We’re having lunch today at popular Lambert’s Cafe in Foley, Alabama – “home of the throwed rolls.” It was a favorite for both my wife’s and my parents when they wintered at Orange Beach. As it turns out, it was also a special place for my birth father. It seemed only appropriate that me meet with one of his daughters for lunch there, although we’re not sure in these chaotic times if they can throw anything or serve family style as is the custom. It doesn’t matter, I’m looking forward to simply talking face-to-face with my half-sibling for only the second time.
She works for the University of Alabama and of course a huge football fan. I’m grateful she was willing to make the drive down from Tuscaloosa to join us. The first and last time we met was almost two years ago when we were both back in Indiana. I met her mother and four of the five daughters. They lost a son many years ago. I, of course, was an unknown to all of them until an Ancestry.com DNA test proved us to be closely related. My birth mother was apparently a small high school acquaintance, while her husband probably never knew that I existed. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, although this too doesn’t matter. The fact is that he gave me life 70-years ago.
He died nine years ago, while the birth mother is now 86. Her side of the family, including a son and daughter, will not acknowledge my existence, so I’m also exceptionally grateful that his daughters have accepted my outreach. I will learn more today as we talk over throwed rolls. With the passing of my adopted mother and the unwelcoming nature of my bio-mom, I guess that Mother Marriott is all I have left. She took care of us last night at the Towneplace Suites, with less glamorous Fairfield Inns for the rest of the trip. It’s sure to be eventful on Day 12 of our Coast-to-Coast adventure from Oregon to Florida. Roll On!
I received my Y-DNA report from Family Tree this morning, resuming the quest for direct ancestry links. It showed six Ban(n)ister matches including Paul D., Sandra Knox, Donald Ray, Alan, William Neill, and George Huntington. I’ve been in regular contact with Paul Banister, who initially encouraged me to take this test. Working together, hopefully we can identify the missing links in the Ban(n)ister family. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
This is my third DNA test. I first went to 23andMe that uncovered two second cousins. This got me really fascinated, so I sent an additional saliva sample to Ancestry. I got an even closer match with a half-sister! As a result, The Jerry Banister Family Tree began to have significant meaning. In most cases, it’s filled with ancestors that I’ve never met or never will, but there about a dozen relatives that I’ve connected and communicated with regularly. It’s like finding a whole new family – not that I needed one.
In fact, I feel guilty that I’ve spent more time with this new family than with my adopted relatives. Several are in Indiana, while one lives in Thailand. I do stay in touch with my sister every week, but haven’t seen her or her kids in two years. Facebook has kept me in the lives of those cousins that were a key part of my youth. Only weddings and funerals have brought us together, but not in the last ten years. Distance back home from Austin and Portland have limited family get-together opportunities. Trips to Indianapolis to visit my wife’s family have had me focused on DNA matches in that area, without time to drive a hundred miles north. I’ll meet with my top DNA match, my birth father’s daughter, on the soon to be drive to Florida.
I’m waiting for a response from Paul Banister on this last test. Interestingly, he was not a match on Ancestry but is on Family Tree. He’s probably the most knowledgeable of my Banister connections about family history. We recently lost what many considered to be the guru of family research. She worked closely with Paul on how forefathers like Laban or Laborn and Burrell were connected. There are confusing records that have led to discrepancies on various Ban(n)ister Family trees. As with any mystery, more DNA evidence like mine could help ultimately solve the case.
In these pandemic times, I realize that I haven’t written much about my quest for DNA relatives. I have in fact submitted a third swab test through Family Tree that should provide more details on the paternal side of my family. Without getting too technical, there are three main types of DNA tests on the market: y-chromosome (or y-DNA male), mitochondrial (or mtDNA female), and autosomal (non-sex). Males have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes. Y is the paternal connection and therefore my y-DNA test will follow the male Banister lineage.
Genetic scientists have found that the specific quality of y-DNA that makes it so attractive is its faithfulness in passing down its record generation after generation, without fail, without changing, from one man to the next. That means that any living male today has the same (or very similar) y-DNA as every male in his direct paternal line, back 8, 10, 12+ generations.” In other words, my y-DNA will be the same as my father, grandfather, and great grandfathers.
According to these same experts, “One of the best applications of y-DNA testing comes when trying to disentangle the relationships of various men living in close proximity with other men of the same or similar surname. Having descendants of these men test their y-DNA is like traveling back in time and conducting personal interviews of each of these men.” In my case, I’ve never met any of these Banisters, so it will be my first “conversation” with the dead. The line includes Cecil Ralph Banister (1931-2011), Arlie Adam Banister (1904-1992), Charles B. Banister (1875-1940), David Banister, Sr. (1837-1918), and Laborn Banister (1801-1885). This is as far back as we can accurately trace my ancestry, since beyond that are a confusing line of William Banisters.
Our ancestors weren’t very creative when it came to names. It was not uncommon to have multiple Williams in the same family. Nicknames like Senior, Junior, Bill, Billy, Will, Willie, and initials were used to distinguish them in life, but their records and tombstones all used the formal surname William. What was originally an endearing tribute to the father have modern day genealogists scratching their heads in confusion. To add to the uncertainty, there was an extra “n” in the spelling of some of their last names. This y-DNA test will be my contribution to help solve this mystery, along with the data of ten other Ban(n)ister relatives. y-Not?
Over the course of the past three years, through studying genealogy, I’ve learned that my life is a symphony of relationships. Although there are thousands of people that made me who I am today, I’ve really only known six of them. To be more specific, there’s my parents and their parents that have impacted my life. However, as an adoptee, there are also the genetic influences of my birth parents, whom I’ve never met. This divides my family tree into two distinct branches.
When I really think about it, my life was created in a short-term relationship, maybe one night, and stabilized by a 68-year marriage. Adoption was the fortunate course for me. Thankfully, Burt and his wife Cathy entered the picture. They could not have children of their own and I was available. This made me fortunate in many ways:
– I could have been aborted
– I could have been illegally sold
– I could have been born with a disability and unwanted.
– I could have been placed in the wrong home
– I could have never found a family
It couldn’t have turned out better, as if I was actually involved in the decision. They raised me as their own, and I eventually became a father myself. My wife at the time and I never had to make the difficult decision of adoption. It takes special people to raise what might be considered another couple’s mistake. The bastard stigma! I’d like to say that we found each other, but they did all the work and I simply claimed the benefits.
They gave me a church upbringing, good neighborhoods to grown up in, family stability, and a college education. It made me who I am today. It also makes me grateful that I got the chance to live with loving, caring parents. This is why I want to celebrate Burt on Father’s Day. He’s the only man in the world I can call “Dad.” However, there’s his dad, and his dad’s dad, and generations of dads before that somehow shaped my life. Then, there’s the DNA of my birth father and his family that comes into play. I recognize his contribution to my appearance, health, and behavior. It’s all part of that symphony of life that makes me unique. Much Love, Burt!
Mother’s Day is a time of reflection for me, as I think about the strong women that shaped my life. I’ll start with my one and only “Mom,” that took me into her arms at two-months old and raised me to be a man. Fond memories include her microwave cooking skills, birthday parties, bridge club, stamp collecting, photography, puzzles, miniatures, sunsets, and cheesy chicken. Her mother, Grace, was also a big factor in my upbringing, from Elwood to Corey Lake to Englewood, Florida. She gave my mom a great sense of humor that reflected in my personality, as well.
We just recently put to rest one of my mother’s last living relatives at age 92, and a fellow member of “Mom’s Club.” She was also the connection to my dad’s mother with ties to Simonton Lake, Cook’s Ranch, and Ox Bow Park annual family reunions. Facebook sadly now seems to be the only glue holding all of us cousins together. as they raise families of their own. These second and third generation mothers are spread all over the country, including Florida, New York, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington, Oregon, California, and the Carolinas. Many of them I haven’t seen in years and would probably not recognize.
Considering divorce, re-marriage, and other child-bearing relationships, within the Johnston family hodge podge of motherhood are my 45-year old son’s mother; plus, the now-married mother of his oldest son, who also has a daughter; and his wife of 10-years, the mother of his other two children. In addition, my current wife of 19-years is the mother of two daughters. This may appear complicated, but nonetheless some of the many mothers that I honor today, from a distance.
My adopted sister is the mother of a daughter with two kids from different husbands. She also has a son with three children and two step-kids. I mention all this because most modern families are mixed, so the responsibilities of being a mother are even more challenging. We’re all one big happy family, regardless of the circumstances!
Everyone has a mom, and some have step-moms, while I have a bio-mom. It sounds very cold and impersonal, but we’ve never had a relationship beyond the womb. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be writing this without her. She gave me life then passed the baton to “mom,” who gave me the rest. The woman who brought me into the world had four more children, two of which have sadly since passed. She’s now 87 years old and we’ll probably never meet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wish her a “Happy Mother’s Day,” along with all the other mothers that have been part of my thankful, happy life.
It was just like going outside on the first day of spring, when the birds make their way into the skies. There was activity across the street as the Starbuck’s opened its doors and signs of normalcy crept back into our lives. Mornings had been so quiet, but maybe that was about to change? Yes, people were still wearing masks and keeping their distance, but there was a sense of hope. Even the Stock Market could feel it, showing positive gains to start the week. Optimism was in the air, even though the sun wasn’t shining. Well, it’s Portland, after all!
I’m going to do some genealogy work today. To be more specific, Legg work! I got in touch with a former co-worker after discovering a DNA connection with a potential family member of his. It’s always more interesting when I’m actually communicating with someone rather than reading another obituary. I was born a Ban(n)ister, with one or two n’s, depending on the document. The Legg and Banister families have crossed paths many times, both with strong Hoosier roots, particularly central Indiana. When we worked together, neither of us was really aware of my connection to the Banister family. I was using the name that was adopted along with me – Johnston.
My office at work happened to look-out over the former site of the adoption home, where I spent the first couple weeks of my life. There was a 35-year, 300-mile journey in-between. (See Post #104). As part of my search for answers, I took on both of my identities and established a Facebook site for each. In fact, I confused my co-worker/friend the other day by accidentally contacting him through Jerry Bannister. He has always known me as Mike Johnston, so I have to give him credit for figuring it out. Just for fun, I will occasionally communicate with myself to see if any of my friends-in-common are paying attention. For example, I wish myself a happy birthday every year, since we happen to share that date.
There are over 800 Legg’s on my Ancestry.com “Jerry Banister Family tree.” (See Post #635). The odds favor a connection somewhere, but so far I haven’t been able to pin-point it. I have DNA matches with a Lor-Anna Legg and a Phillip Legg. Also, Mickie Sue Legg married a Banister. These are a couple of the hints that I’ve been pursuing, as my friend continues to follow-up with details on his branch of the family. It would be fun to determine that we are kin, another brewing “coincidence” in the story of my search. I used to go to the gym and in lifting weights certain workouts were designated as “Leg Days.” Well, today is a Legg Day for me!
I recently discussed some of the trials and tribulations of doing genealogy research. (See Post # 1285). I’m motivated because of adoption and therefore not having the experience of growing-up around blood relatives. There were family reunions and sleep-overs, but I always felt there was something missing. I was certainly used to being around people where there was little physical resemblance, but it’s now fun to compare eyes, ears, and noses with those who share DNA. Unfortunately, most of my connections are on “paper,” with relatives that are dead or complete strangers.
I’ve now added 27,000 people to my Jerry Banister Family Tree that was just me alone five years ago. Adoption and hospital records show that I was born a Banister, sometimes spelled with two n’s. Oddly, both of my biological parents also shared that surname, but were distant relatives. Otherwise, I might have had some “kissin’ kouzin dane bramage.” They both went to the same high school but were about four years apart in age. I know little else about their relationship, other than it led to me.
There are 387 DNA matches on Ancestry.com alone that I have identified on my tree. This has taken a lot of time to do and other than a couple of very close meaningful connections, most have led to few answers about my past. There are another 40 matches on 23andMe, but these are much tougher to identify. You can compare relatives you have in common, but little information on their identity, date of birth, or location. Ancestry provides “common ancestors” that allow you to easily track their place on the tree. However, not all of them have this common link and therefore make them nearly impossible to chart.
“Common Ancestors” typically date back to the mid to late 1700’s. With Trans-Altlantic roots, earlier relationships are much tougher to accurately confirm. I identified Laborn Banister, “Devil Bill” Cline, and William Bannister in my last post. Other names from the past include Thomas Hale Ely (1725-1882) moved to Virginia from England. Another Hoosier connection with the Bannister clan, William Van Meter (1762-1850), moved his family from Virginia. My two favorite friendly ghosts from the past, George Casper Wyse (1828-1915) and his father Casper Wyse. There was also David Casper Banister, William Casper Wise (different last name spelling), Casper Godfrey, James Casper Brooks, and Hugh Casper Pence. When there’s too many Caspers in the family, “who you gonna call…Ghostbusters?”
Too many frickin’ Williams, Wyse as opposed to Wise, Kline or Cline, one “n” or two in Ban(n)ister, or Tadlock vs. Tadlock make genealogists like me crazy. It’s hard to know if they’re truly blood-line relatives if their names are spelled differently. I faced the same issue with my adopted name of Johnston, too often confused with Johnson. As comedian Bill Saluga (Raymond J. Johnson, Jr.) used to rant, “Ahh you doesn’t has to call me Johnson! You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me Johnny or you can call me Sonny or you can call me RayJay, or you can call me R.J….but you doesn’t hafta call me Johnson!” In general, it’s very confusing trying to sort out all these often misspelled Ghosts from the Past.
I seem to be obsessed with family heritage, as I continue to identify how each of my DNA matches somehow fits on the sprawling branches of my tree. There are currently nearly 26,500 entries – granted some are duplicates. I’ve now identified over 400 DNA relatives, ranging from a half-sister to very distant cousins going back 8 generations. Each are connected in some way and finding those threads seem somehow important to me. Most of them stem from three sources: Laborn Banister (1801-1885), William Thomas Bannister (1787-1861) and William “Devil Bill” Cline (or Kline) (1781-1834). It is not exactly comforting knowing that a devil is part of your heritage.
Bill was born and buried in North Carolina. William was from Virginia before moving to South Carolina. Laborn came from Tennessee and died in Indiana. As my most direct fore-father, Laborn is the primary reason why I’m a Hoosier. When I think of life in the late 1700’s, details like crowded log cabins, no running water, and farming come immediately to mind. As a result, big families were the norm, sharing the rugged duties of the homestead. All of the “Big 3” were post-Revolutionary War babies. William Bannister’s father was a Colonel. Devil’s dad was Christopher “Stoffle” Klein, originally from Pennsylvania, while little is known about Lamar’s predecessors. Obviously, all of them once had Irish and roots, but records are confusing or non-existent in their transition to the States.
Nicknames like “Devil Bill” were important because there were sometimes more than one William in the same family. This becomes a genealogist’s nightmare. Laborn was at least distinctive. Parents were certainly not very creative in naming their offspring, so Mary, Susan, and Thomas were all too common. Multiple marriages were also the norm, considering the primitive lifestyle, lack of medical care, and consequential short life expectancy. Another wife or husband meant more children of the same name. Records were limited to a diary, if there was a family member that was educated. Bibles became the primary keepers of family stories, although they deteriorated through time, along with wooden grave markers.
DNA is the modern day genealogical tool. It’s much more accurate than the scribbles in the back of a Bible. Testing was also preceded by the tombstone that recorded family history in a more permanent manner than wooden crosses. DNA testing is unfortunately limited to modern times, with most databases extending back only about 75 years. It’s rare to find a DNA match in these voluntary archives of anyone over 80 years of age. Most of my matches are with people younger than my youthful 68 years. Needless to say, “Devil Bill” is not a DNA relative. His connection is based on a much less accurate combination of DNA from others, tombstones, diaries, Bibles, tax filings, property records, and Census Reports – now all computerized.
There is a lot of guesswork, speculation, and trust involved in defining one’s heritage. Most of the Jerry Banister Family Tree that I’ve built is based on research from others, some of which undoubtedly isn’t accurate. To make matters even more complicated, the information on anyone still alive is protected. An obituary immediately frees all that personal information, making it much easier to find your connection with them. Otherwise, I have to rely on newspaper articles, marriage records, social media, etc. to learn more about them. This, in my opinion, often verges on stalking.
With Ancestry.com, I can easily track a DNA match if we have “common ancestors” like Laborn, William, and “Devil Bill.’ Otherwise, just like “relatives” on 23andMe, it requires a lot of detective work, with the reward typically being just another stranger in my life. Sadly, none of the strangers know about me, unlike the relatives of the adopted family that I raised me. Maybe it will all come together some day, as more people subject themselves to testing and deaths provide more information? It’s entertaining but tedious, like solving a giant puzzle. I can only hope that I won’t become one of those tragic but inevitable casualties, and my work where “The Devil is in the Details” can continue.
I can’t call you “Mom” because that title only belongs to the woman that adopted and raised me. I could call you Edna but that doesn’t seem special enough, while bio-mom is too scientific, like something out of a Frankenstein movie. Birth Mother is probably appropriate, but we hardly even know each other. You spent nine months carrying me around, with mixed feelings about my existence. Then, I came into the world and we were together only long enough for you to give me the name Jerry Lee.
For over 30 years of my life, I never even knew your name. A friend gave me a piece of paper with Edna Faye Bannister written on it and an address that turned out to of the Suemma Coleman Adoption Home on Illinois Street in Indianapolis. Strangely coincidental, it was directly across the street from my office. I wasn’t even supposed to have this extremely confidential information, but it aroused a sense of curiosity. Up to that point, I never even thought of you, although I always knew that I was adopted. Out of love and respect for the couple that accepted me into their home, I moved it to the back of my mind. At one point for Mother’s Day, I visited the hospital where I was born and got a copy of my birth records. Included was a footprint from when I was born, and I gave it to my Mom with a card and appreciative note. This was one of the few times that we ever really discussed our adoptive relationship.
Once my parents passed away, this curiosity rushed to the forefront. I knew that I could never replace my love for them, but there were certain pieces of my life that were missing. I knew that the birth father was a Marine but little more. In one of the few conversations with my dad about adoption, he admitted that he too was aware of this detail, and found it haunting when I would play the Marines’ Hymn over-and-over on the piano. Mysteriously, this was long before I knew of any Marine connection in my life. I eventually got more details from the adoption agency about the two people that gave me life.
Slowly but surely, I began to put the pieces together, but the biggest breakthrough was from a distant genetic match who sent Edna’s birth records and a 1940 census report, identifying her family as having lived in Shelbyville, Indiana. This was after I had submitted to DNA tests on both Ancestry and 23andMe. The results connected me with thousands of missing ancestors, including close cousins and even a half-sister whose father was the same Marine. The circumstances of my birth began to unfold, and I began to meet members of this new family of Banisters.
This morning one of these cousins sent me a picture of my birth mother, Edna, on her 87th birthday. I don’t know if she’s in assisted living or stays with a family member? I was just glad to see that she’s healthy, especially in these times of deadly respiratory threats. Her birthday will likely be spent in safe isolation with few hugs. She at least got a kiss from the puppy in the picture. Sadly, another year of life has gone by without us making contact. She apparently prefers to keep me a secret, even though I’ve made attempts to contact her and her children. We’re running out of precious time.
I was part of a miserable time in her life. She had to give up her senior year of high school and be hidden away from an embarrassing pregnancy. Her family undoubtedly made her give me up for adoption and she may have had some regrets or guilt. To make matters worse, her lover went off to the Marines, probably unaware of my existence, and married someone else. It was surely a lonely, sad summer – something she still wants to forget, especially on her birthday.
This daily blog is the only chance for me to send Birthday wishes. I hope she’s happy and healthy, and surrounded by family once this ugly Coronavirus passes. I’ve been advised to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while frequently scrubbing my hands in an effort to destroy any harmful germs. Today, in honor of the occasion, I’ll sing to Edna. Should I ever get a chance to talk to her, I would tell her that I have no animosity for the path my life has taken. I’m 69 years old with three grandchildren, and living a comfortable retirement life. I have a great marriage, and a successful career, appreciating the joys of my labor while relishing all the memories. It’s unfortunate that she had to sacrifice so much of her young adulthood in the process. Have a happy and healthy 87th Birthday my dear Edna.
With the addition of nearly 200 members of the Carpenter family, the Jerry Banister family tree has now blossomed to nearly 24,000 relatives. As I sit here in viral times with little to do, genealogy work at least poses a challenge. With each name I enter, it’s a little bit or history and maybe some recognition for a long forgotten soul. I hope that someday an explorer like myself runs across my name and wonders about my life. By that time, I will have a dash between my 1951 birth date and the mystery year that inevitably awaits. As they say, it’s what you do with that dash that defines your life. Most of my dash has already passed and I’m proud of my accomplishments. I’m just glad that in the process I’ve discovered the identities of the two people that brought me into the world.
About 5 years ago, I took my first DNA test through the 23andMe website. Sending a second sample to Ancestry.com led to the confirmed identity of my birth father via a strong genetic match with one of his daughters. It also first put me in touch with a DNA relative, Terry Grimshaw in nearby Washington state, who provided birth and census paperwork on my then presumed birth mother. (See Post #104). I had known her name of Edna Faye Banister for over thirty years, but had been unable to pinpoint her whereabouts. His information directed me to Shelbyville, Indiana when at the time I was thinking Rome, Georgia. This made more sense considering the closer proximity to Indianapolis and the Suemma Coleman adoption home that handled my case. Terry gave me the first small branch on my tree and we have since stayed in touch. I actually went up to visit him last summer, but despite our regular messages, neither of us has been able to find our common ancestor.
I have searched both the Grimshaw and Ban(n)ister trees for the last three years, hoping to find a connecting limb. Terry’s mother was Alta Constance Carpenter, so I’ve focused on that last name over the past three days through existing Family Search and Ancestry trees. In the process, I’ve found a couple of Carpenter marriages to the Cline or Kline family. Unfortunately, they are both huge ancestor groups and after having already adding 300 new names cannot yet to find the link to Alta. I’ll have plenty of time today to continue this search that makes me think of some Tim Hardin lyrics credited to Bobby Darin in 1966 and other vocalists:
“If I were a carpenter
And you were a lady
Would you marry me anyway
Would you have my baby?”
“If you were a carpenter
And I were a lady
I’d marry you anyway
I’d have your baby.”
I will find my Carpenter soon!