Thursday, January 11, 2007

Don't leave it until tomorrow

On her blog today, Welshcakes writes of the death of a cousin with whom she had lost touch. Her attempts to find him had come to nothing and it is only long after his death that she hears of it from another cousin.

I grew up without a father. He and my mother weren't married and, to my knowledge, I never met him during my childhood. As I grew older I began to wonder more about him but my interest waxed and waned with the moon.

In the 1980s I discovered that he had moved to the Carmarthen area and was probably still living there, although he had been ill.

At the end of the 90s I began a Masters course in Trinity College, Carmarthen. Out of curiosity I looked him up in the phonebook and found he was still listed. Every time I drove to college I passed his house.

I wondered what to do: should I sit outside and see if anyone appeared? Phone and pretend to be a researcher of some sort in order to find out more about his situation. I would never make a private eye; I am far too honest and easily embarrassed. I didn't know how much he knew about me and whether, if she was still alive, his wife knew about me. The last thing I wanted to do was to cause any trouble. I did nothing.

Then a few years ago I had the opportunity through a BBC programme about family history, Who Do You Think You Are?, to make a
digital film. As a result of this Husband became interested in genealogy.

With the right software and the internet, he has been able to trace different branches of my and his families back to the 16th century. He discovered that my father's family history had already been well-documented by someone. According to that he had a wife and daughter - but there was no mention of me, unsurprisingly.

Making the film had aroused my interest again; I wanted to know more about where I came from, who I am. After I'd dithered for a bit we emailed the lady who had done his family tree. After she'd asked some questions, she said that my father was dead but that his wife still lived in the same house and that they did indeed have a daughter who was called Sarah. She, the genealogist, offered to act as an intermediary if I wanted to make contact as she knew the family well.

After dithering again I said yes, please, I would be grateful if she found out what she could.

She soon came back to me.

My father's wife (whom he married some years after my birth) knew about me but wasn't willing to meet me; she had now told her daughter (my younger half-sister) about me but she didn't want to know me either.

My father died in 2001. If I'd acted when I was in college I might have been able to meet with him. I don't know whether he'd have agreed or whether his health would have allowed but I missed that chance.

I thought hard about posting this but understanding Welshcakes' regret, I wanted to urge anyone who's lost contact, or never had contact, with a relative to take the chance if it comes along. You might do it and regret it but at least you'll know.


MaryB said...

Damn, Liz - incredible story! (I just can't believe you have a half-sister that doesn't want to meet you. How could you not want to meet a sibling??)

But you're right. Even if you regret the outcome, you have to take a chance on these things.

Liz said...

I know, Mary, how could anyone not want to meet ME?!!

Puss-in-Boots said...

I can't understand why your half-sister doesn't want to meet you. I can understand her mother. If it was me, I'd be dying of curiosity to see what this other child of my father looked like. Ah well, I guess we can't all be the same, but I can't help feeling your half-sister is the one to feel sorry for.

Lee said...

Wow, Liz...your post/story is so similar to mine, it's scary! Almost word for word...except I had an older brother...our situation was so similar to your own...I went through the tracking my father down...and not going through with it, too. He would be dead now so it's too late. I'm off two thoughts about never meeting him. He left my mother and my brother when she was still pregnant with me. Somewhere in the great expanse of this country there is a half-brother. My brother passed away back in 1998...I don't think I will go in search of my half-brother...too much water under the bridge...and for what reason would I do so. I have so few hassles in my life (other than blue-tongue lizards on my bed) that I don't need go in search of them. ;) But I can understand those who choose to do so.

Thanks for visiting my blog! Please don't be a stranger! :)

Ian Grey said...

There is a saying that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your Family. I certainly agree that disappointment is less of a bitter pill to swallow than subsequent regrets, but not at the time!

Nowt so queer as folk, as they say in Yorkshire. (Although I've lived here 12 years and haven't heard it said yet!)

DellaB said...

Very interesting story Liz, and not an unusual one for the times (previous generations, that is) - surprise packets and relationships all over the place. Things weren't always what they seemed it appears...

I have the privilege of being a 'war-baby' born to a black father, an American serviceman, and a white Australian mother.

Attempts to trace him have been futile, and of course it would be far too late now to expect that to change, so I need to accept that, it has always bothered me, not knowing...


Anonymous said...

I watched the digital film. What a story. There are lots of them and we seldom get serious about wanting to know more, before it's to late

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Liz, thank you for posting this. You will know that I totally understand your regret. We have to be brave, as you say, to take that chance.

Liz said...

Thanks all for your comments. It seems many of us have similar stories. What a wonderful thing blogging is that allows us, at opposite sides of the world, to share them. I was going to say with complete strangers but we're not, are we?

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