It was through my mother’s obituary in late 2011 that my maternal grandfather’s side of the family found me. I had looked for them many years, to no avail, so when writing my mother’s obituary, I purposely included as much of her history as I could in hope that someone on her father’s side would see she had passed on.
Within 3 months I received a letter from England who turned out to be my first cousin, D., once removed. Randomly, her brother, J., had decided to do another search for my mom, coming up with her obituary. Two years prior they had dropped the matter of trying to find both my mother, Nona, and my grandmother, Lola, after several years of research led them to a dead-end trail in San Francisco. Was it a coincidental fluke that our families have reunited after 70 years or did the spirits of our past family members have a hand in some divine intervention?
Shortly after the letter from D., she came to visit me in Seattle just before my trip to Spain and Portugal. Turned out she has children and grandchildren who live in the states and she already had an Easter trip planned to Southern California to visit some of them. During that trip, D. flew up for one afternoon which we spent having a takeout Chinese lunch (I figured I’d stay with the Shanghai theme) in my home with my daughter and grandson. After our “getting to know you” lunch, she and I plowed through all the letters, legal paperwork, letters of commendation, and photos of our relatives’ lives in pre-WWII Asia. How amazing it was to be with a family member who was not only as excited about these mementos as I am, but who also plans to write a book as I have wanted to do for years.
Over this last year, I have also corresponded with B., the son of D., who, as it turns out, is a researcher. He has been instrumental in locating ship manifests, historical dates, etc. and we have all Skyped and sent hundreds of emails asking and answering questions. During their quest to find my mother, they have developed relationships with authors and historians who are experts in the history of this era as well as the Japanese internment camps, one of which my mother and grandmother were prisoners of for 4 years. And, most importantly, I have gotten to know cousins who are actually related to me, which I had experienced very little of in my lifetime coming from a small family.
In October of last year, I had a memorial planned in Colorado on what would have been my mom’s 85th birthday. My other cousin J. and his wife De., flew from England to Colorado to attend the memorial of his mother’s niece, his first cousin, whom he had never met but had looked for such a long time. J. also then had the opportunity to pour over all the photos his uncle took in Shanghai, which were stored at my son’s home. My grandfather not only documented life in Shanghai, but also the invasion of the Japanese. As a policeman, his photos were oftentimes graphic. I remember that as a child I wasn’t allowed to see these photos, however I would always find a way. Bloated bodies in a river are not for a child’s eyes. Yet, my mother saw scenes like this personally in Shanghai which, she told me, made her immune to the heartbreak of death. I have no such immunity.
In 2 weeks, I leave for England on a “Heritage Walk.” My grandfather was also a Coldstream guard (which are the Queen’s guards with bearskin hats) in service in London prior to his assignment in Shanghai. I will spend 4 days in London which will include a visit to Parliament and to the Imperial War Museum.
From there we will be in the south of England a few days and then up to the Manchester area with a visit to Darwen where my great-grandmother and great-grandfather worked in coal mines and cotton mills during the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
There is also a plan to meet another family member who still carries my mother’s maiden name of Sharrock and who lives on the northwest coast of England.
This adventure to the north country (I have only been to London and the Norfolk area in the past) promises to bring me to Liverpool as well for an “up close and personal” view from where The Beatles hailed. Oh, yay, finally!
If all goes as planned, I will chronicle this adventure with photos of places I have been and history I have uncovered for the 2 weeks I will be “across the pond.” There will be no little grandchildren with me this time, but I imagine I will still have plenty to share along the way.