Finding Ray Johnson documents the developing relationship between three creative women, Canadian media artist Lorna Rae Boschman, her sister photographer Leanne Boschman, and their new cousin Australian writer/musician April Smallwood. Lorna was named after her uncle Ray, a merchant marine who passed away in 1990. Ray frequently holidayed in the Philippines. His siblings, Harvey and Gwen, sent their DNA samples for genealogical testing in 2017.
Meanwhile, in New South Wales, Australia, April Smallwood was surprised at her
dad’s deathbed declaration – he may not have been her biological father. Gwen Johnson and April Smallwood submitted their DNA test kits to the same database within a month of each other. Test results revealed their biological connection – Gwen was April’s aunt and Lorna had a new first cousin, a daughter of whom her late Uncle Ray did not know. Our story reflects the contemporary wave of new family connections being discovered through DNA testing services and international databases.
The story has two interwoven strands, one for those who knew Ray personally, and another for April who is learning who he was. Virtually meeting April means that Ray Johnson, a man who has been dead for almost 30 years, has returned to life for his relatives and friends, as young as he was when we knew him. April’s story involves learning about a father she did not even know existed. The story must be captured now as it is taking shape, when emotions and insights are freshest for April and Lorna’s Canadian relatives. Many of those who were closest to Ray are now over 80 years old.
Gwen recently wrote to April: “Little did I imagine when I very reluctantly spit in the foolish little bottle that a niece would appear…A little about my brother Ray – I don’t remember why, but Ray was quite ill as a small child so he spent a lot of time with mom. He was always keen on poetry and stories, and mom had a remarkable gift for elocution, so she would con him into doing the dishes for poems that tell a story.”
Our thanks to Canada Council for the Arts for financial assistance through the Research and Creation component of the Explore and Create program.