Woman's genealogy research helped reunite biological family
By MIRANDA KLEIN
Aug. 04, 2018
COLFAX, La. (AP) — A Grant Parish woman's genealogy research over the past decade has been able to reunite her and her husband with biological family members.
Patty Griffin Berry's research started with a quest to track down what happened to her paternal grandparents who divorced and left their young children, Patty's father and aunt, to be raised by family in the Colfax area.
"I just kept wanting to know why," Patty said. "And even though I never ended up with the answer to why — I just ended up with more questions than answers — finding our new family made all that disappear. It didn't matter anymore."
Patty's grandparents were Nancy Lee Ryan and Edwin Griffin. The couple divorced, and Edwin left his children with their mother and started a new life. Patty's father, Fred Griffin, and his sister, Lauren Griffin Jones, lived with their mother until she also left when they were 6 and 4 respectively.
Patty started searching for her grandparents when she was a teenager before genealogy websites and DNA kits were popular like they are now. For years, she wrote down pieces of information and other discoveries about her family in a notebook.
"I never had hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire a private investigator," she said.
Lauren was killed in a car accident in 2011. After her aunt's death, Patty dedicated more time to her research, which eventually led her to a Facebook account belonging to one of her grandfather's other sons. Nearly a year later, she found her grandmother's children, too.
"She (Lauren) always wanted to know what happened to her mom, so I just made it a goal in her honor to try to find out," Patty said.
Patty's search led to the first meeting of her father and his half siblings the weekend of the Colfax Pecan Festival in November 2012, about 52 years after Nancy left. Although meeting strangers who also are relatives for the first time might seem awkward or strange, Patty said that wasn't her family's experience.
"There was an instant connection," she said. " . It's like they've always been there just waiting to be found."
Since 2012, Patty also has helped reunite an aunt, uncle and cousin with members of their families. In 2016, she turned her attention to finding her husband Jason's grandfather and his family, and this time she had the help of a home genetic testing kit.
The testing provided data she could upload to Ancestry.com and other websites that match potential relatives whose DNA lines up. The websites and social media led to Jason's uncles and cousins, most of whom made visits this past year to meet their Louisiana family.
"It's been crazy," Patty said. "It's like we've lived through the same thing. He was my support system, and I was his."
Before the reunions with family were possible, Patty spent countless hours combing through online records and websites or hitting what seemed like dead ends. And not all of her discoveries were happy ones.
For example, Patty knew her grandfather had passed away before she was born, but always believed she would find her grandmother still living.
"I always hoped that she was still alive," Patty said. "I remember as a teenager and adult, anytime I would see an older lady that had blonde hair and was tall, I would always do a double-take, thinking: 'Is that her? Could that possibly be her?' Even though I didn't know where she was."
"It was devastating when I found out that she had passed away (in 2000)," she said. "I just always felt like she was alive somewhere."
The search for her grandmother was also the most difficult because Patty didn't know what last name to search for. She eventually discovered an online tool that let her look up records of people by their first name and birthday.
The records showed there were about 25 people named Nancy born in the United States on the same day as Patty's grandmother and helped narrow down the search. It also led Petty to an online family tree created by her half cousin's wife.
The family tree included the names of the only one of Nancy's siblings Patty's family knew about at the time. The discovery ultimately led Patty to a Facebook account that belonged to people she believed were relatives.
Patty sent her family messages and friend requests introducing herself, but didn't realize until later that a Facebook filter was preventing her messages from being seen. She waited nearly eight months for a response.
"Obviously, you're hoping for the best outcome, but it's the waiting that is the most nerve-wracking," she said. "Even over the fear of rejection."
Patty made one more attempt to contact one of her cousins through an email address associated with his business. Within 20 minutes of the email, Patty got a phone call from her grandmother's daughter, Jackie Curtis Graham.
Jackie left a voice message Patty still has saved on her phone six years later. In the recording, Jackie becomes emotional as she introduces herself and says she has been "searching my entire life also" for her mother's family members.
"That was the third-happiest day of my life," Patty said. "It was the best feeling in the world. I can't describe it."
The phone call led to the first meeting between Fred, Jackie, their brother Buck Curtis, and some of Nancy's younger siblings.
Patty found out her great aunts existed by stumbling on a land deed while searching online records from the Texas county where her grandmother's family lived. They, too, had wondered over the years what happened to their older sister.
This fall, Patty plans to start taking private investigator courses, which she hopes will open doors for her to give back. Her ultimate goal is to work on cold cases, but she also would like to provide affordable services to others in her family's situation.
"I hope to help others in the future, because family is everything," she said. "Besides God, family is everything, and I think that everyone should know where they come from — even if it's not a happy ending like ours."
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com