A mother of five who works as a restaurant manager in Chicago has sparked an unlikely internet search for a family member she has never met.
During lockdown Rachael Powers came across a collection of old letters written to her grandmother, which have spent decades quietly locked away. They were written by a former lover of her grandmother’s named John who unknowingly fathered a child with her before leaving for military service.
According to Ms Powers, the baby was secretly put up for adoption before her grandma later married the man who would become her grandfather.
“My oldest son turned 16 this September and the last time I was with my grandmother alive was his first birthday so when I was looking through old photos I came across the bag of letters and I just kind of lost it,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Looking for a connection during the lockdown, she posted about the letters on a public Facebook group, sharing the story of an apparent uncle she has never known.
“I missed her so much and I wanted other people to love her, I guess. To keep her memory alive,” Ms Powers said of her grandmother.
“With our pandemic lots of things have been hard here in Chicago.”
In the post, she recounted the whirlwind love affair and John’s desperate effort to reconnect with the mother of his baby.
“Somehow John found out about the baby and wrote her letter after letter to beg for her forgiveness to ask how to help, how had he known things would be different and what he could do,” Ms Powers wrote.
“And she never opened one single letter.”
Her grandmother said they were kept unopened in a locked box for years.
When she did eventually read the dozens of letters and was confronted with the pleas they conveyed, she began looking for John in 2000 – more than four decades after the letters were written.
“She used whatever means (internet wasn’t like it is now) she called and sent letter to many Johns all over the country and she couldn’t find him,” Ms Powers wrote.
For four years she tried in vain to reconnect with him before she died.
“She died in 2006 without ever speaking to him again and it still breaks my heart,” Ms Powers said.
She finished the post by saying she now wanted to track down their child, her uncle, to see how his life turned out.
‘Please look for them’: The internet offers help
The Facebook group has more than 2 million members, and many were quick to offer advice, help and sleuthing skills in a quest to track down the adopted uncle.
Many urged her to go through DNA testing sites that offer potential ancestry matches, while others directed her to a Facebook group known as Search Squad, attached to a non-profit organisation called Search Angels that helps people track down unknown relatives.
Others shared their own stories of tracking down long-lost family members, while some seemed happy to be along for the emotional ride.
“Oh please look for them and please keep us posted maybe even make a special FB page or something, I want to see what happens,” one Facebook user said.
“Following for when someone on here finds him,” another chimed in.
“This group is going to make the news again. Folks unselfishly coming together to make a perfect stranger happy,” a third person wrote.
Search helps to keep grandmother’s memory alive
Ms Powers told Yahoo News Australia she was surprised by the level of interest in her story, but said she was unsure if she would take the internet’s advice and help in tracking down her uncle.
“What if he is happy and has no idea?” she wondered.
For now, it remains a moment in the pandemic that brought her grandmother a little closer.
“I just miss the way she made me feel better about any problem,” she said.
“She’d know what to do in this horrible time.”
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