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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Adding Branches to Your Tree

Have you ever researched your family tree? A few years back I started in response to some harsh treatment I was receiving from a manager. Sometimes people, in their ignorance can come at you from a foul place, not realizing that their fertilizer just makes you stronger. My dear uncle has been doing very extensive research on his side and my maternal side of the family so he was great encouragement to start this venture. My uncle had a good bit of my mother’s side covered (we are still discovering fascinating facts) so my father’s side and my husband’s side was new territory. Both of these branches represented the West Indian (Jamaican) side of the tree. My father’s parents are both from Jamaica and it is really something to see their documents and the ship manifests of their travels between New York and Jamaica. My grandfather spent some time in Panama working on the canal and married a lady there who I believe was Cuban. They had a daughter named Sydney. My father knew he had an older sibling, but always thought it was a brother. There weren’t too many girls named Sydney back in those days and if you know Jamaican people, things like this are not discussed in front of children. Sydney’s mother passed away and I guess my grandfather left his daughter with his wife’s family and moved to New York.

While researching my husband’s side of the family I made a cool discovery. My husband is a ‘junior’ and we didn’t know the whereabouts of his natural father ‘senior’. I have a wonderful, rather cool father-in-law in the man that raised my husband, but I always wondered where his natural father was. While searching in, I found the name of someone who could possibly be the person I was looking for but he didn’t have the same exact name as my husband. Strangely enough, this person lived in the Bronx, just a few blocks away from my brother. It is the only time I found a clue in Ancestry that included a phone number. It took me a little while to figure out what to do with this information. You don’t just call a 70 year old man and try to explain that I am your daughter-in-law, but technically not your daughter-in-law any longer and I have three of your grandsons here in Atlanta. Now that I think I have found him, I didn’t want to give him a heart attack. Plus, I don’t know what kind of person he is. Would he hang the phone up on me? Maybe he didn’t want to be reminded about that part of his life. I may be disrupting this man’s whole life, if in fact this is the right person. I didn’t do anything with the number for a long time, but I did let the guys know what I suspected.

Three Father’s Days ago, I dialed the number. A gentle, distinctly Jamaican voice answered. I tried to carefully explain who I was and told him that I didn’t want anything but was looking for the father of Mr. Valentine. He listened and then asked “Is this 'my wife-in-law’s' name?”. And then I knew, it was him! I also knew that my husband had been in touch with him. He said “I know (he named each of my sons) but no one has told me your name.” I was so overcome with joy that I didn’t give in to the annoyed spirit that was trying to overtake me. My youngest was home so he had the opportunity to speak to him. He is a lovely Christian man. He lost his wife of many years to cancer recently. He and a few of his buds conduct a cancer support group at the hospital where his wife. He is also a part of a gospel singing group that travels throughout the city singing at hospitals and senior citizen events. It has been a pleasure to know him. He checks in with me when the weather is bad in Georgia. We always talk on Father’s Day. It’s sort of our anniversary. His birthday is just the week before Father’s Day so the call that connected us was a birthday bonus. I asked him, what would you like us to call you? He said “Grandpa B”.

Last year I had the opportunity to stop by his home while I was visiting family. We recognized each other right away and he said something that I will always cherish. He said “your face is not strange to me”, which means that you are someone that I recognize and care for.

You may have people in your life that for one reason or another weren’t able to be present. I always look for opportunities to let people tell their side of the story. Lord knows I would want that opportunity if I was the absent parent. My recommendation is to start your research, sketch out your tree and see what wonderful nuggets you can uncover. You never know what juicy nuggets you will find on the branches of your tree!

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