Dick Milligan has sage advice for those who were adopted and who are looking for their biological family.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “Don’t give up.”
Milligan should know. It took him 60 years to find the family of his biological father, but earlier this year he succeeded in doing just that.
He was too late to see his dad again, or to meet his half-brother, but he has added to his family tree four nephews, a niece and their spouses. And a sister-in-law.
Milligan, 81, was 18 years old before he learned he was adopted.
His mother had been married to his biological father for 10 years, but they divorced when Milligan was very young. Before signing up for the service in 1948, Milligan needed his birth certificate. He was surprised to see that it didn’t read Milligan, but instead documented the birth of Richard Drew.
He also learned his father’s name was V.L. Drew.
“I was really surprised,” he said.
After his mom married Harry B. Milligan, Milligan adopted his stepson. “I was about 3 years old,” Milligan said.
First name needed
Finding his biological father was made very difficult because Milligan didn’t know his biological dad’s first name.
Milligan’s mom died in 1973, never having provided her son with additional details. “She never wanted to talk about it,” he said.
Years later Milligan would turn up evidence in the Houston genealogical library that his biological father’s name was Lewis V. Drew, confusing matters further by switching the initials.
Milligan had a sister, Geraldine, seven years his elder. But she never talked about it, either. When she was 18, Geraldine ran away from home.
“I found out later she went to live with our father in Detroit,” he said. “She found him somehow.”
He also found out that his biological dad sometimes returned to Missouri. “But my name was changed, and we moved around a lot, so he couldn’t find us,” Milligan said.
V.L. Drew died in 1973.
Milligan said while he continued visiting genealogical libraries, he wasn’t able to make much headway until he got his first computer about 20 years ago. “And then I started on the Internet.”
But he always ran into the same roadblock. “The only thing I had to go on was Lewis Drew and V.L. Drew.”
Milligan had one piece of additional information: on his birth certificate his father’s birthplace was listed as Chariton County, Mo.
On the Internet he followed a path all the way to a Chariton genealogical website. “They had two or three volunteers. I contacted one of the ladies and I told her I was looking for my father.”
Really a shock
“Two or three days later” Milligan got a call. The volunteer had a message: “I think I got your man. Verdie Lewis Drew.”
Milligan did a quick search for the name on the web and turned up a family tree. He was astounded to find his own name on the tree.
“I told my wife, I’ve hit the jackpot.”
He went to Switchboard.com and looked up all the names and phone numbers, learning they were all living near Kansas City, Mo. Milligan was dialing the fifth number when he finally found someone at home.
“It was an answering machine,” he said. “I started to leave a message, saying, ‘I’m looking for my father.’
“Immediately a woman picked up. She said she didn’t answer unless she knew the person calling. She said, ‘I think you should call this number. You’ll find out more information.’
“I called the other number. When someone answered, I said, ‘Is this Richard Drew?’ When he said yes, I said, ‘This is Richard Drew.’”
The fellow who answered turned out to be a nephew, one of four. “One nephew died,” Milligan said.
“Dick told me he was named after me. One of his brothers, Gerry, was named after my sister. Evidently, my brother eventually talked about me.”
“It was really a shock.”
It was a big surprise to his nephew, too. Dick Drew said, “I had no idea.”
He said, yes, his mother and father had mentioned an uncle and told him he was named after Richard Drew. “But we had never met him, seen him, or didn’t know he even existed.
“It was a total surprise.”
Dick Drew put together the family tree that Milligan found on genealogy.com, but for Dick, “All I had was a name,” he said. “I didn’t even know his mother’s name.”
Good news, bad news
Milligan learned then he had a brother, Clarence, and that Clarence had died. But Clarence’s widow, Emma Lee, he discovered, is alive and kicking at 94.
Dick Drew asked Milligan, “Would you like to see a picture of your father?”
Milligan said yes, and the pictures followed. “He sent so many pictures: maybe 35 e-mails each with six to eight pictures.”
A few weeks went by with e-mails and conversation flying back and forth. Dick mentioned the Drews have a family reunion every September.
“What does it take to get invited?” Milligan asked.
He said he heard from “four of the five that day. I didn’t hear from Jim, but the next day we heard from him, along with an apology for not getting in touch sooner.”
Milligan and his wife, Myrna, talked about it and realized it was time. Emma Lee Drew is 94. “We better get back there,” he said.
On Sept. 24, Milligan and Myrna flew to Kansas City, Mo.
“Dick Drew was waiting at the airport,” Milligan said. “We met all of them with their spouses at a big picnic the next day.”
Dick Drew says, “There’s quite a bit of family resemblance.”
Drew also described his Missouri family, saying “We couldn’t be closer.” And, he added, “We welcomed him right in.”
While they were in Missouri, the Milligans accompanied the family on a traditional visit to Catrick’s Cafe in Lawson. “Every Wednesday Dick takes his mom to Lawson for lunch,” Milligan said.
“We were all there,” Myrna said. “And I said one of my favorite pictures is the one with grandpa with the four boys. And they said, ‘That house is right around the corner.’”
“So they all went and took a picture there.”
Milligan started to tell a story about the reunion, but he had to stop. “That first night,” he said, “... it’s hard to talk about.”
Myrna picked up the story: “We had gone to bed and I woke up and Dick was sitting in a chair crying. He wouldn’t talk, just said it was nothing bad. He said he would tell me in the morning.”
“The next morning he said he had a vision of his brother sitting in a swivel chair.”
Milligan described it: “He turned and looked at me kind of ... sternly. Behind him there were flowers of every kind. And he kind of faded out and there were so many flowers. And then he came back with a cigar in his mouth and he smiled.”
“I told Myrna, ‘I need to get to the florist.’
“And she asked, ‘Why?’
“And I said ‘I think he wants me to get flowers for Emma Lee. From Clarence.’”
“I got a half dozen red roses,” Milligan said.
“The last day we were there, Oct. 1, everyone was there,” Myrna said. “He brought everyone into the room, and Dick told Emma Lee about the vision. He said, ‘These flowers aren’t from me, they’re from Clarence. I am only the messenger.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
“She is so, so sweet,” Milligan said.
Since their visit there have been “lots of e-mail and conversations,” Milligan said.
One nephew may visit for Thanksgiving or before the end of the year.
Another nephew and his wife are thinking they may relocate to Sequim.
Whether they do or not, Milligan is happy about one thing: He never gave up.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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