I must have started, stopped, and deleted umpteen paragraphs of my introductory letter forty times. How do you say, “Hello, excuse me. I hate to interrupt your life, sir…but I think you or your elderly brother is my father,” to a complete stranger? As much as I tried, there’s just no way to make what is essentially a paternity accusation sound cheerful, light, and casual.
So, anyway…do you remember this one lady you slept with a half-century ago?
There were several considerations in writing this letter: The most pressing consideration was that the news could ignite a preexisting health condition in McB2. He’s no spring chicken. He’s not even a fall chicken. What if he’s on blood pressure medication? What if he has heart issues? I could vividly imagine this elderly gent opening my letter, reading it, grasping at his chest and falling to the floor, dead. His poor, unsuspecting wife finding his frail, lifeless body on the kitchen floor; the day’s mail strewn about him, and then getting the double whammy of a dead spouse and paternity accusation letter addressed to her husband, still held in his wrinkled, cold, stiff hand.
I know I’ve got a dramatic imagination but seriously, who the hell expects a paternity letter in the seventh decade of their life?
Second, what if his wife opens the letter? She’s elderly, too. What sort health issues might she have? I didn’t want to hurt her or put her health in jeopardy. What would reading a paternity accusation aimed at her husband do to her? Or, what if she gets to the letter first, reads it, tears it up, and never tells McB2? Sure, I could send the letter certified mail to him directly but has anyone in the history of the post office ever received good news from a certified letter? I didn’t want to prejudice my audience negatively before they even open the envelope. I didn’t want to give the impression that I was writing this letter on the advice of my attorney.
Third, what if they think my letter is a scam? Like I’m a grifter or something, sending out letters in mass to elderly men, running some kind of paternity con on seniors? How do I prove I’m not a con artist? Or a nut-job? I was just a fifty-two year old lady that would like contact with her father. Nothing more. But I struggled hard with trying to convey this idea in a letter. The aim of my letter was to introduce myself, give some details how I came to my DNA conclusion (that wasn’t super technical), chat a bit about myself and my ordinary/extraordinary life, and close it with a plea for contact. The End. Even for a person that likes to write, this was one tough assignment.
The following is the letter I sent. I toyed with the idea of handwriting it but in the interest of clarity and ease of reading, I printed it out from my PC. I enclosed two informal photos: one of me on vacation in Maine and one of my daughters, as well as a newspaper article on a local foundling case I worked with CeCe Moore that mentioned me by name:
January 28, 2017
Dear Mr. McBriarty,
Please forgive this awkward introduction from a stranger. My name is Laurie Pratt. I was born on October 11, 1964 in Lewiston, Maine. I am the daughter of Fred and Sandra Pratt.
I have always enjoyed genealogy and historical research and this hobby has afforded me the pleasure of meeting extended family as well as opportunities to assist others in discovering their own family history. In the fall of 2012, I took an Ancestry DNA test and subsequently DNA tested my parents. While I did DNA match my mother as I expected, I didn’t DNA match my father at all. At the time, both of my parents were in failing health and though I did gently question my mother, I felt it would be needlessly painful for my father to learn that I wasn’t his biological child. I chose not to tell him (nor my siblings until my parents had passed).
Both of my parents have since passed away; my mother in 2013 and my father in 2014. I have spent the past four years trying to piece together a family tree from my various DNA match cousins in effort to identify my biological father; which brings me to you and your brother, ****.
I have multiple DNA matches along both your father’s McBriarty side as well as your mother’s Dignam’s side. I decided that before I reached out to either one of you, I wanted to confirm my conclusion with a close relation to the both of you. I found *** *******, who is also a genealogist and the son of ***** ; your first cousin. I explained to *** that I suspected that we were related as I had already matched many of his more distant Dignam cousins but was unsure where this connection took place in my family tree. He agreed to DNA test and his results came back this week: *** ******* is my biological second cousin.
I’ve concluded with reasonable certainty that my biological father is one of the sons of ****** McBriarty and ***** Dignam. I’m reaching out to you first because the thought of sending two letters, one to each of you, doesn’t sit right with me. I’m attempting to reach out as privately and respectfully as possible.
Please know, it’s very difficult for me to send this letter as I don’t know if you are my uncle or my biological father and I’m very concerned how you will feel about this sort of news. I truly don’t wish to disrupt anyone’s life or cause anyone embarrassment about a situation that happened over five decades ago. I have been blessed with a wonderful life and a family I adore. I’m reaching out in hopes that you will be kind enough to have a conversation with me.
A little bit about me: I’ve lived in California, since my family moved here in 1971. I’ve been married for 13 years to Timothy Sisk and am the mother and step-mother of 4 (grown and nearly grown) children: Cassandra (24 years old); Sabrina (20 years old); ***** (20 years old) and *** (16 years old). Cassandra and Sabrina are my children from my first marriage; ***** and *** I got as a signing bonus when I married their dad. I work for ********** here in Orange County as a ****** *** *********** – a job I love (most days). I’ve always enjoyed genealogy and helping people connect with their family history. Previous to working with genetic genealogy, I assisted a company that performed Civil War soldier research at the National Archives and co-lectured on that topic at the New England Regional Genealogy Consortium (2013). These days, I work on adoptee and foundling cases using DNA to reunite people with their biological families. I also help moderate and assist people in a Facebook group (“DNA Detectives”) for CeCe Moore, genetic genealogist of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates.” I have three older brothers, Paul, Steve, and Greg that have shown me tremendous support and love through both the news that I don’t share the same biological father and the deaths of our parents whom we all tremendously miss. I’m a very lucky girl with a very blessed life.
I’ve enclosed a photo of myself and one of my daughters, as well as an article about a foundling case I worked on a couple of years ago. I employed the same methodology to find you.
Please feel free to reach out to me at your convenience. I do understand that I have had four years to digest this news and you have not. I pray for your peace and understanding.
I can be reached at:
Home address: * ****** Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Facebook: https: //www.facebook.com/laurielpratt
Kind regards, (signed) Laurie
I then went to Office Depot to pick up a fresh ream of paper. I wanted to print this letter on good, heavier weight paper than I usually buy. I wanted to make a nice impression. I also bought three small manila envelopes in case my anxiety caused me to make a mistake(s) writing out the addresses, and a new pen. I went home, addressed the envelope, put the letter in the envelope, popped in the newspaper article and photos, and put postage on the envelope. I carefully placed it on my dining room table. And then I looked at it. For an about an hour.
Every sleepless night, every tear, every fruitless 15 centimorgans of DNA I had chased down, every one of those trees I had created for my DNA matches had come to this: a letter and a couple of photos and hope for reply.
Finally, realizing the time, I had to decide to either drive it to the local post office before it closed or, wait until Monday to send it. I needed to be done with this. So, I hopped in my car and drove it over to the post office, beating the final collection time by a mere five minutes. I’m not even Catholic but I made the sign of the cross and tossed in the chute.
It was completely out of my hands, God help me.
There was no turning back now.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.