Genes Reunited Blog
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During World War Two thousands of children in the UK were born to American GI fathers. As those children became adults, many have only one thing on their mind, how to find their unknown dads.
There are no official figures on GI children, but estimates range from 7,000 to 100,000. Perhaps you are one of them or perhaps your parent is and chances are you have very little to go on.
Such children were often ‘illegitimate’; their backgrounds shrouded in secrecy and lies. In some cases the US army told pregnant women their GI lover had been killed – when he was still alive.
For decades the US military refused to release information, until in 1989 Shirley McGlade, who founded War Babes, sued the American Defense Department. The resulting court settlement made searching much easier.
I first became interested in long lost-relatives when I wrote The Ghost of Lily Painter, in which a woman becomes fascinated with the life of an Edwardian music hall singer.
Towards the end of the novel she decides to try and find her GI grandfather, an African American stationed in the UK. And there the book closes.
I’d already done some background reading and was so struck by the difficulties people must face in making these searches that I wanted to look deeper into this in my next novel.
Family Likeness is about a little girl whose father was a GI and whose mother puts her in a children’s home. What I needed was to speak to people who had actually gone through the searching process
I discovered a group called GI Trace and later a group called GI & Family International Search. In September 2011, I wrote to GI Trace and moderator John Munro approved my request to join the message board, ‘if you make it absolutely clear what you are doing.’
I posted a message explaining my novel, saying I wanted to talk to people who’d tried to trace their GI father, especially if he was an African American. Children whose fathers were black were far more likely to have been put into care; one English county apparently did so compulsorily.
An hour later I had seven replies; I had stumbled into a world I hadn’t known existed.
People began to tell me their stories, their anguish and heartbreak at not knowing their fathers, and their joy when, in some cases, they found them.
One message in particular, from Monica Roberts, stood out. ‘Hello Caitlin,’ she wrote, ‘I have just read your post. I was born in 1944 in the North West of England to a black American GI and a young unmarried Lancashire girl.’
During her twenties Monica thought of trying to find her dad, but ‘I hadn't a clue how to go about searching. There were no computers then or groups to help my search. I resigned myself to never knowing.’
Then at the age of 58 she got her first lead. Her son was showing her how a search engine worked, he typed in her father’s name and said, ‘Oh look Mum, I've found him.’
Monica stared at the screen. ‘My heart leapt with excitement and more emotions than I could cope with. Then I realised what I was looking at...it was the US Social Security Death Index
But she found an obituary notice listing family members at her father’s funeral, got in touch with a cousin and finally saw a photo of her dad. ‘I was moved to tears. I had truly found myself and all the pain and sadness of the early years of my life simply faded away.’
Last month I met Monica for the first time at the novel’s launch, and when she looked at the cover image she said, ‘that was me! That’s what I looked like as a little girl.’
Others have found their dads still alive, like Pauline Natividad who was brought up by her grandparents. When she was 13 she was given her mother’s jewel box; inside were photos and a card signed ‘Kisses for Pauline from her Daddy.’
It took her several years before she found her brother. A few weeks later, at the age of 44, she was on the plane to Texas to meet her dad. ‘Now I know where I come from,’ she says, ‘there is no longer a void. The last jigsaw piece is in place.’
Maybe there’s someone in your family looking for a GI too, and sites like Genes Reunited can prove invaluable. It was when one member of GI & Family International Search was trying to build her family tree that she first discovered she was adopted.
For the majority of people, the search is still on going. John Wastle is one of the founders of GI Trace; his Pennsylvanian father was last seen in Edinburgh in September 1944 around the time of John’s conception. “I want my children and grandson to know about their dad who fought for them during WW2,’ says John, ‘but I’m aware that time is running out.’