Angelina Jolie unwittingly unlocked a mystery that an 80-year-old man had been trying to solve his entire life.

Along with a friend, aspiring New York actress Cathryn Mudon took a DNA test after hearing Jolie was screened for the breast cancer gene. “We just did it on a whim,” she later told Dallas television station WFAA.

The same firm had also received a DNA sample from Patrick “PJ” Holland. The retired businessman hoped the test would help reveal his origins. Given up by his mother at birth during the Great Depression, Holland grew up in an orphanage in Cincinnati, Ohio. One day a year particularly depressed him. “All the orphans had people visit them on ‘people day’ except me,” he explained to WFAA’s Teresa Woodward, “because there was no relatives.” The misery led Holland to run away and, after lying about his age, join the army at 16.

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After his military stint, Holland was informally “adopted” into a Cincinnati family. His “niece,” Marilyn Souders, devoted decades to help “Uncle PJ” find his birth family. Thousands of hours of research led them as far as his mother’s name: Agnes. Despite the frustrations, they never gave up hope that someday, some surviving relatives would turn up.

When a match was made between Holland and Mudon’s DNA, Souders was stunned. “I logged in one morning,” she told WFAA, “and this big pop up comes on and said ‘you have a first cousin match.’ I’m like ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe this!’”

Souders quickly contacted Mudon. A family reunion was organized in Texas last fall, and the blanks filled in.

Agnes Holland ran away from her family in 1933 to give birth to PJ. As an unwed mother during that era, it’s easy to imagine why, out of financial concern, she gave up her baby. Agnes’s attempts to visit PJ at the orphanage were discouraged by the nuns who ran it; they claimed the contact upset him.

The resulting media coverage of Holland and Mudon’s connection spurred contact with more relatives, providing him with the familial connections he always desired. “It’s kind of like opening up doors that were never opened,” he reflected.

And all it took was a little nudge from Angelina Jolie.

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