Friday, November 6, 2015

Phase Two: Life is Messy

Michael Dean Lacopo and Dean William Lacopo, Jr.
South Bend, Indiana, 1998

On the evening of 04 October 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, my father put a 9mm handgun to his left temple and pulled the trigger. The intended result was not instantaneous. The short and speedy path of the bullet fractured the base of his skull and exited his upper right eyelid, sparing any structures that would have caused his immediate demise. He was still breathing when emergency personnel arrived.

He died shortly after his hospital arrival. He was 69 years old.

I was informed of his death the following afternoon by his half-sister who heard it from his sister who heard it from his brother who heard it from his wife. None of his three sons were directly notified; apparently this was not a priority. It is not entirely surprising. None of his three sons had a functional relationship with the man.

Dean William Lacopo, Jr., was born in South Bend, Indiana, on 25 February 1946, to an alcoholic father, and a mother who would abandon him and his siblings just three years later. While his father worked as a shoe repairer between drinking binges, Dino (as everyone but my mother called him) and his siblings were largely raised by his paternal grandparents. Three generations of Lacopos lived under one roof in the small house at 727 North Eddy Street in South Bend. His grandfather, Domenico Salvatore "Dominick" Lacopo, was an Italian immigrant who taught his grandson the power of a strong work ethic. He regrettably also instilled into him the Italian machismo that involved keeping a woman in her place while freely pursuing sexual conquests. Male superiority was a common theme to my father, forever expressing his prowess at producing three male heirs, while berating his youngest son for only siring daughters.

Briefly, these are the circumstances surrounding my father's upbringing. He mimicked all the negative traits and interpersonal skills learned from his parents and grandparents and brought them into his adult relationships with others. 

As a high school student, Dean was repeatedly expelled from South Bend schools for his aggressive behavior -- a trait that was magnified exponentially when he drank, which was often and continual. He moved in with his father's sister in Mishawaka in 1964 so that he could attend Penn High School in that city. 

It was here that Dean met my mother, Carol Sue DePrato. She was the good Catholic girl who had been adopted and spoiled by the parents who could have no children of their own. He was the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The attraction was obvious, plucked from every clich├ęd good-girl-bad-boy B-movie plot line. 

When Dean quit high school to join the Marines, he left Carol behind. She took up with her previous boyfriend who bored her, but who offered stability and took her to her High School Senior Prom. When Dean returned home for the holidays from Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in 1965, the attraction was still strong. Being a good Catholic girl, Carol resisted his persistent physical advances. He asked her to marry him. That worked wonders.

Two months later, Carol's disappointed father and morally-outraged mother promptly put their pregnant teenage daughter on a train to San Diego, California, where she met up with Dean, now stationed at Camp Pendleton, and they were hurriedly married on 25 February 1966. Their eldest son was born there seven months later.

My mother was not the only woman calling my father with shocking news. The girl he dated while stationed in Quantico had done so at nearly the exact time. She too was pregnant with his child. The girl born in Washington, D.C., just forty days before my brother's birth, was given up for adoption. This perpetual string of women and juggling relationships would continue until my father's death. At no time during his marriages would Dean adhere to monogamy, having numerous dalliances that a marriage certificate was powerless to prevent. But in 1966, having just turned twenty years old, he was suddenly saddled with a lonely bride living in cockroach-infested base housing caring for a newborn son far away from home. He was ill-prepared for the inconvenient burdens of fatherhood. Her options were limited, more so after discovering almost immediately that she was pregnant again by her already unfaithful husband. They returned to the South Bend area after my father's discharge from the Marines, where I was born nine months and four days after my brother.

The house I grew up in was located on the north side of Mishawaka, Indiana. It was a post-war prefab two-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch on a concrete slab. Purchased for $9,000 in 1967, we moved into it when I was just two months old. Shortly thereafter, my father gained employment with the Mishawaka Police Department. These two things would remain constant until I left home for college in 1985.

I have no positive memories of my father during this time. In the wake of his death, I tried to search my mind for them, but I came up empty. I know he was present at a handful of family events and holidays, but I know this only by looking at photographs. School events were largely attended by my mother and my maternal grandparents. I do not recall his attendance at any of them. For many years, my father worked the night shift, so his presence often was precluded by the need to report to work, or to sleep during the day. It was 1970s, an era of very hands-off parenting. The hovering and catering and nurturing techniques of child-rearing experienced later by the Millennials would have seemed ludicrous to my parents a generation prior.

But it is not my father's parenting techniques or work absences that causes my lack of memories. There are plenty of memories, just none of them are pleasant.

At the most benign, the smell of a man drunk on bourbon, mixed with the stench of cigarette smoke, immediately reminds me of my father and takes me back to my childhood.

At the worst, the memories include the time we had to throw out all of the toys we loved, because my father had come home drunk and urinated in our toy box, thinking it was the toilet. 

Or the time he came home after work with a strange man following in a pick up truck. Without notice to anyone in his family, he packed up the dog house from the back yard and gave this man my beloved dog, a Doberman named Caesar. Mother and children just cried in stunned disbelief. I was devastated.

Or the wrath that would ensue if you didn't clean your room when told. This would usually result in a fit of cursing anger followed by the furiously crazed dismantling and destruction of shelves, dressers, and closets; the breaking of toys, lamps, and knick-knacks, and the final statement "NOW you have a room to clean! Clean it!" You didn't dare cry at the destruction left in his wake. If you did, you were taken from the room to really be "given something to cry about."

And the beatings. The cursing. The fighting. The violence. The fear. The snapping of his belt when you knew he meant business, or the feel of it against your bare lower back or upper thighs that invariably came from bad aim meant for your buttocks. The level of my father's anger and drunkenness was usually measurable by whether the welts he left behind from his beatings bled or not.

I ran into an old neighbor from my childhood when I was in my 30s. He marveled at how successful I had become: a college graduate with a doctorate and working at a thriving veterinary practice. He just stared at me silently with a wistful teary-eyed smile. After an uncomfortable silence, I asked him what was wrong.

"Nobody in the neighborhood expected you to live through your childhood. Your father's alcohol-fueled temper was notorious. And he carried a gun for a living. We all waited for it to reach its eventual climax."

My father would beat my mother into unconsciousness, while we would usually run to the back yard or the neighbor's house shrieking in abject terror. This played out numerous times for the neighborhood to see, so it was no deep, dark family secret. My mother called the police once. They laughed at her. They were certainly not going to send out a squad car on one of their own. Sorry. Not our problem. Deal with it.

Like most police officers, my father supplemented his income by working security at other businesses. He started at First National Bank, then for many years at the local K-Mart, and then as head of security at University Park Mall - all in Mishawaka, Indiana. More than two decades have passed since his retirement from the Mishawaka Police Department, yet I still hear his name used as the illustration for "the bad cop." The cop that would confiscate drugs or other illegal goods from a perpetrator, then pocket them. The cop that would let a female prisoner go in exchange for sexual favors. The cop that once cut a prisoner's finger off by slamming a jail door onto it, then laughed when the man screamed and writhed in pain, all the while taunting him on the other side of the locked cell with his dismembered digit.

Still, when people hear my name and ask, "Are you Dino's son?" my response is never an immediate "Yes." It is usually a wary "Why?"

To my father, these were the things that defined a man: strength, power, violence, control, money, sex.

Once I reached an age of rationality and reasoning, I became well aware of the dysfunction around me. Unlike my father, I did not allow my childhood upbringing to define me and doom me to the repetition of the same faults and behaviors. I was all the things my father was not, and did not understand, and for that, I was spared most of the physical violence doled out upon my mother and brothers.

My father wanted three strapping, lady-killing, smooth-talking jocks for sons. By that measuring stick, I failed miserably. I was well-behaved and quiet. I rarely defied my father's authority, or that of my teachers or anyone who held power over me. I was a sickly child with a host of orthopedic, gastrointestinal, and ocular problems. I was not the jock my father wanted, but somehow health issues beyond my control gave me an excuse. It wasn't an entirely acceptable one, but it was futile to try to make me be something I physically could not. And I was smart and bookish. Somewhere this must have registered with my father as a positive trait, but again, it was unfamiliar territory.

So I was largely ignored.

When I started my genealogical research and made my first foray into the civil court records at the St. Joseph County Clerk's office, I was surprisingly shocked to see that my father filed for divorce in almost every year beginning in 1968. The court filing, moving out to shack up with the girlfriend du jour, and the moving back in once his fling lost its appeal, had finally taken its toll on my mother. Seventeen years into their marriage, she was done. She was determined  to make my father's divorce filing in June 1983 his last.

My father would show up at the house frequently after the divorce, asking my mother to remarry him. I think he missed the control more than the marriage. When she steadfastly refused his final offer, he angrily told her that she would be sorry. He married his second wife the following week as his revenge.

I left for college. There were no letters from my father. There were no cards or gifts at the holidays or my birthday.  He did not congratulate me when I made Dean's List. He did not attend my graduation from veterinary school. As I entered into adulthood, the father who terrorized my childhood became the father who just didn't care.

And as I write that, I am terribly saddened by it. There were many reasons for me to hate my father. I did not. I craved his approval, and I longed for his attention. These are things I would never get. His death means that they are no longer options.

For Christmas, 1979, my father bought all three of his sons sterling silver St. Christopher medals on long chains. I am sitting her with mine in front of me, encased in the blue velvet box in which it was presented. On the back is engraved, "Mike from Dad 12-25-79." My father never played a role in birthday or holiday gift buying, and I recall even my mother being perplexed by the purchasing and presenting of these gifts. I wore it continuously for years, and it is exposed and visible in my 8th grade school pictures, worn outside my faux-silk disco shirt. I meticulously preserved the medal and its casing, because it showed me that on some level my father loved me.

After my father retired from the Mishawaka Police Department, he took on a full-time position as a regional loss prevention and security manager for K-Mart stores. This required a move to New Mexico, and then to Colorado. His physical absence from the state made any meaningful attempt at connection nearly impossible. If I failed to call my father within what he deemed to be an appropriate amount of time, I could usually expect a drunken, profanity-laden message on my answering machine reminding me how undeserving I was to carry the surname Lacopo. The rants would usually last for several minutes.

It was seldom an incentive to call back.

And still, I waited for some moment of clarity or reflection when my father would grow up and realize that he needed to connect with the son he failed to raise. I recall one birthday afternoon sometime in the late 1990s when I was working as a veterinarian. I was paged by one of our receptionists:

"Your father is on Line 1."

I was shocked and ecstatic at the same time. My father really remembered my birthday? Maybe he really did care after all!

When I picked up the phone, there was no small talk, just a simple question.

"Hey, do you have Greg's number? I think today is his birthday."

Right day, wrong son. 

Crestfallen, I corrected him. He did not offer me any birthday wishes. He just apologized for the error and hung up.

For all the preaching I do about learning the stories of our ancestors and of our families, I failed to learn my father's story. I tried intermittently over the years to really talk to the man and understand him. As I learned more from other family members and through my research about his upbringing and the dysfunctional generations that preceded him, I had a better sense of how he was started down the path he had chosen. As I got older, I realized how terribly difficult it would be for me to have three children by the age of twenty-three, and how his selfish, narcissistic mentality would be most incompatible to raising them. I don't excuse the errors people choose to make, but at least I try to understand the origins of them. Somewhat.

I visited Colorado a couple times. Time with my father was not horrible, but it was not comfortable either. I always expected more. I got less. When he returned to Indiana for visits, he rarely stayed with his children, and more often he stayed with his stepdaughter. When he asked to stay with me in the summer of 2008, I was, again, overjoyed. While he had other options to choose from, he chose me. Maybe on the cusp of my 41st birthday, I would finally begin to have a relationship with my father... or at least some adult facsimile thereof.

As it turned out, he had arranged to stay with me, because he had also arranged to have an Indiana fling -- something you cannot do when you are staying with your wife's daughter. I was livid, equal parts at him, as to myself, for being a grown man still seeking his Daddy's approval. And for being so gullible to think he would supply it.

His defense? "It's okay. I cheated on your mother with her too."

Dean W. Lacopo, Jr.,  rarely did anything that did not directly benefit Dean W. Lacopo, Jr.

An occasional email or phone call followed in 2009, but after my computer account was hacked and phantom messages were repeatedly sent from to my entire address book selling Viagra and other such nonsense, it was met with this response from my father, ironically delivered on Father's Day, 2010.

"Michael, Take me off your email address book, I do not need the garbage you're sending to everyone. I fully understand you have no love for me, and trust me, I really don't care. You are a looser [sic]. You think you are so much better than everyone else, trust me you are not, so forget about me because I have forgot about you. Maybe if you ask, your mother might tell you who your real father is, because I know I'm not."

I quit trying after this email.

And then came DNA.

On 25 August 2013, I sent my father an email asking if he would be willing to spit in a tube for my genealogical research. It was met with as much venom as the 2010 email. His willingness to submit to a DNA test was based on a list of requirements I would have to meet before he would do so.

I declined the offer.

Several days later, my father contacted me and told me he was coming to Indiana. He would do my DNA test. He wanted to call a truce.

And still, the little boy in me basked in the tiniest ray of attention bestowed upon him by his father.

The last time I saw my father was on the day he spit into a 23andMe autosomal DNA test kit. He took me to brunch. We chatted about work, the weather, the house... safe topics. When he left, I again felt the same familiar pangs of sadness and emptiness that accompanied his visits. I didn't know my father, and he didn't know me. He said he wanted to take me to dinner before he returned to Colorado. He never called me back to arrange such a thing. He left without a word.

But while he was spitting in a tube, he spied a program I had lying on my desk from a recent "VIP FamilySearch Breakfast" I had attended in Fort Wayne, Indiana, during a national genealogical conference. He read my biography within, and he flipped through the remainder of the program.

"You're a VIP, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"So you're really good at this? People recognize this? That's impressive."

After 46 years, this is the most praise I had ever received from my father.

A haphazard exchange of emails occurred after that. I sent him a synopsis of his DNA results on 24 November 2013. I jokingly told him that, "like it or not, it does confirm you are my father."

His response on 28 November 2013:

"Thanks for the information, and yes, I'm happy you are my son. I love you."

As I write that, I am crying for the first time since my father's death. 

That was our last communication. I do not know why. He came back to Indiana a number of times, yet I only knew about it after he had come and gone. My father loved me in whatever way he was capable of loving a son, but paired with the "I love you" in the email were reports of him ridiculing his "faggot" of a son to others when it behooved him to play the macho card. Perhaps I should have accepted what little I received and been happy with it. Perhaps I wanted him to try harder. Perhaps I wanted him to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness for being a shitty husband and father. Perhaps I was just weary of being perpetually disappointed and feeling used when I did try harder. 

He didn't understand me, nor could I understand him.

The one thing we both recognized was that the singular, and most powerful, trait we held in common was our obstinacy and stubbornness. I failed to succumb to his charm and wit like so many others did, and I never hesitated to call him out on his bullshit. He did the same. When you place two identical poles of powerful magnets next to each other, they repel each other violently. Among a million other variables that I haven't the space to detail, I accept my share of blame in failing to truly know my father. Many time I was just trying to out-stubborn his stubbornness. 

Now I will never have that chance.

And it makes me terribly sad.

So why post this long, personal, soul-bearing assessment of my father's role in my life after his unexpected suicide? It has nothing at all to do with DNA or Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty or flooded office basements or tearful reunions of missing fathers and grandfathers.

Or does it?

So much has happened since my last blog post. Life has been challenging in 2015. The title of this post, and the content therein, is an indication of things to come. I call it "Phase Two," because it is no longer a story about DNA analysis and computation. It is no longer a genealogical journey.

It is a personal journey.

And much like the contents of this blog post, it is messy. It will be difficult to read. It will tickle you and make you smile. It will make you angry. It will make you cry. It may even disgust you to the point of no longer reading. But it is MY story, and I will tell it. For over a year you have read about the "dirty laundry" I have revealed about those in my past and in my research. In fairness, you get to hear some of mine.

And much like the story of my father, I can only tell this story from my own point of view. I can only tell the story of the things I know and how they affected me. I do not know what motivated my father. I do not know his joys, his loves, his regrets, his feelings, his thoughts, his reminisces. He never shared those with me. The story of the life of Dean W. Lacopo, Jr., told by his brother, or his ex-wife, his wife, or his nieces, or his coworkers, or his fellow police officers, would be markedly different from each other. Many would extoll his virtues. After all, it is not polite to speak ill of the dead, right? 

Everyone that comes into our lives knows only the smallest facet of who we are and what we think and what makes us tick. Likewise, we know only the tiniest fragment of the lives of those we encounter. Some of us are blessed with loved ones, spouses, family, or good friends who truly know us quite well. But can a spouse really know you as a parent? Can your best friend know you as a child? Can your parents fathom you as a romantic interest?


Our stories are complex and multifaceted, and they are uniquely our own. This is my story. Nobody will know it unless I write it. 

Likewise, I do not claim to know the story of Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, the man who surprisingly became my grandfather at the age of eighty-seven. When I found a living, breathing human being, rather than a name to enter onto my pedigree chart, the story was no longer genealogical. It became intensely personal.

This, then, will be my story; the story about the grandfather who helped me understand where I fit into this crazy, dysfunctional family.

This will be the story of Brighton Daugherty as I perceive it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Unforeseen Circumstances, i.e. Life

Some of you may already know that I have recently sustained significant damage to my home. A toilet was left to overflow for approximately eight hours before it was detected and the flow of water stopped. This happened in a first-floor bathroom. This is, of course, devastating enough news, but more so when you know that my well-equipped office and enviable library of several thousand books lies in the basement.

I had not planned for a water feature in my basement office... definitely not a roaring waterfall.

So much like my pleas for patience earlier this year while I tried to die from pneumonia, I have to beg for your mercy once again. My battle with the insurance company has just begun, and every piece of furniture in my home is serving as a book press to salvage what I can of my library. Damage to main level wood floors is significant; the basement ceilings are even worse. There are so many dehumidifiers going simultaneously in this house - some old, some borrowed, some newly purchased - that you would likely turn to dust if you entered my front door. I am perpetually thirsty.

If you have taken just one lesson from my blog, it is this: Life is Messy.

While I tend to insurance woes and home repairs, I am also learning a great deal more about the man that is Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, my grandfather. The man fascinates me in ways no other relative or ancestor has done before. His existence finally has allowed me to realize my place in my extended family. Traits and characteristics that set me apart from those who surrounded me in nearly five decades of life suddenly make sense because of finding this man.

There is an amazing story to tell. The tale I have spun thus far regarding my search for this man pales in comparison.

Indulge me with a little more patience, and I promise to take you places you have never thought possible when you started this journey with me. You will experience romance, adventure, intrigue, and awe. But you will also join me in some very, very dark places.

I will be back as quickly as I possibly can.

I promise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Brighton's New Family Revealed

Introduction are made...

On the 28th of October, 2014, Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty learned about a family he never knew existed. His family.

When is the "right time" to tell an 87-year-old man with health problems that he has a daughter he never knew existed? Waiting for it when nobody knew what it was supposed to look like was pointless. Even a man in the best condition might be a bit shocked with having a cigar thrust into his mouth as he approaches his ninth decade on this planet with the exclamation, "Congratulations! It's a girl!" 

Oh, and she's 67 years old.

Although Brighton had settled into his new life at the assisted living center on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado, he had moments where he bemoaned the end of his adventures and his avenues of new discovery. There is very little to stimulate one's sense of wonder when surrounded by a sea of walkers and regularly scheduled cafeteria food. Brighton was still quite mobile, but he relied on the support of his wheeled walker to maintain his balance. Even though this facility that was mow his new home was modern and well-maintained and decorated, the surrounding neighborhood had little to offer within walking distance. Adventure was in short supply.

So when handed a mysterious card and asked, "Would you like to go on a voyage of discovery?" he responded with excited wide-eyes and eager anticipation.

Within the card were four photos: Helen (Timmons) Miller when she was 29-years-old, the age at which their paths crossed; a high school graduation photo of his as-yet-unknown daughter Carol; a picture of me, his grandson; and finally a recent photo of my mother and me together. In addition to the photos was a printed biography of me from my genealogy website and a copy of his AncestryDNA connections page.

I have mentioned Brighton's dementia in previous blogs, especially as it became more problematic following his near-death experience from a previous surgery and the more recent prolonged recovery from his last surgery and hospitalizations. Dementia comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and costumes. So it is necessary to illustrate Brighton's state of mind when receiving this news. When a layperson hears "dementia," it can easily conjure up the image of a man in a persistent state of confusion, displaying erratic behavior, unable to function in society. This was far from Brighton's reality. Simply, Brighton's problems were primarily focused on the present-day: the here and the now. He was always quite cognizant of who he was and the identities of the people in his life. He was quite aware of the stories of his past and recognized them as the past. He had no delusions of people present who had long since died. He was capable of being incredibly charming, as well as being surly and unmanageable, in other words, he was his normal self. His present mental problems were primarily associated with grasping complex issues in the present and holding on to them within his short-term memory. He could remember a face or a person once he met them. That was not a problem. But if they were new, recalling immediately how they fit into the picture of his life was. Shaking up Brighton's world with a barrage of newness was like an electrical storm within his brain, and thus the worry of thrusting a complex relationship issue upon him while he was just growing accustomed to his new place of residence.

But as mentioned before, when is the "right time"?

Brighton was mentally walked step-by-step through the events that led up to this sunny autumn afternoon's adventure. He was reminded of the test he had taken through AncestryDNA the previous year (a test that comically miffed him when it showed he was a Daugherty with minimal Irish ethnicity). He was told that people with matching segments of DNA would contact his account occasionally to see if they were related, but recently there was a surprising contact from a "very close relative."

His eyes widened further.

With that, he was handed the photograph of eighteen-year-old Carol DePrato.

"This is your daughter."

Brighton's wide-eyed expression of surprise softened, and a smile appeared. He looked hard and long at the photo. His first response, "how pretty she is!" He continue to examine the photograph closely with his fingers, outlining the cheeks, the eyes, the chin line. He commented on the uncanny family resemblance, and marveled at her resemblance to his sister, Lillian, who was known as a beauty in her day.

He was shown a picture of me and introduced to the grandson that doggedly brought this all together. He bolted upright at the mention of my name. "Michael! I've always loved that name!" Brighton - the adventurer, the writer, the thinker, the artist, the philosopher - was intrigued with my travel, my profession, and my writing.

The topic was discussed giddily over a celebratory lunch. He was fascinated by the whole tale. He was, of course, intermittently confused. Digesting the fact that he had a baby born in 1946 while being shown photos of long-aged adults had to be sorted in his mind repeatedly. And the discussion of DNA was rehashed several times when he wondered aloud how any of this could be true. Brighton laughs at the modern-day vernacular of "OMG!" In his words, he was "over the moon!"

He returned to his room after lunch, mentally exhausted. As he reclined on his bed for a nap, he gazed at the new photos, all labeled with names and relationships: "Carol - Daughter," "Michael - Grandson."

But quickly on the heels of the joy and excitement of this new discovery came doubts and uncertainty.

"Why would they be interested in such an ordinary person?"

When reminded of how his life had followed a trajectory decidedly unordinary and how his joy for life made him remarkably special, he smiled in agreement. Still, he responded with a touch of melancholy, "they aren't going to find that person." Additionally, the man who seldom reflected upon his past with wistful nostalgia, matter-of-factly stated, "Why would I want to know them after nearly sixty-eight years of not knowing them? There is no value in it. And certainly no inheritance!"

In the emails and phone calls that preceded this day of revelation, I had begun to learn of the man who was my biological grandfather. A journey that began as a research challenge and a deep desire to resolve the academic dilemma of my unaccountable and useless DNA matches had rapidly become far more personal for me. The man I had found contributed nearly 30% of his DNA to my genetic being - more so than any other of my grandparents. I carry an exact copy of his genome on the entirety of my maternally-derived Chromosome 11 and Chromosome 19, both passed unchanged and uncombined from him, to my mother, and to me. My X-Chromosome given to me by my mother, and therefore a blend of the two X-Chromosomes given to her by Brighton and Helen, is nearly 80% Brighton.

More so than just the mathematic computations of my DNA profile, the man I had located finally gave ME a sense of belonging. For nearly five decades I have been surrounded by a family significantly flawed, but loved nonetheless. When asked about my brothers, my response typically is, "find the three most dissimilar people on this planet, and put them in the same room. That would be my two brothers and me." I had spent the better part of thirty-five years questioning relatives and researching my ancestry. And while I have extolled the importance of telling our family stories, I have always felt somewhat wedged into the wrong one; the singular puzzle piece that needs to be forced into place or that is off-colored and somehow not cut from the same die compared to its adjacent companions. I look little like my parents, and I have often been referred to as the "milkman's child." My behaviors, my thought patterns, my drive, my personality, my inquisitiveness, my sense of adventure have never jibed with my immediate family. I have listened and learned and empathized with the generations that preceded me, but I never saw myself in those that I tortured with my incessant queries. Perhaps my endless desire for anecdotes of past events and stories of those who came long before my living relatives reflected the search for my my own antecedents on a more personal level.

With the discovery of Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, I found the puzzle piece that I connected to seamlessly. I could see myself in this man. Descriptions of his behaviors, his attitudes, and his exploits read via email to my mother would evoke gasps of surprise from her, "that sounds like you, Michael!" Or "can't you see yourself in that description, Michael?"

So when Brighton expressed doubts toward the value of pursuing a relationship with his new family, he was reminded that we were not looking for anything tangibly extraordinary. We were looking for pieces of ourselves within him; and perhaps he might make a similar discovery.

Brighton seemed appeased by that answer... or at least it gave him fodder for contemplation. He awoke from his nap later that afternoon still laughing and disbelieving of the day's events, and he called friends to share the information.

But Brighton had spent his lifetime distancing himself from a family he deemed wholly dysfunctional, and had been forever running from the responsibilities of starting his own. There were still doubts he would presently embrace the concept of "family," as it was a concept decidedly foreign to him.

The next move was still undecided. For good or for bad, the flood gates had been opened. And much like an unrestrained flooding, the sudden rush of waters would unearth many secrets long buried. Like water rushing into places long drought-stricken, it would serve as cooling, massaging, nourishing sustenance, while simultaneously creating dangerous eddies and deceptively strong currents.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Ship Has Sailed

Brighton is brought on board for a new adventure.

October 17, 2014, marked the beginning of a dizzying number of back-and-forth emails resultant from the poorly defined, but significant, genetic connection between myself and Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty as indicated by AncestryDNA.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. 

While I was finally putting the pieces of my puzzle together, and coming tantalizing close to solving the mystery presented to me the previous February, Brighton's puzzle pieces were still scattered, missing, and not fitting together very nicely.

Bright had moved into an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, on the very same day I had made contact with the Donna, his friend and his staunch supporter for three decades, and as of late, his primary caregiver and watchdog. After a fourth surgery for spinal stenosis on 20 March 2014, Brighton had suffered through significant post-surgical dementia, hospitalization, seven weeks of rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility, and another repeat hospitalization. He had finally been moved into a beautiful, modern, well-equipped assisted living center on the western suburbs of Denver. While I spent most of 2014 chasing down his far-flung Daugherty relatives, he was fighting for his life. And winning.

Unfortunately, the hard-earned victory Brighton has finally achieved tasted bittersweet. He had gained the freedom to live independently after a grueling physical battle that his physicians and surgeons had deemed impossible. Brighton Daugherty's lust for life was evident. He has a large personality and a charming, yet commanding, presence. He had spent over eight decades repeatedly reinventing himself, not just in name, but as well as in deed. The path he had chosen to take was paved with passion, adventure, creativity, and wonder. This path was not neatly paved, nor was it dotted with street signs and traffic signals. Brighton's chosen way of living was burdened by very few rules.

Assisted living facilities have rules.

Additionally, since his earlier 2011 spinal stenosis surgery, and its subsequent respiratory arrest and near-death experience, Brighton had been the victim of worsening degrees of dementia. The brain injury resultant of this surgery marked a significant decline in his mental health, and it was hoped by his doctors that perhaps he would improve with familiarity and routine. Having recently been bounced from hospital to medical facility, his apartment condemned due to a black mold infestation, and his personal belongings confiscated for cleaning, the bulk of Brighton's 2014 was hardly the epitome of "familiarity and routine." Now that he was settled into a new facility and the bulk of his belongings finally delivered to him by the foot-dragging, legal-wrangling corporate entity that owned his apartment building, it was hoped that stability would be forthcoming.

But for Brighton, the transition was accompanied by confusion, agitation, and a dislike for the gnawing realization that he was being marginalized by society as a bothersome old man with mental and physical limitations. For a man who had sailed the Pacific Ocean in a boat of his own construction, an afternoon of Yahtzee with a bunch of "living dead people" was not his idea of an adventure. He was barely in residence for five days before the staff called his contacts frantically looking for him, as he had left the building without notifying anyone. He had returned safely later in the afternoon, but one of his visitors that night indicated that on that particular evening he was in a foul mood.

This was not an ideal time to reveal to him that he had a daughter in Indiana, and a grandson who had been doggedly pursuing his trail.

Truthfully, the week Brighton was struggling to adapt to his new situation, I was largely unaware that he was even the grandfather I had been so tenaciously seeking. With the combined AncestryDNA results indicating that Brighton and I were nebulously, yet closely, related, the working hypothesis was that Brighton's brother, Thomas Richard Daugherty, who had died seven years earlier, was my mother's father. Thomas was older and closer to my grandmother's age. He was not yet married, and was presumably living in South Bend, Indiana. His younger brother, then known as Jim Daugherty, was only nineteen years old and was thought to have been still at sea on the U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Regardless, Donna's love for Brighton  and her interest in genealogy compelled her to tell me all about my presumed new great-uncle and tidbits of information she had learned of the Daugherty family throughout her years of acquaintance with Brighton. The emails flew back and forth by the dozens. And today, when I look at the timeline of events, I am amazed at how quickly everything fell into place. When the events were actively unfolding, I was lecturing throughout Ohio, away from home, and the process seemed painfully and frustratingly slow. As quickly as I was being fed details, I was asking more questions.

Within twenty-four hours of initial contact, Brighton's raw data from AncestryDNA was uploaded to to solidly identify his relationship to me that AncestryDNA would not reveal. Four days later I was already purchasing a Y-DNA test kit from FamilyTreeDNA. My previous months of research had indicated that Brighton was the last male Daugherty of his line. His only brother had no sons, and even if Thomas Daugherty was my grandfather, my mother did not carry his Y-DNA. It died with him. Tom and Bright's father, Ira Daugherty (1886-1943), was the only one of three brothers to have children. His great-grandfather, John Henry Daugherty (1852-1939), was the only son to live to adulthood. So even before I knew which of the two Daugherty brothers was my grandfather, I knew that Brighton was the only living male descendant of Daniel Daugherty (1803-1880). Being on the cusp of revealing my grandfather's identity hadn't curbed my thirst for DNA. Without it, I would have never found him. Hell, without it, I would have still presumed Frank Strukel was my grandfather. But this marriage of my genealogical and scientific backgrounds is a potent drug. It will forever yield to me amazing gems of knowledge, clues for further research, as well as keep me woefully impoverished.

Thomas Richard Daugherty
South Bend Central High School, 1942

Since I had already been chasing Daugherty descendants, I knew a great deal about the family. I had located the high school graduation photo of Thomas Daugherty, and I gazed upon it trying to see the similarities between my mother and myself. I had already been prepared not to see a lot of resemblance between my mother and her father, as she seemed in some photos to be a carbon copy of her mother, Helen. Truthfully, I was hoping to find traits that skipped a generation and explained why I looked more like the mailman than my own parents. I regrettably did not see it in the face of Thomas Daugherty.

I had sent a copy of Tom's photo to Donna with several other charts and graphics and information about the Daugherty family. Brighton and his siblings were not close as adults. Their mother had died in 1980, and since that time the two younger boys and two older girls had settled in vastly different parts of the country. Tom and Jim were as different as two brothers could be, but of the whole lot of siblings, they still had a mutual love and respect for each other that was not seen between any of the others. Whereas Brighton had gone to visit his brother Tom in Florida, and they had sailed the Caribbean together, he had no present knowledge of his sisters, and was unaware if they were even still living. He presumed not. When he was shown pictures of the brother of his youth and photos of the old South Bend, Indiana, Central High School, Brighton was pleasantly surprised and talkative of his family and his past. This is something that Brighton rarely did. The past was the past, and he distanced himself from his family for a reason. This attitude was worrisome to me. With his intermittent confusion and often hostile dismissal of useless trivia and conversations about days gone by, what would he be willing to tell an unseen, unknown relative pestering him for information? Would attempting to dissect his family detail by detail be an exercise in futility? And would he even care to meet newcomers so late in his life? Would he embrace a new family, or wave it away as he had done the old?

This nagging worry was compounded with shock and joy when Brighton's DNA data was processed and available from on 22 October 2014. I would no longer be grilling a presumed great-uncle for disembodied memories of a dead brother or far-flung facts regarding the Daugherty family in general. I was now handed the possible opportunity to meet my grandfather. The endpoint to my journey was not just the academic knowledge of an appropriate family name to which to marry my DNA. It was now embodied by a fascinating, living, breathing, larger-than-life man battling with the demons of old age. My grandfather. I had to know everything about this man!

But still, Brighton knew nothing of the situation.

I was suddenly tasked with trying to figure out how a nineteen-year-old presumably at sea with the United States Navy met my twenty-nine-year old married grandmother and mother of three living in Elkhart, Indiana. And Donna was taking on the responsibility for determining the right time, the right place, and the right way to tell Brighton he had fathered a daughter sixty-eight years previously.

Reminiscing about the past after seeing Tom's 1942 photograph was a good sign. Perhaps it was time to test the waters. Stir the pot. There were now plenty of theoretical discussions swirling about regarding what may have transpired in the spring of 1946. Could Brighton possibly remember a woman who factored so briefly in his long life and distant past?

Two days after confirming Brighton as my grandfather, my mother's AncestryDNA results were posted. Her two closest matches were Brighton and me. We were both "Parent, Child - immediate family member." The connection was plain, and not just the "Close Family" that I had received with my results. On the same day, Brighton was shown a picture of Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller taken in 1946. He again looked upon the face of the woman who somehow, somewhere caught his eye that fateful spring long, long ago.
Before handed the photo of my grandmother, Brighton was prefaced with a vague statement that this photo had cropped up in some ancestry work for him, much like the photo he saw of his brother days before. His eyes lit up instantly, and he said, "she looks familiar!" When told that the photo was from 1946 and the woman in it was 29 years old, he responded immediately with, "Oh no, she is too young to be 29. She's more like 22!"

Could he really have a memory of one woman who played such a tiny role in his life? Or did she just possess the general traits of every other pretty girl of the postwar Midwest that caught his eye? Perhaps Helen's gap-toothed smile inherited by both her daughter and her grandson struck a chord of remembrance in Brighton's oft-confused mind. It was evident nonetheless that the awkward decade age difference between the two was probably not perceived by the then 19-year-old Jim Daugherty, much as it was recently dismissed by the 87-year-old Brighton. He did not push further regarding the woman's identity in the photo.

By October 26th, just four days after our DNA confirmation, the snowball rolling downhill was gaining too much momentum and becoming far too large and cumbersome. It was a secret that could not be contained for much longer. A good portion of Brighton's belongings had finally been returned from his previous apartment, and he was able to surround himself with items he had not seen in nearly a year. Although there were still days of impatience and confusion, he was learning to accept the comforts  along with the inconveniences of his new home. It was decided that Brighton should be told immediately about his new family. On the first day that he was largely his charming, witty self without too much confusion, he would be told. But it had to be on a day that the friends who already knew of the impending reveal could be available to help him absorb the information. If left alone immediately after receiving such mind-blowing news, his confusion might be intensified. All that could be done now was to wait for such an opportunity.

On the same day, I had emailed Donna many photos of my mother from her infancy to the present, with many photos of myself as well. I had already been sent a few photos of Brighton, but there was not a good sense of his features over the span of his lifetime. I could not really see a strong family resemblance, but I could not discount it either. Perhaps if he saw pictures of his daughter and grandson, he might see familial features I was unable to perceive.

On October 28th, Donna took several printed photographs and enclosed them in the greeting card illustrated at the beginning of this blog. Each photo was labeled plainly with a black Sharpee. Brighton could refer to them when he was alone, and he could absorb the identities of his new family. The card, with its nautical theme and subtle Asian artistic influences, perfectly embodied the things Brighton loved. Beyond all other things, Brighton loved a good story, both hearing them and telling them. His lifetime adventures had been the source of many, and to Brighton, living in an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, signaled the end of his exploits.

The card and its booty were tucked away for Donna's Tuesday visit. She was ready to tell him about a daughter he never knew existed. If he was surly and stubborn, or confused and disoriented, Tuesday was not going to be the day. But she could now keep the information at her fingertips, ready for the perfect moment to surprise Brighton with a new adventure. A new story. A new beginning.

At 7:41 p.m. that evening, I received an email.

"The Ship Has Sailed."

Friday, March 6, 2015


Harold Teen, long-running comic strip from 1919 to 1959

Harold Daugherty was not the only boy growing up in America in the 1930s and 1940s with that particular moniker. In 1927, Harold was the fourteenth most popular name for boys. Although it never broke the Top Ten list, it remained one of the top twenty names given to boys from 1899 to 1935. So Brighton's dislike for his given name was certainly not borne out of the misfortune of carrying something unique and bizarre and embarrassing, like Hercules or Hezekiah. It was just Harold.

But the name Harold just didn't suit the young man. He had no other nicknames as a boy that I am aware of, and his mother adored the name she had bestowed upon her baby and favorite child. But it was also name she also used to torment him.

"Harold! H-A-R-O-L-D!!! Harold Snodgrass, get in this house right now!"

Interestingly, I find no reference to a Harold Snodgrass in fiction, radio, or popular culture. Perhaps it was just a ludicrous pairing of names that elicited the mental image of a frumpy old man or a nerdy awkward boy that caused Brighton's mother to giggle with glee when she employed this means of addressing her son, while at the same time causing him to wince, red-faced from embarrassment. Even in the modern world, the combination is used arbitrarily as a source of derision. In an article entitled "The Art of the Pseudonym," from Shelf Actualization, the authors discuss creating a new identity. "Make it cool. It's a pen name, for crying out loud. It's your one chance to throw off the chains of being Harold Snodgrass and become Alistair Gilchrist, Emory Stanton, Thibadeaux Sykes or Jewett McFadden." Harold Daugherty would become quite adept at reinvention, his change of name being just one of the forms it would inhabit.

Harold Daugherty was no Harold Snodgrass, but he wasn't a hip or popular Harry or Hal either. Regrettably, one seldom bestows upon themselves a nickname as a child that sticks. If your mother calls you Harold, your siblings call you Harold, your teachers call you Harold, the world calls you Harold. Whether you like it or not. Harold did not like it.

But as Harold became a teenager and his persona became one of his own making, his dislike for his name intensified. 

"Harold Teen" was an immensely popular comic strip in the United States. Debuting in the Chicago Tribune in 1919, it was the only comic of its time to feature an adolescent main character. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Harold Teen spoke the lingo of the teenagers of his day, coining such slang terms and expressions as "paintywaist," "Yowsah!" and "Fan mah brow!" Harold Teen became a pop cultural phenomenon, spawning movie versions of the comic strip character in 1928 and 1934, and a Chicago-based radio show in 1941.

But as Harold Teen's creator, Carl Ed, aged, his connection to the teens of the 1940s grew more distant. And although the character Harold Teen joined the Navy during the war years, the popularity of the comic waned, and the main character was considered an irrelevant joke for pre-War youth.

When Kate Daugherty moved into a new rental house in South Bend in 1943, all of her children but the youngest had finished school. Harold Daugherty left South Bend Central High School and entered into Washington High School. The school was filled with teenage children of the predominantly working-class Polish west side communities, and a fresh-faced Irish-sounding interloper was a perfect target for testosterone-laden bullies. The boys treated the artistic, fashion-forward Harold Daugherty roughly. He hated it.

And they taunted him with "Harold Teen" Daugherty, a mocking parody of what a teenager was supposed to be.

Harold Daugherty had a middle name, although his birth certificate does not state it. His brother, and his two sisters all had middle names, but none of their birth certificates reveal more than a single first name. Brighton insists that upon his confirmation into the church he was allowed to choose his own middle name. Although choosing a confirmation name is a custom practiced largely in the Roman Catholic Church in this country, the Daughertys went to a Methodist Episcopal Church. There appears to be a custom amongst the African Methodist Episcopal Church where confirmands choose a new name, but it is rarely seen in the modern Methodist or Anglican denominations. But Brighton insists that he chose his own name, although the age at which he did so varies upon the time he tells the story, and to whom he tells it.

I was to find out that Brighton is a master story teller. Sometimes the story is factual. Sometimes the story is based on fact. And sometimes the story is just that: a story, a fanciful tale of daring-do and whimsy. Brighton just happens to be the main character in all of the above.

The middle name that Harold was given by his parents, or perhaps the middle name he chose for himself, was James.

Harold James Daugherty.

The first reinvention of the man occurred when he left Harold Daugherty to his tormented childhood. When Harold quit high school at the age of seventeen to join the United States Navy, he became James "Jim" Daugherty. 

Jim Daugherty was the man who returned home from the Navy in 1946 and met my grandmother, Helen Marie Miller, for at least one very fateful encounter. Jim Daugherty was the young man of the 1950s whose travels and adventures you will learn about at another time.

But the grandfather I had found after my DNA-laden journey was a man named Brighton Daugherty, and it was actually well over a dozen emails into my flurry of correspondence with Donna that I thought to ask, "Where did Brighton come from?"

The response I got harkened back to his days in Hawaii. In 1963, while living in Lahaina, the villagers of this sleepy but historic town learned to love the haole newcomer, and they called the six-foot Jim Daugherty, "Beeg Jeem," or "Kimo," the Hawaiian form of James. It was not until Jim built his own 40-foot trimaran in 1969, that the other sailors and harbor locals knew him by his yellow-and-white boat propelled by the sail he had made embellished with a giant, bright orange sun. His early morning habits and his conspicuous and oft-sighted boat gained him the nickname "Bright Morning Sun." And so, Bright - or Brighton - was born, and the name became his unofficial designation from that time forward, appearing on all forms of identification and legal papers.

Clever little story, isn't it?

Did I tell you my grandfather was a story teller? Let him tell you how he got the name Brighton.

Wait... spotted doing naked yoga in the early morning hours by an innocent young child? What does this have to do with a big sun on a sail? The only similarity between the two version of the origin of his nickname lies in the phrase "bright morning sun."

In the past, when confronted with such disparate versions of the beginnings of his life as Brighton, he has chuckled, and with his charming smile, innocently asked, "Oh, is that the version I told them?"

Yes, Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, loves to tell a story.

This writer has been an advocate of seeking the truth long before the players in this drama had been identified. But who is qualified to assess what the "truth" really is? And is one person's truth a fallacy to someone else? As time passes and memories fade, what survives? The truth in its bare-bones form? Or a greatly embellished version of it?

What is the truth?

In 1992, Brighton's wife, Gay, relayed the following:

"Jim became Brighton during the late 60's and early 70's when there was a wonderful revolution in thinking and a shift in societies [sic] values triggered by the Viet Nam war. During that era our names were Bright & Gay Morningsun and our mailing address was ℅ The Seabreeze, Lahaina, Maui, Hi. We enjoyed the whimsy of the times."

Or as his niece told me, 
"...when Jim (his original name was Harold James Daugherty - but he HATED his name)... hooked up with Gay... they decided together to legally change his name. Since she was "Gay," he chose "Bright," or Brighton as the formal name."
Bright and Gay. How cute. Almost nauseatingly so.

But that makes for a terrible story.

I really needed to meet this man.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's in a Name?

Birth certificate of Harold Daugherty, 16 March 1927
Cook County, Illinois, Clerk's Office

While waiting for Brighton to settle into his new home, and for his mind to be fully able to grasp the enormity of the existence of an unknown daughter fathered nearly seven decades before, I had time to dig into the factual aspect of the life of my new grandfather. After all, that's what I do. I am a genealogist.

Genetic research as it applies to genealogy is a very young beast, appreciably barely two decades old. The ability to analyze the autosomal DNA of person and how it relates to others is a very new invention. The cost-effectiveness of doing so and the accessibility to the general public that came rapidly upon its heels is nothing short of phenomenal. When asked if I regret missing out on getting to know my grandfather had my grandmother expressed doubts when we met her in 1982, I respond that even had I known, I would have had no way of finding him until at least 2013 when science allowed me to do so. 

Equally so, the methodology of genealogical research has changed considerably since I first started reading microfilm searching for information on my long-dead ancestors in 1980. Although I had access to excellent research repositories, such as the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, even as a teenager, a lot of research involved waiting. Writing letters. Waiting. Requesting documents. Waiting. Connecting with distant cousins. Waiting. Asking distant libraries to locate obituaries. More waiting. I used to pound out letters in rapid succession on my mother's old manual typewriter daily. And every day the race to the mailbox was my singular, ecstatic, most-anticipated pleasure. I once wrote a letter to forty-four county clerks in the state of Missouri asking them to check for a deed of sale for an ancestor's land. I knew only from an Ohio guardianship that his children received money from this sale after his death, and that it involved "land in Missouri." Instead of writing to all 114 counties first (after all, I was a high school student - stamps cost money!), I split the state by the Missouri River and wrote to all the northernmost counties first.

I got nearly forty-four replies. Many clerks went out of their way just to send records regarding people of the same surname, even though I had not asked for such. One of the clerks found the document I was looking for. I was jubilant.

This was genealogical research in the 1980s.

Yeah, okay, so I wasn't like a lot of teenagers.

In the 2010s I could instantly scour the Internet on hundreds of websites extracting information about my grandfather and his family. In minutes I could have snippets of newspaper articles, vital records, abstracts, and further leads. And although Ira Daugherty and his estranged family had eluded me temporarily in my DNA search (see Hoosier Daddy?: Bad, Bad, Bad Genealogist), I was rapidly making up for lost time learning about his wife and four children - the youngest being my presently clueless grandfather. I could amass hordes of data in one night on the computer that would have taken me months of letter-writing in the past.

Since my grandfather was older than the seventy-five years required by the state of Illinois for maintaining the privacy of his birth record, I was able to procure his certificate of birth in minutes through the Cook County Clerk's web site. It was a thrill to see a copy of the actual document that officially announced my grandfather's entrance into this world. It made the man real. It cemented him into my family tree. His connection to me was confirmed scientifically; hopefully soon mentally, physically, and emotionally; but now officially and clerically. All of these things are so separate, yet so deeply intertwined. The documents have more meaning when accompanied with stories and remembrances. The people who tell them have an almost eerie tangible connection when you can pinpoint precisely on what chromosome tiny parts of them reside within every cell of your very being.

Harold Daugherty was born at 10:05 p.m.. the night of 16 March 1927, the fourth child of Ira Daugherty, engineer, and Katherine "Fries," housewife. He was born at 3432 North Paulina Street in Chicago, Illinois. His mother was attended by a midwife, Mrs. Emilie Stryker; the same woman who attended her upon the birth of her son Thomas four years earlier.

The home at the North Paulina address no longer stands. It is now an empty lot immediately north of the Sine Qua Non Salon, housed in a wedge-shape brick building that fills the sharp thirty-degree intersection Paulina makes to the immediate south with North Lincoln Avenue. Lincoln then immediately intersects with West Roscoe Street in this very busy Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. Just steps away from where baby Harold was born, the "L" rumbled overhead in 1927 as it still does today. Those catching the Brown Line at the Paulina Street Station are close enough to toss their emptied Starbucks cup upon the place of my grandfather's birth moments before catching the train.

Despite the traffic, the bustling businesses to the immediate south, and the trains overhead, 3432 North Paulina Street would have marked the first residential home on the west side of the street, in line with several tidy two-story, multi-family homes extending to the north. The imposing architecture of Alexander Hamilton Elementary School and St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church were merely a block away northward along the tree-line streets away from the traffic and noise.

It is unlikely that Ira and Katherine strolled this neighborhood with their newborn son, living immediately upon the dividing line between urban bustle and neighborhood calm. The Paulina Street address was likely one of several addresses inhabited by the Daugherty family. They were living elsewhere less than three years previously when their son, Thomas, was born; and they were living at another address when the census taker knocked on their door in 1930. Not a single city directory for the city of Chicago bears the name of Ira Daugherty, likely because he was equally as mobile as his restless siblings in Michigan. And likely because he preferred staying one step ahead of his many scams. This address may have been merely a stopping place for an unhappy pregnant mother to have another child.

One thing is clear by the document depicted at the beginning of this blog. My grandfather was born Harold Daugherty. Not Harold James Daugherty. Not Brighton Daugherty. Not even the Brighton H. J. Daugherty conglomeration he used briefly in the mid-1980s.

He was simply Harold.

Brighton stated later that his mother insisted on strong, regal British names for her sons. From the Old English Hereweald derived from the words for "army" and "power, leader, ruler," and a name carried by two kings of England, she chose quite wisely. And Katherine expected her sons to live up to the greatness implied by their names as well.

It seems perversely odd that Katherine (Tries) Daugherty would insist upon such Anglophilic names for her sons. After all, she was the daughter of German immigrants, both arriving upon the chaotic streets of Chicago less that a decade before her birth. Even Ira Daugherty himself, sporting a very Irish moniker, was the son of a German mother. His maternal grandfather whom he played with as a child had come to this country in 1851 from the Prussian province of Brandenburg sporting the unmistakably German name Friedrich Wilhelm Jonas.

Katherine spoke German easily with her parents, and Brighton recalls German folk songs his mother sang to him as a child. But unlike the isolated German enclaves of smaller cities or the rural Midwest, Brighton's mother grew up in the city of Chicago surrounded by neighbors of diverse European backgrounds. Her education would have been in the public schools with an Anglocentric basis, and she would have entered young womanhood when the nation was gripped with an almost paranoid anti-German fervor as the country entered into World War I. She was likely relieved to quietly tuck away her German heritage and identity as the former Katherine Tries, and experience the security in her married identity of Kate Daugherty. Her immediate family was no different. Kate's Rhenish Catholic father married her Pomeranian Protestant mother the year before her birth in 1892, having two illegitimate children together in the six-year span before her. There were few family ties in Chicago other than her mother's sister. As a consequence, her parents held no special social, fraternal, or religious ties to their German heritage once they arrived in this country. They were Americans, and they went about assimilating as such, like so many European immigrants before and after them. Katherine's siblings, the remaining Tries children, all of immediate German parentage, took spouses of English, Irish, Norwegian, and Greek birth or backgrounds. None of them married a German.

So upon Kate's insistence, and likely to Ira's indifference, their youngest son was called Harold. It was a name that she adored.

And it was one that he hated.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It Takes Two

Brighton Daugherty, 2005, Denver, Colorado
© Jeff Ball Photography, used with permission

At 87 years old, Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty had lived a life only few people could dream of living. 

I had never expected to find a living grandfather. That alone was a shocking surprise I was still trying to fully process and wrap my head around. It was actually possible that I could meet the man who had been the focus of my intense search for all these past months. Hours and hours of sifting through DNA results and begging for genetic material from strangers had paid off. Big time. This kind of story-book ending was nearly incomprehensible.

To understand the significance of these results, let me put a few things in perspective.

I am the genealogist who started researching as a pre-teen, and whose father was unable to spell his own mother's maiden name, and who further told me she was born on September 31st. Think about it.

I am the genealogist whose family discards photos, documents, memorabilia, and heirlooms because they are old and useless. Even decades into my research when my mother and her second husband managed a booth at an antique store, I had to rescue photos of the Dobyns and Hanks family that my mother tried to sell to the public as "Instant Ancestors"!

I am the genealogist who finally finds the document I have desperately needed for decades in Court Order Book 46, page 432 -- only to find that it is the only page that has been mysteriously torn from its bindings and has been missing for decades.

I am the genealogist that descends from impoverished ancestors whom nobody else is seeking. I have mastered the art of research because I have not had the luxury of "hooking up" to somebody else's family tree. Incidentally, I do consider this a good thing, but a factor nonetheless that has resulted in a lot of stubborn, dedicated, time-consuming, minutiae-sifting work.

Luck is rarely on my side.

So the grandfather I expected to find was dead. He was a native of Elkhart, Indiana, or vicinity. He had never moved away and had married as a young man. If he had ever left the confines of Indiana, it was for an exotic vacation to Disney World in Florida. He had worked doggedly at a local factory for over forty years, and he had two or three children who were now doing the same. Any local newspaper reporting of his lifetime accomplishments might be a mention at the birth or marriage of one of his children, perhaps a speeding ticket mentioned in the police blotter column, or an announcement of some time-related mile marker he had achieved in his marriage. He would have retired with little fanfare from a job he had learned to loathe years before, to then enjoy some mind-numbing pastime, like lawn care or watching NASCAR, until his horrible eating habits and lack of activity killed him. The number of cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon he had consumed over a lifetime might easily be well into five digits. His death warranted the obligatory public mention of his devotion to his job and family, and touted his allegiance to the Masons or to the Elks or to the Eagle or to the Kiwanis, even though he had not attended a meeting in over two decades. His online condolences from past neighbors and coworkers all indicated he was "nice."

This is what I had anticipated. And if I were lucky, I would be able to procure some photographs from living family members to see if I had any resemblance to my grandfather, as I have no striking resemblance to either of my parents. I would have a starting point to resume work on the quarter of my ancestry that had recently been nullified. My DNA matches would make sense once I had a correct name and a new paper trail for which to attach to them.

The grandfather I found was none of the things I anticipated. And through Donna, who had been the impetus for him to be tested through AncestryDNA and who was my intermediate connection to Brighton Daugherty, I was beginning to learn about his incredible life.

The identity of the man I had been seeking came to me on 22 October 2014. I knew. My mother knew. Donna knew.

Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty did not.

Donna had met Brighton in Hawaii in 1985 when she and her husband had moved there from their home in Denver, Colorado. Brighton's wife, Gay, had been their realtor when they bought their home in Kona, and they liked her immediately. Although energetic and welcoming in her personal presentation, and enthusiastic in pursuing a friendship with this newly-arrived couple to their tropical paradise home, Gay was conspicuously hesitant about revealing many details about her husband.

"My husband Bright is different."

Never ones to follow the rigidly prescribed paths of the social norm, Donna and her husband found this initial assessment to be far more tempting and interesting of an invitation than a warning of any kind. Days later, both couples met, and the evening was spent discovering similar interests, such as Asian aesthetics, shared favorite authors, and compatible philosophical mindsets.

The complete lack of discussion regarding football teams, sports scores, and feigned masculine bravado suited both men just fine. The couple became great friends.

Upon the death of Donna's husband in 1993, and Brighton's divorce in 1994, the two had become intimate confidants, living together in Hawaii for nine years thereafter. Donna returned to her home in Denver, Colorado. Brighton followed a short while later and they resumed a close friendship, which they have maintained for nearly three decades. Donna seemed to be a good sparring partner for a man with stubborn convictions, and the mutual respect between two strong-willed persons was apparently a good part of the glue that cemented the friendship together.

Donna was significantly younger than Brighton, and when his age brought with it the myriad health issues expected of it, she stepped in to help where she could. Brighton passed his seventies in rather vigorous good health, but he entered into his eighties as a broken aged man. As he said to me later, "one day I just woke up old." His care was becoming a full-time job, and Donna was the only one who had applied for the position.

Spinal stenosis diagnosed decades before resulted in a series of surgeries to stabilize Brighton's vertebrae and save the use of his hands, which were becoming progressively numb from years of dealing with his ailment. His third surgery in 2011 ended in unexpected post-operative seizures and complete respiratory failure.

He remained on life support for nearly two weeks, and it was generally thought that he would not recover.

I am learning that you never tell Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty what to do. It is very likely that he heard the news of his impending death in his unconscious state and decided to prove everyone wrong.

Brighton recovered, but he also had experienced a traumatic brain injury from his near death experience. His ability to process information, especially in the short term, was deeply affected. And despite the tragic consequences of his 2011 ordeal, a fourth surgery for spinal stenosis was again performed in March 2014 to preserve nerve function and decrease pain. His post-surgical delirium was profound, and he remained in a rehab facility for an additional two months. After finally returning to his own home, he was immediately bounced back to the hospital a week later with a mysterious respiratory ailment and other complications. The doctors were quick to assume a cardiac-related problem, but the culprit was found in his home during his hospitalization. A long-standing water leak from a drainage pipe under his apartment had resulted in the growth of black mold in the flooring, the walls, and on several belongings that had been subjected to the moist environment.

So while I was chasing down my mystery grandfather during the bulk of 2014, Brighton Daugherty was struggling to regain a semblance of a normal life. And as I looked for the whereabouts of this mystery man, Brighton Daugherty had no home to call his own. He was sent back to a rehabilitation facility in early summer, 2014, after his hospitalization.

After hours upon hours, and days upon days of struggling against bureaucratic red tape, Donna was finally able to arrange living quarters in an assisted living center in Lakewood, a community contiguous with Denver, Colorado, on its west side. Although not at all what Brighton considered an ideal situation, it allowed him certain amounts of freedom, but consistent health care he was now unable to provide for himself.

My initial contact with Donna via AncestryDNA coincided with his move into his new home.

The corporate owner of Brighton's previous apartment had deemed his living space uninhabitable due to the mold, but they were still in possession of almost all of his personal belongings. Bright had nothing resembling the comforts of home for the majority of 2014. He was often agitated and confused about his new move, and he was verbally unhappy with his prospective new life, marginalized from society and devoid of the adventures he craved. He abhorred the presence of rules he was expected to follow.

This was not a good time to spring upon him the news of a previously-unknown sixty-seven-year-old daughter living in Indiana.

Frustratingly, that would just have to wait.