Finding Paul…

Posted on February 26th, 2018   Comments: 127

Keshama's unknown biological father

As I sit down to tell this story it suddenly dawns on me that I’m not quite sure who it’s for. While what I’m about to describe has been one of the more significant things to ever happen to my family, it may also be something that is of no interest at all to anyone other than ourselves, and those closest to us. On the other hand, I have seen similar stories on the news that involved far fewer obstacles and there may be others in a similar situation that might gain something from the tale. I really don’t know. Perhaps this is a story for my wife, perhaps it is for my children and their children, or perhaps, dear reader, it is for you.

In April of 2006 I began dating Keshama Jane O’Donnell, the woman who would eventually become my wife. As is typical at the beginning of any new relationship, each of us gradually unpacked our lives and told our many different stories. Keshama was born and raised in the rural Far North of New Zealand. She has four brothers, a loving stepfather that has raised her since she was two, and her mother Alana; their unusually close bond perhaps forged by those first two years alone.

The story of her biological father, however, was an altogether different matter. She had never met him and he had absolutely no idea she existed. The story that Keshama’s mother would relate over the years was simple and brief. On Labour weekend in 1975 Alana had been having drinks with a few friends at an Auckland tavern that Keshama would remember as being called “World Bar”. She met a man named Paul, the two of them went home together, and… well… nine months later Keshama was born. Not knowing she was pregnant until weeks later, Alana made no concerted effort to keep in touch with Paul. They spent their night together and went their separate ways. The only other details that Alana would later share with Keshama about her father was that he was a Scorpio (a fact that would have been significant to a lifelong hippy), and that he had an accent of some sort. “He was a traveler”, she would explain, without ever being able to offer any precise details about where exactly he was from. A discrepancy that would take decades to understand.

And so Keshama spent her life believing that she would never know her father; a Scorpio named Paul, most likely from somewhere far away. Her mother would tell her that she would never meet him, psychics would tell her she would never meet him, and certainly logic would suggest that they were right. After all, finding “Paul” amongst 7.5 Billion people would seem a near impossible task. However, when Keshama (the girl that I had quickly fallen in love with) told me the story, a bit of longing was evident. It wasn’t that she was missing any love in her life. Her family is large, healthy, and supportive. Still, somewhere in there was a little girl who simply wanted to know who her dad was. She wanted to know where she got some of her qualities that were different from others in her family. She wanted to know if there were any genetic risks that she needed to be aware of; that her future children would need to be aware of. Our many long talks gave me the impression that never having known her father had shaped her in more ways than she knew. Not for the bad, necessarily. But it shaped her nonetheless. Seeing that glimmer of longing, I foolishly told her that I believed that finding him was possible and that one day I would do just that.

My thinking at the time was that perhaps travel records would be accessible. I couldn’t imagine that in 1975 New Zealand was the world’s most popular travel destination. Did people still travel by ship back then? Did airlines keep records of people coming into the New Zealand? Perhaps I could find all of the records of people coming into the country that year and attempt to contact every single Paul of the right age. Sure it would be a lot of people; probably even thousands. But even if it took years to do, wouldn’t that be worth it if it led to finding Keshama’s father? My children’s grandfather?

While this certainly seemed like a long shot, at least I had a strategy that made some logical sense. Perhaps I could hire a detective? I didn’t know where to go from there, but that foundation of a logical plan gave me a glimmer of hope that it would be possible to find him. But then time began to pass. The overwhelming odds, and the general busyness of life left me a bit paralyzed. Over the years I reached out to several detectives, I contacted TV shows and podcasts that specialized in solving these kinds of mysteries, and followed up on any potential source of help that I could find. With a single exception of a detective who suggested this would be extremely expensive to even attempt to solve, I got no responses from anyone. I assumed they all put it in the “too hard” basket and just never bothered to reply. The years continued to pass.

Then one day while back in Los Angeles (where we had been living at the time), we got a call from Keshama’s stepfather. He told Keshama that something was wrong with Alana. She had returned from a trip to India, not seeming herself. She was repeating herself to a high degree, and just generally looking disheveled. Something that was in no way normal for her. After months of testing and an increasing amount of odd behavior, Alana was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease (a rare form of front temporal lobe dementia). This news was emotionally devastating for Keshama.

Pick’s Disease works a bit differently from other forms of dementia in that it causes a shrinkage of the front temporal lobe, rather than a buildup of plaque between nerve cells (as you might see in someone with Alzheimer’s). The front temporal lobe is the part of the brain that essentially regulates your personality. Whereas Alzheimer’s tends to be a long fade into less and less “good days”, once Pick’s disease has developed to the point of diagnoses the personality of the inflicted is more or less irreversibly changed. Alana was Keshama’s best friend and closest confidant. This disease would send Keshama into a cloud of confusion and depression that she is still dealing with to this day. While Keshama loves her stepfather very much, and by all accounts he has been a fantastic father to her, there is still a looming aloneness that leaves Keshama feeling a bit more vulnerable than the rest of her family. As Keshama’s husband, and as someone who has watched her deal with this fear and anxiety, it re-inspired me to revisit this goal of somehow finding her biological father. Sadly, any further information that Alana might have been able to provide was now lost to the disease and her fading memories.

About two years ago I heard about a site called 23andme.com. For about $100 you could submit a vial of saliva and they would analyze your DNA. They would then add you to their database of over a million people who had submitted their DNA and you would then be able to see the account profiles of anyone in the system who is a genetic match. While the chances were slim that this would lead to Keshama’s father, at the very least she would learn what her ancestry was on her father’s side. So I ordered two kits. One for Keshama and one for Alana. With Alana’s DNA we would have the ability to filter out matches and ancestry on her side and begin to get a picture of who Keshama’s father might be.

Several weeks later the results came in. Unfortunately there were no close matches on her father’s side; the closest paternal matches being a handful of third, and many more fourth cousins. There was no obvious pattern to any of the matches either. Some were in the US. Some in the UK. Others were in Australia. One or two were even in New Zealand.

Keshama had given me permission to essentially act as her proxy and communicate with people on her behalf. I don’t think she believed that finding her father was possible and as such, the idea of engaging in the search was just too emotional (and potentially disappointing) for her. So instead, I would send a message to any reasonably close match on her father’s side and see what I could find out. But to be honest, I didn’t even know what I was looking for. My messages amounted to little more then, “Hi, according to my 23andme.com results we are related. I’d love see if we can figure out how we are connected. Do you have a family tree or a list of family surnames you might be willing to share?”

The vast majority would not respond (something that everyone comes to learn is very common with sites like these). But some would. And while those that responded were happy to help, I really just had no idea what to do with the information. I now had a giant list of names with no apparent pattern to them. I was just as confused as I was before I began.

The most interesting thing that came from the 23andme results was the ancestry breakdown on her father’s side. We had spent many years wondering what nationality Keshama might be. Keshama’s mother is Irish/English/Scottish, and about 8% Maori. Looking at Keshama we often guessed that her father might be French or Spanish. Our assumption was that he was of some European race that tended towards darker features, rather than the blonde hair and blue eyes of, say, a Scandinavian country. But to our surprise, according to 23andme.com her father’s genetic makeup was nearly identical to her mothers. The ancestry she inherited from her “not mother’s” side was Irish/English/Scottish with a sliver of Maori. This Maori contribution caused us to begin wondering about the claim that he was a “traveler”. Perhaps he was the ancestor of someone with New Zealand roots and was in the country visiting family? Perhaps Alana had it wrong all these years. But why would she say he had an accent? We just didn’t know, and unfortunately, Alana was not able to offer any additional information due to her advancing dementia.

An obvious question emerged, what if we have the “traveler” part of this wrong? Maybe he still lives in New Zealand? I did some quick (and probably inaccurate) math. According to the web there are 1,552,897 people in the US named Paul. There are 323.1 Million people in the US so that means that .48% of the US is named Paul. If I apply that ratio to New Zealand’s population that would mean that there are 22,511 people named Paul living in New Zealand. That’s a lot of Paul’s. However, Alana is currently 67 years old and was 25 at the time of Keshama’s conception. It’s fairly safe to assume that Keshama’s father would be between 60 and 80. Working off of the average lifespan in NZ of 81 that would mean that I could cut out 3/4ths of the potential candidates based on age; leaving me with 5,627 people worth looking into. But wait, we believe he is a Scorpio. If I divide that number by 12 months, I get just 469 people named Paul that could potentially be her father. I can call 469 people. It would take me a few days but it’s very doable. All I would need is a database that allows me to apply those filters. Surely that exists? I honestly had no idea. However, as we began to question the “traveler” aspect of the story, everything was called into question? Are we to believe that Alana actually remembered the astrological sign of a man she met on one occasion 42 years ago? Is his name even Paul? What if it was his middle name? I made more inquiries to detectives, TV shows, and podcasts. Just as before, I got nowhere.

More time passed. I continued to stare at the 23andme matches and wonder what I might be able to do with them. I also read various DNA research blogs in the hope of making sense of it all. I eventually learned that 23andme was just one of several DNA sites out there, and in fact it was the smaller, more US-centric of the sites. At least compared to Ancestry.com which has over five million people in their database and has a wide base of users in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. So in July of 2017, short on ideas of what to buy my wife for her birthday, I bought her two AncestryDNA kits and a one year membership to the site. This would give us access to their billions of records as well as their family tree building tool. I had no idea what I would do with those records, or how I would go about building a family tree for her father (when I didn’t know who he actually was), but I had come across various articles that suggested that this was an important part of the process. And so I placed the order. I was $500 poorer but hopeful that this much bigger database would yield a closer match.

It had been more than a year since initially signing up for 23andme.com. In that time Alana’s condition had declined and we would discover that she could not work out the process of spitting into the sample vile. Keshama and her brother sat at her mother’s side for nearly an hour, lemons in hand, trying unsuccessfully to coax a few milligrams of the saliva needed to submit her DNA to Ancestry.com. Perhaps a bit disheartened, the AncetsryDNA kits sat there on the shelf, gathering dust for another six months.

Then, in early December of 2017, in a fit of spring cleaning, Keshama filled her own DNA sample vial with saliva and sent her kit off to be analyzed. We would not have her mother’s DNA to filter out her maternal matches as we did with 23andme.com, but at least it was something, and we would continue to try and collect a sample from Alana. Perhaps, in time, we would get lucky.

Alana and Keshama

Alana and Keshama.,circa 1978.

On December 23rd the results came in. Excited, we logged into the site and began looking through an entirely new collection of genetic matches. There were over 400 matches that were predicted to be fourth cousins or closer. But of those 400 matches only two were predicted second cousins. Another five were third cousins. Still, this was exciting. A second cousin is reasonably close relative. If either one of these second cousins were on Keshama’s father’s side they could be the key to finding him.

And then I noticed that the closer of these second cousins (a girl in her twenties named Toni) had a family tree attached to her profile. I clicked on the tree and began reading through the different names. None of them were names on Keshama’s mother’s side. Keshama’s maternal great great great Grandfather is Atama Paparangi; once the chief of the Te Rarawa tribe in Mitimiti. A man who’s portrait was painted by the renowned artist, Charles Frederick Goldie in the early nineteen hundreds. Thus, he was forever immortalized as one of the iconic Maori chiefs of New Zealand. His portrait now stands on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and has been printed on many thousands of postcards, calendars, and tourist trinkets, to be dispersed around the globe. As such, Keshama’s mother’s side (the descendants of Atama Paparangi), are fairly well documented, and she knows most of the surnames of those ancestors. So when none of the Paparangi’s, Kendals, O’Donnell’s or Reids that make up Keshama’s maternal ancestors appeared on this second cousin’s family tree, we thought it certain that we had hit the jackpot and found a close relative on her father’s side. 

I fired up my keyboard and wrote a heartfelt email on Keshama’s behalf. The appeal was fairly straight forward. “I” was looking for my biological father and thought she might be the key to finding him. “Keshama” explained that she did not see any of her mother’s ancestral surnames on her family tree and that – given that she was such a close relative – it seemed likely she was related through Keshama’s father. “Keshama” told the story of her mother’s encounter with Paul, and offered the few details we had. Would she be willing to help by sharing whatever information she had? Does she know of anyone named Paul in her family that would probably be in his late sixties? The appeal was bold. We felt certain we’d hear back. We hit send and waited.

Later that evening we had a few friends over for Christmas cocktails. We had been sitting around the table soaking up the spirit of the holidays when Keshama’s phone dinged. She had received an email from her new found cousin. Nervous, and surprised to have received a response so quickly, Keshama shoved the phone in my hand.

“You read it… I can’t…” I opened the email and began to read out loud…

“Hey Keshama! I’m currently on a road trip so I’ll reply better on my return, but based on my skim through your message, I won’t be able to help you 🙁 My mum was adopted and only vaguely remembers her birth mum’s name being something like “O’Connell/O’Donnell”. I’ll ask her for more info when I get back so we can see how we’re related but I think I’m related to your mum’s side based on the surname. Have a great Christmas and I hope you find another link soon! I didn’t want you to have too much hope over the next week. Cheers, Toni”.

Fuck! By the time I had looked up from my phone there were tears.

“It’s fine. I’m fine,” Keshama said as she brushed them away. “I just got a bit excited is all. I’m totally fine”.

But of course she wasn’t totally fine. She was sad. For the first time in her life she had actually thought she might find her father, and now that bubble was burst.

“Don’t worry”, I told her. “That was just the first relative we contacted. This is doable. We can find him… I’ll find him.”

“Yeah, I know”, Keshama said as she wiped away the last of her tears. She was not at all convinced.

But those tears, and my reflexive assertion that I would somehow make-everything-better had flipped a switch. My wife wanted to know who her father was, and god damn it… I was going to find him. We were only a week or so into the long New Zealand Christmas holiday. At that moment I mentally committed to taking an uncharacteristic couple of weeks off work, and put the full force of my abilities into finding Keshama’s father. I can do this…. Gulp… I can do this. So where do I start?

The first invaluable lesson I learned was that within the “DNA Matches” section of Ancestry.com there is a “shared matches” tool. This meant that I could click on any relative and see what other relatives Keshama and he/she shared. If the user also had a public family tree (which many do), I could click on that and see the names of anyone in their tree that was diceased (the names of the living are protected for privacy reasons.) Between these two features I could get a fairly good sense of whether someone was a relative on Keshama’s maternal or paternal side.

I began searching the shared ancestors of all of Keshama’s closest matches and unfortunately most of them were also related to Toni. This of course meant that they were relatives on her mother’s side. However, there was one third cousin, and five fourth cousins that appeared to be related on her father’s side. It was something.

The problem begins with just how distant a third or fourth cousin actually is. If someone is your fourth cousin that means that the most recent common ancestor you share is a great great great Grandparent (ggg). My initial thinking was that if I could find all of the ggg-Grandparents of just one of Keshama’s paternal fourth cousins, and then follow all of their family trees down to the living generations – while keeping an eye out for a Scorpio named Paul – then I would eventually find Keshama’s father. While the logic is sound, the reality of finding a parent that way is a bit of a different matter.

Each of us has 16 pairs of ggg-Grandparents. Even using the current birthrate of 2.4 children per family (it was much higher in the past), by the time we follow the lines of those 16 ggg Grandparents down to the living generation we are looking at 530 people that could potentially be Keshama’s father. In most cases that number is much higher due to the higher birth rates of the past. And this is assuming that every single line has clear, uninterrupted, records. Most don’t. Matters are only compounded by how difficult it is to find the names of the living generations and the recently diseased, due to privacy laws. This could take months. Possibly even years. It seemed like my odds were better sticking to my original plan of calling every Paul in the phonebook.

The best shot I had was the single, solitary third cousin match. Her name was Shirley. She had a family tree connected to her account but it was marked as private. Despite several attempts at messaging Shirley, I did not hear back.

The days past, and the stress headaches began. I continued to stare at Keshama’s matches and peck away at various public records. Hoping to somehow coax the facts from the screen by sheer will. Contacting people was an art form unto itself. I had to balance the need to stress how important it was that they reply, without scaring them off by insinuating that perhaps a close relative of theirs was Keshama’s father. But I did my best, and slowly, the responses began to come in. Those that did respond were almost unanimously supportive of Keshama’s search and willing to share whatever information they had. But unfortunately there was still no response from Shirley, Keshama’s valuable third cousin match.

And then one day we heard from a woman named Suzanne. Suzanne, as it would turn out, is Keshama’s fourth cousin on her father’s side. Suzanne was intelligent, patient, and kind, and most importantly, willing to help. Not only does she have a PHD in biology, but her husband is a professor of genetics. A native New Zealander now living in Ireland, she was adopted and had just concluded her own successful search for her biological parents using DNA and Ancestry.com. This meant that she not only had an incredibly strong understanding of genetics, but that she also had a very well researched family tree. She also knew firsthand what it was like to long to know your biological parents. Suzanne spent many emails answering questions and explaining what would be needed if Keshama was going to find her father using DNA. She said that it was possible to find him by tracing the many different lines of her ggg-Grandparents, but that it would be an immense amount of work. She explained that the more likely reality is that it would take a closer match appearing in the system before Keshama would be able to find her father. But she was willing to help in any way that should could.

That began a series of over thirty emails back and forth. Suzanne would answer questions, I would spend dozens of hours building out the family trees of Keshama’s genetic matches, and eventually stumble on some new clue. Then we’d write Suzanne again to ask for clarity, and she would once more point me in the right direction. Without her help this would have never been possible. Slowly but surely, the complicated discipline known as genetic genealogy began to actually come into focus and make sense.

Then one day we had I break through. We got a message from Shirley’s granddaughter. She was writing on behalf of her grandmother and was willing to help. It turned out that her sister had an extensive family tree with over 1000 names in it. As soon as I got the link to Shirley’s Tree I plugged in the names of all of Suzanne’s ggg-Grandparents. I got a match! The short version of a fairly long and confusing story is that we were able to determine that Shirley was Keshama’s second cousin twice removed, and Suzanne was (as we suspected) Keshama’s fourth cousin. We now knew who the common ancestors were between all three of them. We had found one set of Keshama’s paternal ggg-Grandparents. Holy shit! We were actually getting somewhere!

Ann Matten

Keshama’s paternal Ancestry first came into focus with the face of her Great Great Great Grandmother, Ann Matten.

Suzanne confirmed the logic of our findings and explained that now we would need to find a point in Keshama’s family tree in which another relative of Keshama’s (who was not related to either Shirley or Suzanne) married into Keshama’s paternal ggg-Grandparents family. She explained that in a search like this, the ultimate goal is to find the point where the family trees of two DNA matches (that are not related to one another) overlap. Once you know where those two families marry into one another, you need only follow their decedents down until you find the person you are looking for.

Still, I had my work cut out for me. Keshama’s ggg-Grandparents had eight children. One of those children had eleven children, and so on and so on. There were a lot of branches in this tree. It was going to take me a very long time to trace the lines of each and every relative. However, with Suzanne’s guidance, I continued digging. Slowly but surely I would rule out different branches of the tree. If we found a relative, and that relative did not share a significant amount of DNA with Keshama, we then knew that Keshama’s father could not be in that branch of the tree. All the while I did my best to take notes of surnames and look for that crucial point of overlap.

I stayed up late at night. I neglected my work responsibilities (fortunately I am self-employed), but I couldn’t stop digging. I knew I was getting closer with every name I uncovered. But I just didn’t know if the key discover was close at hand, or many months away. With each dead end Keshama would begin to grow skeptical.

“I think it’s possible you may be miles away from finding him,” she’d say. Her skepticism was a protection mechanisms that was beginning to kick in. “I appreciate everything you’re doing but do you think maybe it’s time you put this on the back burner for a while?” But there was no way I was going to let this go.

I had narrowed things down to one of two potential sets of gg-Grandparents. One line had moved to Australia and one had stayed in New Zealand. The idea that Keshama’s father could have been from Australia seemed to resonate. Australia was close by, and an Australian accent is just similar enough to a New Zealand accent to possibly explain why Alana was so vague about where Keshama’s father was from. I sent away for several birth certificates, and even convinced a Librarian in Goulburn to scan an obituary from the 1970s and send it to me. The process was challenging, but also filled with bits of exciting detective work. Each document would reveal a new name or some other crucial piece of information. Slowly but surely I had found the names of all of the men in this Australian branch of the family Tree, down to the living generations. Unfortunately there were no Pauls.

With one more set of gg-grandparents to trace, I finally enlisted the help of a professional genealogist who specialized in finding the biological parents of adoptees. She charged $500 for a 12 hour block of time and she estimated that it would take two or three 12 hour blocks of research to find Keshama’s father. While there were no guarantees, she felt good about our chances, given all of the information that we had already uncovered. I paid for the first block of time and she went to work.

As she built out the family trees of Keshama’s matches (with an infinitely greater grasp on the process than I had), I contacted more and more relatives and passed on everything I found to aid her in her search. Each day she’d report-in via email and fill me in on what she had found. The first few days were uneventful.

And then early one Friday morning I got an email from her…

She explained that as she was getting into the last two hours of the twelve hour block she had found what looked to be a crucial match. She was pretty certain she had found one of Keshama’s paternal grandparents, and that rather than spending the remaining time writing up her customary report, she was going to push through to try and confirm things.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…

Keshama’s Paternal Great Great Grandfather, William Walter Feek Jr.

In that very last branch of Keshama’s ggg-Grandparents family tree – the only one I had not yet explored – she had found that crucial point of overlap where the family trees of several of Keshama’s DNA matches converged.

“I started looking back again at William Walter Feek Jr. who married Catherine French,” the genealogist explained. “Their daughter, also named Catherine, married Atkinson Crockett Jeffries. They had at least one child; a son named Raymond Walter Jeffries. I began looking at him. He was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1922. I started looking through records for him and found that he went to America in 1943; I’m pretty certain it was with the Navy during WWII. I have not found who he married yet. Then I found him back down under living in Auckland NZ in 1946. Later I found him in Wellington, and then again in Auckland in 1981. So, when I built Atkinson Crockett Jeffries tree back I found a load of Keshama’s matches tying in.

Suffice to say, I would say Keshama is extremely likely to descend from Atkinson Crockett Jeffries and Catherine Feek. I have not yet determined if they had any other children aside from Raymond Walter, nor have I found Raymond’s spouse yet. But, either Raymond or one of his siblings is Keshama’s paternal grandparent.”

No fucking Way!!

I was absolutely stunned. Keshama had spent the night at her mother’s house and was not yet awake, so I couldn’t reach her to tell her the news. I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. We were really fucking close here. This was going to happen…

Before I could even reply, another email came in…

The genealogist had sent me a link to an obituary that had been published on the New Zealand Herald website in 2015 for a woman named Carmel Jeffries, the wife of Raymond Jeffries. This meant that I was reading the obituary of Keshama’s paternal grandmother.

She had sent a note along with the link…

“There appears to be a Paul!”

The obituary explained that Carmel Jeffries was the wife of Raymond Jeffries, and the loving mother of five children. One of whom was named Paul. I was floored! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

At that moment my eight year old son walked in the room, still rubbing sleep from his eyes. “River,” I said, “we found Mom’s biological father”.

All told it had taken about 200 hours of research, the help of a professional genealogist, and about $1500 in expenses, but it looked as though we had found Keshama’s father. With a bit of digging we had soon found a Facebook profile, a home address, and a birthdate. Just as Alana had always told Keshama, he was a Scorpio. The only surprising piece of new information was that Paul Jeffries was only 61 years old. That would have made him a few weeks shy of 19 at the time of Keshama’s conception. You may recall that Alana was 25 at the time. Certainly not an age gap that is unheard of, but definitely a surprise. But the best news of all was that he was alive and well, and married with 5 children (three boys and two girls). He lived in Auckland, just a four hours away. We even found several articles describing his various charitable projects. He had started one trust to bring much needed medical equipment to Vanuatu, and another to help a sick child find a bone marrow donor for a rare type of Leukemia. You really couldn’t ask for more in a long lost father. As you can imagine, Keshama was ecstatic when she heard the news.

A few days later a new DNA match appeared in Keshama’s Ancestry results on her paternal side. This was a second cousin once removed, and the closest match Keshama had yet. We made contact with this match and explained the situation. It would turn out that her name was Anne and she was Carmel Hickey’s second cousin. She remembered knowing Paul’s sisters as a young child, but had long since lost touch with the family. But this now meant that we had confirmed DNA connections on both Paul’s paternal and maternal side, and all of the predicted relationships fit together just right. It was all but certain that we had the right person.

After giving it several days to sink in, Keshama wrote a letter to her father. She explained that – while it would take a DNA test to be 100% certain – she believed that he was her biological father. She shared the few details she had always been told, explained that she was not looking for anything from him, but expressed that she would love to meet him if he was open to it.

She decided to send the letter both in the mail, as well as on Facebook. If for some reason we had the wrong address, he would hopefully still get the message on Facebook. If his privacy settings were such that he did not see messages from people that are not his Facebook “friends” he’d hopefully get the letter in the mail. We were covering our bases. She added him as a friend on Facebook and hit send. We packaged up the letter and sent it with tracking so we could see if/when it was delivered.

Keshama’s suspicion that he was not an active Facebook user turned out to be correct. He did not initially see her friend request or the message she had sent. On the day the letter was scheduled to arrive we took our son to a birthday lunch in Paihia. All the while, nervously checking the tracking on the letter every 15 minutes. Then, finally, after what seemed like the 874th screen refresh. The tracking said “delivered”. Our stomach muscles tightened with anticipation. We waited. A few minutes later Keshama’s phone dinged. “Paul Jeffries has accepted your message request”.

Holy fucking shit! I was as nervous and excited as Keshama was.

Moments later three wavy dots appeared at the bottom of the Facebook messenger window. Keshama’s father was sending her a message. Was he going to be nice? Was he going to tell her didn’t want to have anything to do with her? The nervous anticipation was excruciating.

And then the message came through…

“Wow”, Paul said. “I have to admit, I’m a bit shocked by your message. Why don’t we save verbal for our first meeting. Fancy a coffee and a chat?”

The two of them exchanged phone numbers, made a plan, and four days later Paul drove up from Auckland to meet Keshama for lunch. She couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. He was friendly, open, and seemed to completely embrace Keshama and the situation. He didn’t remember meeting Alana (which made us a bit nervous that we had made a mistake), but his whereabouts at the time lined up with Alana’s and he seemed to trust the genealogical evidence. However, as the details began to unfold, it became clearer and clearer that we had the right person. It would turn out that – while Paul was born in New Zealand – he had been living in the Bronx between the ages of 12 and 18. He would have only recently returned to New Zealand around the time of Keshama’s conception. He explained that he had returned to New Zealand with a New York accent, and when people would ask where he was from he would answer, “Long Island”. This New York/Kiwi hybrid accent, and his peculiar origins story lined up with Alana’s assertion that he was a “traveler” and also seemed to explain why she was unclear about where he was from. We would also discover that the “World Bar” would turn out to be the “Globe Tavern”, a bar that Paul worked at in 1975.

The Globe Tavern

A historical photograph of the Globe Tavern, where Alana and Paul met back in 1975. Sadly, the building is no longer there.

A few weeks later the results of a paternity test would come in and confirm without a shadow of a doubt that we had the right man. Paul Jeffries is Keshama’s biological father. The man that Keshama had wondered about for more than 40 years was no longer an enigma. She has three new brothers and two sisters that she hopes to meet soon and add to her already wonderful family, and a seemingly unsolvable mystery has been solved.

As I write this it has only been a few weeks since Keshama and Paul first met. They continue to talk, spend time together, and make plans for the future. Like any relationship, only time will tell where it will all go. But every indication is that they have begun a long and fruitful journey as father and daughter and will have many years to make up for lost time. The ghost of Keshama’s father is gone, and instead has been replaced by a kind, intelligent, and passionate man who has already changed the dynamic of our family.

Forty one years later, and with the help of Ancestry.com, a professional genealogist, numerous relatives, and supportive online groups like DNA Detectives, we have finally found Paul.

Paul Jeffries and Keshama Jane, meeting for the first time in January of 2018.


Special Note: It’s important that a special acknowledgment go out to Seakele Altenburg, who until recently was the only father Keshama had ever known. He has been loving and kind throughout Keshama’s life and has been incredibly supportive and encouraging throughout the search for Paul. Recent events have not changed their relationship one bit, but simply added a new dimension to it. Thank you Seakele, for being the rock star that you are…


 

127 Comments

  • Ula says:

    Oh I have tears in my eyes this is an amazing story and I am so happy to hear about the amazing outcome! Awesome work John and my love to Keshama

  • Doug Moore says:

    John, you are amazing. I am so happy for Keshama and you. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons), and we do a ton of genealogy and family history, and so it is something that interests me, and I’m thrilled to hear that you were successful. Now that the search is over, I’m not sure it will be helpful, but familysearch.org may be a site that is interesting to you, now that you are a pro at it. hehe.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Thanks Doug! I really appreciate it. I’m very familiar with FamilySearch. I left a lot of the details out so I didn’t bog people down with stuff that was hard to track with, but Familysearch.org is one of the many tools I used throughout the process. It’s a great resource! Thanks again.

  • Andy says:

    This is quite a story. No kidding. It truly moved me.

  • I have tears in my eyes reading this. I’ve been a student/follower of every product of John’s since about 2009-2010, so I feel like a really know him. I use 23andMe on a daily basis in my “day job” health care career. This is such a great story. Thank you so much for sharing, and congratulations!

  • Matt Welsh says:

    Incredible story, thank you for sharing John and congrats to you and your growing family 🙂

  • Ralph Billiot says:

    Thanks for sharing your wife’s story.I worked with genealogist before it was incredible experience.

  • Russell Alexander says:

    Great story, but I had to copy and paste it. White letters on a black background, for that long and in a small font, really hurt my eyes. When I looked away from the screen after reading the first few paragraphs, I saw black lines with white squiggles in front of me!

    But thanks for posting it anyway.

  • Austin Jones says:

    That’s an amazing story!

  • Jack says:

    Hi John,

    Thank you for sharing this terrific, touching story. It nicely combined your skills, tenacity, and LOVE for your wife to give her this most amazing gift. Congratulations!!!!

    Best,

    Jack Locker

  • Debbie says:

    This is amazing! It could be my own story, in the 50’s in Southern USA. I’m determined to find my birth father, though at this juncture he may well be deceased, but knowing family will be more than I could have imagined when the searching began. Congratulations, and thank you John for sticking with Keshama through the long journey! You’re a special guy!

  • Brian says:

    Persistence pays off. Wow! Excellent work.

  • Chris Jones says:

    What a beautiful story! Kudos to you for initiating the ‘search’ and all that assisted. Thanks for sharing John!

  • Carl says:

    Beautiful.

  • Tom Hipps says:

    Congrats to you and Keshama! Your fascinating story reminds me of the movie Lion… if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must for you guys! A side note: My mother also has dementia… she can’t remember what happened 2 minutes ago, and spends much of her day just coloring and arranging things in her room, but you know what, John? Every time I tell her, “Mom, I’ve got a gig tonight” she gets SO excited and happy and says something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s so wonderful! You’ve been so blessed to get to do music!” And I fully agree:) You just learn to live and appreciate one moment at a time with your loved ones with dementia. Peace to you and yours.

    • John Oszajca says:

      Thanks Tom, sorry to hear that your mother is also inflicted with this horrible disease, but glad to hear that you’re keeping a positive outlook. I haven’t seen the film but will keep an eye out for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *