With Stephen R Farris, Special to The NavCo Chronicle
The Feeling of Completion
This week’s column is kind of personal to me, since I will be writing about something historically special that has recently happened in my life. For the most part, it deals with genealogy, the search for my biological father, and the feeling of incompleteness.
My journey begins in Lee County, the county where I was born. At six months old, my mother (Joyce) and I moved from my grandmother’s farm in McDade to Corsicana. Growing up, you could somewhat say I had a father figure. This gentleman was pretty much around from my youth up to my early adult years. I’m not going to mention his name (due to personal reasons), but he and his wife did help my mom in raising me.
From the time I could start understanding things, I knew my upbringing was different from my friends. My friends had a mother and father in their home. I didn’t, just me and my mom. I questioned from time-to-time who and where my real father was. Unfortunately, it was not a topic open for discussion and I was given several different stories. One of which (like I had never heard of the song), was that my father’s name was Tom Dooley. Yes, just like the song.
At one point, I was shown a picture of my mom (pregnant at the time) with my father. But his name was never revealed. Only explanation I received was, “that is your father.”
It was tough at times during my adolescent years. Kids would tease or make fun of me for not having a father around. But I managed to survive. In November of 1984, I got married to my first wife. The mother of my two sons. I don’t know why, but I wanted to let my father know that I was getting married. Not knowing his real name, I attempted to find a “Tom Dooley,” to call. I came up dry with that idea. I moved on, but the thought of finding out who he was and if he was still living persisted in my thoughts at least a couple of times a month for years.
In 2006, my mother passed away on July 4th. I knew that mom had a close friend from her days in Austin before and after I was born. I found his number and called to let him know that mom had passed away. He was very appreciative that I thought to call and let him know, and he even invited me to come and visit him in Dallas. I regret not taking him up on his offer, as I would have probably known who my father was a lot sooner than now. After moving a few times, I lost his number. I tried to figure out a way to find her friend back in 2020 (thanks to internet searches), and had a friend that was going to school near his house drop by to see if he still lived at that address. I struck out again, and after another internet search, found out that he had passed away in 2010.
I’ve always felt kind of an emptiness in my life, not knowing. All of my relatives in the Austin area always assumed it was the man that brought us to Corsicana. Heck, I even started to think that myself (praying he wasn’t).
The man that brought us here had his own family, with three grown daughters and many grandchildren. I became friends on social media with his youngest daughter’s grown children, and found out that they both had taken the 23 and Me DNA test. I began to think, if this “man” was my father, then their DNA should match up with mine. I ordered the kit, got my results, breathed a sigh of relief, yet with a hint of disappointment – mainly disappointed that I still didn’t know who my father was as there were no matches to them, and feeling that I may end up going to my grave with never knowing.
The 23 and Me DNA kit was a great investment. It did reveal relatives on my paternal side (father’s side), as well as new relatives on my maternal (mom’s side of family). However, the ones on my paternal side were very distant cousins, and I felt it would be pointless to reach out to any of them with my story.
As you all know – and experienced – 2020 and 2021 were a couple of tough years, both stressful financially and mentally. I was told that the Ancestry.com DNA kit would probably give me more hits on my paternal side, but during those two years, I just didn’t have the funds to justify purchasing it at that time.
Patiently, with time continuing to run out on me, I decided to go ahead and order the Ancestry.com kit at the very end of December of 2021. I received the kit at the beginning of the second week of January this year. Normally, a person would jump in and submit their DNA sample as quickly as possible. My kit sat on my “mail” table for about a month and a half.
One day towards the end of February, I looked at the kit and said to myself, “what the heck, let’s do this.” It didn’t take long for the results to come back. About three weeks, although they said it would take about 6 to 8 weeks. I was glad to get the results back in such a short time. This was my last chance, my last resort in the search for my father.
Opening the results, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Right before my eyes, there were at least four people with DNA that matched up over 10 percent with mine on my paternal side. It’s a little difficult to understand – at least for me – but I knew enough to know that this was huge.
I reached out to the person with the highest percentage. According to the percentage, this person could be a sister, first cousin, or niece, or even a great-great grandmother. After receiving a response, it was determined that this person was my niece. We continued to communicate and found out that her grandfather and my mother worked at the same place in Austin. Long story short, and after many communications, it turns out that her grandfather is my father, and that her mother would have been my sister. But it gets even better.
It also turns out that I have not one, but four half-sisters! Unfortunately, my father passed away in 1995. This past weekend, I met with one of the two surviving sisters, and three of my nieces at Laguna Park on Whitney Lake. We visited for about six hours, with them telling me about my father. It was unbelievable how much – even though we had never met prior to this weekend – how much we all had in common. It turns out that one of the nieces there was born on the same day that I was. I think I scared her a little, since we were talking about August birthdays (my father’s is in August too), when I asked what day she was born on. When she told me, I threw my head back in astonishment. She asked what was wrong? I told her that my birthday was the same day and we both sat there with our mouths wide open in shock.
I can’t tell nor explain, the more we talked and got to know each other, the more I felt like a huge anchor was being lifted from my shoulders. My heart felt complete. We are making plans to visit my other sister, who couldn’t be there (she’s 86 years old), in San Antonio within the next couple of months. I can’t wait!
I never thought that with all of the odds stacked up against me, that I would ever find my biological father. Not only found out who he was, but I went from being an only child all my life to being a brother and an uncle.
Since I wasn’t born in Navarro County, I had no ties here. If I had, I would have also utilized our local genealogy department, located in the Corsicana Public Library. It is a great resource to search for family, places, and look through old newspapers on microfilm. You can also learn a lot about local history there as well.
However, the one thing that 23 and Me did reveal is that I actually had a Navarro County relative, and that I am (distantly) related to Alva Taylor, who founded (along with a few others) the Navarro County Historical Society, and was instrumental in the establishing of Pioneer Village. That was another fascinating find since I’m fond of our local history, and the fact that I have served as president of the Navarro County Historical Society in the past.
With today’s technology, and vast resources of information, it’s somewhat easier to do genealogy research. You still have to find a place to start, and just keep digging. If I had to choose a DNA test to take first, I recommend taking the one from Ancestry.com. It has more people in their database than 23 and Me. Don’t get me wrong, both are great. Also, Ancestry is pretty in depth when it comes to learning more about your family history and family ties. They simply have a much larger database. Another great source that I have found with a large database is familysearch.org, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has proven to be very useful with my research. I’ve learned a lot about my mother’s mom’s side of the family.
The bottom line. There’s always hope. I’m living proof. Oh, I forgot to mention. My paternal family name is Goen, and you all should know that Farris is my maternal side of the family. Until next week, stay safe and continue to keep history alive and going!