“Eventually, everything connects.”
I have never really had trouble with remembering dates. I can look back over the last two and a half years that have been spent on the search for my biological grandfather, Mum’s biological father and name points of significance from the very beginning.
December 6th, 2016: my AncestryDNA results came through. There had been a purpose to doing this test. I was seeing just how legit this whole thing was, a worthwhile avenue to answering a 49 year old mystery, that of Mum’s biological paternity.
December 21st, 2016: Mum received her AncestryDNA results. There, displayed on the screen were the names of hundreds of biological relatives. Representative of both sides of her family, I began the task of sorting out these matches, discerning who belonged to the known maternal side, making attempts to isolate the unknown half of Mum’s family.
December 21st 2016 spurred on a 18 month period of discovery, frustration and dead ends. With the assistance of some amazing people within the genetic genealogy spheres, I spent this time untangling the mess left for us within our DNA results. With this untangling came hypotheses as to who Mum’s Dad was, connecting with and meeting new relatives…and ultimately finding myself at square one with said hypotheses. This blog came into existence. I went on road trips to ancestral towns, falling in love with them without even really being aware at that stage just how connected we were to these places. Many a day/night were spent with my head buried in various types of record sets, learning about the ancestral couples that were being tied to Mum via the DNA test results. I spent this time educating myself in the areas of both genetic genealogy and traditional genealogy. I discovered that Mum wasn’t the only instance of misattributed paternity within the paternal biological family. It was with that discovery, that I can name the next date of significance:
June 2nd, 2018: The identity of Mum’s Dad literally came to me whilst laying in bed. It was late, I’d spent the majority of the day poring over family trees that I had drawn up by hand, trying to make sense of how we could match a certain close-ish relative. Nothing, nothing at all had been adding up. I had spent months on this puzzle, with the emergence of this new match. I was frustrated and unable to sleep and once it came to me, everything began to click together. I was out of bed quicker than you could blink, out to the dining room where all my diagrams were strewn across the dining table. I began drawing up a tree, a slightly re-worked version of what I’d already done based upon this new hypotheses. I compared this pedigree to all the relevant DNA matches we had. It fit. I knew who he was. And, what also came to fruition was the confirmation of a century old small town rumour, that being the paternity of my Mum’s paternal grandmother. Yep, a double illegitimacy. Mum’s and her paternal grandmother’s.
It was from this late night onwards that I knew who I was looking for. I dove in, researching his family, looking for him in all the standard record sets. Electoral records. Births, Deaths, Marriages. Burial records. If I hadn’t been given a detailed family pedigree from a close paternal DNA match in early 2017, I wouldn’t have known Douglas’ name at all, due to his birth occurring outside of the publicly available birth records. What I discovered was that the records showed he was well in truly within the vicinity of the hospital where my biological grandmother worked at the time of Mum’s conception. My hypotheses was being further cemented. More DNA matches came through, proving this further. As you all know, it was observed that records stopped indicating Douglas’ presence after 1985. But there were no death records. A social worker became involved. More road trips have ensued. I have met and communicated with so many people who have been nothing but supportive of the journey so far.
I have a new date:
6:22pm, July 13th 2019: the evening I received an anonymous phone call. Confirming that yes, my biological grandfather is indeed alive. And living less than an hour away from me.
I found him.
If I am being completely honest, I was starting to think that I was never going to find him. Or, if I did, that I would have found him deceased. Despite all the work I’ve put in, I had not allowed myself to really hope that this would be the outcome. Mum had said to me two days prior to this phone call, very matter of factly: “I don’t think you’re ever going to find him”. I suppose we were both proven wrong.
It appears that my visits to certain towns and my public requests for information on as many social media platforms as possible came in handy. The phone call I received was anonymous. I don’t even need to know details on who it was providing the information, I am just glad that they did. I will forever be grateful.
I got off the phone that night, shaking. I literally sat in the one place in my room, unable to move for about half an hour. Mum was out. Once she arrived back home and I’d re-learned how to move, I went out to tell her. She was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up beside her and said:
“If I find Douglas, what would you want me to do? How would you want to proceed?”
We hadn’t really discussed that much. I was so focussed on his evasiveness over the past 12 months.
She turned to look at me and said “Why? Have you found him?”
I can only describe shock as being Mum’s initial reaction, learning that she has a biological parent still alive. He’s 81.
In fact, she asked ME if I was okay. I was still shaking.
So what has been happening since this news? Where to start!? Firstly, it has been spent breaking the news to our immediate and extended families. Biological and adoptive. The reactions have been varied and priceless. There have been tears. Some confusion from those relatives of Douglas who haven’t heard from him in over twenty years. To witness these reactions has been to see just how invested so many people have been in this journey. Again, we are so grateful.
Secondly, we informed our social worker the following Tuesday of the discovery, which I must say was a tough wait. I would have called her as soon as I had told Mum to be honest, but given that it was late on a Saturday night, it was definitely best to give it a minute. I called the following Monday, forgetting that she didn’t work on Mondays. I asked the person on the other line to get the message to her the minute she walked through the door on Tuesday morning. He must have picked up on my urgency, because sure enough I received a call from her before uni the next day. The news was met with literal yelling, “No way! No waaaaaaaaaaay!” over and over again. Another priceless reaction. Then came discussions of how to proceed. It was decided that she would take the reins for a bit. I passed along the details I was provided with in that phone call and preparations were made for a discreet letter to be mailed to him via registered post (the best way to do things, that way you’ll know the letter has been received). The process was explained to me—if Douglas responded to the letter, the social worker would explain to him that we are trying to get in contact. From there, if he is open to it, he will receive a letter of introduction from Mum. Imagine being 81 and finding out you have a daughter and two granddaughters (if my suspicions are correct, he really does have no idea). At that point, it was time to sit back and wait.
Allowing the information to sink in has been the other major aspect of this particular point in the search. He’s alive. I really underestimated the weight that this search imposed. For Mum, the news has obviously been jarring, a massive shock. I have been…tired. Anxious. Those first few weeks were difficult where focus was concerned. I had considered the possible outcomes of finding him alive, but had not allowed myself to dwell on them. As I said, I had begun to believe that I would be visiting a gravesite, not helping Mum prepare a letter of introduction. Not having to contend with the very real possibility of rejection. Not sure which one would hurt more, to be honest.
We took a week to gather our thoughts and compile a letter of introduction. How much information was too much? Was there too little information included? How would what Mum had written come across to Douglas? Would he be scared off? All of these considerations were at the forefront during this stage. I sat with Mum and wrote out a draft that she dictated to me before writing the proper one out herself. Surprisingly, we only needed one draft! Mum ended up writing a really great letter, which I firstly scanned in and sent a digital copy to our social worker, including the digital files of the images that had been selected to send to him, and posted the originals over as well.
I posted that original letter after work one day, enclosed with photos of a family that Douglas never knew existed and steeled myself for a long wait. I was due to begin my second semester of uni for the year, so I kept busy by preparing for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was a missed call from our social worker during a break between my uni classes in my second week of semester. I was sitting in the library, talking with my friends (as you do in a library, I promise I was being quiet!) and I looked down and noticed the missed call. I listened to the voicemail, the tone of which was very suspect. Heart racing and stomach in knots, I got up, called the social worker back and walked away from my friends, both of whom were looking at me very weirdly at this point. I can imagine the look on my face was very odd! The call went to someone else at the agency and when I asked for my social worker, I was told she wasn’t at work today. I mentioned that I’d received a call minutes earlier from her and he immediately said “Oh, I was told to transfer you through to her at home, one minute”
That “one minute” felt like an eternity, let me tell you.
What eventuated from the moment our social worker picked up that phone was a bit of a blur. Douglas had made contact with the agency following their discreet letter. He had gotten a hold of my social worker’s boss, confirming his identity and enquiring after who it was that was looking for him. From there, he was transferred to my social worker, who was home sick but had left instructions for any calls from us or Douglas to be transferred through to her immediately. She broke the news to him, that he had a daughter who had been looking for him for many years. He confirmed that he had worked at Callan Park Mental Hospital and confirmed that yes, there was a possibility that he had fathered a child during his time there. He asked about Mum, asked for her name, wanted to know where she lived and even made a comment about meeting her for coffee when he’d processed everything. He asked for her contact details, after hearing the social worker read out the digital copy of the letter Mum had written. These were given over after talking with me. I remember feeling completely in shock. He was interested in contact. He was shocked but still interested. I couldn’t believe it.
Mum was the next call I had to make. Luckily, my call reached her during a break.
“Are you sitting down?” I asked.
“I am”, she replied determinedly, sounding very suspicious. I explained what had happened and was met with sobs. There it was. She had been holding this in for longer than I had even been searching. I only wish I had been there to tell her in person, however holding it in all day wouldn’t have worked very well I don’t think! We were told by the social worker that Douglas had mentioned wishing to take some time to process, whilst also getting some personal things out of the way prior to giving us a call. We would give him as much time as he needs, was our response. Given the overall reaction, we weren’t concerned about this at all. If he didn’t want anything to do with us, the door had been shown to him from the start of that conversation.
So began the waiting.
One week, two weeks.
By this point, Mum was getting antsy. One can understand this. Had he changed his mind? I called the social worker to let her know that we hadn’t heard. We were of course happy to give him time, but we also needed to know if the silence meant that he was backing out. Social worker gave him another call. Douglas maintained he was interested in contact, mentioning wanting to go to dinner with Mum and that once he got some personal commitments out of the way, that he’d give her a call, probably around mid September. That eased our nerves. Back to the waiting game. I like to think this whole process has assisted in improving my general impatience, but let’s face it—that’s never going away.
We are now in early January and still nothing yet. I called the social worker in November to let her know. She answered the phone with such anticipation, as if expecting that I was about to tell her we had heard from him. No such luck! We puzzled over the lack of contact so far and came to the conclusion that another letter would be our best bet, as it’s less intrusive. All the while, we must remember that this news must have been insanely shocking to him and that people deal with these sorts of surprises differently. Mum wrote another letter and that was posted to the agency in late November, meaning the letter would have reached Douglas no later than the first week of December.
“Maybe he has changed his mind” is a matter of fact statement I have received from more than one person who has been in the know since July. I find this statement frustrating and defeatist, one that I will not accept just yet. Note to anyone who may be witnessing someone else in their life going through this kind of search and contact facilitation process: don’t think that that thought doesn’t run through their minds every second, of every day. The doubts more often than not speak louder than anything else. Understand that each case has a different context and the reasons for a slow response from the biological family member can be varied. Not necessarily in a negative way. We want your support and optimism. Always. In this case, Douglas did not know about Mum. So this news must carry with it a weight that is truly unimaginable. Anger, for not being given a choice as a father as to the fate of his child, sadness at the fact that he has unwittingly missed so much, confusion (does he actually remember Vicki?) amongst many other emotions. Unless Douglas says no himself, the opportunity for contact remains.
So in saying that, the waiting game continues. We are staying as patient as we can, as the second letter has recently been sent off. It may be a while between updates on this front, as this stage is an admittedly exhausting process. Bear with me! As much as I love everyone’s interest in the journey so far, I would appreciate not having to field questions pertaining to whether or not we have heard from Douglas as yet—having to say that we haven’t time and time again is rather exhausting. When we know what is happening, rest assured there will be another post and it will be a lot timelier than this one!
A huge thank you to everyone’s support over the past two and a half years. Your support, interest and understanding has meant so much.
Here’s hoping for a positive outcome.