We’ve all seen the ads for Ancestry.com. Check it out! Find out that your great aunt Gertrude was awesome! Only ~$300 if you don’t cancel before the 14-day free trial runs out! (Yes, I’m serious, damn ancestry.com. You be straight trippin’.) Today little Wes was asleep on my lap, the laptop was within reach and I sure as hell wasn’t risking moving a sleeping babby. So I figured why not? A few hours’ dicking around later, I’d fleshed out up to my great-great grandparents on at least one branch.
As I was looking over my assembled tabs and trees and leafy icons, one in particular caught my attention. I kind of stared at it for a bit, eyes narrowed and mind-cogs turning.
I wonder what ever happened to my dad?
Rewind to 198X. Or thereabouts. I was little, I don’t remember much. What I do remember was finding my mom in her room, curled up into a ball and crying. This was a period of time after she’d put my little brother and I into the car and driven us from Illinois to Texas, leaving Dad in our wake. I was little…less than six? According to the Social Security Death Index it was 1986 when Dad died, so I was less than six when we left.
Supposedly at some point after Mom took us to Texas, I was sent back up to Illinois to see him. I have no recollection of this trip whatsoever. I had to have been around five. What a cheat, not to be able to remember the last time I saw my dad. My last memory of him is him throttling the chair where Mom sat at dinner while she was packing us into the car. How fucked up is that?
I remember that Mom’s room was completely dark when she called us in to tell us. She pulled my little brother and I up onto the bed with her and explained that Daddy had been on a fishing trip and his heart had stopped, and we didn’t have a daddy anymore. I don’t think I cried for a few hours, just from trying to process that all. My brother got it right away. He didn’t speak for a month.
It’s not a really unique story, honestly. Divorced parents, young kids, one passes away. Time passes.
Life goes on.
Fast forward to 199X. I’m guessing 1996, since I was working on getting my license so that I could more effectively skip the more boring classes in high school. A teenaged Jenibucket was attempting to organize some of my paperwork and found a little box in my things. Weird, because I wasn’t aware that I’d packed my — I want to say that it was a sign-in book for my mom’s second marriage? The book wasn’t really important, besides being a keepsake and somehow being in my possession. It held a few odds and ends, mementos like receipts and pictures of my brother and I when we were little.
The significant thing was a news clipping. I remember it falling into my lap like a piece of newspaper confetti, yellowed and just curled enough to spiral a bit in the air. It was short, no more than a few paragraphs, describing a body that’d been found decomposing in the woods across the street from the victim’s home. “Badly decomposed due to exposure to the elements,” I remember reading specifically. I had no clue why the clipping had been saved at all until my dad’s name at the very end of it. When I confronted my mom about it she admitted to lying about how he’d died. She said he’d been killed, it had to do with drugs, and begged me not to tell my brother.
That was the last we spoke of it. The clipping has since disappeared. The memento book, the pictures inside, the receipts and the clipping. Not a clue where they went.
Fifteen years later, and Ancestry.com has me boggled all over again. I never found out anything specific about what happened. And I’m a big growed-up capable adult now, with Dad’s sleeping grandbaby on my lap and a phone within reach. Why not, really?
So I started calling people.
Well, more accurately, I started researching more. I was pretty surprised; my Google-fu failed me completely. The only relevant things I was able to turn up was my grandma’s obituary that listed his name. For all intents and purposes, Google doesn’t realize my dad existed. That’s mildly disconcerting. If a man is killed in the woods and Google doesn’t know it, did it make a sound?
Ancestry.com did give me some key facts that I didn’t know, though. Dad’s SOB, SSN, date of death. (Thanks Google, you wouldn’t have pointed me there if I hadn’t known about it! Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?) With that, I started making calls.
First, I called the city police. They redirected me to the deectives’ bureau, who transferred me to the county sherriff’s office, who ended up referring me to the coroner. The conversation opened very much the same with all of them – by the time I got to the coroner’s office, I felt somewhat like a professional. I had that shit polished.
“Hi, I know this is probably something that you don’t get very often, but my dad was killed in Redacted back in the eighties. I was a little girl, and I’m just now trying to find out what happened. Do you think you could help me?”
“Yes, Redacted. October 1986. This is his name. This is his birthdate.”
“No, I don’t know the address it occurred at. No, I don’t know if county or city police are the ones to take care of it.”
“Yes, he was shot.”
“No, I don’t know that — I’m so sorry. I’m working off of information that I lost a long time ago.”
Only one of the questions caught me by surprise. “Yes, I guess it could have been suicide.”
I was really impressed and grateful; after an initial skeptical moment of audible “wtf?” everyone I spoke to was incredibly eager to help. My guess would be that helping someone find out what happened to her daddy is a bit more exciting than everyday paperwork. It’s very crime-drama. At the end of the day, I couldn’t find out old address, but the coroner is going to go through their old archives and give me a call back. Once I know which police department responded, I can find the case number and use the Freedom of Information Act to get the information released.
I might get to find out what happened to my dad then. I’m hoping it’ll put more worries to rest than it brings to light. Either way, at least I’ll know and can stop staring at that Ancestry.com tab.