click to view original photo

A Valuable Hidden Resource: Cancelled Check from 1957

This article is written to increase awareness of resources that may not appear valuable at a given time, but later prove to the only key to solving a genealogical question.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 862 (approx.)
Short URL:

Ever wondered if you had lost relatives or even other siblings out there? I always did, because I heard a story from my mother that my father had a one-time love affair with his secretary -- and my mother had the cancelled check to prove it. The check was dated from 1957 and was payment for the secretary's delivery of her baby.

It was after my father died that my mother me the story. For over 20 years, I wanted to find out if I truly had a half-sibling. The only proof she had was the cancelled check and my father's confession to her. My mother thought the baby was a girl, so I believed for many years that I had a half-sister. I only had the name of the woman the check was made out to. The address on the check was in Georgia, the same state where I was born; and I knew the baby was born somewhere near the same date as I was born.

I was in my twenties when I first became interested in genealogy and began looking for this mysterious woman. I made it a habit to check the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) periodically to see if she had passed away, estimating her age to be near that of my father. Finally, one day, I found her. She was the only person that matched the name with the approximate age and location that I knew. Armed with this death date, I went in person to the local library of a nearby town, and soon, nearly fell out of my chair! I found her obituary on microfiche from an archived newspaper. The obituary provided a wealth of information and listed a son as her only survivor.

Seeking further insight, I drove to the cemetery office to ask for the location of her gravesite. I thought that perhaps her tombstone may have a special epitaph that could tell me more about her. It did not, but the obituary had noted she was a devout Baptist and a secretary for many years! I knew I had my match! However, I was very surprised that I might be looking for a half-brother instead of a half-sister!

I looked in the white pages of the phone book for the surrounding communities and found several listings for the name. One by one, I began to call them. On the final try, as I told my story to the woman on the other end of the line, she put me on hold and called to her husband as he was going out the door. My heart thumped as I heard him come to the phone. I began to introduce myself. It was very difficult trying to express in positive terms our potential relationship, for I knew he might hang up on me. Fortunately, he listened to my entire story, and at age 45, this was his response. "My mother has passed on, but I always knew there was something she was not telling me."

He told me his mother was married for the first few years of his life, and he had been told that was his father; yet, he always "felt" something was missing in her story. He and his mother lived together alone until he went to college, and she never told him more. He said although he was very shocked to hear the story, it did not matter, that his mother was a Christian and that God had forgiven past mistakes. I asked him if he would be willing to meet my brothers and me, and he finally accepted, after some hesitation.

On a Saturday afternoon, my two brothers and I met our long-lost sibling at a shopping mall near his home. I'll never forget that the first thing I noticed in resemblance to my father were his hands. My father had large, masculine hands, and his were a perfect match! We had a cordial visit, but we could all see he was very nervous about striking up a relationship after all of these years, really with perfect strangers. He also explained that his two aunts, his mother's sisters, did not appreciate such a damaging story about their sister, and they encouraged him to not pursue it further. Respectfully, my brothers and I accepted his wish to remain anonymous. However, I told him if he ever changed his mind, we would be happy to accept him into our family.

Consequently, even though I found my half-sibling after 45 years, I was not to get to know him. It was very sad for me after waiting all of those years to find him and then to lose him, but I understood. In retrospect, I see this as a great example -- on the one hand because such an unusual clue can yield such great results, and on the other hand because it helps us see that sometimes the genealogy research we encounter will not always have a successful ending. You may find someone in your family who does not want to be found. I learned a valuable lesson, to respect and honor the wishes of our little-known relatives . . . and to let it go.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

<< GenWeekly

<< Helpful Articles