Friday, August 20, 2021

FInding My Aunt Carol

I had known about my Aunt Carol for years.  My mother, who cared so much about knowing and staying in touch with family members, made sure of that, even if Carol was my father's sister, not hers.

But the problem my father had was that she wasn't his sister — she was his half-sister.  She was born from the relationship my grandfather had after he left my grandmother, and my father resented that for decades, as I eventually learned.

When my mother compiled a list of all known relatives out to stepgrandparents (yes, really!) for my brother, who was applying for a job with a security clearance, Carol was included.  I knew her full name — Carol Beth Sellers — and her birthday — August 20, 1954.  Mommy thought she was born in Niceville, Florida.  We knew her mother's name was Anita.  And that was about it.

My grandfather died in 1995, as did my mother.  Adelle, my grandfather's widow when he died, went to live with her nephew; she had no children of her own to take her in.  She herself died in 2000.

I still don't know how much of my grandfather's "stuff" Adelle kept with her when she moved to her nephew's home.  (For instance, the whereabouts of Grampa's Shriner's fez are still unknown.)  Apparently, however, some of what Adelle did take with her were a lot of Grampa's papers from when he worked in the Civil Service with the U.S. Air Force and several photos from his marriage to Anita.

The reason the papers and photos became known is that some years after Adelle had died, the nephew contacted my aunt Dottie — my father's oldest sister from Grampa's side of the family — and asked if anyone in the family was interested in those items.  I am so happy Dottie said yes.

Dottie got everything from Adelle's nephew and then sat on the papers and photos for a couple of years before asking my father if he wanted them.  And thus they were passed on to a new caretaker for a while.

My father had them for some time.  He had made plans — he wanted to scan all the Civil Service documents and then share them with other family members, particularly me, the primary one interested in our family history.  He even told me that he had them and was going to share the scans after he had made them.

The problem was, however, that there were a LOT of papers.  Grampa was known for being a little obsessive about keeping things, and his work documents were no exception.

After a while Daddy decided he wasn't going to get around to doing all that scanning and asked if I just wanted the documents, and I could be the one stuck scanning them and sharing with family members.  And of course I said yes.

When he sent everything to me, the first thing I did was separate the work documents from the several photos that were included.  When I looked through the photos, I recognized my father in a couple and my grandfather in several, but I didn't know who the woman and young girl were who appeared many times.  After asking my father and aunt, I learned they were Anita, my grandfather's wife after his relationship with my grandmother, and my aunt Carol, Anita's daughter and Daddy's youngest sister.

My father made it clear he was not interested in the photos in any way — "That is not my sister.  I've never had anything to do with her."  Of course, using his logic, his sisters Dottie and Mildred shouldn't have wanted anything to do with him, as Grampa had left their mother to live with my grandmother (not divorcing their mother until Anita insisted on being able to marry, as I'll explain in a little while), and my older half-sister Laurie shouldn't have wanted to keep in touch with my siblings and me.  And I eventually determined that he was in photos with Carol, debunking what he said.  But that's okay, life has a way of working out sometimes.

There were so many photos, I couldn't let them just be.  I decided I had to find Anita and/or Carol and reunite them with the photos.

I asked my aunt Dottie if she was in touch with Anita or Carol.  She said no.  My only clue starting out was my grandfather's obituary, which included Carol as a surviving family member and had her last name as Ebanks.

This was the early days of genealogy information being available online.  I didn't find anything relevant with searches.  I wasn't finding much of anything with the name Ebanks at all.  I started to think that it might be Eubanks, just misspelled, so searched for that also.  I found more results, just not for the person I was looking for.

I was making a lot of phone calls by searching phone directories for Ebanks and Eubanks.  I don't remember now how I made the connection (this was several years ago), but in calling someone else named Ebanks, she told me she knew about Anita and that she used to work for this one company; maybe they could help me get in touch with her.

I was certainly grasping at straws by that point, so I said, sure, it couldn't hurt to try.  And I called the company.  I'm certain it was against policy, but the woman I spoke to said that not only did she know Anita, who had retired by that time, but she could give me a phone number for her!  I did the genealogy happy dance around the living room.

When I called Anita, she confirmed that she was indeed the ex-wife of my grandfather and the mother of my aunt Carol.  I told her how happy I was to find her and that I had been searching for her so that I could return the photos.  She appreciated the effort I had gone to and was looking forward to seeing them again after all those decades.

She also got chatty and told me a little about herself and her relationship with Grampa.  They met each other working at Fort Dix in New Jersey.  He apparently had been chasing after her for a while.  At some point she told him he would have to prove to her that he was divorced because she was a good Christian girl and wouldn't take up with any married man.  And he did it!  He divorced his wife!  She even went looking in her house for the divorce paperwork, which she had a copy of, so she could tell me what it said.  She found it and read some from it but neglected to tell me the name of the wife!  (I didn't find out until some years later that the divorce was from his first wife, Elizabeth, and not my grandmother, Anna, who had apparently "lived in sin" with Grampa for all the years they were together.  When I did discover that, I immediately called my father to tell him that he was officially a bastard because his parents had never been married.  He thought that was hilarious and broke out laughing.)

I don't remember now if I sent the photos to Anita or to Carol.  I think I sent them to Anita.  I'm sure that I got Carol's address from Anita at that time, and I wrote to her.

A year or so after that, I had plans to be in Atlanta for a convention.  I realized how close that was to where Carol lived and decided I finally had to meet my aunt.  At the end of the convention, the friend who was there in Atlanta with me (coincidentally also named Carol) and I drove to lovely Toccoa (birthplace of DeForest Kelley!) to meet her.  We had a wonderful time, and I am still so happy I made the effort to do that.

When my father was turning 70, I tried to arrange for all four of his children to come to Florida to celebrate.  (Well, three of us made it.)  I also invited Carol, who wasn't able to come, but she asked for Daddy's mailing address so she could send a card.  When I arrived in Florida, the first thing my father did was show me the card that Carol had sent for his birthday, telling him how much she cared about him even though they hadn't spent that much time together during their lives.  He cried when he told me how happy he was that I had helped put him in touch with his sister.

Carol wasn't able to travel much around that time, but at some point she made it down to Florida, and the four siblings were together for one of my most treasured photographs.


  1. What a heartwarming story! So much of our research merely involves paper, documents and photos -- so it is nice to read about an in-person family reunion generated by your diligent research work. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you! I was thrilled when my father shared the photo of the four of them. It really was gratifying to see what took place because of my effort.


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