This year I’m experiencing a new level of family-ties, having recently added two son-in-laws. Granted, it’s only on the step-father level, but it’s still beginning to develop into a new marital challenge. I’ve noticed there are more conversations between mother and daughters now that the honeymoon is over. These are all non-DNA relationships as if that has anything to do with habits or abilities to get-along. However, I have somehow become part of these discussions, as my habits are now compared with their new husbands. It’s a personal violation of my space. For example, my son-in-law here in Portland was playing video games all day Sunday, and my wife commiserated by describing herself as a “football widow.” The topic of should the husband always accompany the wife to the grocery store was also bantered about? Hopefully, our sex lives won’t be compared!
I think that in the long run I’ll enjoy having son-in-laws if we can keep the wives from talking. I’m not sure exactly what we have in common yet, but that will come together over the many meals that we will share. They both seem to be better educated and more serious than I ever was at their age. Neither of them have the same sports interests that comes natural with my son. It will take a while for me to understand the nature of their careers. I also try to maintain a distant relationship with my wife’s daughters since their father is the primary male figure in their day-to-day growth. He will also most likely be the “favored” father-in-law simply because they are married to his daughters.
I doubt there will be grandchildren from either couple, having not married sooner. Both women are now in their late thirties and highly motivated in their careers. For me, three grandchildren through my son and his wife are more than I ever expected. I’m off to visit them in Florida in another month. I certainly enjoy spending time with my daughter-in-law that has brought a lot of joy into my son’s life. I’m sure she’s gotten an ear-full about me from my former wife in their discussions about the men in their life.
I’ve added my son-in-laws to my family tree that includes a combination of extended, adopted, and genetic families. As I work on all these personal connections, it’s disturbing to know that we all will someday be just a memory to future generations. It’s good to adding living relatives rather than spending all my time trying to identify “strangers” that may or may not have had an influence in my life. As time goes on, I hope my new son-in-laws are as happy with their new wives as I am with mine. Please, just keep us out of the conversation!
I continue to work on the Ancestry Jerry Ban(n)ister Family Tree, placing over 15,300 names on its sprawling branches over the past few years. The work started after I began to piece together adoption paperwork as well as DNA matches on both Ancestry and 23andMe. I was curious about these “blood” relatives and interested in how they connected with each other. Other hobby genealogists (if I can even call myself one?) were impressed with my dedication and enthusiasm. I also began to compile this written diary blog, outlying each step of my discovery journey, including the many mistakes and assumptions that I made. I searched obituaries, Facebook, Linked In, public records, and even made a few face-to-face visits in the process. The result is a database of first, middle, and last names that form a complicated puzzle of my life. There are only a hand full of people that I actually know on the tree, mostly the adopted relatives that I grew up around.
My life-long identity as a Johnston is a last name that only appears 45 times, with only about a dozen familiar faces in this close family mix. My birth name of Ban(n)ister accounts for only about 5% of the total, that’s taking into account both the “n” and “double n” spellings. The Legg family also accounts for 5% of my tree, with the Hall and Greathouse names comprising another 5%. The next 5% includes Burton, Anderson, Foist, Taylor, Sweany, Miller and Branham, in order of appearance. However, these prominent names carved into the roots amount to only 25% of the overall total. The remaining 75% are names that appear less than 100 times, most fewer than 25. It just proves that everyone around us is probably related in some way. The world is just one big family!
I spent most of yesterday and today on the Burton branches of my tree, trying to find a connection with my #1 DNA connection on 23andMe, Joyce Gourley. Like me she was also adopted, and we’re supposedly scientifically related as first cousins. Her birth mother was a Burton, complicated by the fact that her biological grandmother was also adopted. I was Jerry at birth, while she was Nancy. Now, I’m Mike and she is Joyce. Just as the Johnston family made me their own, she became a Thompson, then married a Gourley. These twists in the trunk make it difficult to find where our separate life paths crossed. With 512 Burton names on my tree, I’ve yet to find a connection with her after months of on-and-off research. Joyce and I had initially started an on-line conversation through 23andMe, but she must have lost interest. I find that most people run hot and cold when it comes to their personal lives. I did not hear back from her regarding my speculations on her roots. At least, she didn’t answer my last few questions. I worry that perhaps I made some wrong assumptions when I found her name on Facebook. I could have even found the wrong person.
I’m not really trying to establish a relationship. I’m just naturally curious – obviously more than even my own birth mother. I still get crickets in trying to communicate with her family. It’s scary when a stranger claims to be related, and I’m certainly sensitive to this concern. It’s not like I’m Sneaky Pete, trying to steal the family fortune. I’m not even looking for an invitation to Christmas dinner. It’s easy to sit here and add names to my family tree, some of them are even probably wrong. I often view it as a game, but in reality each name is an actual person that has lived most of their lives without me in it. Admittedly, I’m a late-comer to the Ban(n)ister Party, but would like to learn more about the family that with a twist of fate could have been a bigger part of my life.
On this day 68 years ago, I left the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers in the care of my adopted parents. It may have been the first time that I ever saw them and we probably spent the night at my adopted grandparent’s house. Their home was about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis and the perfect pit-stop for our three hour drive to Elkhart, Indiana. Plus, it was probably a stressful day for my parents who could have used the support of their family during my first night of care. The birth mother, Edna Faye Banister, according to the adoption records, was released from my care 48 days earlier, two weeks after my birth. It was the last time we would ever interact.
As I try to reconstruct the first few months of my life, I was apparently moved from the Suemma Coleman facility to the State Department of Public Welfare Children’s Home. It was actually called the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home “founded in 1865 to provide care, education and maintenance for the orphaned and destitute children of Civil War Union Army veterans. The Home was located approximately two miles south of Knightstown, Indiana, on State Road 140 and consisted of 419 acres that included an administration building, children’s dormitory cottages, Morton Memorial School, a hospital, dairy farm, camp grounds and recreational facilities. Children from the ages of 4 to 18 were cared for with each child being eligible for vocational training. The Home was owned by the State of Indiana and was managed through a superintendent.” I started life on welfare.
There is a letter in my file from Ruth Henderson, Executive Director of the Suemma Coleman Home dated the day after I was born. It was to schedule an interview appointment a week later to start the initial process for my adoption. Burt and Cathy must have passed the first test to receive me as their prize. A year later, the courts made the adoption official, after constant monitoring of my care in their home. I must have been really spoiled under the watchful eye of state officials.
I’m guessing that they brought me back to Indianapolis for the official hand-off to my new Johnston family. I was then 11 pounds seven ounces, almost four pounds heavier than birth. I came with written instructions that included Baker’s Milk mixed with water five times a day plus Mead’s Standard Cod Liver Oil with orange juice. I can’t fully read the actual scribbles of the nurse. I was initially referred to as Mickey in correspondence, while all birth records listed me as Jerry Lee Bannister. I still don’t understand the consistent double “n” spelling throughout all the paperwork. Both of my bio parents spell their last names Banister with one “n.” Was it an intentional attempt by the birth mother to disguise our identities? Her actual signature even includes the two “n” version. She also admits the putative father to be Cecil Bannister – no relation.
Sixty-eight years have now passed since that fateful day when I became Michael Lee Johnston. My beloved adopted father, Burt, passed just over five years ago, just after my only real mother, Cathy, died months earlier. The birth father, Cecil, has been lost to this earth now for over eight years, while the 102-pound, 5’2″, 18-year old that gave birth to me just turned 86. She gave up a lot for me, including her last year of high school and maybe her reputation. She did have four more children in two marriages. There seems to be little chance that we will ever reunite, at her choice. She could probably solve several mysteries about my life for me, while I would just like to say thank you.