Liana, our daughter, married into a family with an aunt who’s enjoying the adventures of ancestry. No surprise then that Liana was gifted a DNA kit to expand and fill out the family tree.
Her results show many US relatives and she informed me that my father is not my father. Yeah, right. I told her this was impossible. I’m an illegitimate child of a German man who wanted nothing to do with me. Painful? Yes. I carried that pain around for far too long to now accept he isn’t my father.
She insisted. I knew nothing about ancestry or what relationships mean to make any sense of it. Perhaps my father has a brother who emigrated to the US. That would be a simple explanation, Occam’s razor. Or could it be, a mistake was made and I was exchanged at birth? No, remember, Occam’s razor. But she had me intrigued.
After access to this new family tree, I could find no connection to my maternal family, and none to the one I thought of as my father’s family. While some families have many, many children, generation after generation, my family’s forte was keeping it small with one or two children. This new Wheeler (name changed to protect the innocent ;-)) family seemed to focus on many children and as many marriages. It was a labyrinth of a family tree.
I’m not in touch with my father (you know the one I thought was my father), though I have his address and phone number. With a Facebook search I find one of his daughters and since I’m no family secret I ask her in a Facebook message if I can pose a question. Her eventual answer is that she gladly will answer one question but is not available for further information, as her father didn’t wish to have any contact with me.
Oh boy, one question. I’d better make this a good one, and I decide to wait before asking.
That’s when Liana gifts Stephen and me DNA tests. I wasn’t convinced it would show anything beyond what I already knew. OK, I was a little intrigued by some US relatives, but not that much and thought it a waste of money and spit. Spit I didn’t seem to have lots of.
The results arrive via the ancestry web page where you sign up with your assigned number. And much earlier than expected, I see the emailed results.
No surprise, I’m 97% European. But the 13% Irish is a surprise, so are a few other numbers scattered over Europe, but all too low to be significant.
The other aspect and the most interesting one to me is the DNA matches with others who took the test. To my relief, Liana is our daughter, no mix-up at the Italian hospital where she was born. We had to leave her alone for an hour the first day to do the paperwork at a local government office. Well, you never know, I mean she was the prettiest baby ever.
I learned so much more about ancestry and familial relationships than I ever wanted to know.
Surprise No. 1: I have a first cousin, no, two first-cousin matches. And yes, they are cousins to each other. What does that mean? We have an uncle or aunt in common.
With absolute certainty I can say that my mother was an only child. Unless she was exchanged at birth back in 1937. Nah, not likely. So this uncle or aunt has to be on the paternal side. This is getting interesting.
The Wheeler family has an extensive family tree online, and I fit in there somehow. These new cousins have many aunts and uncles. It has to be that one of their uncles is my father. This is earth-shaking information.
I’m 63 and all of a sudden I find my father? I start feeling lost. Have to let go of the man I thought was my father. But how can I do that before I find another one? I don’t want to be in limbo.
I message the woman I thought was my half-sister and tell her I have no more questions. That I had been interested in any close relatives who had emigrated to the US, but now know that her father is not mine and to pass this information on to him. Greetings and thanks, Marianna.
One of the first moves is to message the first cousin and second cousin. That works through a system on ancestry.com. It takes a while to get an answer, and there is a family story that one of the brothers had a child in Germany they were in touch with. Well, no one was in touch with me, so that must be another child. And it turns out to be so.
There are 4 brothers who could be my father. 3 of them are dead. One of the dead ones we can rule out, as I’m a cousin to his son. That leaves 3. One of them is older and was not in Germany at the time of my conception, that leaves 2. One alive, Jack, one dead, Don. Supposedly both sterile. None of them ever had kids. How can that be?
Jack thinks that both of them were in Germany in my village at the time of my conception. He’s 86 now and it is hard for him to deal with this as I understand from my new cousin, of course he thinks his sterility counts him out as the father. I’m 63 and it’s hard for me, too. He always wanted children but couldn’t have his own, and his wife was against adopting. I decide I want him to be my father, if for no other reason than he’s alive and I could meet him. Perhaps.
The only way to find out if it’s him or his brother Don is through a DNA test. He hasn’t agreed yet. He insists he’s sterile. I believe him, but when did that happen? Through mumps as an adult, perhaps after my conception? My huge imagination is running in all directions at the same time.
I have no direct contact with Jack, everything goes through the first cousin. But she’s not that close to him. My latest idea is contacting him myself.
How about a dead father, Don, as a possibility? And this is where the whole story meanders, and twists, and turns.
Don brought back a wife from Germany named Hede who was my mom’s age and from a neighboring village. They were married a short time before getting divorced. No one has heard from her since.
I contact my mom’s friend from back then who married an American and now lives in Florida. She recognizes the last name but says she only knows a Hedwig Mayer who married a Wheeler, his name was Don and he was a heavy drinker. Hedwig was very unhappy in her family and they were glad to get rid of her and signed the papers for an underage marriage. Hedwig and Don went to the US and she never heard from Hedwig again.
Hedwig is not Hede, but close. Liana eventually finds papers online where Hedwig applies for citizenship. In this paper she also asks to change her first name to Hede. Chills.
She married Don June 1955 in Mannheim (I was born June 1954 in Mannheim). They travel to the US February 1956. In May 1959 she applies for citizenship. We lose track of her after that.
According to my mom’s friend who still has an excellent memory, Hedwig didn’t know my mom and my mom also didn’t know Don. We will see.
I know: he is my father. Or his brother is. Will I ever find out? Is it important?
One change: before I was an illegitimate child, now I’m an illegitimate child of a GI. That makes me a child of the occupation. I’m one of 200,000 to 400,000 children, many of us searching for our father.