Pioneer Cousins reunited

Terry Hamilton-Wollin (left) with her long lost cousin Amy Winn (right). (Submitted photo/Geoffrey Ionescu)

Amy Winn, who lives in Austin, Texas was born in Miami and put up for adoption at birth. For the last twenty years Amy has been searching for her roots. Now her search led her to her long lost third cousin Terry Hamilton-Wollin, who is guiding her through her family’s history.

Amy: “I knew from a very young age that I was adopted, and as you get older you get to wonder more and more about your family’s history. My son looks exactly like me and that got me thinking; where do I get my looks from, who is my actual mother and who do I get my curls from?” Amy says.

“So about twenty years ago,” Amy goes on, “I got my non-identifying information letter from the State of Florida. It contained a lot of information, just no actual names. The letter told me what my grandparents did for a living and that I have two brothers. I just did not have their names or their whereabouts. The only thing it said was that my family lived in a southern state.”

“So I had all these dates and occupations,” Amy explains, “but no names or any leads to follow. Over the last twenty years I came across people here and there that helped me out but I never really found anything. At some point I found a website called 23andme.com. That website connects you to relatives through DNA and from that I got some matches, but they never responded to any of my messages,” says Amy.

Eight months ago Amy Winn decided to take a leap of faith and write everybody she was connected to through the website: “That’s how I came across one of my third cousins. He told me that if I join ancestry.com (another website to discover your ancestry) he could find out where I was from and who I was related to. So I joined the website and that is how I learned I was a descendant of the Magill family and came in touch with Terry.”

“The first thing I said to Amy is how much she looks like my grandmother Mattie Magill Thomas,” Terry goes on, “everybody around here knew her as “Miss Mattie”. She taught second grade for many years in LaBelle. She began her teaching career on Sanibel Island. The school was on Sanibel but they all lived on Captiva Island. At the time there was no bridge yet”, Terry says, “so every morning she rowed across from Captiva to Sanibel to start a fire in the school house. Then she rowed back to ferry her six students across. When school was out they all rowed back to Captiva. When my grandmother told me this story,” Terry says, “I asked her why, if they all lived on Captiva, why didn’t they have the school house on Captiva. Her answer was: “We just never thought of it, I guess’. The Magill family was the first pioneer family to take up residence in LaBelle,” Terry explains. “After arranging a land swap via the mail the Magills took the train from Oklahoma to Cedar Key, then a packet to Fort Myers and they finally ended up in LaBelle by barge.”

Together with Terry, Amy found out who her mom was and that she was living in Tampa.

“Terry got in touch with her,” says Amy. “We got a response back that she did not wish to contact me, and that is her right, I don’t hold any ill will for what was done a long time ago. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re young, so I don’t hold any grudge towards her. In the end, it is more about knowing where I come from, who I am. It is hard to explain unless you’ve been adopted. It is just that feeling of never knowing that is always in the back of your head. So I am very happy that now I finally know where my roots are and that I come from the first pioneer family here in LaBelle. Later on, Terry is taking me to Fort Denaud.” Amy’s next stop after that is Jacksonville, where she is meeting more of her long lost family members.

Geoffrey Ionescu can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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