A TEST. A CALL. A NEW FAMILY
DRACUT -- It all started with an AncestryDNA test Lois Bradbury bought her husband, Bill Bradbury, for Christmas.
The result was the discovery of a nephew they never knew they had -- and the answers to a lifetime of questions for Sam Bradbury.
“We’ve got a whole ’nother branch of the family to add onto and bring into the fold,” Bill said. “It’s been great, really, and more than exciting.”
Sam, of New York City, said it’s brought him a peace and completeness he was missing.
“I feel like there’s this part of my subconscious that has been freed,” he said from the Bradburys’ backyard Saturday, as part of a visit to celebrate his 48th birthday the day earlier.
It’s the fourth time Sam has come to visit since the discovery, including a big family reunion in Maine last month.
The Bradburys and extended family have welcomed Sam and his partner, Arthur Garcia, with open arms.
“He’s one of the family,” said his uncle, Charlie Bradbury. “He’s a Bradbury.”
Previously named Samuel Louis Morris-Overton, Sam legally changed his name last month to Samuel John Bradbury in honor of his father and the family he’s come to know.
Sam’s mother, Diane Lore, had always told him his father was a man she’d gone to high school with in California. He wasn’t in the picture, and had died fairly young.
But something about the story never quite felt right to Sam. He questioned the timeline of when his mother had been with this man, and when he was conceived.
In 2015, during the rise of genealogical DNA testing, he decided to take an AncestryDNA test to try to learn the truth.
For three years, he made no progress. He seldom signed in to check his matches. Then, one day in March, he discovered a new match: a William Bradbury, who was so closely related he could be an uncle, half-brother, or even his father.
Sam immediately wrote to him. Bill, unsure whether he should respond, dragged his feet for two months.
In the meantime, Sam’s mother recalled a fling she had with a sailor who was docked in the Bay Area in late 1969. Sam wrote again to Bill, saying they needed to talk.
On May 16, Lois finally convinced Bill to give him a call.
Sam explained he was born in 1970 in Oakland, Calif., that his mother had worked at the Naval Hospital there, and he was looking for his father.
Bill couldn’t speak. He was overcome with joy and sadness. He knew Sam was his late brother’s son -- the son he always wanted, and never knew he had.
Jack Bradbury was in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Oakland at that time, working as a medic at that hospital.
The line went dead. Sam was afraid he had upset Bill. Lois took the phone, explaining Bill was weeping happy tears.
Sam and Arthur first visited Bill and Lois on Memorial Day weekend.
Sam was a little nervous, but he was “on a mission.”
“This is 47 years of not feeling connected and trying to find answers, so I just was really eager to get here,” he said.
As they pulled up the driveway to the Bradburys’ New Boston Road home, they saw Bill and Lois sitting outside.
“Arthur said, ‘Oh my God, you look like your uncle Bill,’” Sam recalled.
“And I was on the porch saying, ‘Oh my God, he looks like Jack,’” Lois said.
Sam and Arthur had looked several places for a gift to bring to Bill, but nothing seemed quite right -- except for a mug with a capital B on it.
When Bill put his hand in the gift bag, the tears came once again.
Whenever Jack would come home, he would bring Bill a mug, too.
Beyond the shared mannerisms and personality quirks, Sam and his newfound family discovered there is so much more he and Jack have in common.
Jack always had a special way with children, and his Lowell High School yearbook said he was likely to become a teacher. Sam has that same connection with kids. He’s built a career as a special-education teacher, and is now a high school assistant principal.
Jack was gay, and died of AIDS in 1991, before many of the medical advances that have prolonged the lives of those with HIV and AIDS. Sam, who is also gay, has lived with HIV for about 20 years.
Sam said his mother has always been supportive and accepting of whatever will make him happy. Still, he wonders what life would have been like having a gay father when he came out as gay as a teenager.
Sam was able to meet Jack’s former partner, who gave him an old photo of Jack and his Claddagh ring, which Sam now wears.
As Sam looks back, there were many “serendipitous coincidences” that make a lot of sense now that he knows the truth about his heritage.
Sam had long felt drawn to New England, especially Massachusetts, and never understood why. Now he knows he has family here, going back centuries.
The John Mellencamp song “Jack and Diane” always came to mind when he thought about his parents, but the name Jack didn’t mean anything to him -- until now.
Sam always felt a connection to the “Don Quixote” Picasso print at his maternal grandmother’s house. He found Bill has the same print, a symbol of Jack’s need to always be fighting for a cause.
Arthur said finding his father’s family has “lifted a weight off” of Sam’s shoulders.
“I feel like his spirit is a lot lighter,” Arthur said. “There’s more joy there, and he really looks forward to the next time that we’re going to see them.”
Sam got his own mug with a lowercase b, to match the one he gave Bill. He’ll keep it at the Bradburys’ home as a symbol that he’s “not going anywhere.”
Not only have the Bradburys filled a void in Sam’s life, but he’s filled the one left in theirs by the loss of Jack.
“It feels like he’s been part of the family forever, and it’s only been 3 1/2 months,” Lois said.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.