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."


  1. More more more, please. I read the page and scroll down by dragging the little bar on the right. Every time I touch that bar with my mouse and drag it down, I look at how much distance there is to the bottom. I want there to be more and more distance but it gets smaller and smaller. Soon there is no more. I am said. I now must wait again. But I look forward to the next installment. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I am very glad you were able to complete your quest. Your persistence paid off. Although you never got to verbalize your results with Brighton, you provided him with some distraction during his last days. This final sailing was out of your control.
    You are to be admired! Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Don't worry -- this isn't an announcement that Brighton had died. As it says at the top of this blog post, Michael's grandfather has been "brought on board for a new adventure." The "ship" that "sailed' was the ship-decorated card containing the revelation that he had a daughter and grandson, being given to him by Donna.

    2. Yes, the ship has sailed on to a new adventure! Brighton doesn't get off that easily!

    3. Thank you for clarifying that. That's the way I read it too & I was so upset for you! Now I'm just impatient again!

  3. That's it! You're not going to tell us what happened?! Can we expect the rest of the story tomorrow?
    Lori Harris

  4. Like Mary Roddy (above), I, too, keep track of that scroll bar and don't want it to end. So glad to get this next installment.

  5. Oh man, you are such a good story teller! I am always looking for more. I can't wait until the next installment.

  6. OMG, I am going to throttle you! This was a re-hash of old info & a teaser. TELL IT!!! I don't live too far from you. If you don't tell us the outcome soon, I swear I'm going to pay you a visit & choke the info out of you! (Just kidding, in case someone else is more frustrated than me & really does throttle you!)

  7. It must be an age thing--I, too, assumed that Brighton had sailed off into his own adventure with eternity, until I got to the end of the tale! So glad there is more to read very soon-PLEASE, PLEASE.

    1. Strange people are thinking Brighton died. Do they not read all the posts in this thread?

    2. I am so glad I made a mistake. You tricked us! And I am anxiously awaiting more of your tale!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Please - don't keep us waiting TOO long!

  9. I love the story... and the way the story is told! Anxious for more...

  10. Isn't about time for a new blog post??

  11. OK... NOW it really IS TIME FOR A NEW BLOG! 17 days and counting.......

  12. Michael is a master tease, but since I don't pay for this entertainment, which is fabulous, I can't really complain. Long lapses make me worry, however, that something has happened to Granddad. I am so invested in Michael's story that when this does happen someday, I will be grieving right along with him. Sigh.

  13. Hi Michael, did you receive the email and photos I sent you of Brighton and Gay when they were young? I know Brighton very well. Please tell him hello from me.

  14. I hope he's not sick again. It's been almost a month since the last post.