Searching For My Father

by | Apr 15, 2024 | My Wild and Precious Life

Belonging has always been a fundamental driver of humankind. Brian Chesky


Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever find my father, or even discover his name.

Of course, I wanted to know, but since I had absolutely no information about him, I never gave it much thought. Not even when I received an email from Karen Ramsdell who was board president for the Santa Barbara Genealogy Society.

I knew Karen from my Girl Scout days. She was the general manager of the Santa Barbara Airport and we honored her as a Woman of Distinction in 1998. Karen said she heard that I facilitated nonprofit board retreats and wondered if I would consider leading the planning session for the Genealogy Society.

I was thrilled at the idea of working with Karen again and honored that she would ask me to help. I quickly agreed even though I knew nothing about this organization, or even that they existed.

On January 12, 2020 I arrived at their beautiful facility on Castillo Street, fully prepared for the retreat. I thought I wouldn’t know anyone there except Karen, but I looked around the room and recognized almost half of the 22 attendees. Since I had been involved in nonprofits so long, I knew many of these folks from their service on other nonprofit boards.

We went through the day, often breaking into smaller groups, and I found the discussions fascinating and the passion for genealogy impressive. These people genuinely relished digging into their past to discover tidbits about their ancestors. During the break, one of the ladies asked me if I had ever done any work in genealogy. I admitted I didn’t know much about my family history and nothing about my father. She was intrigued. I assured her it was a lost cause because I had no information to go on.

A week later, as I was presenting the final report from the retreat, Karen mentioned that a couple of the board members were professional genealogists. I couldn’t resist asking her for the names and contact numbers. I actually reached out to Nancy Loe, one of the professional genealogists that Karen told me about, a few weeks later. I figured it was futile to follow through with this idea, but I couldn’t help myself.

Nancy was a bit incredulous when I told her I had no information about my father, not even a name. But she was undaunted.

She told me to request DNA kits from four sites: 23andMe,, My Heritage and Family Tree DNA. I didn’t hold much hope but followed her instructions. While we waited several weeks for the test results, we exchanged emails about the maternal side of my family. Nancy did some research on my mother’s side, but I figured it wouldn’t help at all with finding my father, especially since it appeared that my mother didn’t even know who he was.

Her process was fascinating, even though much of it seemed to be in a different language with terms such as segments, thru lines and centermorgans. The benefit of having information from my maternal side became quickly apparent when she found a match with a distant relative, Bruci Hall. Nancy compared Bruci’s DNA with my maternal side and there was not a single match. This indicated to Nancy that Bruci was the first link to my paternal side. If I shared DNA with Bruci and there was no match between Bruci and my maternal side, Bruci had to be a link to my paternal side. I was beyond thrilled and amazed! All of a sudden, a crack of light of possibility pierced my dark unknown.


I discovered some interesting things about my mother’s family during this genealogic search. Some of her family’s records date back to earliest days of the Old South, when Georgia and Alabama were colonies of British America. The family of Ernest Brown, my mother’s father, not only had a tradition of service in the Navy in recent times, but also stretches back to North Carolina in the years just after the Revolutionary War.

My grandmother, Nettie Kennedy Brown, claimed Irish heritage through her Kennedy family. The Kennedys arrived very early in Connecticut Colony, British America, but by the end of the 18th-century, they were living in Georgia.

The Gardiners also are a prominent family in my maternal tree. My great-great grandfather, James Thomas Gardiner, Sr., was born in Alabama in 1824. He had 14 children with three wives, including his third and last wife, Emma Louise Harris, my great-great grandmother.

Perhaps the most is known about Emma Louise’s father, my great-great-great grandfather Myles Green Harris, and his third wife, my great-great-great grandmother, Lucy Elizabeth M. Wingfield. Their marriage united two wealthy and powerful slave-owning families in Greene County, Georgia. The Harris family moved to Greene County from the Province of Maryland; the Wingfield’s came from the Province of Virginia, both British American colonies at the time. The Harris house on the Oakland plantation still stands near Sparta, Georgia.

Finally, all of my DNA results were in and Nancy went to work with her intensive research, even enlisting the help of a veteran colleague. One of the many emails we received along the way was from Darren Swolley, a paternal relative we met online during the search. Darren was related to my father’s aunt and he was actively involved in genealogy. His interest was piqued and he seemed to enjoy giving us lots of help.

Nancy called me on May 22, 2020, after four months of research, to say she found my father. I was beyond astonished and over the moon with joy! How could this be true? After 74 years, I finally had a real last name—my father was Harold Allan Hall.

I caught my breath as I looked at the image of him on His hair was red, his eyes blue and his cheekbones and chin looked just like mine. It was like gazing at a missing piece of myself. I halfway thought I might hear him speak at any moment. I had seen his likeness in my own face every time I looked in the mirror, I just didn’t know it until now.

I had always wondered why I was so different from my mother. Some of our physical features are similar (we both have red hair) but our personalities are very different. I believe we inherit our temperament, our basic nature and our way of looking at the world. Mine was different from my mother and I always wondered why. I used to make up stories in my head describing my father’s traits and ways of being. Now, after hearing stories about him, I can see that I inherited my focused determination to achieve my goals, my intellectual curiosity and my high energy level from him. It all made sense to me now.

I also learned that I now had seven new half-siblings. Harold and his wife, Berta, had seven children in 10 years. Even though no one knew it, I was the oldest of Harold’s children.

Nancy had already gathered the names and contact information for each of the seven siblings. But now what? My father had passed away in 1998 from a rare form of cancer, but I dearly wanted to contact his children—my new half-siblings. Darren and I were still emailing back and forth a bit so I told him about my trepidation in contacting my siblings. What if they thought it was a hoax or that I was a fake? What words would explain who I was and how we were related after all these years?

Darren offered to contact them for me. I felt excited and relieved at first, but then worried that his presence might complicate matters. So I arranged to have a phone conversation with him the next morning. I wanted to hear his voice and how he presented himself. After I hung up from the call, I felt reassured and agreed for him to call my half-brother, Dan, since Darren thought that was the best choice. Darren said he would call Dan in the next few days, but a couple of hours later, while I was out for my daily hike, Darren called to say he had contacted Dan. Yikes! I wasn’t prepared for this.

Later that day, Allan who is our father’s oldest son called me. He explained that when Dan spoke with Darren, he thought it was a hoax and expected Darren to ask him for his credit card, so he had referred Darren to him.

I had given Darren my website address so that if anyone wanted to find out more about me or even see a photo of me they could easily do so. I wanted my new family to know that this person claiming to be so closely related to them was not a crazy person or someone after their money. She was a responsible upstanding citizen with an honorable life’s work and an impressive amount of talent and accomplishments.

Allan told me he had looked at my website and done some research on me before calling. He said that as soon as he saw a picture of me on my website, he knew I was part of the family. He explained that our father had red hair and blue eyes just like mine. Allan and I had a delightful conversation. He ended by saying, “I want you to feel welcome to our family and know that we love you.” I was thrilled! I never expected anything like this in a million years.

All of a sudden, the missing pieces of my life seemed to be magically coming together in a way I had never even imagined possible.

A few days later, Dan called me and explained about the call from Darren and why he had passed it off to Allan. He said that he and Allan had discussed my appearance with some of their siblings and also with their mother. He said they agreed to welcome me to the family.

I routinely open my iPad every morning to read the local online newspaper, check in with Facebook, and look at a few emails. On May 29, I was excited to see a long email from another of my new siblings. The email said that Dan had called to relate the new information and several of them had been discussing my appearance for the last few days.


Apparently, my mother met my father, Harold Allan Hall, when he was stationed in Pensacola in April 1945 where he had just returned from a stint in the Pacific during World War II. I was conceived in June of 1945 and, just 30 days later in July 1945, my father’s orders took him to Banana River Naval Air Station in Cocoa Beach about five hours drive from Pensacola. It appeared that neither he nor my mother knew she was pregnant. They quickly lost contact with each other.

He met his wife, Berta, in nearby Orlando in October of 1945. They were married on March 10, 1946, which ironically was the day after I was born. It was obvious to all of us that my father did not know about my mother’s pregnancy.

I was still reeling from the shock of finding my father and all of these new siblings. I’d never felt so accepted and included before.

About two weeks later, I received an unexpected phone call from Andy, another sibling. He said, “I understand you have spoken to some of my siblings. I wanted to call and introduce myself to you. My name is Andy and I want to welcome you to our family and tell you that we love you.” I was being completely buried in love and acceptance when I was so worried I would be shunned and mocked.

What a gift! I now had the last name of my real father and the true story of his life—not to mention the acceptance and love from some of my new siblings. I was overwhelmed. I felt like I fit in somewhere for the first time in my life. I always felt like I never quite belonged to any group and went to great lengths to create the illusion that I was a part of a crowd or a family. I was always on the outside looking in, whether it was in my quasi birth family or friends in various schools or even the family I raised.

A sense of belonging was a powerful new feeling for me. I had become so accustomed to pretending I belonged and trying to convince others it was true. Now here I was—surrounded by people from my actual family who really loved me.

Some of my siblings explained that our father was a real hero—an exceptionally conscientious, kind and loving son, husband and father. He was an honorable person and was an example to all who knew him of how to live life with grace and good humor, despite what life threw his way. It makes me sad that I never got to know him in person.

I’m writing this in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. To date (September 2020) the virus has infected 7.5 million people in the U.S. and 220,000 have died from it. Most people are abiding by the regulations which call for wearing a face covering (even during long plane rides), staying six feet apart from others (except in your own household) and sheltering in place as much as possible. Patrons are not allowed to eat inside restaurants—only at outside tables. All stores must limit the number of people who are allowed to be inside at one time. Other businesses like gyms, nail salons and beauty parlors remain closed.

Each year the Hall family convenes in Florida for their family reunion. I was thrilled when several of the siblings invited me to attend. Unfortunately the annual family reunion planned for early November will be postponed until there is a vaccine for the virus. I sure am looking forward to meeting my new family in person! In the meantime, I am enjoying connecting with some of my new siblings by phone and email. I appreciate those who are sharing stories about our father’s life.


Here is a summary of what I have learned from military records and other public information about my father’s life.

The doctor arrived at my father’s family home near Kennebec, South Dakota, October 28, 1921 to deliver him. He popped out with bright red hair, blue eyes and freckles. As a child he quickly realized he needed to ignore the kids who called him “red or carrot top” because he couldn’t do anything about his hair color anyway.  (I love that insight into him because that’s exactly how I handled being born with red hair and freckles.)

My father and his family lived a very simple, rural life with no running water or electricity. Since they had no well, they had to haul water a long distance from a creek using a horse drawn wagon. He and his siblings walked the ten miles to school every day and he graduated high school with top honors.

As the story goes, my grandfather, Frank W. Hall, was on a cattle drive in Winner, South Dakota, when he ate some bad beans. The doctor was called and they put him in a room behind the shed where he always played guitar with the Indians. Ultimately, he died of botulism when my father was 12 years old.

My father knew from doing all the hard labor on his family’s farm with his brothers that he didn’t want to be a farmer. His mother suggested he borrow some money from the local banker and go to Spearfish Normal College. So, at 19 years old in the midst of the Great Depression, he borrowed $35 and left for college to train to be a teacher. He got a job at the nearby lumber mill to pay his expenses and enrolled in the college where he studied English and music, preparing to be a teacher.

One day, during his second year of college he was standing around talking with his buddies when a small plane landed out of nowhere. The pilot hollered, “I’m looking for volunteers! Who wants to go for a ride in my plane?” Intrigued, my father jumped at the chance, climbing into the two-seater small plane with an open cockpit. From then on, he was hooked on flying and his life was changed forever. My father began to squeeze money from his lumber mill job to pay for flight instruction. He stayed in college but his courses changed from teaching preparation to analytical and aerial geometry, trigonometry and navigation.

In the fall of 1941, after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government paid for his lessons in Civilian Pilot Training where he earned his pilot license. “From farm boy to air pilot in ten months,” my father proudly exclaimed. He was on his way to becoming a naval air pilot. After graduation from the two-year college, he went to Iowa City for pre-flight courses in Navy lore and regulations, then to Minneapolis to what was known as the “elimination base.” “Nobody’s going to eliminate this farm boy!” vowed my father. Pensacola was the last step to commission, September 3, 1943.

He was right where he wanted to be. After two months of flying submarine inshore patrol from San Diego, California, my father was stationed at Guadalcanal as carrier aircraft test pilot—not a safe or easy job, but he loved it. He stayed there until the end of the war. After stints of duty in Pensacola, Panama and Banana River he was released to inactive status in 1947.

He retired after 25 years of service with the rank of commander. After that he established a thriving real estate business in central Florida.

His children describe him as a brave, kind, gentle, hard-working guy whom everyone loved. He made everyone feel safe because they knew he was so dependable and fair. Our father loved playing golf and always kept his 6’2” body in good shape.

He worked hard in real estate after he retired from the Navy. My father’s motivation wasn’t to make large sums of money, but rather to help people find a home they would love.

In 1972, the stiffness he had noticed in his left leg and hip turned out to be cancer. His operation at Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville took 12 hours and 26 pints of blood. The cancer was removed but so was his whole hip joint. Only wires kept his leg bone attached to his pelvis.

My father’s surgeon said he would never walk again. But he had kids to put through college and a lot of living to do so he was not about to give in to being an invalid.

It wasn’t long before he was walking unaided, running his real estate office with the help of two of his sons, driving his car and playing golf. He also took time to visit the hospital to encourage other cancer victims. He was a walking inspiration, a winner, and he always will be. Harold Allan Hall passed on January 17, 1998.

My paternal lineage features colonists and citizens of the Old South, pioneers in the Plains states and Cornish immigrants. The paternal side of my tree features the surnames Hall, Whitford, Keast, Lunsford, Miller, Welker and Manuel. My father’s paternal line has been traced to John Hall, born about 1824 in Wise County, Virginia, and his wife, Malinda Miller. Their oldest child, Greenup Edward Hall, was born in Greenup County, Kentucky in 1852. They had 11 surviving children; Frank Washington Hall was their sixth child, third son and my great-grandfather.

Frank’s wife, Susan Lunsford, was born in 1857 in Wayne County, Virginia. Six years later, that section of Virginia broke away, formed the state of West Virginia and stayed with the Union during the Civil War. The Lunsfords were an old Virginia family. It is believed that the Lunsfords arrived in Virginia between 1610 and 1653. If correct, this English Lunsford line extends from the present back 30 generations to 1057 in Sussex, England.

My grandmother, Anna Lucille Whitford’s ancestors are Cornish. The Whitford line hails from Saint Agnes and the Keast line from Liskeard in Cornwall, western England. My great-grandparents, William Whitford and Mary Keast immigrated in 1885 to Nebraska. About 1907 they moved to South Dakota. William and Mary raised 10 children, all of whom lived to adulthood.


World War II had vast repercussions on the American family. Due to the romance and urgency of wartime, a record number of babies were born nine months after soldiers returned from the war. In 1946, 3.4 million babies were born which is 500,000 more than the previous year, representing a 20% increase over pre-war years.

I was one of those babies. Even though I spent most of my life not knowing my father or even who he was, I am glad now to have this incredible piece of my life puzzle. It’s likely that many people born in 1946 with similar challenges.