Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gail Henry Shares Her Success Story - I Identified My BioFather Through DNA Testing

My name is Gail Henry and I have an incredibly successful journey to share.

I've spent my entire life without my father, without a name, or even a clue to his identity. My mother refused to tell me anything. 

My journey began with an old notepad, I would make little notes of the things I heard or clues my aunts would give when I asked questions. My mother became pregnant with me in the spring of 1955. At the time she was living with her sister whose husband was stationed in El Paso, Texas.

Two and a half years ago I submitted my DNA through 23andMe. I also uploaded my DNA data to Gedmatch and FTDNAI was also able to get my mother to test. I knew her test would help me find my father; each time I would get a match, I would check her DNA match list to see if they matched her as well. If the match was unique to me, I would add them to my "Bio Dad" tree, built from the family trees of my matches. This tree was exclusive to my suspected paternal matches.  I have loved genealogy for years, and along my journey I have been able to talk to so many people and even help some.

On Father’s Day weekend I received a message from a new DNA match, Martha - she was looking to connect with family. I checked my match list and got quite a surprise! She was a 1st/2nd cousin! I quickly checked my Mom's list, and no match! I knew my day had finally come. I knew I was going to finally know. 

With the great help of my dear friend Bernadette Schneider Such, we spent two weeks pounding out a tree for Martha that went five generations back, including all siblings and their spouses. We knew we were close. However, I was still wandering around the tree trying to find anyone who was in Texas at that time. I felt overwhelmed and finally posted my story on the DNA Detectives Facebook page

I had such an overwhelming response from the members and then my angel Christa Stalcup stepped up to the plate! Oh my gosh she was amazing! She was a level head and lead me in the right direction. I narrowed Martha's family down to six on the Ward side and two on the Adcock side. I wrote notes on each one and started with Classmates looking at pictures, then I worked to find military records as I was still going off my assumption of being conceived on an El Paso military base. 

Through her research, Christa was able to tell me that someone on the Ward side would be my father. I was able to narrow it down to two possibilities, Gayle Ward (how ironic would that be to have my name be the same as my bio fathers name!) and his cousin Jerry Douglas Ward. I found all of Gayle’s pictures, but when I pulled Jerry Ward's pictures I almost fell on the floor. THERE WAS MY DAD. I knew him the second I saw his pictures. 

Gail's Biological Father, Jerry Ward

It was the most unbelievable feeling. To be 59 years old, so many years of wanting and needing to know, and there he was. Jerry Douglas Ward of Stillwater, Oklahoma was born in 1935 and served in the military May 21, 1954 through May 18, 1956. I never in my life dreamed I would be successful, but it finally happened with the direction Christa provided. 

Unfortunately, Jerry died in 2000, but he had two daughters; two sisters, now what?!? I waited a few days to calm down and try to think through what I wanted to do next. After a few days had passed, I decided I had waited so many years, I was just going to go for it and see what happens. I wrote a letter from the heart to Julie and Kari through Facebook messenger, paying the $1 to put it in their inbox. 

The response still makes me cry. My first response was from Kari who said, "welcome sister." Julie's message followed and said the same thing.  All I could think was, "Oh my gosh is this true!?! YES!"  They were equally stunned to see pictures of me, their older sister, with looks so similar to theirs. They were even more stunned to see my sons, their nephews, who look SO MUCH like their Dad. My Dad. OMG I have a dad! 

Gail's two sons

To finally confirm all of the research, my sisters tested their DNA with 23andMe as well, and just as expected, I'm Jerry Wards daughter! 

Gail's 23andMe results confirming she had found her paternal half-sisters, Julie and Kari

I went to Tulsa on September 23rd and met my sisters. It was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. The total acceptance by them, their beautiful mother Karen Sanders Ward and all of the cousins reminded me, IT WAS WORTH THE JOURNEY!!

How I wish I could have seen Jerry, or had the chance to speak to him, but I have two sisters and I love them already. My family is thrilled!  I haven't told my mother and I may not. I don't know that she is entitled to this victory, something that could have been avoided with simply telling the truth

For those still searching, DON'T STOP! It's worth the journey. If I can do it with no name and minimal matches for so long, anyone can. 

Kari, Gail and Julie