My earliest recollections are of being with lots of other young children in a play yard. Boys or girls, we were all dressed the same, in simple white cotton underwear. I remember the swings and slides, mostly white also, and white picket fences. I further remember visiting a man’s office. There were Cheez-its in a large glass jar on his desk, and I was offered some. He then introduced me to other adults in the room, and told me that these were my parents and I was going home with them. Sometime later, I remember my “mother” coaching me that we were going to see a judge, and that I was to tell him that I wanted to go home with my “mommy and daddy”.
It would be years later before I came to realize that I had been adopted out of an orphanage. These recollections are crystal-clear in my mind, but neither my mother nor father ever admitted that I was adopted before they died. In my late teens, I left home and became estranged from my adoptive parents. My determination to find my roots only increased with time.
Over the years I tried to get help through various agencies and individuals that supposedly “specialized” in locating family members, but without success. I signed up with Ancestry.Com and took the DNA test. Still nothing. I created a special page on my personal website titled “Who Am I?” in hopes that some stranger might recognize me and reach out. What if my real parents were still alive? What about brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins? Deep in my heart, I really wanted to know the truth before I die, and now I do.
After sowing my wild oats in Houston and New Orleans, I settled in Los Angeles. As with most young men I settled into marriage, kids, a mortgage and a career. Time passed, but I never lost the passion to discover my roots.
Years later, my oldest daughter (by three minutes) decided to register with Ancestry.Com. She also took the DNA test and methodically began an online family tree. I reminded her that I had registered with Ancestry years earlier without results. But I gave her my account information and told her to feel free to check it periodically for “hits”. Bridie must have been bitten by the Ancestry “bug” because she dove into her research with a vengeance. In early 2016, she discovered a “hit”, a potential 1st cousin match to me. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Could this be it? She reached out to the individual but there was no response. After several follow-up attempts, we gave up and Bridie returned to her studies of genealogy, still looking for new clues. We were extremely disappointed, but at the same time, hopeful. After all, this was a lead that my family was out there somewhere. We just had to solve the puzzle.
Next, a 2nd cousin showed up on Ancestry, but after weeks of communication, building out family trees going back four and five generations, and going through dozens of family names, nothing quite matched up. And then a 3rd cousin came into the picture, Heather L., and she was really excited about the connection. Bridie and Heather worked together for weeks, building out family trees on both sides of Heather’s family in hopes that some common link could be found. Despite their best efforts, the planets were just not lining up.
And then it happened! From out of the blue, an email from Susan S., my first cousin that we had all but given up on. The email she used for Ancestry was not her regular email address and she only checked it periodically. She had never heard of Bob Bennett in Arizona and couldn’t imagine how we might be related. She had not taken the DNA test to find relatives. She had taken the test to prove once and for all whether she had any Native-American blood. Susan gave us all the family names that could possibly be involved, and one of them, “Linder”, was pay dirt! That eliminated one side of Heather’s family and was a huge clue. Bridie gave Susan my birth certificate information and she agreed to check it out and get back to us. I was always highly suspicious of my birth certificate, but that’s all we had.
Susan talked to her sister Peggy and together they had a revelation. Susan called back and asked how sure we were about the birth certificate. When she found out how little we believed in it, she asked if it was possible that I was born a month earlier (January instead of February) and in a different town (Carthage instead of Warrensburg). It turns out that Susan and Peggy had a first cousin by the name of Beulah June Linder who had a baby that was taken from her by the Department of Family Services. A huge dam was about to burst! What followed was a full-court press to find the missing pieces of this 70-year-old puzzle. My younger daughter (by three minutes) joined her sister and new-found cousin in a flurry of emails, phone calls, newspaper clippings, birth certificates, court records, legal documents of all kinds. And the more they looked the more they found. Soon, it became obvious that I was James Gordon Pingree, son of Beulah June Linder and her husband at the time, Gordon Phillip Pingree. The search was over! I took in a deep breath, slowly let it go, and then I cried. Now, there are two me’s!
My mother died on April 19, 2008. My discovery had come too late for us to meet. But I am blessed to be surrounded by cousins who knew her. Apparently, she was a real “party girl”, a pretty face, smiling eyes, and an eager laugh. She was married six times but only bore one child. My father, Gordon, was her second husband. He was married twice but also had only one child. Beulah and Gordon were married on February 9, 1943. She was 19 and he was 21. I was born on January 27, 1944, in Carthage, Missouri: James Gordon Pingree.
With all the pieces finally in place, I realized that it was time to meet the family. Bridie, Buffy, and cousin Heather also wanted to be included in the celebration. We picked a date and the preparations began. Diane and I arrived early since we had extended our road trip from Mesa to the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, and then on to Kansas City. That allowed for a head start in meeting the family and also some sightseeing. The rest of the gang arrived late Friday afternoon. We all knew that this gathering was truly miraculous. History was happening, right in front of our own eyes. If I lived to 1,000 years old, no joy could ever replace the joy I felt that day!
Saturday was the big day, when everyone would gather for the reunion luncheon. There was food and photographs everywhere. Bridie and Buffy decorated one wall with a banner that seemed miles long with the family tree that Bridie had been working on. When the last carload of relatives arrived, we gathered at the banquet table, held hands, prayed, and then ate like there was no tomorrow, When I first spoke to my cousin Susan on the phone, she told me that she might have a picture of my mother holding my hand. She had not mentioned it since then, but on the day of the luncheon, I was told that they had a surprise for me. Naturally I assumed they had found the photo. When the dishes were cleared, Susan’s husband, serving as MC, announced that they had not been able to locate the photo that Susan had mentioned, but they had found videos that contained footage of Beulah at several family reunions. And then, for the next hour I watched the Linder clan celebrating their annual family reunions, and there at the center was my mother!
Toward the end, I watched as my mother held up her wallet to the video camera, and said “that’s my baby”. It was unmistakably a picture of me, taken at about age three, shortly before I was taken from her by DFS (Department of Family Services). My jaw dropped in disbelief that she was carrying my picture in her wallet. As reality set in, I broke into tears. Soon, the whole room filled with tears, not of sadness but of joy. And then cousin Peggy put the original photo in my hand. She had taken it from my mother’s wallet after her death. To think, that she always carried my picture, and that she never forgot me, was truly unbelievable. At first, I just sat there, dumbfounded by all that was racing through my mind. I stared at the photo, stunned, and now sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe it was real. As I gazed at the photo, a sense of serenity surrounded me. I felt the spiritual touch of my mother’s hand on my shoulder as her lips lightly grazed my brow. I was at peace. Beulah’s boy was home at last!
Two New Cousins!
After the reunion, there was an Ancestry inquiry from Lee Ann S. She stated that she was related to me, most likely on her mother’s side. But since her mother was adopted, she had nothing else to go on. Bridie, my lead detective, went to work armed with nothing more than Lee Ann’s mother’s birthdate and birthplace. She recalled from her previous research of the Linder ancestry that Beulah’s sister, Louise, had a child listed with a birthdate and birthplace, but no other information. The date and place were a perfect match to Lee Ann’s mother!
Bridie next decided to locate Louise’s other children. There was a match in a private tree. Bridie reached out to the owner who turned out to be a friend of Dayna B-P. Dayna’s mother, Debbie, was Lee Ann’s ½ sister, and they were soon talking by phone. Debbie was aware of an adoption and shared what she knew. Debbie then contacted Bridie, who then introduced her to the rest of the family. Another family mystery solved!
Encouraged by the success of the Bennett quest, my 3rd cousin Heather L. did some reaching out of her own and got some surprising results. You can listen to Heather’s touching email by scrolling down to the video section below and clicking on: “Email from Heather L.”.
Another miracle came in the form of a surprise response to the “Finding Bob’s Roots” Facebook page. Now armed with my mother’s name, Bridie used her professional marketing techniques to “drill down” to a) persons over 50, b) living in the Joplin area, and c) who knew Beulah Linder-Rutherford. Within four hours, we got a “hit”! You can listen to Monica S.’s moving email by scrolling down to the video section below and clicking on “Email from Monica S.”
I put this video together shortly after the family reunion in Missouri. I first stopped just outside of Topeka to visit the grave of my father, Gordon Phillip Pingree. And then on to Kansas City to meet my new cousins. Next was a visit to Joplin to visit the grave of my mother, Beulah June Linder, and then on to Carthage, the town where I was born. Included is the family reunion and the emotional response to a life-changing discovery. The running time is 3:40. Enjoy!
My third cousin, Heather L., joined us for the family reunion in October 2016. We had all come away from that experience with a new attitude and appreciation of the past. On March 29, 2017, I received this heartfelt email from her about the continuation of her personal journey and the walls that were now tumbling down before her. Our entire family was so moved by her words that I wanted to capture them for others who are also on journeys of their own. The running time is 3:47. Enjoy!
This miracle is a response to the “Finding Bob’s Roots” Facebook page. Once we had discovered my real mother’s name, my daughter Bridie “drilled down” on the Facebook page, looking for people over 50, living in the Joplin area, who knew Beulah Rutherford. Within four hours, we had this response. My mother had been this woman’s sponsor in AA! The cascade of miracles continues! The running time is 3:48. Enjoy!