Once my request for birth and death certificates for the man named on my birth certificate was fulfilled, I went to my mother and told her I knew the man she’d claimed was my father did not exist. I begged her to tell me the truth even if it meant she’d been raped or I was the result of a one night stand. She confessed the man she was involved with was married and provided me with another name. And, silly me, I didn’t ask any additional questions. Questions like, “How did you meet?”, “How long were you together?”, “Did he know you were pregnant?”, “Do I remind you of him?”, etc.
At this time I was 37 and research into one’s ancestry was difficult, but once again, I searched for a man with the new name mom provided. I did turn up men with the same name; but after questioning each one, it was clear none of them could have possibly been my biological father. So, I gave up, wondering if my mother had once again given me incorrect information. I was positive I would end my life without an answer to my biggest question, “Who was my biological father?”
A couple of years ago I read an article about 23 & Me and Ancestry.com. I requested a DNA kit from 23 & Me and returned my vial of saliva, sure this would provide me with the answer to my question. Then, when the results came back, and I began investigating through that organization, I discovered the only way to find my biological father was to have him or a male relative submit DNA. Another dead end, or so I thought.
Enter two cousins I didn’t know I had. Gretta lives in Colorado and Sharon lives in Oregon. Sharon has been working on genealogy since 1995 and has traced family back to the signing of the Magna Carta. Her research also indicated the three of us were closely related, but who knew how. Gretta had just begun her research and in corresponding with me, she mentioned there were Churchwells in her and Sharon’s background. We all met up earlier this year in Oregon, exchanged stories and information; and Sharon (bless her heart), provided each of us with a huge file of information. That information included genealogical research on the Churchwell family. One of those individuals was named Richard, but apparently he went by his middle name which was Earl…the name my mother had given me.
According to the information Gretta and Sharon provided, Earl was in Baltimore when my mother was there and he was married at the time. If, indeed, he was my biological father, I also had four half-siblings, two of whom were still alive. Unfortunately, Earl himself had died in 1973 and my mom in 1998, so I couldn’t go to her with the questions I now wished I had asked.
It was with great trepidation as well as excitement I wrote a letter to the youngest son when I returned home from Oregon. I explained how and why I thought we might be related, added information about myself so he wouldn’t think I was a nutcase, and asked if he’d submit DNA for testing so I could know once and for all if his father was my father too.
My letter was mailed on a Wednesday and received on Saturday. My potential half-brother had to “ponder” on it. He did so as well as sharing the letter and discussing it with certain family and friends. Everyone encouraged him to reach out to me. The following Wednesday morning, he did so, and we ended up talking twice that day. Even better, he agreed to submit DNA. He even texted me a picture of Earl and his sister Beverly. As soon as I enlarged the photo of Earl and his daughter and saw the space between his front teeth, I pretty much knew I was looking at the man whose genes I carry. It turns out all the kids ended up with this space and there’s even a scientific name for it…diastema.
I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I pushed this potential connection to the back of my mind and waited for the DNA results. When they came back, they indicated that, without a doubt, this man was indeed my half-brother. Richard Earl Churchwell was my biological father. Finally I had an answer, but it also opened the possibility of an entirely new experience. I never gave a lot of thought to what might happen when I did find my biological father and his family. It never even occurred to me to wonder if he/they would like or dislike me. I hadn’t looked beyond the answer to see what it might mean.
My brother’s name is Rick and he lives in Tennessee as does my older half-brother . Rick and I have talked several times now and he has shared information about me with his family and information about them with me. Our father had eight brothers and sisters and only one of them has passed on. One lives in Houston, another in Boston and another in Redding California. The remaining four live either in Tennessee or fairly close by. This also means I have nieces, nephews, first cousins, second cousins and who knows how many other relatives.
Rick says they are all extremely excited to meet me and want to know when I’m coming to visit. I know it is a visit I can’t put off for too terribly long because the youngest of my uncles and aunts is 75, not to mention I’ll be 70 later this year. We’d all best get acquainted while we’re still able.
Now that I know all this, I find it kind of amazing my parents found each other in Baltimore. My mother’s family was from the northeast corner of Tennessee and my father’s family from the southwest corner. Perhaps living and working at the aircraft factory, they recognized each other’s accents and missing home and family became close. Perhaps that tie is what brought them together and made my life possible. Rick asked me if I thought our father knew about me because the father he knew wouldn't have ignored his child. I’ve reassured him that I believe my mother never told Earl about me, that when she realized she was pregnant, she reached out to her mom. Then, between the two of them, they concocted that romantic tale which put a ring on her finger and made me legitimate on my birth certificate.
It seems like having this question answered after all this time, I would be satisfied…and I am…but it would be so very wonderful if both my mom and father were alive. Of course, it’s much too late for that, but I like to think he would have been proud of how mom and the man whom I called daddy raised me. In talking to Rick, it sounds as though that would have been the case or else surely there wouldn’t be such a warm welcome waiting for me from a large family I’ve yet to get to know.
And, the surprises keep coming. My father’s brother, the one he was closest to (Uncle John), sent me an email just this week which provided more information about how he joined the USAAF, received training in Florida where he contracted rheumatic fever which made it impossible for him to serve in the armed forces. He ended up in Baltimore where he worked at the Glen L. Martin Aircraft Company which is also where my mom worked. Uncle John has offered to answer any questions I may have if he knows the answer.
As I write this, my feelings are all over the place…excitement, trepidation, happiness, relief, wonder, sorrow, anticipation, gratitude, because in less than two months I’ll travel back to southwest Tennessee. Once there, I'll meet as many members of my new family as possible during my visit and I am so looking forward to enriching my life with their warmth, stories, and memories. The list above didn't include love, but I can feel it waiting...waiting for the opportunity to burst forth as we all get to know each other. Seriously, what were the chances???