Daisy Barassi’s mom grew up knowing next to nothing about her father, until Barassi found her mom’s three half-sisters

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After decades spent wondering who her father was, a simple DNA kit led to Sherry Fullwood finding out what had happened to him, as well as introducing her to three half-sisters in Toronto.

Fullwood was born in 1945 in England, the love child of a British mother and a Canadian soldier. After the soldier, a young Hungarian immigrant who’d moved to Canada at 16 and shipped overseas to serve his new nation at 18, had returned to Canada, Fullwood was handed over to her grandmother to be raised in a household with seven boys.

Her father, Ernie Bodnar, kept in touch for a couple of years but then the contact ended abruptly.

Daisy Barassi, Fullwood’s daughter, thinks her mom’s grandmother may have put a stop to it.

“We knew he was in Canada somewhere, that’s all we knew,” Barassi said. “And we knew a name.”

But it was the wrong name: Somehow, when Bodnar enlisted, his first name was recorded mistakenly as Erskine instead of Ernest, so searches turned up nothing.

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Sherry Fullwood was 18 when she moved from England to Italy and met her husband Duccio Castelli.
Sherry Fullwood was 18 when she moved from England to Italy and met her husband Duccio Castelli. jpg

Fullwood grew up, moved to Milan for sunshine and adventure at 18, and wound up marrying Duccio Castelli. They had Barassi, who moved from Milan to Coquitlam via Chile (her pastry shop, Nuvola Gelato e Dolci, is in Burnaby), and her brother Robin, who now lives in New York.

“We saw how she struggled,” Barassi said. “She would say, ‘I wonder who this person who is my father, who he is,’ she was always wondering what was going on with him, about her past and her future, about us.

“There are a lot of questions when a child maybe feels abandoned.”

So Barassi and her brother began the search. The internet was now a thing, but every clue still led to a dead end.

The only photo Sherry Fullwood had seen of her father before three half-sisters were discovered last fall in Ontario.
The only photo Sherry Fullwood had seen of her father before three half-sisters were discovered last fall in Ontario. jpg

Then, two years ago, Barassi bought a DNA kit. It sat on a shelf until last autumn. A short time after finally using it, she was over the moon when she discovered she was matched with three aunts in Toronto.

She made contact with the aunts, all of whom, one of them named Barbara said, were shocked to discover the secret their dad — who had died a few years ago — kept to the grave.

But they’re all happy now, once they got used to the bolt-from-the-blue bombshell, and they see the news as a remarkable gift, Barbara said.

“Very quickly thereafter, we did our best to positively lean into our situation and embraced an exciting journey of putting together the pieces of our fantastical family puzzle,” she said in an email exchange. “Most importantly, we were enthusiastic about starting the process of getting to know our newly discovered and very lovely sister, her husband and all of the family members.”

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Barbara’s sisters worked for their dad most of their lives. He owned several patents for building systems and tool-and-die industries.

“My mom was a wonderful influence on everyone and she encouraged Ernie to go to night school to get his engineering degree and to excel,” Barbara wrote Fullwood in an email to Milan. “And he was ambitious, although Kathy and I felt at times that he was too much of a workaholic.

“But when he was out of his work zone, he enjoyed playing with his young grandchildren — reading, drawing, swimming, building something or making forts.”

Barassi said her mother is happy and relieved because she’d always feared that if she ever did find family, she would be rejected.

“She was scared. She said, ‘What if they don’t want me?’”

The clan is waiting for the pandemic to wane so they can meet, in Toronto. Barassi’s brother will drive up from the U.S. and her mom will fly from Milan.

“I was proud getting to live in Canada,” Barassi said. “There’s the poppy day, and I always said to my daughters, ‘We are, in a certain way, Canadians, too. My blood is Canadian even if we don’t know where he is.”

Now they do, with a family that literally just extended.

Sherry Fullwood with her daughter and granddaughters Daisy, Giulia and Celeste Barassi. Through a DNA kit, the family was able to track down relatives of Fullwood’s dad, a Canadian soldier in the Second World War who met Fullwood’s mom in England.
Sherry Fullwood with her daughter and granddaughters Daisy, Giulia and Celeste Barassi. Through a DNA kit, the family was able to track down relatives of Fullwood’s dad, a Canadian soldier in the Second World War who met Fullwood’s mom in England. jpg

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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