When I was a child, I resented the fact that I didn’t know who my father was and that he wasn’t in my life. My mother and father had gone their separate ways before I was even born. What made things even harder as a child was that my mother could only share limited details about who my father was with me. In fact, the only information I ever knew was that his last name was Graham, that he was African American, a veteran, and very tall.
In my 20s, I began to realize that not knowing about my father was taking a toll on me, and I felt a strong sense that it was time to look for him. Graham is a very common last name, and my attempts to find him through searching in the phone book, on the internet, through social media, and even hiring a private investigator were all unsuccessful.
On December 2, 2019, a few days after my 42nd birthday, I decided to order a DNA kit online. I had two goals in mind for taking the DNA test: finding out where my ancestors were from and finding any close relatives on my father’s side who could help me get in touch with my father.
When my DNA kit arrived, I followed the instructions, which included taking a small saliva sample and then sealing and returning the package to be processed. I dropped the test in the mailbox, and later that same day, I began thinking about my results with great anticipation and excitement. What matches would come back, if any? Would this finally give me the lead I needed to find my father after more than 20 years of searching?
Finally, on January 7, 2020, I received an email notification that my DNA results were in. I looked through my DNA ancestral history and I felt empowered to learn about the countries and regions in Western, Central, and Southern Africa my family is from.
Eagerly, I then clicked on the ‘Matches’ tab. To my surprise, the results showed I was linked by DNA to half a dozen third cousins, but none of which were named Graham. I decided to take another leap of faith and message all of them through the app. I explained to each of them that I was looking for information about my father whose last name was Graham and who lived in Boston in the late 1970s.
One of my cousins messaged me back right away. He indicated that his mother’s maiden name was Graham and that he would be willing to get in touch with her for me. I almost fell off my chair by the realization that I had been linked by this DNA database to someone with the last name Graham. After I was able to get in touch with this cousin’s mom, she informed me that she was aware of other Grahams living in the Boston area in the late ‘70’s and would give me the names of those of whom she was aware.
After collecting the first and last names of the Graham relatives in Boston, I was finally able to connect with a first cousin. After speaking with him, he informed me that based on the information and photos I had sent him, he believed that his uncle was my father, and that unfortunately he had passed away in 2004.
I was so caught up in the moment of excitement of being connected to a first cousin, that the news of my father passing away didn’t really hit me. I had been preparing myself for this reality for more than 20 years. The conversation led to a recommendation that I speak with my father’s brother and sister who were still living to get more information about his life. And that is exactly what I did.
The last few months have changed my life forever. I’ve learned that my father married a wonderful woman in 1988, and they lived together in Michigan until his death. When I was presented with the opportunity to talk to his wife, she shared with me that they had unsuccessfully searched for a male child for several years before my father’s death.
On March 10, 2020, my uncle also informed me that I have both a brother and sister and that they were willing to connect with me. In the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with both my brother (a 20-year Navy vet) and my sister (a nurse).
I wish I could describe how incredible this journey has been for me. I would have never thought that within five months of taking a DNA test, I would be able to connect with a family for whom I had searched for over 20 years. I want to encourage others to utilize DNA and other ancestry tools to explore family connections and history. This entire experience has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
My entire life, one thing I wondered was if I looked like my father. To the right is an old photo that my uncle sent me of my dad as child (right). The one on the left is me. What do you think?
Not having my father in my life has motivated me to be the best father I can be to my four children. My children have also had lots of questions about my father, and they are excited about meeting their newfound aunt, uncle, and cousins. For most of my life, I was missing half of my family tree and am thankful now that I have found it.
Below are a few tips for exploring your family history with your children from the book “Daddy’s Family Tree” by Kenneth Braswell.
- Schedule time to talk about, investigate, and explore your entire family tree. It is important that children know and understand the formation of their family.
- Talk with your children about the importance of family.
- Sign up on a genealogy website.
- Share a family story with your children.
- Talk about your most embarrassing moment with your children
- Talk about how you and your child’s mother met.
- Allow your children to interview you on video or cell phone camera.
Eugene Schneeberg is an award-winning speaker and trainer specializing in fatherhood, prisoner reentry, youth violence prevention, and faith-based partnerships.
Reprinted with permission from The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, which provides information and research relating to responsible fatherhood. For more info., visit www.fatherhood.gov.