My parents were difficult people.
Father was uneducated, uncommunicative, and unemotional. Mother was intelligent, fairly well educated, managing, domineering, unsympathetic, and nagged us constantly. The only respite from her tongue was that she worked full time all the
time I lived at home, so I was brought up largely by my grandparents.
My brother was born when I was 11 years old, and
mother often used to say bitterly (in our hearing), "One too early, one too late." The significance of
this never struck me at the time.
When I was 17 my parents took me out to their regular pub; father insisted that I was old enough to drink beer, so, although I didn't then like beer, that is what I had. Father then wandered off for a while.
Mother then told me that she had been married previously, and that father was not my real father. He had adopted me when I was 3. They were telling me this now because they believed (wrongly) that I would
need my original Birth Certificate to obtain my own full passport.
Father returned, checked that I had been told, and they both asked me how I felt. I answered that it didn't
make any difference. In reality, I was secretly overjoyed that I wasn't biologically related to father, a man with whom I had nothing in common.
The following weekend I visited my aunt Joan, my
mother's sister, who was seven years older than mother. Joan had been told that I now knew I was adopted by my (step-)father, and was extremely worried that I would be upset by the news,
and that it would affect my schoolwork (I was just
about to take 'A'-levels and university entrance).
I assured her that I wasn't at all upset.
This produced a torrent of information, all of which Joan assumed my parents had told me already: mother had not previously been married; my real father
was a US sailor named John King; Joan had met him and had a photograph of him
somewhere; I look very much like him; he and his parents had known about mother's pregnancy and he had been willing to marry her; his mother was a head
teacher in California; they had sent food parcels from the USA to my mother in England (this was the beginning of 1945, during the war); John King's parents
had lived in Manchester, England, and had emigrated to the USA; John King had been sent off on a secret mission to observe atomic tests and had been
incommunicado for months; mother assumed he had
abandoned her, and had taken up with another man; mother's parents had supported her despite her pregnancy, (there was a particular reason for this, too,
which I found out much later); and I was born in Beckenham, not in Leicester (where we all lived and where I assumed I had been born).
My parents then emigrated to Africa, while I took
up my place at Cambridge University, and there was very little subsequent contact between us.
In the early 1970s I began to become interested in genealogy, and did what I could to research my own family history. I obtained copies of my original Birth
Certificate, and of my Adoption Certificate (much
easier for me than for most adopted children because I knew my mother's maiden name). Later I found
mother's marriage information -- it was listed
under her maiden name, Hickling, and also under the surname King. Clearly she had been trying to
continue the fiction that she was previously married to John King.
My mother's father, William Henry Hickling, was completely untraceable; apart from knowing his father's name -- Henry Hickling, and his occupation --
mariner, from granddad's Marriage Certificate, I could find no record of his birth. Mother's mother's family were Whitbreads from the tiny villages of the
Rodings in Essex, and I was able to trace them
quite easily (grandma was one of twelve children, so I had masses of great-aunts and -uncles, though very
Out of interest, I looked up the births of my aunt Joan (easily found in 1916), and my uncle (born in 1912). His birth wasn't there. In a flash of inspiration I checked under his first names and my grandmother's maiden name -- there he was, also illegitimate. This explained
why, when my mother told her mother she was pregnant, and begged grandma not to tell granddad, grandma said, "Tell him; he'll be much more sympathetic
than you imagine." (More information from Joan, though she didn't know the reason for grandma's remark until I told her that Joan's brother was illegitimate, too.)
I made one attempt to contact the US military
authorities, asking about my real father, and was brushed off with the usual remarks about confidentiality.
When my aunt Joan died in 2006, among her effects was a photograph of a US Navy Petty Officer who looks very much like I did in my 20s. This is my real
father, John King, and from his insignia I have
determined that he was a Petty Officer First Class and a Quartermaster.
Recently I've joined TRACE (Transatlantic Childrens Enterprise) to find out how to apply again for John King's details. Although I've done as they suggest, and sent a form to the US Forces' genealogical contact in December 2006, with the additional information from his
photograph, I have received no reply as yet.
My forenames are 'John Lewis'; there is no known
reason why 'Lewis' should have been chosen unless my real father's forenames were also 'John Lewis'.
From the US Social Security Death Index the only John Lewis King died in 1984, aged 62; he was born 1921 in Hawaii (another problem if he is my real father,
as in 1921 Hawai'i wasn't a US state!); and his mother's maiden name was Bell.
In November 2006 I spent two days at the California State Archives in Sacramento, looking through the lists of teachers in California in 1944 and
1945. Unfortunately, there are only lists of Secondary School teachers, in which no suitable women with surname King appear. It seems that my US
grandmother must have been a Primary school head teacher, and there are no collected lists of such people.
I await developments ...
by John Dawson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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