By Phil Harris
This story begins during the summer of 1981, when my wife Shelley, was visiting her adopted mother’s home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. A suburb northwest of Albuquerque. She was accompanied by her husband at the time, just to visit for a short time. Her husband had been taking some college courses and stated he always got good grades. Not to be outdone Shelley said, “I got excellent grades in high school.” The banter between them continued, and he said, “Prove it.” Shelley knew her mother had kept every report card she had ever received and asked her where she kept them. Her mother replied, “In the center drawer of my dresser, in that black metal box.” Shelley went to retrieve her report cards and as she searched through the box, she discovered more than just her report cards. Inside was a document from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she read the document. She was adopted by two loving people on 14 July 1958. The document was the finalization of her adoption. Not only did she find her adoption documents, but similar documents pertaining to the adoption of her older brother. She never told her mother about what she had found and it was never a topic of discussion, except with her brother. At the time she was 25 years of age.
This secret she discovered that day remained dormant in her mind for many years. Shelley and I had been married for about 6 years and living in Uncasville, Connecticut. It was 2001 when she received a phone call from her brother, stating he had found his biological mother. Until receiving that call, she had never thought about attempting to find her biological parents. That day the conversation she had with her brother changed everything. Now she was becoming curious. Wanting to know who and why they gave her up.
However, like before her curiosity remained dormant until about 2004. She wrote to the Massachusetts Department of Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics to obtain a copy of her birth certificate. They replied, stating they needed more information. She contacted Cambridge Family and Children’s Services, and they stated they couldn’t provide any additional information. This continued for almost 13 years. After filing additional certified request forms provided by the state of Massachusetts and Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, in the fall of 2017, she finally received certified copy of her original birth certificate.
At the age of 61, she now knew what her mother’s biological name was. She met Velda Audrey Horton for the first time. Married to a gentleman born in Cambridge, Massachusetts named William David Jenkins. Shelley is the name given to her by her adopted parents. The name on the birth certificate simply read: (Female) Jenkins, sex F, color B, born Alive, on 5 June 1956.
To help her better understand who this lady was, I began to build a family tree at familysearch.org. This site is ran by The Church of Latter Day Saints. It did not take long to discover her mother was born in 1925, in the small farming community of Hazelbrook, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Velda’s parents were Milton and Hilda Belle Myers Horton. They immigrated to the Somerville area in April 1927 The clue of why she was placed in the Cambridge Home for Children was clear. Her color was black, born into a white family. But that is just the true beginning of this story.
We now know who her mother was, but if William David Jenkins was not her father, who was.
My daughter decided she wanted help, simply stating, “Everyone deserves to know who their father was.” She made several posts on Facebook, using only the names of Velda Audrey and William David Jenkins. By the grace of God or perhaps a stroke of good luck, she received a reply, which included the name of William Jenkins niece and a telephone number. Now the call. Shelley made that phone call, introduced herself, asking if she knew Velda Audrey and William David Jenkins. Shelley explained those were the names on the birth certificate and that she was adopted. William’s niece began by telling Shelley those people were her uncle and aunt. His niece continued telling the story as told her. The day you were born, Velda told all her relatives and William’s relatives that the baby had died at birth. Most of the family did not realize Velda was pregnant, because she wore corsets clear up to the day she went to the hospital. William became so distraught that he began to drink and eventually died in 1968. However, Velda and her sister-in-law worked at Necco. Her sister-in-law suspected Velda was having an affair with a black co-worker. Stating they left together everyday for lunch. That explains why shortly after Shelley was born, she was placed in the Cambridge Home for Children. Approximately two and a half years later Shelley was adopted. Shelley remembered somethings that took place at the children’s home. She said she remembered a lady visiting and would sing a song about, “Dancing with a lady with a hole in her stockings.” The niece replied, “That’s the same song my mother and grandmother used to sing to me.” Unfortunately, Velda’s sister-in-law had passed away and no one could confirm an affair ever took place or possibly the name of Velda’s co-worker.
Still wanting to help my wife find any living relatives of her biological family, I contacted William Tauro, Publisher of the Somerville News Weekly in September 2018, asking if he would run the above story. He agreed and ran a story similar to the one above. I text him at least once a week for almost a month asking if anyone had responded to the article. The reply was always the same, no. He always encouraged me to be patient as these things take time. He said eventually you will find out who this gentleman is. In the interim I scoured the internet searching the obituaries and found Velda Audrey Jenkins had passed away on 31st March 2015. I contacted the funeral home and spoke with the director. He said no one came to identify her body or collect any personal possessions. I sent faxes to the rest home where she was living. No one ever replied. I contacted Necco trying to obtain personnel records from 1955 to 1956. I was told they didn’t have any records that went that far back. By this time the company had relocated to Revere, Ma. Just another dead end.
Now it is time for the last segment of this story. This past Christmas of 2018, my daughter purchased an Ancestry DNA kit for Shelley as her Xmas present. Shelley followed the instructions provided and off in the mail it went. When the results were received, on Shelley’s behalf, I began to contact her matches. She was fortunate to have two matches with extremely high amounts of DNA. One match was 1,645 centimorgans across 66 segments and the other was 1,466 centimorgans across 66 segments.
These two matches belonged to two sisters who grew up with a brother and a loving single mother in the Cambridge area. One of the sisters messaged me, stating she had a great uncle that had worked at Necco in his mid 40’s and had an eye for a certain type of woman. This fit the original story as told by William Jenkins niece to my wife. She gave me this gentleman’s name and I started to build another family tree listing Shelley as his daughter and tried to establish a timeline with a birth that occurred on 5 June 1956. I will admit I got tunnel vision in this pursuit to tie this gentleman to my wife as her father.
One of the sisters said it wasn’t her great uncle, because that would have been out of his character. The other sister stated, not only was it possible, but probable. These two ladies has a cousin who is a genetic genealogist. She requested I upload Shelley’s Ancestry DNA results to GEDmatch Genesis and allow her to do an analysis. While she was doing her analysis, Shelley was provided a set of questions about her adoptive parents, personal information and her brother’s search for his adoptive mother. After having the sister recant her story about her great uncle having worked at Necco and the discovery of an error in his date of birth, I now placed the search in the hands of their cousin to establish their relationship to my wife and possibly who her father was.
The results are in. My wife now has two half sisters, a half brother (deceased), and the name of her father (deceased). But more important to Shelley, she now has a picture of her biological father. That is all she wanted. Along this journey to find the truth, I have met some extraordinary people. All are a part of Shelley’s new and extended family. Since this discovery, she has spoken with each of her half sisters and each have opened their arms and their hearts to her, as they share the same father.
Photo: Shelly today
Photo: A Younger Shelley as a child
Photo: Shelly’s father, Harold Fredrick Langford Sr.
Photo:Velda Audrey Horton Jenkins.