"It just blew my mind; it's incredible" Michael Sovyn, Canada
Raised by a single mom, Michael Sovyn always knew that his parents had met in Germany during World War II, but that his mother lost contact with his father before discovering that she was pregnant with him. The only significant clues to his identity were a photograph she had of him, dated July 8, 1945, with an inscription on the back: “To my dear little Maria,” it reads in French, and is signed simply “Lulu.”
Maria searched for Lulu all her life, but when she passed away in 2005, Michael still had no more information about his father. It was a MyHeritage DNA test that finally cracked the case and led Michael to his father’s family — including 3 half-brothers in France who were delighted and astonished to learn that they had a Canadian older brother!
This is their incredible story.
A whirlwind romance in the midst of war
Maria Sovyn, of Ukrainian origin, was serving as a waitress in a restaurant in Germany toward the end of World War II. Lulu — whose full name was Lucien Laurent — was a handsome young French soldier who frequented the establishment.
“[My mother] said there was no other man as good-looking or as nice as he was,” Michael recalled in an interview with the CBC.
Lulu had to come and go because of his work, and the pair even went on two trips together, but eventually the visits stopped and they lost contact. Then, Maria discovered that she was pregnant with Michael.
After the war, Maria and Michael lived in a German camp for foreigners when Maria received a donation of a jacket from Canada. The jacket had a note sewn into the pocket asking the recipient to contact the people who had sent it. Maria did, and the kind family helped her and Michael (who was 3 at the time) immigrate to Canada.
All Maria had from Lulu was the photo he had given her, and the memory that he was from Marseille.
Finding Papa Lulu
Michael went on to have a family of his own. His 3 children were always curious about the identity of their grandfather and wanted to help continue the search.
Michael’s daughter Sherri Hrycay is a successful milliner (hatmaker), owner of Sova Hat Shoppe. Her handmade hats are widely celebrated — they’ve been worn by the likes of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of the Canadian prime minister, and former lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan Vaughn Solomon Shofield, and have even been gifted to Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Sherri’s work has taken her to Europe many times, including trips to France.
It was Sherri who made contact with genealogist Murièle Gadaut, and the family hired Murièle to help them solve the mystery.
Murièle suggested that Michael take a DNA test, and when the results came in, they discovered a match: a cousin living in France. With this information, Murièle was able to build a family tree and find contact information for living family members. She sent letters to the family with the photo of Lulu, asking for more information.
This January, she finally got a response: a family member recognized Lulu as her husband’s uncle, Lucien Laurant.
Unfortunately, “Papa Lulu” had passed away in 2000, but he had three living sons. Murièle contacted them and connected the families to each other.
At first, Lulu’s family was skeptical and concerned that it was a scam, but eventually they came to realize that this was the real thing. They were beyond delighted to welcome Michael and his children into the family.
To Sherri’s astonishment, her long-lost uncle revealed to her that her grandfather had worked in a hat factory before the war!
The family has been in constant contact since, and planned to meet in France at the end of March. Their reunion was delayed because of the pandemic, but last week, they finally met in the airport in Nice. Michael will be spending two weeks in the French Riviera getting to know his half-brothers and all his French family members.
And so the love story of Maria and Lulu has come full circle. They may never have had the chance to share the joy of having a child together, but at least now — thanks to MyHeritage DNA — their children can have their happy ever after as a family.