"Mother's Baby, Father's Maybe."
This is the unfortunate mantra that disturbingly lingers in the backs of the minds of every good genealogist. In the past, we had only the paper trail and the integrity and morality of our hopefully monogamous and faithful ancestors to ensure our genealogies were correct. Now in the 21st century, we have DNA analysis to force post-mortem confessions, but not necessarily answers, from our long-dead forebears.
As I have stated before... life is messy. And our ancestors, so staid and proper and stone-faced in those old family photographs crammed between the yellowing pages of old photo albums stored in the deep recesses of neglected closets, hot attics, and damp basements, were just as human as their descendants today.
One only has to turn on the television and scan the tabloid shows reveling in the scandalous stories of illegitimacy and poking fun at the game of "guess the father's identity." Just this week it was revealed that the remains of Richard III discovered in 2012 bear a different Y-DNA signature than the male descendants of that line living today. And since Y-DNA is passed relatively unchanged from father to son, it means that somewhere in the royal line before or after Richard III, the king's consort had visitors to her bedchambers that His Majesty would have vehemently objected to.
The existence of this blog is predicated on a random, and likely brief, dalliance that resulted in the life of my mother; and therefore in my own existence. Although her story has definitely had its own unique twists and turns, in a larger sense it is a story as old as the human race.
And such is the story of the niece of Russell Tom Hath that I met on the afternoon of 3 September 2014.
We agreed to meet at a small diner-style restaurant located within the Farmer's Market in South Bend, Indiana. I came prepared with a rolled-up scroll detailing the Daugherty family tree showing where this woman fit into the branches and where my mother might likely fit. I also had my computer ready, as well as the photo of my grandmother from 1946 that helped put a human face to my dilemma. And of course, I had a 23andMe autosomal DNA test kit wedged into my computer bag as well.
The woman I met was a slight woman just two years younger than my mother. Her movements were rapid and animated, and I wasn't entirely sure if she was agitated or excited about this odd meeting. She was dressed professionally and neatly, and her blond hair was very precisely and neatly coiffed. This was a bothersome detail amongst the remaining genetic candidates for my grandfather that gave me significant pause. Both the living Hath relatives and the Schrader relatives (at least those I could stalk on Facebook) were decidedly blond. My mother was as bald as a cue ball until well into her toddlerhood, and when her hair did finally come in, it certainly was most decidedly of a golden - almost platinum - hue. But it darkened rapidly with age, and the mother I remembered growing up had long, thick hair of dark brown. Were this lifelong blondes really her relations?
Russell Hath's niece reviewed my material and listened to me ramble with less enthusiasm than I had hoped, seeming alternately bored, confused, or bothered. She listened to me spout the terminology of the cousinhoods, and of half-cousinhoods, and of generations removed, and of Daugherty relatives long-since dead with what I perceived was a bit of mistrust. She finally confided in me that even after agreeing to meet, she wasn't entirely sure that this wasn't just a big scam. After all, I presented myself as a professional genealogist asking for DNA. She was expecting a sales pitch. I had never stopped to think that my painstakingly crafted Begging-For-DNA letter could be viewed as an advertisement. My reasoning for explaining my role as a genealogist and directing people to my website gave me transparency and credibility. I made a mental note to hone my previously perceived well-honed letter.
Sales pitch or not, Daughertys and Rieders and Haths be damned, she had one burning question that brought her to agree to a DNA test and to our meeting on that late-summer afternoon.
She wanted to know who her father was.
I knew my mother's identity crisis wasn't unique, but I was shocked at how many people I found along this journey asking the very same question. I had contacted a young man in his 20s from the 23andMe database who had a tiny match with my mother's presumed paternal DNA early in my search, only for him to reply he could not help me, as he took the test to find his parents. He was adopted as an infant. I couldn't help myself but to follow up with an email asking him what he did know. Surprisingly, his birth and adoption were local, and a relative in his adoptive family worked at the hospital in which he was born, and gave him the names of his biological parents years earlier. He told me that unfortunately nobody had ever been able to find them with this information.
How could I turn THAT challenge down?
After asking him for the names, and locating a legal surname change for his father, and a simple misspelling that had persistently thrown him off track on his mother's surname, I presented him with the names, addresses, and identities of his parents and two full siblings he never knew existed. He was dumfounded, shocked, and ecstatic.
Why couldn't it be that easy for me?
Or maybe it could be more like the story of the man who approached me with DNA questions who heard about my chosen profession at a social gathering. When his dear sweet frail grandmother was on her death bed, she gathered her three daughters together to tell them she had no idea who their fathers were. Perhaps it was the only husband and father they had ever known, but it was likely not. She calmly regaled her shocked daughters with stories of the Depression and the need to take in boarders to make ends meet. And when there is no extra money for frivolity and entertainment, and nobody is working, what else was there to do to pass the time?
You had sex. Lots of sex. With the boarders. With your spouse. Everybody consented. Nobody cared. And over the course of time, three girls were born. And with this jaw-dropping revelation, grandma promptly died.
"Mother's Baby, Father's Maybe."
But every story is unique and nuanced. And the story of Russell Hath's niece was no exception.
Mildred Hath was born in 1928 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the daughter of Frank Hath and Catherine Rieder, whom I discussed previously. Mildred was just a small child when her parents separated and her mother left Kalamazoo for South Bend, Indiana, in the company of Jack Dorn. Her teenage years and her entry into womanhood occurred after the family moved to Niles, Michigan, and on to Pine Street surrounded by her extended Daugherty relations. And it was in Niles, Michigan, that she met John Charles Reum, he having recently returned to his home town after spending over six years with the United States Navy.
Mildred Hath, twenty years old and three months pregnant, married John Charles Reum in Newport, Kentucky, on 12 February 1949. Why they traveled to the Kentucky town just across the Ohio River facing Cincinnati is unknown. Six months later, the woman presently seated before me in a bustling mid-afternoon farmer's market was born to John Charles and Mildred (Hath) Reum. But was she really his daughter?
Did I mention life is messy?
|John Charles Reum (1917-1951)|
John Charles Reum was born in Niles, Michigan, on 28 November 1917, and had enlisted into the United States Navy long before the United States had entered World War II. His military career began with his enlistment in Detroit on 21 June 1939 for a four-year stint in the armed forces. After briefly stationed on the U.S.S. Pyro (AE-1), he was formerly transferred to the U.S.S. Bernadou (DD-153) from the Philadelphia Receiving Station on 16 November 1939. Prior to this country's entry into the war, the Bernadou mostly escorted convoys working in Neutrality Patrols.
A little known fact regarding the second World War was that the British invaded and occupied Iceland in 1940. Although a neutral country with no defense force, the Kingdom of Iceland was still strongly tied to its mother country, Denmark, from whom it had gained independence in 1918. When Germany invaded Norway and Denmark in 1940, it was necessary for England to maintain control over Iceland and its strategic positioning in the defense of the British Isles. In July 1941, as more British forces were needed on the European continent, Great Britain passed responsibility of Iceland to the United States. John C. Reum was aboard the Bernadou as it made several trips back and forth from Newfoundland bringing Marines to the island country through the fall of 1942.
But this was wartime, and John Reum and the Bernadou were destined for more than just convoy duty. After leaving Norfolk, Virginia, on 25 October 1942, the ship participated in the invasion of North Africa the following month, which garnered the ship and crew a Presidential Unit Citation for landing assault troops inside the harbor of Safi, French Morocco. The Bernadou thereafter continued her convoy duties between the United States and Africa through 1942, and then later to ports in the Mediterranean in 1943, participating in the occupation of Sicily in July, and the landings in Salerno in September. While at sea in June 1943, John Charles Reum agreed to extend his enlistment by another two years, having achieved the rank of Chief Machinist's Mate.
Returning to the United States in December 1943, the Bernadou remained stationed on the east coast for the winter months. It was while in port in Portland, Maine, that John met twenty-one-year-old June Haley. The youngest of thirteen children from Rangley, Maine, June had moved to Portland to join two older sisters after her graduation from high school. The dashing young sailor and the enrapt girl in port had their whirlwind romance, and John Reum was back on the Bernadou and out to sea. Realizing she was pregnant, June and John married in a brief ceremony while he was in port in Boston, Massachusetts, on 12 April 1944. John resumed his duty on the Bernadou, and June returned to Portland, Maine. Their daughter, Judith Ann, was born in Portland seven months later.
John Charles Reum was transferred to the U.S.S. San Marcos (LSD-25) upon its commission in April 1945 and participated in the delivery of cargo boats in the Panama Canal, Pearl Harbor, Guam, and Okinawa. John was honorably discharged on 6 October 1945.
Waiting for John in Maine was a wife he hardly knew and a daughter soon to turn one year old. Perhaps he reconsidered his role as a husband and a father within a family in which he knew so little, or perhaps June was opposed to moving to Niles, Michigan, away from her large family in New England. After his discharge, John Reum did not reunite with his young family. He went home to Michigan, and his wife and daughter moved to June's childhood home of Rangley, Maine, to live with her sister Stella, where she took work as a bank teller. John Reum immediately filed for divorce in Niles, Michigan, in November 1945. Perhaps there was discussion of reconciliation, as the divorce proceeding were stalled, but they resumed shortly thereafter, with John and June formally divorcing in Cass County, Michigan, Circuit Court on 3 April 1946.
Less than three years later he was married to a pregnant Mildred Hath. Mildred gave birth to her daughter, the woman now willing to offer me her DNA to help solve my mother's mystery, in August 1949.
This newborn girl, in the eyes of the law, was the legal heir of John Charles Reum. But her mother, Mildred, had another story.
Apparently John Reum maintained contact with his first wife and daughter in Maine, and he visited them on the east coast and discussed a reconciliation. Perhaps it was this event that spurred Mildred to file for divorce from him just a year after they were married. Or perhaps, as Mildred told her daughter later, John Reum only married her because he felt sorry for her being young, single, and pregnant. After all, he had previous experience in bringing about this condition in young, single women, and perhaps his marriage to Mildred was borne out of guilt. But as told later by Mildred, the child's real father was interested in marrying her and raising their child together. And John Reum's guilt had forced him to reevaluate the fate of his first wife and daughter.
John Charles Reum and Mildred Hath Reum were formally divorced on 9 October 1950. At the same time, John's first wife June and daughter Judith arrived by train in Niles, Michigan, and moved in with John's family. John and June remarried on 19 May 1951 in Grand Haven, Michigan. Mildred Hath Reum took her baby girl and married the presumed father, Elvin C. "Al" Gropp, on 14 April 1951, in Walkerton, Indiana, with whom she would have two more children. The daughter born to Mildred during her marriage to John Reum in 1949 would never carry his surname.
Mildred (Hath) Reum Gropp would live to the age of seventy-nine, dying in 2008 surrounded by her three children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. John Charles Reum was not so lucky. He died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-three years, just eight days after his remarriage to his first wife June. She raised their daughter alone in Holland, Michigan, never remarrying.
So while awaiting lunch, as this smartly dressed woman excused herself to go to the bathroom and spit into a plastic DNA test kit specimen tube, I was one tiny step closer to obtaining some Daugherty DNA to finally identify my mother's father, and she was one giant step closer to determining if she was a Reum or a Gropp.
And this time it was not lost on either party to heed a valuable lesson I had learned late in the game. When you're considering Strukel or Miller, or Reum or Gropp, always remember there is a third option.
None of the above.