I was quiet, but I was not blind. - Jane Austen
Nothing boosts your confidence like family research or “finding your people”. In this COVID environment, you realize that it is no small miracle that your family survived this long. There are a myriad of events, diseases included, that could have stopped your lineage. You are definitely here by design. As I uncovered these wonderful names of people I had never met or heard of, I was inspired.
There were many late nights researching and gleaning the records to structure the family tree. Older versions of the US census include questions asking if the person could read and write. I was so proud to see, that not only could they read and write, but it was accurately recorded. Even when it was dangerous for my ancestors to have these skills, they were equipping themselves for our success.
This research included searching for my father-in-law. My first husband is a junior but I hadn’t met or known the whereabouts about his father, Mr. Valentine. He was blessed to have a wonderful second father who is loving, supportive and present in his family's life. On the topic of the senior Mr. Valentine, the matriarch’s policy was don’t ask, don’t tell. As far as I knew, my husband didn’t know either.
Ancestry.com doesn’t have a vast amount of Jamaican records in their database so I didn’t expect much. Since my husband is a junior, I had his name. After a few clicks, I found his name with a Bronx address and a telephone number. Could this be him? It felt too good to be true. None of my other discoveries had phone numbers. How do I approach a 70- year old man with this wonderful, but could be upsetting news? It’s not something you just blurt out. I didn’t want to give the man a heart attack. Is this a part of his life that he’d blocked and preferred not to revisit? I held on to the information for a few months wondering if waiting was a good strategy. My youngest urged me to call, so I mustered up the courage to dial the number after rehearsing what to say. It was Father’s Day weekend so maybe he would be receptive to an additional Father’s Day greeting.
He had a very gentle voice with a Jamaican accent. I explained that I was calling from Georgia, I was previously married to his son and we have three sons. I told him their names. After giving him a chance to speak he said, “Is this [my husband’s current wife’s name]?” It was him! I stayed in the moment. “The children’s names I know, but no one has mentioned you.” I would later find out that my wife-in-law (WIL)found him earlier but not a word was shared with me or my sons. [Side note: I recently found out that WIL made the mistake of sitting my mother-in-law down to “break the news of the discovery”. That was a debacle…evidently mother-in-law always knew where he was. Jamaican families are notorious for unnecessarily keeping family secrets.] We had a good chat and the relief of not killing him was balanced with the joy of connecting with him.
He had buried his wife of 20 years who had succumbed to cancer about a year ago. He is a member of a men’s bereavement support group at the hospice where his wife spent her last days. They were even written up in the New York Times. He is also a member of a men’s group that sings at elder facilities and churches. He confided that at his age, he has had time to reflect on his life and things he may have done differently. Jamaican men are typically not verbally reflective so I thought that was a wonderful sentiment to share. He also let me know that his middle name was in fact different than my husband’s, so he wasn’t a junior after all. Side note: my husband wanted to name our first born, the third. I am so glad I dodged that bullet.
He was a retired nurse and has been living in the Bronx the whole time – fifty years. As a matter of fact, he lives just a stone’s throw away from my brother. He was planning to remarry soon. I wished him the best and told him I would send pictures and we would stay in touch. He sent me this wonderful package of memories, which included some pictures of him as a young man. His birthday is the week before Father’s Day so he felt he had received one of the best surprises! Before hanging up I asked him, “what do you want the fellas to call you?” He thought for a minute…he said “How about Grandpa B?” My youngest joined my husband, wife-in-law and the little sisters to witness and celebrate his grandfather’s wedding.
On my next trip to New York, I called to see if I could meet him in person. It is a strange feeling to meet someone that is new in your life but has been a part of your family for over 20 years. After saying hello and hugging each other, he said, “You don’t look strange to me”, which means that although this is my first time physically seeing you, you are familiar because we are family. I will never forget those words.
If there are storms or bad weather coming to Atlanta, he will call to check on us. He also calls on holidays, especially on Mother’s Day. I make sure to call him periodically, but especially in June to commemorate finding each other. Happy Father’s Day Grandpa B!