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  • Writer's pictureDon Anderson

It Started With an Obituary

By Darrell D. Gulstrom

I call this the Boomerang Effect. Imagine, finding out your best friend that you grew up with was actually related to you! Well that happen to me and we were both shocked!

Recently, I had received a large collection of obituaries from Alice Wooldridge from the GFO Genealogical Forum of Oregon. She had collected obituaries from the 1950s and 1960s. When she died, she gave the GFO her research papers, including obituaries. They were from four newspapers in Coos and Curry Counties. There are hundreds of obituaries in this collection.

I found an obituary that had been written by a friend’s mother back in the early 1960s. My friend, Bruce and I have been friends since the first grade at the Arago Grade School, Arago, Coos County, Oregon. We were best friends and did a lot of stuff together. I sent the obit to him because his mother had written it. His mother died in 2006 so I thought he would enjoy reading it. He appreciated it very much.

One thing I have known since we were kids is that Bruce was adopted. We never talked much about it but I was aware of it. After I sent him the obit, I asked him if he was ever interested in finding out about his bio family. He said he knew his parent’s names and that they had passed away. He said he would be interested in finding about his brothers and sister. He said his bio parent’s names were Archie and Stella Maggard and he thought they were from Virginia.

The Maggard name threw up a red flag in the back of my mind. I put a tree up on Ancestry and started getting hints. I found out that Bruce’s father and mother were both born in Pound, VA. This is in the Cumberland Gap area of Virginia. Remember that red flag? My grandparents, Troy Church and Neelia Hash, were both born in Pound. In fact, Archie was born in the same hollow that my grandmother grew up! Their families would have known each other.

As I started going back into our ancestors. My 3X great grandmother was Anne Maggard. She was a 2X great aunt to Bruce. She was married to my 3X grandfather Mathias Kelly Church.

I encouraged Bruce to take the Ancestry DNA test. Within a month Bruce's name came up as a match on my DNA list. We were both shocked! After have knowing him for 55 years as a friend, we were now related, or I should say, we always have been related. Who would have guessed that we were related? I think my mother, Mary Ann Church (maiden name), would have been very excited about finding out about this; she passed in 2015.

In the meantime, I connected with a cousin who showed up on Ancestry DNA match as a 1st cousin for Bruce and a 4th cousin to me. We figured that Bruce’s dad and the cousins dad were brothers. We are still working on that connection.

I then set out to find his siblings. He had three brothers and a sister. Bruce had talked to his older brother, many years ago. The brother really had no desire to connect with Bruce. We knew that his older brother had lived in Charleston, Coos County, Oregon. I posted in an "If you grew up in Coos Bay" Facebook page. I asked if anyone had knowledge of him. I connected with an ex-brother-in-law and got his phone number. I connected with his older brother via phone. After all this time he still was not interested in connecting with Bruce.

Being the persistent researcher, I didn’t let his older brother slow me down. I searched Facebook for his younger brother. I found someone with his name and sent a message and received a response. Instead of his brother, I had connected with Bruce’s older brother’s son. He told me his dad was kind of grumpy, but would eventually come around. He told me that Bruce’s younger brother had also been adopted. As a result, he had a different last name. He was living in Oklahoma! That’s something Bruce didn’t know. The nephew, had the uncle’s phone number.

I was able to talk to Bruce’s younger brother and he filled me in on what he knew about the family. He was born in 1959 in Myrtle Point, Coos County, Oregon and was adopted when he was three months old. He had known about Bruce, but had no way to connect with him. He was super excited being able to connect with Bruce.

Bruce’s nephew has been sending pictures to Bruce of the two brothers. Bruce can definitely see a resemblance. After about three weeks Bruce’s younger brother finally called and talked to Bruce. They plan to get together this summer and hopefully connect with the older brother.

I am still searching for their sister. One thing I told Bruce is, “Friends you can choose but relatives you are stuck with!” This was an amazing revelation for both of us. I call it the boomerang effect. I was doing research for Bruce and it came back on me. Never expected that one!

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