HUTCHINSON — Looking at photos laid out on the kitchen table, Susanne "Susie" Poe discovered she has the same nose as her paternal grandmother, the chin of an aunt and the light-colored hair of her father.
She never met any of them.
Poe did meet a half-brother for the first time this past week and found out they have similar taste in clothing. Brian Langley traveled from Ellsworth, Maine, to meet his sister at her home in east Hutchinson.
Langley, 59, had on a dark plaid shirt and jeans, so did his big sister.
"Do we look alike?" Poe asked with a smile during the meeting Nov. 13.
The two connected through Ancestry.com in December 2017.
Poe's husband, Jerry, bought a subscription to the genealogy site and gave it as an early Christmas present to his wife.
Growing up, Poe heard a few stories about her father, Ernest Langley, and had three black-and-white photos of him.
That was it.
Poe wanted to use the genealogy site to learn more about her heritage, not dig up the past. She felt content living life without knowing any more about her father.
Meanwhile, Brian had already discovered his roots. He told his local newspaper, The Ellsworth American, his heritage was pretty predictable.
"European, Irish, Spanish, Italian," he said in a Nov. 1 article.
Finding a match
The restaurant owner and term-limited state senator had been on Ancestry.com for about a year before Poe joined.
Poe finished the Ancestry.com DNA kit and sent back the cotton swab of saliva. Her DNA went through a database to be compared with 10 million people who have used the site.
From the computer in his basement, Brian saw an alert that there was a "100 percent match" of a person being at least a first cousin.
He messaged Poe through the site.
She saw the name Brian Langley and knew it could be a relative of her father. She replied less than an hour after Brian wrote her.
Poe told Brian that she was born in Stuttgart, Germany. Brian knew that was where his father had been stationed as a cook in the U.S. Army.
They continued to write back-and-forth that day.
Poe told Brian part of the scattered details she knew about her father. Poe also said she didn't want to disrupt another family. She sent on the three photos she had.
All of them were from when Ernest was in Germany during the mid-1950s.
In one, Ernest stood in front of three vats, wearing a white undershirt and sipping soup from a spoon. Another put the 6-foot-6 man at eye level to a dresser with a hanger and clothes draped over it while he showed off a dark suit. Finally, there was a shot of him near barren trees and a staircase while wearing a plaid suit jacket.
Brian ran upstairs, threw up his and hands and told his wife: "I have a sister."
Brian replied to Poe and told her "that is definitely our father." He signed that next email: "Your brother, Brian."
Coming to Kansas
The two talked for the next year and made a plan to meet. Brian waited to close up his seasonal restaurant, the Union River Lobster Pot.
Brian started cooking as a way to better connect with his father, who, he said, owned a couple of different restaurants but mostly worked in them.
"He wasn't a very good businessman," Brian said.
Brian said he couldn't bring any fresh Maine lobster since it doesn't fly well. However, he did pick up lobster candies for his sister at a department store the day before he left.
Brian said he ran into a woman who asked if he'd met his sister yet. He said a lot of people were asking after the story came out in his hometown newspaper.
He didn't feel nervous about coming to Kansas with his wife, Jane. Brian said he figured Poe would have the bulk of questions about their father.
While Poe looked at photos, Brian mentioned his father as a gregarious man who struggled with alcohol.
"He was a handsome fella," Poe said. "Looked good in a uniform."
Brian added: "Yes he did."
Poe described a less than ideal living situation with her stepfather, Leonard Krout, who knew Ernest from the Army. She always wondered if the grass was greener on the other side.
Brian assured her, it wasn't.
How they met, maybe
Ernest was roughly 24 when he met Poe's mother who was in her early 30s. Both came from modest families.
Brian believes Ernest joined the Army to see the world and escape life as a swamp logger in Florida. Poe thinks her mother came to know Ernest because she helped as a medical aid of sorts.
Poe had heard that Ernest planned to marry her mother. Although, it didn't work out. Poe said she has German papers that ordered Ernest to pay child support.
Her mother married Leonard in 1958 in Germany when Poe was a couple years old. They moved back to the states shortly after and grew their family.
Ernest also married in 1958 to Brian's mother, Claire. He believes they met in Germany as well. Claire was an American serving overseas. They had Brian and two other boys together.
Ernest never spoke of his daughter.
There are questions Brian and Poe will never know. There's no one left for them to ask.
Facebook friends, close family
Brian and Poe both said they people shouldn't join Ancestry.com if they are not prepared to uncover family dirt.
But they call their story a success story.
Poe and Brian went to Third Thursday, Bluebird Books and met with Poe's children and grandchildren.
"Brian made his famous fish stew that he makes at his restaurant back home," Poe wrote in a message.
On Nov. 14, they both updated their Facebook profile to a photo of them together.
Brian and Jane stayed in a spare bedroom and Poe's house. They headed home, to a town of roughly 8,000 people, on Sunday. By then, Brian hoped to have corrected a mistake he repeated on the first day.
"I kept saying 'my dad,'" Brian said, "It's our dad."