Saturday, June 21, 2014

By The Grace of God...

I never really thought in my ordinary life, I would have had an Oprah worthy story to tell.  But I do, and I am...six months after it happened I am ready to share it.  This story is sacred to me and so close to my heart, that I just didn't ever find the exact right time until now.  Today we are celebrating a very special date, time, place and circumstance in our family.  June 23, 1945.

This is a World War II story.  A time when things were so uncertain and lives were put on hold to put up a good fight for freedom.  The young lives of my parents and aunts and uncles were completely fraught with upheaval and distress.  Young people married in haste and hurried off to war.   Often both women and men not going to war, changed their plans for college and instead worked long hours in jobs to support the war effort.

Normalcy did not exist for anyone and especially for newlyweds.  It was not easy.  You were never told where or when your spouse was going.  It was not easy knowing if you'd ever see your husband or wife again, if they would live or die or what the next day would bring. With little contact other than censored letters they knew very little. The mail did not come with any predictable regularity. Often it was delivered in bundles in big piles of 20 or more letters. Once they did arrive they knew virtually nothing still...between the big sections cut out, deemed unacceptable by the military censors or the lengthy delays.   These were very hard times.  Often the stresses of all of this diminished those young relationships until they completely dissolved in divorce.

That is what happened to my Dad's sister my Aunt Grace.  She was 19 when Pearl Harbor had the horrific surprise attack that destroyed most of our fleet, killing more that 3,000.  The warning from Washington came an hour too late for it to matter.  The next few years she followed her husband from port to port when she would get a sudden call to meet him.  In her own autobiography she said, "Of the 821 day we were married we spent 33 days together and never in the same place for long."

In 1944 she found herself in Sacramento, California working for the war effort there and living with my Mom and two of my Mother's sisters.  Towards the end of 1944, my Aunt Grace was expecting a child.  This was clearly not part of the plan.  For reasons only she and the father of her unborn child understand fully, they did not marry.

She moved away and the baby was put up for adoption.  None of the other living relatives ever breathed a word about this and to this day we do not know if they even knew.  If any did, I suspect my mother did.  During the war everyone was scattered all over, Grace's mother lived half a country away, her brother was in the Pacific someplace.  How would it help to tell them one wonders?  What could they do but worry?

Gracie went to live with a family in Chico.  There she gave birth to her tiny son and left him with the family whom she believed would take the best care of him.  As well as I have known her all my life, I know this could not have been easy for her.  On his birth certificate she named him James but he grew up in a loving home and was named William. He did not know he was adopted nor did his only sister.

When Williams mother died his father, William Sr., told both William and his sister that they had been adopted.  At the time William was in his 30s.  Although his sister did not have an overwhelming desire to seek her birth mother, William, was driven to make that discovery and connection.

 For 35 years he searched and at one point he discovered that his mother had given a false name on his birth certificate but she had been born on 17th of June 1922 in a little town in North Dakota. When William searched those birth records for that area, there were some baby girls who had been born that day, in that place, but none with the name on his birth and adoption papers.  He was stumped by that.   But each year since 1967 he had thought of his birth mother on the 17th of June and thanked God for the woman who gave him life.  He also discovered that the people that processed the vital records had noted that they felt the mother had falsified the information at the time of his birth.

Fast forward now to the last few years.  In William and Rita's church they have a good friend named, Nancy, that does a lot of genealogical research.  Upon hearing his story she took an active interest in his case and started to help him.  They were coming up with so many roadblocks because they really did not know his birth mother's name.  Since I do a lot of genealogical research myself this story is all the more magnificent to me.

She convinced William to have some DNA tests run after a class she had taken about how much that can help you connect to your ancestors' surnames.  Maybe going through the paternal line would yield a chance to find her.  William got the test and Nancy was right!  27 possible matches or connections.  William so lovingly refers to Nancy as his Search Angel, and for good reason.

They started to analyze the results and to pick which Hallsted (along with some other surnames with matches) for who would be a likely candidate.  They tried to eliminate some that were perhaps too old but decided to go with all the males residing in California at that time.  Lots of time and effort went into all of this.  Nancy also began her search online for the surname Hallsted and a few others.  One night she was Googling the name and she ran across a blog.

 My blog! This very blog!  I have written well over 2,000 blog posts since the end of 2007.  Sometime I would get discouraged and say, why do I do this?  Is anyone even reading it?   Well, on December 19, 2013 that question was answered in full.   Oddly, I had just asked my husband, Jim, those very questions the night before.

In 2008 I had gone to my Aunt Grace's funeral with my brother, Steve, and had taken lots of photos of the church where the funeral was held, and at the burial and I retold the story of the three days we spent with our cousins.  That time for reasons unknown to me then, I even included the obituary word for word on the blog post. I added several pictures of my beloved aunt both as a young woman and before she died.  There were also several photos of my cousins.

Nancy was overjoyed because she had been to Carl Hallsted's grave via Find a Grave online and had seen that he was buried beside a woman name Grace and they shared a common headstone.  But the name Grace had never been a part of their research until then.  It was not until she read the obituary and saw Grace's birthdate that she knew she had found William's mother AND his father, AND his five full siblings!  Nancy called William but they were not home.  She left a message for him to call and read my blog posts.  He has related to me that he felt very emotional and overjoyed during those moments after the discovery that was so much more than he had dreamed or hoped for all these years.

 Now I have no idea how William must have felt but I can pretty much relate to how Nancy must feel.  This work of connecting families on pedigree charts and family group sheets that are our ancestors is pretty exciting, but to actually unite an entire living family, now that is indeed something else! A once in a life time story.  A human interest story that makes total strangers weep because they feel something special and their heart is touched by stories like this. We all love a  little good news because it lifts us.   Just the imagining of it is a thrill.

After the elation he felt, William had the task of wondering how to contact his siblings and tell them his story.  There must have been much trepidation not knowing how they would react.  He compiled a letter with his story, and some pictures of himself as he was growing up as well as how he looks now.  Each of my cousins received their letter on December 18th in the evening.

At 6:00 am the next morning our phone rang.  It was my cousin, Chuck, the first born, or so I thought.  The call gave me quite a scare at first until I realized everyone was quite well and then he told me what had happened.  He was absolutely thrilled and sounded like he was five feet off the ground.  Each and every one of my beautiful cousins felt exactly the same way.  What a Christmas gift!

One look at William and we all knew his story was true.  He looks like my Aunt Grace, and all his brothers, and MY Dad.  I would have given anything to see each one of them as they first discovered each other's pictures. Most of all I would have loved seeing William's face when he saw his mother.  It wasn't long before this picture below was sent to me.  I love it.  Someone had photo shopped William into this picture of Grace with her other five children on the beach.  He is the one in the Hawaiian shirt~right in the middle where a place seemed to have been purposely left for him.

David, Grace, Jake, William, Chuck, Jan and Judy!

The real reunion of the sibling occurred in early January of this year.  With their spouses and each other they spent four days, hugging and talking and sharing and loving each other.  They have a life time of catching up to do and they are enjoying every minute of it.  These are six of the most important people in my life.  I love each and every one of these cousins with all my heart.  In each of them I see my beautiful Auntie Grace, my Grandmother, my Dad.  Along with our DNA we share a rich heritage.

 We hope to meet William and his wife in person sometime this year.  People wonder why I love family history and genealogy so much.  Maybe now they will understand a little better.  Next to God there is no one more important in our lives than our family.  Each person is like a special petal on our own person flower.  Each one adds to our lives and enriches us in ways that only they can. These are my people just as your family members are yours.  They contribute to who I am and who I will eventually become.  When they are happy~I am happy too.  I surely did learn that lesson this year.  They multiply my joys and divide my sorrows.  This story is more than an Oprah story by far...this is nothing short of a divinely inspired, modern day miracle and I am so grateful for it in my life.


Carl and Grace

Grandma and Grampa Yeasley 
With Grace in Sacramento 1946

The joyous reunion of all the siblings
January, 2014

The Profiles of Four Brothers!

Our Beloved Grace in her last years!

Today, as I said is my new cousin's birthday.  The first one we have been able to celebrate with him.  Happy Birthday, dear William, we love you.  We are so thrilled to have been united with you in this life.  Finally, a wonderful gift of Grace for all to share.  May this be your best birthday ever!


Sister Susie Says said...

What a story of love and family!
Love to you all, Susan

William said...

Dear Awesome Cousin Bonnie,
What a blessing you are to all those who you have touched, and I’m just one of those truly blessed folks. I continue to stand in awe at the love and grace the Lord has given me all through my 69 years and then to top it off by uniting me with my siblings and their beautiful families. I am thankful that you, Bonnie, were one of the major parts of the puzzle to help us all come together. Your blog is a wonderful tribute to Grace while honoring our Lord and Savior. I wish I had the words to express my deep appreciation for you and Jim. Love and hugs. William/Bill

Bonnie said...

Sweet William, I am so happy you left your message here so everyone can see how lucky we are to have you! You are such a miracle!

Love, Bon