Archive for the 'Family History' Category

#9 Finding my biological family in 1997

Posted by on Jul 21 2016 | 26 great life experiences, Family History

MaureenMiriam2

Maureen and Miriam 2010

I have neglected to write the great things in my life, and there are a lot of them. I may just list them in my next post. But for the time being, one of the most important things I did was to go on a search for my biological father. I knew he was from Long Island and born in 1931. I was motivated to attain dual citizenship for financial opportunities while pursuing advanced education in the U.S. And, of course, there was a lot of curiosity and unanswered questions. I knew I had two full sisters that he took with him back to New York when I was an infant in the care of my aunt and uncle, who later adopted me.

My biological father was known here in Vancouver as Jay Fleming, so I did some searching under that name. I knew he had served in the military, but those records led nowhere. I asked my biological mother for as much info as she could give me and she told me that he was born on the 4th of July and lived somewhere near Tarrytown, Long Island. Somewhere in some old family records I found a postcard written to Mr. and Mrs. James Nevins Fleming, and I realized that it might a key piece of information.

Now the internet was not as highly evolved then as it is now, but I did manage to find phone directories online, and found a J.N. Fleming listed in Port Jefferson, a town not far from Tarrytown. So, I sat down to write a letter explaining who I was and what I was looking for. I provided an email address in my letter.

A couple of weeks later, I got an email from my half-sister Dianne. Jim (as he was known there and no longer Jay as he was in Vancouver) had just had a stroke and was returning home from the hospital. And interestingly enough, he had aphasia.

I flew to NY as soon as I could and met my biological father, his second wife and her two sons, plus my half-sister and fraternal twin half-brothers. And the next day I met my full sister, Miriam. (The other full sister, the one who looks more like me, was living in Oklahoma.) I am pleased that I had enough communication skills to get information from Jim in our conversations. And he gave me a copy of his autobiography that he wrote for his Masters thesis when he was in his fifties.

Meeting my father, I realized where I got my hairy eyebrows. And meeting Miriam was truly a wonderful experience as she and I are very much alike in a lot of ways, although she looks more like our biological mother. We hit it off and laughed like little girls.

Over the years, Miriam has come to Vancouver many times. She and my mom, Maureen, hit it off. Biologically, Maureen was our aunt, the youngest sister of our biological mother. And when Maureen was dying in 2010, Miriam came out to see all of us.

The one thing I learned in this reunion was the realization that genetics are a much stronger bond than I had previously thought. After having found my biological family, I understood myself better. I went to Oklahoma to visit the other sister and learned more. She and I resemble each other a lot and even stood the same way with the right hand on the right hip. It was really strange for me to look at her and see myself. However, in temperament, we were quite different, and we have not maintained a relationship.

Miriam came out again when our biological mother was dying in 2013 and was here for her death and funeral. It meant a lot to me to have her support through that time. I had promised Maureen that I would take care of Betty and I was pleased that I could complete that.

 

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My new cousin

Posted by on Nov 26 2014 | 26 great life experiences, Family History, Life at home

David as a young man

On June 26, I received the e-mail I had been hoping for. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender and thought perhaps it was a spam message as my name was in the subject line. But I took a quick look and saw three photos that were attached. The one I have posted on the top of this blog post struck me as I was looking at a man who bore a strong resemblance to my grandfather, Charles Edward Evans. I knew without a doubt that he was my cousin. Such a fine looking cousin too!

The letter was written by my cousin David and his wife, Joanne, and described the details of his birth and adoption, in Ontario. The adoption had been arranged prior to his birth. He was christened by his adoptive parents 10 days after his birth. His parents were a lawyer and his wife from St. Lucia. David was so fortunate to be welcomed into a loving home right away so he could bond with his parents.

They wrote:

David’s adoption papers include a brief background, which provided his birth mother’s year of birth (but no date), the existence of two sisters, her parent’s nationality and occupation etc. No names were provided on the adoption papers. The medical birth record however, provided a name for his birth mother as Barbara Evans. There is even less information on his birth father. He was an African American, but born in Sweden to a jazz musician and his wife who were residing in Sweden at the time. They moved back to the USA and then he joined the US Air force.

The private investigator told them it would be a difficult task to find a woman with such a common name as Barbara Evans. But they got a break when they found an obituary for a Barbara Mary Evans, who died at 78 years of age in 2005, giving them a birth year to work with of 1927. But if we hadn’t found Barbara’s ashes in Maureen’s closet after Maureen died, I probably wouldn’t have posted much information about Barbara on my blog. Burying Barbara at the same time as Betty gave me the opportunity to have them both memorialized and remembered at Mountain View Cemetery. And that was the key to making the connection.

David and Joanne still live in St. Lucia, that gorgeous island in the Caribbean, where they are raising their children. They were grateful that I had chosen to publish my family history as it might not have been a successful search.

I responded right away and anticipated the contact.

David young

David as a child

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Finding Family

Posted by on Nov 06 2014 | Family History

Friend&BarbaraEvansTripSeattle

 

On June 9, I received a phone call from a private investigator. He asked me a few questions about my aunt Barbara, then inquired if I was aware that she may have had a child “out of wedlock.”

I certainly had not heard that story. Yet, when he told me what he knew about her — her interest in music, theatre, dance, her year of birth, her city of birth (Vancouver) and her Irish heritage, I told him that sounded like my aunt Barbara.

This child was male and recently hired the investigator to see if he could find any family. I had posted a memorial for Aunt Barbara on Find A Grave as we buried her ashes in the Evans plot at Mountain View Cemetery at the same time as her older sister Betty, in April 2013.

Unfortunately, I had nobody to ask about this as both of her sisters were dead and she had lived in Ontario since the 50s and had no contacts here.

I gave the investigator permission to give my contact information to his client and waited to hear.

On June 11, I did a blog post to provide this possible new cousin with more information. As I had been through a similar experience when I found my biological father, two full sisters, and three half-siblings, I knew that there could be fear and reluctance to make contact.

I waited to hear . . .

 

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My aunt Barbara Evans

Posted by on Jun 11 2014 | Family History

Friend&BarbaraEvansTripSeattle

with a friend going to Seattle

I love this photo of Barbara (right) as a young woman, travelling to Seattle with a friend. Growing up she was called “Dede” but I don’t believe she was known by that nickname after she moved to Ontario.

I didn’t know my aunt Barbara very well. She moved to Ontario before I was born and came back to Vancouver a couple of times in the late 60s and early 70s. I remember her cooking liver and onions, a dish my mother (Maureen) never made.

 

Betty, Barbara, Maureen&FriendLeft

clockwise from top: Betty, Barbara, Maureen, ?

The three Evans girls were all interested in music and drama. All had blue eyes. Barbara and Maureen were blonde, Betty brunette. Barbara was interested in pursuing a career in theatre and moved first to Toronto, I believe, and later died in Kitchener. I know that Betty and Maureen were swimmers and Maureen also played badminton, but I know nothing about Barbara’s athletic interests.

 

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Barbara, Maureen, Laura (née MacDonald), Betty ca 1950

I’ve always liked this photo of the Evans women sitting in front of their house at 2335 West 7th Avenue (at Vine Street) in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. Grandma Evans moved out in 1977 after a fire, most likely from a cigarette.  She was in the early stages of dementia and Maureen found a nice care home for her until she died in 1985. The house and the old garage are still standing.

I remember hearing that Barbara died in 2005, shortly after my dad. She wanted no service. After Maureen died, we found Barbara’s ashes in a closet. We were able to bury them at Mountain View Cemetery at the same time that we buried her older sister, Betty.

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She is now at buried in the same grave as her father Charles (Charlie) and older sister, Elizabeth (Betty).

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Mom’s birthday — Maureen (Evans) Sweeney 1933-2010

Posted by on Feb 21 2014 | Events, Family History

findagrave Mountain View 020

I went to my mother’s grave site today to leave her a few things: some flowers, soil from the groundbreaking ceremony at St. Augustine’s School, and a card with a prayer for the new school.

This week was quite a special week for her.

First of all, she loved sports and the Olympics, so the success of the Canadian Women’s Curling and Hockey teams with their respective gold medals would have given her a lot of excitement and pleasure.

It was also a stunningly beautiful day. She loved the view and in her boxes of treasures she had many photos of the North Shore mountains covered with snow, just like today. I took this photo from her grave site at the appropriately named, Mountain View Cemetery.

findagrave Mountain View 018

On Sunday, all of her children were invited to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new school at her parish in Kitsilano, St. Augustine’s. It would have meant to world to her to know that we were ALL there. The principal wanted to get a photo with us wearing hard hats. She wanted us to know that the would not be breaking ground now without my mother’s generous support, as her contribution re-energized the fundraising efforts.

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They have a nicely edited video of the day’s events. I managed to have a few words with Archbishop Miller about mom’s long association with the school and the parish.

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1947 Maureen Evans, second from left, front

The very best news is that the new music room will be dedicated to her memory. She loved music, she loved children, she loved her school and her church.

 

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End of 2013

Posted by on Jan 01 2014 | Facial Pain/Trigeminal Neuralgia, Family History, Life at home, MS

christmas dinner

Christmas dinner

One of the great achievements this year was to have a pleasant and delicious Christmas dinner at home with Daniel. Last year I was in so much pain when eating and the year before I was also in pain. This was the first Christmas since 2010 that I was able to enjoy the food.

Since the rhizotomy 369 days ago, I have been able to do so many things that I couldn’t do the previous year. The neurosurgeon’s fellow told me that the pain would come back, and that the best case scenario would be to be pain-free for 3-5 years. There is nothing like a window of time like that to get you focused on some things that need to be done.

I think the one thing I am most pleased about is keeping a promise I made to my mom in 2010 when she was dying. I told her I would take care of Betty — her sister and my biological mother. I was able to accomplish that. I took care of her finances and things she needed at the facility where she lived. And when she died in April, I contacted my sisters and planned her funeral and burial. I asked Daniel to build her a casket as I wanted to have a green burial.

Casket made by Daniel

Casket made by Daniel

Betty had a Catholic service at St. Augustine’s and was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in the same plot as her father, Charles Edward Evans, who died in 1972. My brothers were the pallbearers and I was so pleased that Betty’s cousin Len Metcalfe came, along with his wife and his daughter. It meant a lot to me to have family there. We buried the ashes of Barbara, the middle sister, at the same time.

I have also been able to put together some details of the family history on the Evans side of the family that I didn’t have before, thanks to Len Metcalfe. We have been sharing photos and he has told me some stories about my grandfather and great-grandfather.

It was also important to me that the family not be forgotten, so I organized grave markers for Betty, her sister Barbara and Grandpa Evans. My sister Miriam has a flair for writing epitaphs. We worked on the concepts together and she refined them.

evans grave markers

 

Other things that I accomplished that I would not have been able to do in 2012:

  • donated significant historical family archives to the City of Vancouver Archives
  • participated in the women’s WOW group at GF Strong Rehab Centre
  • visited Washington, DC and Long Island, NY to visit my sister
  • went to New York City, saw a show on Broadway and had dinner in Greenwich Village
  • blogged my whole history of miscommunication and misdiagnoses in the health care system

 

I can’t say it has been a great year although it looks pretty good when I itemize the things I did. But it certainly has been an interesting one. It is difficult to feel full joy and pleasure with my altered sensations and emotions. I have lost most friends, made a few new ones and Daniel and I are still together. That’s the greatest blessing after so much trauma.

My focus in the new year will need to be redefining my ‘purpose’. Why am I here? How can I learn to live with full joy in a different body?

 

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My cousin Len Metcalfe

Posted by on Dec 04 2013 | Family History

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Len and Dushka Metcalfe

Earlier this year I decided to do something with my mother’s photos and other treasures. I found an article about her aunt’s 100 year birthday in 1998 and Joy Metcalfe was interviewed for it. I knew we were related to the Metcalfes of Boundary Bay fame but I hadn’t taken the time to look into it.

AnnMetcalfe100

I figured that someone as well-known as Joy Metcalfe would be easy to find and she was. I wrote her an e-mail and she responded. She suggested I contact her brother-in-law, Len Metcalfe, and his wife Dushka.

I called Len in late February and we talked a bit. We made tentative plans to connect in the near future. As my biological mother’s health deteriorated, I contacted both of my sisters to encourage them to come out to be present for her death, but only Miriam came. Since she was only going to be in Vancouver for a week, I suggested we contact Len and visit him. As he was the first cousin of our mother, we are first cousins once removed.

Miriam and I went to Richmond on Friday, April 26. We learned a lot about the Evans family, including more information about their wealth. He showed us a photo of the house that his grandfather — our great-grandfather — built at 15th and Hemlock, just across the street from General McRae’s mansion, Hycroft. We learned that the Evans children played with the McRae children.

3052 Hemlock Street, Vancouver

3052 Hemlock Street, Vancouver

Later that evening I received a phone call to let me know that our biological mother, Betty (nee Evans) Fleming, had died.
 

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All Souls at Mountain View Cemetery

Posted by on Oct 28 2013 | Events, Family History

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Richard & Elizabeth Evans family, Vancouver, ca 1910

On Saturday evening, October 26, there was a special event at Mountain View Cemetery, “All Souls”, the 9th Annual Night for Honouring the Dead. Shortly after 6:00 pm, there was an aboriginal chant, then the lighting of a Swedish fire, an interesting log that burns from the inside.

In the Celebration Hall they were serving tea and had materials for making memorial candles. I brought photocopies of photos with me and we used them to decorate the candle holders.

Then we walked over to the four side by side plots where the majority of my ancestors are buried, in the section called OLD. All the above in the photo are there, except for Anne and Will. In addition, two of the Evans children were buried as infants in 1899 and 1901. My biological mother Elizabeth (Evans) Fleming (1925-2013) was buried there this past April, and her sister Barbara Evans (1927-2005) had her ashes interred at the same time.

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Mountain View OLD/3/02/021/0013 to 0016

My great-aunt Anne (1898-1999) was buried with her husband Bill Metcalfe in ABRAY. Coincidentally, they are in the same row, about 10 metres from where my adoptive mother Maureen (Evans) Sweeney (1933-2010) is buried with her mother Laura (MacDonald) Evans.

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ABRAY /*/15/*/0592

 

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My maternal grandfather

Posted by on Oct 16 2013 | Family History

Evans 19432 pic

My grandfather, Charles Edward Evans, was the father of both of my mothers who were sisters. As I grew up, my parents always told me that I was ‘adopted’ and I didn’t learn who my biological parents were until after my grandfather died. I was 12 years old.

After mom died, I found a photo of him among her pictures. I had known about him being a pilot in the First World War.

Charles Edward Evans, Royal Flying Corps, WWI

Charles Edward Evans, Royal Flying Corps, WWI

I have since found a cousin of my mom’s, Len Metcalfe, making him my first-cousin once-removed. I’ve been meaning to write about that visit for some time and will soon. He was close to my grandather (his uncle) and told me some things about him that I liked.

For now, I’ll just say that one of Charlie’s wartime friends, Bill Metcalfe, came to Vancouver after the war and married his sister, Anne.

After my biological mother Betty died this past April, my sister came to visit from New York. She and I decided that we would like to have everyone who descended from Charles to be commemorated at Mountain View Cemetery in the Evans plot. My sister has a gift for words and created the epitaph.

I wanted him to be remembered with his full name.

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My first clear sign of multiple sclerosis — September 2005

Posted by on Sep 14 2013 | Family History, MS

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In 2005, my father (adoptive) was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. By that time, it had metastasized to his bones. I believe it was in July that he could not get out of bed and he never did again. He was admitted to UBC hospital and he was waiting for a bed in hospice. There was a lot to do as the family was arranging care for my dad.

On the morning of September 1, I noticed that the left side of my face was numb. Over the next couple of weeks, dad got worse — and the numbness persisted. So, I did manage to go to see my GP because I wanted a neurology referral. I was concerned about the possibility of MS because I knew that the onset could be as subtle as that facial numbness. The referral went through and the focus returned to dad. We visited and had our chance to say our final words.

At about 3:00 am on September 19 I woke up — it was unusual to wake up as I didn’t have to go the bathroom. When the phone rang at 7:00, I said to my husband that it was because my dad had died. I picked up the phone. It was UBC hospital calling to give me the news that he died at 2:55 am. I called my mom to let her know. Coincidentally, she had woken up at about 3:00 as well.

The family worked together to organize the funeral and it was held on September 23, 2005. I worked with a talented friend who made up a gorgeous funeral card for him with photos and pictures I scanned for her. At his bedside was a beautiful card my cousin Erin made for him, so we incorporated that into the design. I wrote the text in an inspired moment with fond memories of his good nature.

jacksweeneyfinal-page-003jacksweeneyfinal-page-002

The day after his funeral, the numbness went away.

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