April 22, 2018

Forgiveness and Secret Burdens

I don’t often surprise myself, but my willingness to be open and forthcoming about my DNA discovery has surprised me. Oh I’ve hesitated a time or two, when I feel my story is painting my mother in a poor light.

After all, it makes her look like a promiscuous woman who had a torrid affair and shamed my father, not to mention the child borne of that affair.

But it’s not like that at all. Not at all. My mother was a real hoot. She was adventurous, generous, kind, and forgiving. She was not without her issues, as we all are, but it can absolutely be said that she was a GOOD woman. A lovely person on many levels.

Mom was a very complex person. She was drop dead gorgeous and I suspect she often used her beauty to manipulate men.  I don’t believe she ever understood this about herself.  Later in life, she developed health issues that are often the result of bad habits like a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking.  She was always somewhere between being proud of the life she built and feeling disappointed about the life she didn’t live. I get that; I’ve experienced the same emotion.

Daddy wasn’t nearly as complicated as mom. He was a proud and simple man. All he ever wanted was a better life than the one he was born into on the wrong side of the tracks in Raleigh, NC. And he was willing to work hard for that better life. He was shining proof that hard work pays off. He is my hero in so many ways. I wish I was more like him, though maybe I’m more like him than I appreciate.  I sure hope so. I want to be the best of both parents – I want to live my life in a way that represents the very best they had to give.

I’ll never know the real story behind my mom’s relationship with my biological father. I do
know the two families were close and remained close long after my birth. My current theory is that daddy was sterile due to his war injuries. Mom and dad had been married 8 years when I was born and had no children after me. Perhaps Harry was a means to an end…the only way for them to have a child? Perhaps the relationship had nothing to do with torrid affairs and clandestine meetings in cheap motels. Maybe everyone knew the score.

I consider it both a blessing and a curse that there is no one left for me to ask. I’ll never really know the truth. There is some sense of loss in that, but there is also an understanding that being an adult is complicated. Life is complicated.


November 21, 2017

Adler Family of Tarboro, NC

Yes, it's been nearly a year since my last post!  In that time, I've kept busy with my genealogy projects such as my on-going but slow effort to learn more about analyzing my DNA results, attending conferences and workshops, visiting Tarboro - home of many of my Adler relatives, and dabbling in Family Tree Maker.

Oh, and the Wake County Genealogical Society. I'm President now and loving every single second of working with this wonderful organization.

But about those Adlers...I've made contact with more than a few cousins via DNA matches. That's been fun. And as mentioned above, I've visited Tarboro several times. What a precious little town!  It is the 9th oldest NC town and a huge chunk of downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I got to see the Adler Department Store, still standing but vacant.  There was a fire, but you can still see the staircase to the right and a check out stand to your left. Sadly, I was unable to get inside.

I learned a great deal about the Jewish families in the area and their contributions to the local community. Really fascinating stuff if you're a geek like me. My Adler family was very active in that community; I've found many references to them in books written about the Jewish communities in eastern North Carolina. It makes me proud. 

I even learned a few "little known" facts like that my brother Joel had a children's clothing department store named for him, "Joel's Department Store" in Tarboro in about 1950.

I've learned many, many other things but I'll save those for another day. My son is home for the holiday from Alaska and he has offered to spend his precious time home going with me back over to Tarboro today to get my grandfather's military DD214 from the Register of Deed's office. 

Oh and one more thing!  There are pictures of my uncle hanging in the Edgecombe County Veteran's Military Museum in Tarboro! I'm not sure who the Staff Sgt Max Adler is - any clues from Adler family members would be greatly appreciated! Such a wonderful surprise to see their smiling faces!

January 7, 2017

My Brother Joel

To say I was floored to discover that I had a brother would be an understatement. I've always been an only child, or so I thought, longing for a sibling. Little did I know.

Walter Joel ADLER (Joel) was born on 08 Aug 1943 in Edgecombe County North Carolina. He was the only child of Harry Adler and wife Doris Hurst Adler.

Joel attended school in Tarboro, NC and graduated from Tarboro High School in June, 1962. 

Joel at Tarboro High School in 1958
Joel at Tarboro High School in 1960
That fall, he joined the US Air Force on 12 September 1962. By that time, his parents had moved to Jacksonville, NC where they operated several businesses. Joel had stayed behind in Tarboro to complete high school. He intended to be a pilot, and was attached to the 3550th Pilot Training Wing based at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Sadly, his military career ended when he applied for a hardship discharge after serving 2 years and 2 months due to his parents failing health. While in the USAF, he served as an apprentice air policeman which would provide him with experience he would call on later in civilian life.  

Joel left military life in 1965 and moved to Miami, Florida to assist his parents in managing the apartment building where they lived. He married Mary Anne Brunson in Destin, Florida in October of 1968:

Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, 17 Oct 1968

Joel and Mary Anne had two beautiful children: Mikel and Joanne. 

Joel was a very accomplished man and very mindful of his community. He was a member of the Destin Volunteer Fire Department, a board member of the Fire District Association, former board member of Destin Water Users, captain of Destin Search and Recovery Team, a Red Cross instructor in first aid and CPR, and a deputy sheriff with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department. He was also an accomplished underwater photographer, an avid hunter and fisherman.

Sadly, Joel passed away on 04 June 1984 in Destin Florida. He is buried in the Destin Memorial Cemetery. I'm disappointed I did not get to know him as I'm told he was a real jokester at times! But even without knowing him I love and admire him as my brother.  

December 11, 2016

DNA and a Crisis of Faith

I was raised in a very conservative, very religious home.  As Christians, our lives literally revolved around the church. As my mother used to say to my father "we're at church any time the doors are open". And that was true. 

Both of my parents served as Deacons and Elders. My mother, at a time when it was unusual for a woman to serve in those positions in a church, was very proud when she was appointed an Elder. You'd have thought she'd been elected President.

Once I went away to college, I latched onto my freedom like I was drowning.  You can probably imagine the scene. Utter chaos.

Fast forward 35 years -  I've floated in and out of church, church-hopped, even explored other faiths. I've always been intrigued with faith, in general. It is fascinating to me. Most of my ancestors are Baptists down to their very core. My early ancestors were Quakers. What a beautiful way to live!  I've attended Catholic services and marveled at the tradition and beauty of the faith.  I understand the Muslim faith to be just that - a gentle, peace-loving faith.

I've read a great number of books about Judaism and am stunned by the persecution and resilience. I'm particularly drawn to art and museum exhibits around Judaism. Always have been. Now I know why.

Because my biological father was Jewish.

We're finally getting to the point of this conversation. I was raised Gentile but Jewish blood flows through me. I felt it but didn't know what to call it. It's kind of like looking for your glasses only to discover they are on top of your head. I have no plans to convert. But I am so drawn to the Jewish culture, I may adopt it in slivers. Is it wrong to use the culture as a buffet of traditions? Probably.

I'm wondering what others did when they discovered the greatly unknown flitted around their DNA - whether it's a faith, a culture, or just another geographic dot on the map. Did they embrace it or ignore it?

DNA testing. The gift that keeps on giving. 

October 29, 2016

Introducing Mr. Harry Adler

Adlers in North Carolina
I never thought I'd be writing this post. But here I am introducing my (biological) father. All these years, I thought I knew exactly who I am. But a DNA test proved me wrong. 

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Harry Adler. Harry was born 08 October 1911 in Kinston, NC to parents Phillip Adler and wife Hattie Foxman. He had 4 siblings: William, Ada, Rebecca, and Irvin. 

Harry was a 3rd generation American of eastern European descent. His grand parents immigrated from Russia/Poland and Germany in the late 1890s through Quebec and New York, settling in eastern North Carolina around 1910. The family was active in social circles and were one of only a handful of Jewish families in Lenoir and Edgecombe counties. 

Harry shows up on the 1920 and 1930 census in Lenoir County (Kinston), NC. When he was 22, he married Doris Temperance Hurst,daughter of Charles Morton Hurst Sr. and Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Beverly, on 25 Jul 1934 in Greensville County, Virginia. By 1935, Harry and his new wife were living in her hometown in Martin County, NC. 

Raleigh's News and Observer, 12 August 1934
By the mid-1950s, Harry and Doris were living in Raleigh, but a few years later they moved to Jacksonville, NC to see to various business interests there. They owned a department store (as did other family members in nearby counties). They also owned a dry cleaners, finance company, and other assorted businesses in Jacksonville, NC. Collectively, the Adler family owned retail stores all over North Carolina including Raleigh, Tarboro, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Jacksonville, and Kinston. They dealt in children's clothes, ladies clothes, slippers, shoes, jewelry, and other household goods.

Enter my mother, Gladys Allen Stancil. Mom was a very smart cookie and reinvented herself several times over her lifetime, but in the late 1950s, she was an experienced bookkeeper. She took a position working for the Adlers in Jacksonville in 1958. By spring 1959, she was pregnant with her first and only child...me. 

In the mid-1960s, Harry and Doris moved to south Florida where they owned/managed an apartment building.  They later moved to the Florida panhandle to be nearer their son, Joel, who had married and settled in the area. 

Harry passed away 12 February 1977 and is buried in Martin County, NC next to his wife Doris. 

Pensacola News-Journal, 13 Feb 1977

Robersonville Cemetery, Martin County, NC

October 12, 2016

Just to be perfectly clear...

In the days since DNA led me to discover my true biological father, I've experienced many different emotions. Mostly, I've just felt so sad that Carl Stancil wasn't my biological father.  In the larger scheme of life, it really doesn't matter who my bio father may be. What matters is who raised me to be the woman I am today. And that man was Carl Donald Stancil - the finest man I've ever known.

I've written a great deal about him on this blog. He was so proud to be an American, a Christian, and my father. He was kind, compassionate, loving, patient, and so very sweet. I wish I could hold his hand one more time. Just for a minute.

So while I'm off exploring my biological family, I'll never forget who raised me. I'm the luckiest girl on earth.

Carl Donald Stancil

October 9, 2016

Perseverance + serendipity = Success

I found my biological father. 

I feel both grateful and guilty – at the same time. Grateful to my friends who encouraged me to dig and helped me analyze data but guilty that I found him so quickly when others have searched for years.

Were it not for DNA testing, I would have never known my father was not my biological father. I would have been blissfully ignorant the rest of my life, chasing dead Stancil family members until the cows came home never knowing I was pouring my soul into finding people who not my blood relatives. Would that have been a terrible thing? Not really. However...

Were it not for DNA testing, I would have never found my biological father. I would have never known my own truth.

DNA testing can be a blessing and a curse. As they say, don't ask the question if you can't take the answer.

One day. On a whim. Because it was on sale. Because all my friends were doing it. Because I was curious about my ethnicity. Because I wanted to expand my research skills. Because I wanted to know more about my family. Because it seemed like innocent fun…I took a DNA test.

It changed everything.

It changed nothing.

How I found my biological father in 10 easy steps:

  1. First, tested with AncestryDNA. Results = 40% Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Whaaatttt? Not what I expected. Nah, not possible.  
  2. Next, tested with FamilyTreeDNA. Results = 43% Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Umm...there are no Jews in my ancestry. What’s going on here?  
  3. Then, tested with 23andMe. Results = 47.7% Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Uh Oh. Oh gosh. No. Could it be? Oh goodness.
  4.  The unthinkable hit me: one or both of my parents may not be a biological parent. Seriously?!? I stared at my results in disbelief. Went to that night bed dazed and confused. The obsession set in. 
  5. Attended DNA workshops, joined a DNA Special Interest Group, read DNA how-to books at night until I couldn’t hold my eyes open, bugged my knowledgeable friends endlessly. Saints they are, my friends. 
  6. Sent many many many emails to my matches; most total strangers. Got 1 or 2 responses.
  7. Discovered one 1st cousin match and one 2nd cousin match online. Focused on those.  Like a laser, I did.  
  8. Couldn’t make contact with either until I found the 2nd cousin’s address via a Google search (i.e. Internet Stalking).  Mailed him an old-fashioned letter. The kind you put in an envelope and drop in a metal box.    
  9. A week later, he called and gave me names to research.  The entire family were German and Russian Jews.  My 2nd cousin handed me the key to the truth. God bless him. 
  10. Created a family tree based on those names. Lo and behold…staring at the 1940 census for Lenoir County, NC…I knew I’d found my man. A family friend from my childhood. I knew him well. Apparently, so did my mother.

All the pieces fell into place. Certain things now make perfect sense. A fellow named Harry, for whom my mother worked in the late 1950s, a family friend (and his wife) we visited often even after they retired to Florida in the mid-1960s. 

I still have lots of questions and loads to process. But even if I never get those answers, I’ve answered the most important question of all. I feel more peaceful today that I have in the weeks since learning of my “situation”. I can breathe without strategizing the next step in my search.

I have always been very proud of the fact that my roots run deep in North Carolina. Thankfully, Harry continues that tradition; he was born and grew up one county over from mine. Whew. I coulda been half New Yorker or something. Close call!

Is closure in sight? Not really. Probably not ever. The upside is 1) I have an answer, 2) I have a new family to research, and 3) I understand my mother just a little bit better now. All good things.