PADUCAH, Ky. (Oct. 21, 2019) - Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) crews find a lot of odd things as they go about their work along area highways. Discoveries have ranged from missing billfolds to coolers, and even bags of new clothing that have fallen from passing vehicles.
But KYTC Hickman County Highway Superintendent Tommy Ingrum recently found more than just a roadside curiosity- much more.
A few weeks ago, Ingrum and a co-worker were making rounds to check on some potential trouble spots and plan future maintenance projects for the Hickman County highway maintenance crew. They noticed a balloon with what appeared to be a card hanging from it in a fencerow along the roadway.
When he examined the balloon, Ingrum found a note from Michelle Boisseau carefully tucked in a packet.
"We were driving along KY 1529 checking on some maintenance projects when we spotted the balloon, so we stopped to pick it up," Ingrum said. "When we read the note and saw it had contact information and a phone number, we thought it would be interesting to respond.
Just for the fun of it, Boisseau had purchased a helium-filled balloon to see how far it would go and where it might land. She put a note in a plastic freezer bag and attached it to the balloon, took the balloon to the end of her driveway in New Athens, Ill., around noon on a Monday and let it go.
The next day she received a text message from Ingrum at 9:25 a.m., indicating it had been found about 170 miles to the south near Clinton, Ky.
At the time the two connected by text message, they were unaware that they were about to make an even more unusual connection. During a later phone conversation, Boisseau said things soon started falling in place.
"This is really strange," Boisseau said to Ingrum. "I have family in Clinton, Kentucky."
Thinking he might know some of her relatives, Ingrum asked who she was connected to. When Boisseau replied, "The Stanfields," Ingrum was surprised to hear her say his mother's maiden name.
Through conversations with other family members and a bit of genealogical digging, Ingrum confirmed he was related to Boisseau through his mother's side of the family; their great-grandfathers were brothers, making them second cousins.
"I was amazed," Boisseau said.
She later traveled to Clinton and the two leafed through family photo albums, excitedly picking up on family resemblances.
The story doesn't end there, though. Oddly, Ingrum found the balloon on the anniversary of his mother's death.
"My mother died 27 years ago, so there's been a bit of a disconnect with extended family members," Ingrum said. "I may have other relatives I've never met out there someplace."
For now, Ingrum said he and Boisseau are excited they discovered the previously unknown family connection.
"I'm glad I got a chance to meet people - family that I didn't even know I had," Ingrum said. "It's pretty incredible, and all because of a balloon."
The story of their family connection and the balloon that revealed it was recently shared on TV's Inside Edition.