank you, Anne. I don’t know what will unfold, but we’re corresponding and Kel is learning more about Vic’s family and his father. I bought Kel’s book and brought it with me on this visit to my son’s home in North Carolina, but I haven’t had time to read. Yes, Vic feels present in this whole surprising interaction. He LOVED synchronicity. Spring blessings to you, too.

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