Cathryn Darling's parents divorced when she was very
young. Then her father suddenly stopped coming to see her when she was 8.
Cathryn spent much of her life searching for her father, refusing to believe he'd abandoned her. She knew she wouldn't feel complete until she found him.
After years of trying other avenues, Cathryn began searching Ancestry.com for any record of her father. That's when she and her daughter made a shocking discovery in the Historical Newspaper Collection.
It was an article proving that her father, who was a U.S. Marine, and his fisherman partner had been lost at sea near Oregon in 1970. They were hit by 20-foot swells and called for help but the Coast Guard couldn't get to them in time. Their bodies were never found.
Cathryn was saddened to learn that she couldn't find her father alive. But she was relieved to realize the truth - that he'd never meant to leave her. Finally able to grieve for a man who'd died more than 30 years before, Cathryn made sure her father received an honorable military burial and had his name added to a memorial wall for fishermen who died at sea.
Information in the article also helped Cathryn to track down her father's family, who had been looking for her too. Per her father's instructions, they'd saved his belongings for her, including his photos. She was amazed to learn how much she had in common with her new family.
"By finding my father, I found my family. And I found a lot of peace of mind," said Cathryn.
Alton Woodman never knew much about his father, who
passed away when Alton was just 14. He decided he needed to know more of this man's story.
Alton searched Ancestry.com and discovered his father as a toddler living with his family in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. This gave him a wonderful sense of connection.
But when he moved on to the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Alton found a mystery. His father, at about age 14, was shown living in a different city than his family — in an orphanage. Alton found the name of the institution in the census, wrote a letter and in response received a package full of details from the eight years his father spent there.
He discovered that his father was an upbeat young man — a hard worker who had many interests and was naturally gifted at math.
It turned out Alton's grandfather had passed away suddenly in 1913 and his grandmother couldn't care for all the children on her own. In other words, Alton and his father had both lost their fathers at a young age.
Alton never dreamed he would discover so much. It was very meaningful for him to confirm what a positive person his father had been, in spite of his early hardships.
As further proof of his father's good nature, Alton learned in a 1930 U.S. Federal Census record that his father was later reunited with his family under one roof, just a year before he would marry Alton's mother.
"It's been a positive journey. It was about my father. But it was also about me. Looking ahead, I know there are generations to come and I'm putting things in place for them. That's what Ancestry.com has allowed me to do," said Alton.
Jim Lane found out when he was 12 that his father's
real mother died when his father was just a baby. No one in the family knew anything about her. Jim's father longed to somehow see a picture of her. But he didn't even know her name.
After decades of searching microfilm in libraries and archives, Jim decided to try and find his grandmother on Ancestry.com. His father recalled the unique name of an aunt he'd known as a child so Jim searched with different spellings and discovered the aunt in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.
He was able to find the aunt again in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. And there, listed alongside her name, was his grandmother's real name.
He was absolutely thrilled, but he had no idea where this clue would lead him.
Now that he had his grandmother's name, he was determined to track down living cousins who might know more about her. He found them - and with them, a treasure trove of old letters and photographs of his grandmother.
These discoveries allowed Jim to finally introduce his father to the mother he'd lost as a baby.
"It was just something he never thought was possible. He'd gotten to be 70 years old without ever seeing his mother and he'd long since given up hope that he would ever find out what she looked like. And there she was in front of him," said Jim.
Peggy McDowell, a caterer in Chicago, Illinois, had loved
cooking since she was a small child. As far back as she could remember, food had always brought her family together.
Peggy's father had built a career around cooking, too, owning an ice cream company and a fast-food chicken store in Chicago.
Peggy also spent time in the kitchen with her grandfather growing up. She'd heard stories about how he'd once made a living as a cook, but she wanted to know much more about his early life - and her family's cooking legacy.
Digging into the historical records on Ancestry.com, Peggy quickly put together the pieces of her grandfather's story. Born in 1893, he grew up in an Iowa coal-mining town.
But after witnessing a tragedy in the mines, he ran away to Chicago, landing a job at the Palmer House, where he learned to cook. He later became a chef for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.
Peggy was pleasantly surprised when a long-lost cousin of hers who was also searching for his roots reached out to her through Ancestry.com. Sure enough, he shared her passion for cooking.
"When I contacted him I just thought we would chitchat," said Peggy.
But that was just the beginning. Today Peggy and her cousin are bringing the family legacy full circle by opening a soul food restaurant in Chicago's Hyde Park.
Cary Christopher owes his lifelong love of family history
to his grandmother, who got him involved when he was just 12. That was when he first heard about his great-grandfather, a German sailor the family lost touch with after he divorced Cary's great-grandmother.
The legend was that Cary's great-grandfather had died in the U-boat service of Germany fighting against the U.S. in World War I. There were other stories too. But Cary's research slowly proved them all false.
Cary spent 40 years trying to find the truth about his great-grandfather. He scoured public records, wrote to overseas archives and corresponded with relatives. But he didn't discover much.
Then, in 2006, Ancestry.com released the World War I Draft Registration index. On a whim, Cary entered his great-grandfather's name and birth date.
Lo and behold, there was a match. His great-grandfather had been living in Brooklyn, New York and working as a ship's rigger.
From there, Cary was finally able to learn the true story. His great-grandfather had come to the U.S. well before World War I, become an American citizen - then eventually the captain of a ship and a ship's master in the U.S. Merchant Marines.
In fact, Cary's great-grandfather died serving the U.S. in World War II. He was killed, amazingly enough, by a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico. After 40 years of searching, Cary discovered not a German soldier but an American hero.
"You look at a draft registration card and here's a completely different person than the one portrayed in all the family stories. You have the answers to your questions. All from spending a few minutes online," said Cary.