The 2021 bi-annual Gilliam Family Reunion met in Portsmouth, Virginia. They typically have over 100 family members in attendance, but this year there were about 60, down mostly due to the pandemic. A requirement for attending was to either be vaccinated or to test negative two to three days prior to arriving. Two family members actually tested covid positive and were not able to attend.
Patricia Johnson special backstory
This year was also special, because they had a family member in attendance who they didn’t even know existed until last year. This is the special backstory according to planner, Patricia Johnson. “In 1966, my mother’s baby sister, who would have been in her early 20s at that time, left their home state of Alabama to relocate to Florida. She left her three young children with their father, while she set up a home in Florida. She was to return to Alabama to get her children, after she was settled. But she never went back to Alabama and eventually lost contact with the whole family including her three children. Over the years, many Gilliam family members searched for her, traveling to Florida to look in person, including filing a missing persons report.
Searching for mother’s sister
I began searching for my mother’s missing sister over 15 years ago, with small clues from my mother, who insisted that I should look in Miami, Florida, and that she believed my aunt would have changed her name. As DNA testing became available, I took both AncestryDNA and 23andMe, hoping I would get a match. I encouraged my cousin (the missing aunt’s daughter) to also take the DNA tests, which she did.
As years have gone by, we’ve lost several family members, including my mother who passed in 2013. One of her final wishes to me was to find her missing sister. During the pandemic, I decided to amp up my search efforts. I created a missing person poster (see attached) and shared it on many Facebook family search-related group pages, which actually paid off. With very little information to go on and one single picture, a search angel ultimately led me in the right direction. I reached out to a man on Facebook, who I believed to be my first cousin, my missing aunt’s son. He was extremely reluctant at first but then agreed to speak to me on the phone.
We exchanged information, I provided him with the one picture I had and he provided a few other pictures of his mother. We both believed that his mother was my missing aunt. He hadn’t taken any of the DNA tests, but he agreed to take one. Six weeks later, he was confirmed to be my first cousin and half-sibling to my missing aunt’s daughter. Unfortunately, my aunt had passed in 2013, just a few months after my mother had passed.
Valuable information from a cousin
Growing up, my newfound cousin said his mother never mentioned family other than her father – our grandfather. She didn’t mention having children she left in Alabama and she didn’t mention having many siblings although there was a total of 17 children. My mother had been correct, my aunt changed her first name, got married (new last name) and had three additional children, two of whom are deceased. We will never know why she did what she did, but at least the mystery has been solved.
My newfound cousin was able to attend the Gilliam family reunion and was able to celebrate with this side of the family for the first time in his 40 years of life. He also met two of his three half-siblings; unfortunately, one was not able to attend.