February 2, 2011
To recap: My father was born to an unwed teen mom in 1928. His father left town before he was born, and Dad grew up knowing his mother but was adopted and raised by his maternal grandparents. You can read the details here.
I’m sure Dad had questions about his father as he was growing up, but he didn’t learn the full story of his parentage until his grandmother “accidentally” left Dad’s birth certificate on the kitchen table one day. I’m not sure if the document contained his father’s name, but somehow Dad learned that his father’s name was Alton Blosser.
Dad grew up, put himself through college, married, had a family and began an award-winning career in radio and TV. When Dad was in his late 40s, he decided to try to find his father. One rainy November day they met at a coffee shop in Kansas City, where his father lived, and they had a good conversation. Alton was curious about Dad’s childhood but offered no explanations of his relationship with Dad’s mother or why he had abandoned them. They visited for a couple of hours and agreed to stay in contact. The next month, Dad sent him a Christmas card, then later a Father’s Day card, but received no response. Finally Dad called him. His wife answered the phone and told Dad not to call again. So he didn’t. And that was the last interaction he had with Alton Blosser or his family. Until his meddling eldest daughter caught the genealogy bug.
When I started researching my family last spring I quickly got hooked. At first I just used free online resources and learned a few things about my mother’s side of the family. Encouraged with that progress—and despite being a notorious cheapskate (except where yarn or my kids are involved)—I decided to bite the bullet and subscribe to Ancestry.com. As I started entering the family info into my online tree I quickly came up against the same problem I’ve had all my life: the missing grandfather.
When my children were born, each had a traditional baby book that always included a page for the baby’s family tree. I never knew what to do with that tree. Even though Dad was adopted by his grandparents, I couldn’t put them on the tree as his parents. That would be too confusing and inaccurate. I tried filling in everything else, but the empty branch where Dad’s father should be bugged me. Eventually I just ignored that page in the baby books. (My youngest daughter would say I ignored every page in her baby book but that’s another story.)
Anyway, now that I was seriously researching my family, I was curious to know more about that broken branch. I typed in Alton Blossser, not expecting to find much. After all, it was such a long time ago. I was astonished when immediately I got a dozen hits. There were census records and ship manifests and directory listings. I found that Alton had married and had three children: Alton Jr., Marshall and Bonnie. He was living in Hawaii in the 1930s and was there when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. I found a marriage license for an Alton Blosser III, presumably Alton Jr.’s son. I also found obituaries. Alton’s wife had died at age 38. Alton himself lived well in to his 90s, married two more times and had only just passed away in 2003. Then I found an obituary for Alton’s younger son Marshall. And this time there was a picture, the first picture I had ever seen of any of the Blossers. And he looked amazingly like my dad.
Well that did it. I hadn’t told my Dad what I was up to, but now he had to know. I printed off the obituary with the picture and took it to the next family gathering. Now, having had such a warm and loving father myself, I can’t imagine how it must feel to have your father abandon you. Dad had accepted that part of his history and, amazingly, held no resentment. I didn’t want to stir up emotions that might be painful or risk more rejection for him. But I knew he would want to see the picture of his half-brother.
So I gave him the obituary and offered to contact the family if he wanted me to. At first, he said no. But after considering it for a few days, he changed his mind and told me to make the call. I knew from the obituary approximately where the family lived. I figured Alton III must be about my age and decided he would be the best contact. I had no idea if anyone in the family knew about my dad, and I didn’t want to be responsible for causing an elderly person a heart attack!
It took me a few days to get up the nerve, but one night after supper I made the call. So what do you say to a complete stranger who may be your cousin but may not know it? When Alton Kent Blosser III came to the phone, I introduced myself, told him where I was calling from and said, “I think we have the same grandfather”.
To be continued…
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.