Thursday, October 10, 2013

PJ Holland's DNA Journey to Find His Mother as told by Marilyn Souders

The story of 80-year-old Patrick "PJ" Holland's birth mother search and DNA testing success was shared with me by his niece, Marilyn Souders. She told me her motivations for doing so, "I just want to give all adoptees hope! This miracle can truly happen. Just take the test and have patience." The following is the story in her own words:

Patrick Holland was born on 10 March 1933 at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington, KY to a single mother. She put Patrick up for adoption. He grew up in a local orphanage during the Great Depression and, sadly, was never adopted. 

In 1945, Patrick went to live at a farm in Walton, KY.  This arrangement did not work out well for him, so he packed his worldly belongings in his pillowcase and took refuge at the Villa Madonna convent. Sr. Agnes and Sr. Joseph obtained food and shelter for Patrick. He stayed there as a general worker/chauffeur until, in 1949, he changed his date of birth so he could join the Army. He listed his full name as Patrick Joseph Holland. He was only 16 years old; however the Army believed him to be 18 years old. His fellow recruits gave him the nickname PJ.  PJ went to Fort Knox, KY initially and then moved around quickly.  

In 1952, PJ was discharged and returned to Covington, KY.  He rekindled his friendship with the Lahrmann family who he had first met in 1944 at the Knights of Columbus Bingo games. They invited Patrick to live with them and they all became very close. He finally had a family.

Lahrmann 25th Wedding Anniversary, 15 May 1954.
Back, l to r: Norma L., Edgar Cleves, Gertrude L. Cleves, Mary L. and Patrick
Front, l to r: August, Antonia and Frank Lahrman(n)


 At the Lahrmann family's encouragement, PJ attended Hughes High School in Cincinnati, OH and obtained his diploma in just two years under the GI Bill.  Eventually, he got a job working for a gas company and was transferred to Puerto Rico.

PJ loved living in Puerto Rico. He had dreamed about this type of life while a young boy at the orphanage. While there, he met a very talented artist named Vilma Gonzalez. She became his wife on 9 August 1970.  The following year PJ took Vilma home to meet his "adopted" parents, August and Antonia Lahrmann. Vilma was from a large family so she enjoyed meeting her husband’s large adopted family. Vilma developed a special bond with one of PJ’s nieces, Marilyn.

PJ and his wife Vilma G. Holland, 1970

Over the years, Marilyn and Vilma discussed trying to find PJ’s birth parents. They teamed up on PJ and he finally relented.  Marilyn had one clue, a birth certificate. The birth certificate listed PJ’s name as Patrick Leroy Holland.  Oops! Patrick’s confirmation name was Joseph. PJ did not know that his middle name was not the same as his confirmation name. His birth certificate listed the names of his father and his mother along with the status of “Legitimate: No.”  Those two words would sting for many years.  

PJ’s father was easy to find; however, he had died in 1952. PJ and Vilma would later visit his father’s grave. But PJ longed to find his mother, Agnes Holland. Marilyn tried various sources over the years in order to find PJ’s mother. The source that yielded the most information was a reunion of the St. Elizabeth nursing class of 1933.  Marilyn planned the reunion in Covington, KY.  PJ, Vilma, and Marilyn all flew into Covington. The nurses cried when they saw PJ.  They had always wondered what happened to him.  The nurses said that PJ’s mother worked in the hospital laundry.  She lived in the dorm with the nurses. They said that Agnes was a loving woman. She could not afford to feed herself, much less feed a child.  Agnes made the agonizing decision to give up her baby.  She wanted a loving couple to adopt him. During the Great Depression, the orphanage was filled with kids whose parents could not afford to feed them. Due to overcrowding, PJ had to stay at the hospital until he was potty trained. His mother and the nurses saw him every day and played with him. Unfortunately, the inevitable day came when he was potty trained. The nurses and his mother had to say good-bye as he was taken away to the orphanage. PJ was allowed to have visitors at first. However, because he would cry when the nurses or his mother left, the people who ran the orphanage decided that no more visitors would be allowed. The nurses were quite upset. His mother was so devastated that she packed up and moved. The nurses never heard from Agnes again. 

PJ worked internationally for many years. He moved back to the states when Vilma became ill. When Vilma died in 2005, Marilyn asked PJ to move to Texas to be close to her. He did so and Marilyn continued to search for PJ’s mother. Marilyn convinced PJ to take DNA tests with several companies. Disappointingly, no close relatives were found. 

  Back, l to r: Joseph (in arms), Nicholas & Margaret Souders, PJ, Marilyn & Jim Souders
 Front: Joanna Souders Fowler, Mike Fowler and baby James Fowler

Then one day in mid-August, Marilyn logged into PJ’s account on 23andMe. It was a day that she had dreamed about for decades. Marilyn had spent multiple years and more dollars than she cared to count trying to help PJ find his birth mother. 23andMe finally made that dream come true!  

When Marilyn logged into PJ's account, she saw a message in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, alerting her that a predicted first cousin had been found. She quickly checked his DNA Relatives page. There was the name of a woman who shared 6.97% of her DNA and 24 segments with PJ.  

Next, Marilyn looked at his inbox – there was new mail! Could they be lucky enough to have an e-mail from this possible first or second cousin? Indeed they were and Marilyn began corresponding with the woman, Cathryn Mudon, who had already sent an introductory message to PJ stating they were first or second cousins (turned out to be first cousins once removed). Cathryn stated they could talk on the weekend, but Marilyn begged for immediate contact. Cathryn placed a call to Marilyn & they spoke. Next they cried. They began exchanging photos. The family was reunited. 

Holland Family, c.1913. 
Back, l to r: John, Cathryn "Kit", Mary, Agnes (PJ's mother), Annie.
Front, l to r: Patrick, John, Hazel (John Mudon's mother), Catherine, William

Cathryn and her father, John Mudon (PJ's first cousin), flew to Dallas on 2 October 2013. It was a touching meeting. They brought pictures with them of the entire Holland family. John and PJ hugged. At the end of the day everyone was hoarse from talking. The family is looking forward to many more get-togethers. Thank you 23andMe!

First Cousins Reunited, John Mudon and Patrick "PJ" Holland

PJ's story was recently covered by a Texas ABC News station. You can see the engaging video with additional details on the story here



  1. I wish every adoptee or searching birth parent a happy ending like this. Than you for sharing and good luck to all searchers.

  2. Great story! I helped my neighbor who is almost 80 find her birth family this summer. She has a living niece, and a very elderly maternal aunt. Though identifying her birth mother was not through DNA testing, she has also done a autosomal DNA test so her story is not over yet! There is still a birth father to be identified.

  3. This is a beautiful story and a very happy ending. I especially love the photographs...I too am looking for my biological father. My story was recently featured by Virginia Hughes, Journalist in her article, "Uprooted". I would love for everyone to read it. You can get a copy on line for 99 cents, or buy it for your mp3 player at Amazon for 99 cents.
    I am trying so very hard to be isn't easy, is it? Congratulations to each of you! And best of luck to all who are still searching...smiles!
    Cheryl Whittle
    Cheryl Whittle

  4. What a great story! It hits home because I am waiting for DNA results. I would like to find out who my biological father is (or was) and I'm hoping DNA will lead to new connections. I was an adult when I found out I was adopted. Didn't even know my birth mother's name until 2012 when I got a copy of my original birth certificate from the state of Illinois. I think DNA is my last option for learning my bio dad's identity. If you are interested, you can read more about my journey at Revelations ( Thanks again for posting this heartwarming story.