Todd Johnson knew the odds of finding his Spanish-born father were stacked against him higher than the Cantabrian Mountains.
It didn't help that his dad, Humberto Gonzalez, had the second-most common surname in Spain.
What did work in Todd's favour was his wife Debbie's persistence in urging him to pursue his search, using an Internet phone directory to locate potential relatives, and the fact his dad's hometown of Cabaaquinta in northern Spain has only about 1,800 people.
From that list, the Johnsons found the addresses of 65 people with the last name Gonzalez. Todd spent a full weekend preparing letters he'd had translated into Spanish and sent them to each of the people on the list. Six days later, his prayers were answered when three of his relatives sent email messages to his Prince George home.
"I couldn't open them at first, I just didn't know what I was going to find," said Todd.
Humberto met Todd's mother Evelyn in Saskatoon, while he was working in the potash mines. Todd was born in January 1968 and the decision was made that he would be raised by his grandparents on their farm near Wynyard, Sask. Todd never met his father, and after his grandparents died when he was 13 he moved with his mom to Kelowna.
From Saskatchewan, Humberto ended up in Albuquerque, N.M., where he married and had two children. In January 1983 he was killed in mining accident in Nevada at age 39 trying to rescue a fellow worker after a cave-in.
"I never asked about my dad as a teenager but when I was 19 I asked her and it really upset her, and I never asked about him again for a lot of years, until I met Debbie," said Todd. "My mom gave me a bit more information two Christmases ago."
In June 2011, Todd and Debbie booked a tour of Spain and Portugal and when he saw how much he resembled some of the Spanish men, that encouraged him to start looking for his dad when he got back to Canada. Todd, 44, included a photograph of himself with the letters he sent out.
Because he closely resembles his father, the picture made an immediate impact. One of his relatives, who had known his dad, thought Humberto was still alive.
After a few emails back and forth, this past summer they went to Spain and met Todd's three aunts, one uncle and 21 cousins, most of whom live in the towns of Oviedo or Gijn.
"It was overwhelming, just like a blessing, I felt like I belonged with them once I met them," said Todd. "It was like making up for lost time.
"When I first saw pictures of my dad and compared them to pictures of myself at the same ages I just thought, 'wow I look like him.' A lady just started crying right away when she saw me because I look like my dad and she remembers watching the cattle and sheep with him. They all grew up in the same area and they didn't move very far away and they stay close to their family roots."
For three weeks, the Spanish relatives toured the Johnsons around their picturesque villages built on the Bay of Biscay among spectacular lush mountainsides. They showed them Todd's grandparents' now-deserted house, where Humberto was born and raised.
"The family in Spain were so wonderful, loving and caring, they treated us like royalty," said Debbie. ""When they got those letters it was the talk of the town for weeks."
In August, the Johnsons visited Todd's half-siblings, Michael, 34, and Marissa, 33, who live in New Mexico with their two daughters and son, and also met Humberto's wife Rosie. Making contact with them took some luck. A friend of the family in Spain saw an Internet classified ad posted by the Johnsons to say they were trying to find them and passed the contact information on to them in Grant, N.M.
"Like Spain, we'll be going back fairly frequently to make up for lost time," said Todd.
Rosie told them Humberto was unaware he had a son in Canada.
"She said if he had known about him, he would have been a part of his life, he never would have abandoned a child," said Debbie.
"The past year has been like a dream for Todd. He never thought in a million years that he would find out about his father and all his family. Now that his has all the pieces, he has a sense of peace."