Category Archives: Genealogy

Dear Jimmy:

I have a surprise for you!

You’ve been gone many years. 2013 was two iterations of my life ago.

You left a legacy of which you weren’t aware.

You have beautiful grandchildren from a daughter you never knew of.

She found out today that you’re her father. That’s staggering news for anyone who wanted the simple truth and simplicity of an answer.

I’m sorry life took you so early. You’d be older and tired of the habits that deflected you from focusing on what makes you happy.

I can imagine you walking up to your daughter for the first time, seeing her children, your grandchildren. Especially if your smart and handsome son Noah were with you, each of you seeing a silhouette of yourselves in her face.

I’ve done the best I can to give your daughter some closure.

Your daughter will be able to separate what you call mistakes from the fact that you were in the world. She’s here because you were.

I’m humbled by the fact that science and DNA can unlock doors in a way that people couldn’t.

Knowing the past doesn’t change it. Judging it doesn’t color or discolor any of our previous chapters.

I didn’t find out my own dad had fathered a child until 26 years after his death. That I had another sister was a secret for 46 years. There’s no doubt that some of my family knew about her. They chose to rob us of the opportunity to know each other. I understand it even though I disagree. Age gives me the ability to dislike it but also to nod my head to some degree. Most of us are doing the best we can, and such decisions are complicated.

Jimmy, I know that your daughter would have brought you joy. She’s married and loved. She’s smart, kind, and the perfect complement to Noah, who is the embodiment of what you’d want your son to be.

Be proud wherever you are.

I sit in amazement at how life still surprises me, Jimmy.

I would give anything to have you here, even for an afternoon, to watch your eyes dance with joy meeting the daughter you never knew you had. To listen to your stupid, outrageous laugh.

For now, though, I’m still happy with this turn of events.

Maybe we will talk about it one day.

For now, know that you have a daughter who finally got a lot of answers. I’ve shared your pictures and stories with her. Her children can look at the family tree I’ve made and see through generations.

I used a picture of your daughter Brianna when she was 13. It was the month you died. It brings me to tears knowing you had such a sweet young daughter who was hidden.

With Love, X
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Bobby Dean

He’s been gone 28 years today. He died at 3:33 in the morning. I was awake at that time this morning and took my first drink of coffee as I watched the minute click over. Nothing noteworthy happened unless you factor in the gratitude that I felt for still being here.

He violently tried to mold me into the man he thought he was. In doing so, he achieved the opposite result. And I’m grateful. His legacy is one of addiction, fists, and one of the wildest senses of humor I’ve ever experienced. He was in prison in Pendleton, Indiana, when he was in his 20s, and accumulated countless DUIs, fights, arrests, and violent confrontations. He also found his humanity from time to time and helped other people. I remind myself of those times as often as I can because they were just as much a part of him as the times he lashed out.

I think back to his funeral, with Jimmy and Mike sitting near me. Both of them are gone now. Both of them, unfortunately, absorbed much of the Terry inclination for self-destruction. Though I couldn’t apply the realization properly, I recognized at a young age that I was susceptible to much of the same sort of demons that possessed so many of my family. I learned to dance around them.

I was Bobby Dean’s accidental namesake. Not too many years before he died, I killed off that part of me, both in name and spirit.

It probably saved my life. Walking around with the people close to me calling me X was a constant reminder that I could choose my own way. While I have stumbled with the best of them, I’ve managed to keep my sanity all these years.

But through the arc of time, I still feel stirrings of Bobby Dean inside of me. Some of that is hard steel. Some of it is limitless humor. He taught me to take hard, unexpected punches and to swallow the blood, even if I did so through tears. At 54, things look entirely different to me. I don’t judge him as harshly as I once did. Being human has taught me that although I will never eclipse the stupidity and violence of some of my dad’s actions, I have that part of Bobby Dean inside of me. It is strangely comforting, even as I strive to be his opposite.

Were he alive, I would love to sit and have a coffee with him while he smoked a camel. And to talk to him about the sister I didn’t know I had. As reprehensible as the behavior was that led to her creation, it’s hard to fault the universe for the result. She’s a kind human being and proof that Bobby Dean could contribute to the creation of a stellar human being. If we met again, I don’t know whether we would hug or trade punches. Or both. But I do know that I would be overwhelmed. I can now see him as a person apart from being my dad. There was so much I could have learned from him; he was a mechanic, electrician, tiler, carpenter, painter, welder, gunsmith, outdoorsman, and farmer. If only he had acquired the skills to be loving, his life would have been ideal.

He, of course, hasn’t changed. He made his choices and left his footprints. He had his chance and walked the Earth. My understanding of him has changed. He would laugh at me and tell me to put my boots on and go out and get the punch in the face. He would also call me his favorite curse word: _ _ _ _ s u c k e r. Then offer me one of those horrible peppermint Brach candies that he loved.

Out of all the lessons I learned from him, one he didn’t even know he was teaching, is that we all need people and love. To find a way to get past what we’ve done and who we think we are. If we’re alive, we can use the steel and even the heartache to turn away from the things that make us lesser.

To Bobby Dean. Dad. Troubled human being.

Love, X
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P.S. Below are more pictures, some of which I amateurishly colorized. All of the images used in this post were originally in black and white.

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Dad in 1963. He was about 19.

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Dad standing on a horse, of course.

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Dad with Goldie, somewhere around 1974-75. He was 31, which blows my mind to consider.

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My sister Marsha, brother Mike, me. Seeing it in color changes everything.

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Me as a toddler. The picture looks strikingly different in color!

From An Old Soul, With Love

Among the things I once did a LONG time ago was to find and gift used vintage holiday cards. Not only is the artwork a surprise and delight, but it brings me nostalgia for times I never knew.

This Xmas card is postmarked on Dec. 21, 1909.

Now, years later, I love using my genealogy ability to find either the receiver or sender and look back at their life. If I wanted, I could find one of the descendants of William Early. William, to whom the postcard was sent. I could unravel the entire biography for the sender, Bessie McGivern of Galesburg, Illinois. She aged into a beautiful woman. I found several pictures of her.

I don’t know the sender’s and receiver’s connection.

But I love that I COULD find out if I wanted – to crack open a spider’s web of connections throughout history, time, and geography.

So, when I see used vintage cards, I don’t see relics or dusty, useless reminders.

When I give them, I’m giving something of myself; the admiration of life shared. You might not know it by looking at me, but I feel a kinship to some of the old ways. Of writing, of postcards, of delayed communication. If you get one from me, I’m also reminding you that life is fleeting and that one day our lives will be footnotes, memories, and details.

I see art.

I see life.

I see footprints of those who preceded us, much in the same way we’ll precede those who follow.

Time. Love. Connection.

Love, X
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P.S. *You’ll note that back then, “Xmas” was completely acceptable, before disinformation spread to lessen its beauty.

Secrecy

Yesterday, my long-lost secret sister Carolyn met my remaining sibling Marsha for the first time. I met my long-lost sister on New Year’s day this year. To imagine that she’d meet my other sister Marsha seemed unimaginable to me a year ago. I can’t describe how strange it is to think about how much was hidden. For years, I caught hell from some of my family for pursuing ancestry and DNA; most of them were compelled to silence me due to a misguided sense of family honor. Considering the things I already knew combined with the things I’ve forensically learned through research and stubbornness, I still don’t know what they were protecting. Like many families, the things I unearthed would fill a book. It’s amusing to me that their attempts to discourage me convinced me that there MUST be something they were hiding. It turns out, there were several “somethings.” To know that some of them kept the truth of a sister hidden astonishes me. Part of it for some of them was racism and shame; my Dad took advantage of a young black girl. After she was born, he fled Monroe County, as if he could escape the past. Luckily for all of us, the result of Dad’s misbehavior resulted in a fantastic human being, one who had a big family herself, full of love and stories.

Without bitterness, I still feel that if they would have spent 10% of that energy protecting us from the monstrous actions of some of my family, our paths would have been significantly brighter.

Almost all secrets come out, even 1/4 of a century after someone passes away.

I feel proud that my insistence and curiosity led me to find a sister I never knew I had. She’s smart, humble, and funny. My brother Mike missed the chance to meet the new sister Carolyn. His demons got the best of him. I’m hoping my new sister provides my sister Marsha a template for finding meaning and direction – and for building a new kind of relationship to sustain her.

Most of my family is gone, many of them chased and hounded by addiction into the grave. Soon enough, all of us will be stories and memories.

I’m tickled that I kept my curiosity sharpened; it led to yesterday.

No matter what comes of it, I count finding my new sister as one of my best accomplishments in life. People having access to their stories and truth is essential to make a good life.

Love, X
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An Ongoing Revelation

It’s difficult to explain to other people the sense of interest, curiosity, and intrigue that envelopes me when I’m presented with another opportunity to find someone’s father, mother, or long-lost friend. It’s a solitary sort of entertainment, one that both focuses my mind inward and outward.

Even when it doesn’t go well, the initial few hours of pursuit and detail make my mind blossom like bits of ignited gunpowder. It feels as close to how I imagine one’s mind should always feel as I can imagine. Tiredness and disinterest fade away into impossibilities when one’s mind is trapped and ignited like that.

I started the day like most others. An acquaintance told me he’d mentioned my love of family research to a friend of his. He handed me a slip of paper with scant details scribbled on it. I quickly put it into my wallet, not so I wouldn’t lose it, but rather so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take a quick look. Such ‘quick looks’ usually escalate into an immediate and profound interest that keeps me distracted.

Some of my best memories are ones encapsulated in a quest to help someone find someone or something dear to them. I’ve had a few failures, as well as a few that led me to bad news for the person wanting me to inquire. I was wildly successful a few times, even if the person I found didn’t want to be outed.

This afternoon, I started my quest to align my scattered skills sufficiently to invoke the magic and inexact science of educated guesses and deliberately go into doubtful deadends. Over the years, I’ve definitely discovered that my mistakes tend to yield impressive results. Even results that aren’t what I’m looking for sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the wrong path and realized that I found another way to find information; had I not made a mistake, I wouldn’t have learned.

I won’t lie, though. The payoff is a rush. Finding the proof, the person, the thing. That’s sublime. Like genealogy, it’s a skill I never imagined that I would find valuable.

I was on the phone with a total stranger a little bit ago. Our paths would have never crossed, and part of his family’s remarkable story would have remained a mystery to me. Thanks to him, I will learn more about history, geography, and human nature.

These stories accumulate in my heart and mind.

As for the stranger today, he inadvertently revealed a lot of truth about his life and family. Singular statements and admissions invariably contain unspoken truths. That’s always the case when someone is listening with interest and fascination. Some parts of his story sounded unlikely. Because they sounded unlikely, I knew they were true. There are parts of his story which could easily be the subject of a book or movie.

I shared a few things about my life, too, especially how DNA ripped away the facade of privacy and secrecy.

I already find myself writing fictionalized versions of all those lives in my head.