Local man discovers new family ties


by Vance Gutzman

At a time when families are finding it hard to keep in touch with each other, due to the global pandemic, Rob Riopelle has found new family ties in the most unusual of places.

The Deep River man learned in recent months that he has an extended family in Bolivia.

The amazing discovery came about following the loss of Riopelle’s mother and step-father.

Riopelle, 57, had been wondering about his origins his entire adult life, ever since he learned at the age of 16 that his birth certificate was in Spanish.

Riopelle had already ascertained from that birth certificate, that he had been born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, but that was the extent of things.

He didn’t know who his paternal father was, or even what he looked like.

Compelled to find out more about his roots, Riopelle researched his DNA through the Ancestry.com app.

“Nothing happened for three years,” he said.

That changed in dramatic fashion this past September when he got a message that his DNA was a 90 percent match for Jose Pena.

Riopelle messaged Pena who, as things turn out, had also done the Ancestry.com thing.

Not only that, but it also turns out that Pena is Riopelle’s nephew, and just as Rob had been searching for his Bolivian roots, Jose’s family had also been looking for their Canadian relative.

“I truly believe this was my main purpose in life,” Pena wrote on his Facebook page.

“My family has been searching for my Uncle Rob lee for 50+ years. We never lost hope in finding you.”

Discovery of his nephew wasn’t the only DNA bombshell for Riopelle, who also learned that he has two brothers and two sisters in Bolivia, as well as about 100 relatives in that South American country, all of whom are eager to meet him.

“It’s quite incredible,” Riopelle says, noting that as soon as pandemic restrictions are lifted, he and wife Tammy will be making a trip to Bolivia for a family reunion that’s been five decades in the making.

And before that happens, once the Canadian-United States border is open and it’s safe to travel again, Riopelle’s new-found nephew, Jose, who serves in the United States Air Force and lives in New York, will be making a trip to Deep River to meet his uncle.

All that amazing news was tempered somewhat when Riopelle learned that his paternal father, Feliciano Pena, had passed away in 2017.

But thoughts of his long-lost son had never been far from his mind.

“My father said, ‘find my son’,” Riopelle said, recounting what the patriarch had told family members in Bolivia.

Riopelle can expect quite the greeting, too, when he is able to make the trip to Bolivia to meet his new-found relatives.

“The story has gone through the whole community there. My father was a prominent person and helped a lot of people,” Riopelle says, adding that people there are thrilled to learn his late father “has got a long-lost son.”

Photos (above): Rob Riopelle had the best Zoom session of his life when he was able to connect with long-lost relatives in Bolivia. Centre: Rob Riopelle’s nephew in Bolivia, Jose Pena, shown here with his fiancé, is eager to meet his Canadian uncle, as are the rest of Riopelle’s new-found extended family in that South American country. Top: Rob Riopelle, who has recently been virtually reunited with his long-lost relations in Bolivia, is shown here with his mother, Joyce, when he was a small boy in that country. Also shown here is Riopelle’s paternal father, Feliciano, who never gave up the search for his long-lost son.

(Story first published in the NRT January 13, 2021.)

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