• Heather Graham

Father unknown

After a decades-long search for her birth father, Kim Armstrong, 58, finally found him thanks to a home DNA test.


Kim Armstrong, a nurse based in Belfast, was adopted as a baby and grew up with two loving parents and another adopted sister.


Photo: Kim Armstrong

She had always been curious about her birth parents but it wasn’t until she had her own children that she acted on her curiosity.


“I had the best mum and dad in the world [pictured right] but after I had my own children, I always felt like that wee piece of the jigsaw was missing. My son, Steven, is 31 and my dad died when he was one, and it wasn’t long after that I started doing the search.”


She had a great childhood and it was filled with many happy memories but there was never any mention of her birth parents, no names, no contact numbers, nothing.


“I always grew up with a different name, my dad just got rid of all the records because as far as he was concerned, we were his and that was his way of dealing with it.”


Kim's dad died when she was 31 and her mum when she was 43, so she was now more aware than ever that time was running out to reach her birth parents.


Her first point of contact was the social worker that had her records. In them, it explained that her maternal grandfather was a very hard person and that her birth mother did not want her to have the upbringing she had. She was also not put up for adoption straight away and arrived at the home at six weeks old, which Kim jokingly presumes must have meant she was a crier.


Her records only gave her birth mother's name so she thought that would be the best place to start. After going through some counselling to help her deal with the highly emotional experience of meeting birth parents, Kim was ready. Unfortunately, it was not the magical encounter she was hoping for.


They met up a few times and Kim found out that her birth mother also had other children. Then out of the blue, her birth mother said she didn't want to stay in contact anymore because something from her past had come to haunt her. Nevertheless, when Kim got remarried she was hopeful and sent a letter.


“I remember writing this big long letter saying, 'I would love you to come along to my wedding'. Then she told my half-sister if I contacted her again, she was going to contact the police and do me for harassment.”

Despite her negative experiences with her birth mother and half-sister, she found another half-brother on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, the man was initially wary of Kim but he did some research of his own and the two now see each other a few times a year.


“He said I had a lucky escape. He had a very hard upbringing and left home when he was about 16, now he has no contact with my birth mum, his dad or any of the brothers.”

Even though Kim's birth mother did not want to have a relationship with her, she was not any more helpful with Kim's search for her birth father; she even refused to reveal his name and on the birth certificate it only says 'father unknown'. Reaching a dead end, Kim started to fear the worst.

Photo: Kim Armstrong

“I was thinking he’s probably in his 80s now, he could be dead, I’ll never find him.”


She contacted Long Lost Families and many Facebook forums with the little information she had found out about her birth father, hoping that someone would recognise it.


Every time she watched families reunite, it was getting harder and harder to watch as the odds were stacked against her.


“All I knew about my dad was that he worked for the Ulster Transport Association and he was a bodybuilder. I just imagined this person doing bodybuilding but it was on the coaches he worked!”


As well as her own search, Kim's older sister, Karen, sadly passed away before she could find out who her birth father was, and this encouraged Kim to not give up.


“Karen had a massive stroke and never did get to find out, she found out who her birth mum was but never got to meet her. It doesn’t always work out the way you see in the programmes.”


Having exhausted all other options, Kim did a home DNA test as a last attempt. These tests are accurate but they can only gather results from people who have given their consent, and with home DNA testing being fairly new, this method does not always work for everyone.


The box was sitting untouched for months before Kim finally sent the swabs off for testing. When she got the results back she was over the moon, she had matched a brother and sister in England who turned out to be cousins on her birth father's side.


They got in contact and Kim passed on the information she had gathered over the years and finally somebody recognised the man she was talking about.


“It was their Uncle Roy. He had gotten this girl pregnant when he was in his early 20s, but her family had chased him out. They asked for financial help, which he gave, but he didn’t know whether she had an abortion or what had happened to me!”

Even though Roy McComb, 83, had no idea about Kim, they were still in each other's lives blissfully unaware of their connection. Roy lived a few streets away from Kim's childhood home, they shared the same dentist and his two other sons were in primary school at the same time as Kim.


Photo: Kim Armstrong

After exchanging emails, Roy phoned Kim to arrange a meeting. The meeting felt long overdue and was a great experience for both of them.


“It was very emotional, we’re just like two peas in a pod and we just hit it off right away. He opened the front door, and it was just like looking in the mirror. I know where I got my nose from now! I see him every Saturday now, sometimes twice a day.”




Father's Day this year was very special for the pair. After her dad died almost three decades ago, to have her birth father come into the picture in his 80s, and for them to get on so well, feels surreal.


They have only known each other for just over a year and have both lived interesting lives. Kim made a photo album for Roy about her life and Roy showed her lots of mementoes from his, including the telegram that was received when the Titanic sunk, as it was Kim’s paternal grandfather, Robert McComb, that took it. Over the last year, they have introduced their families to each other and Roy was invited to her daughter’s wedding before COVID put a stop to their plans.

Although Roy is happy to have met his daughter despite the odds, he is very grateful to her parents for raising her and making her the woman she is today.


“The first day after I met my dad, he wanted to go to the garden of remembrance to see where my mum and dad are both buried. He got his granddaughter to make a wee stone to say thanks for looking after Kim and we go up on anniversaries.”


The crazy thing about all of this is that if Kim's cousins had never done the same DNA test as she had, she might have still been searching for Roy today.


“I never heard back from Long Lost Families. I thought, who needs Davina McCall? I did it myself!”



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