A couple of years ago we joined Ancestry.com and Hilary and I gave each other for Christmas the DNA test. We also gave the test to Hilary’s mother, Virginia, for her 90th birthday.
I was not shocked to learn I am 100% WASP-White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: 86% English, Scottish and Irish, and the rest Norwegian. Good to know I’ve got some Viking warrior DNA.
Hilary, on the other hand, was surprised to find out she is 37% Scot-Irish, to go along with her English, German and Czech roots.
I’m the contact person for the DNA hits and we’ve received several not surprising matches with 1st through 6th cousins who have taken the test. There have also been a couple of “whoahs!”
In September of 2018 I got an Ancestry.com message from a Cara in Texas who wrote to tell me:
On Ancestry I go by my full name, Vernon Case Gauntt.
I just wanted to extend an unexpected sincere thank-you! I am adopted and met my biological paternal grandmother yesterday. I don’t think this would have happened if your DNA had not come up with a match with me. That, together with all the work you have done on your family tree led me to my biological father’s mother, Linda McDonald. Armed with this information, I had enough confidence to reach out to her and she accepted my invitation to get together. Thank-you for unknowingly providing me such an important connection!
Linda is my second cousin and descends from the Gauntt-McDonald clan. I was able to share more stories and photos of our ancestors with Cara and we both agreed ‘Ancestry.com is awesome!’
However, that connection didn’t come close to the Richter-Scale-worthy seismic event that struck six months later.
On a Tuesday morning in March, I dropped off Hilary at Lindbergh Field in San Diego. She was headed for Cabo San Lucas with her Mahjong group for a few days of intense competition. I didn’t check my email before leaving for the airport, which is a bit unusual for me. We must have been running late.
When I came home, I got on my laptop and scrolled through new messages. There was this one from Ancestry.com sent late Monday night:
Hello Vernon, my name is Jeff Pehrson. I was born in February of 1967 in San Francisco. I was then given up for adoption. My adoption was handled through The Children’s Home Society. I was adopted by the Pehrson family in May of 1967. I recently did my Ancestry test and HG and I matched as “close family.” I know next to nothing about my natural parents, or any natural family. I’d love to learn anything I possibly can. If you’d be so good as to get back to me, I’d sure appreciate it. Thanks so much, Jeff
Oh my God! ‘HG’ was Hilary. If I’m being honest, the first thought that flew into my head, ‘Did Hilary have a baby she never told me about?’ In February of 1967 she was 16 years old; not impossible, but highly unlikely.
I clicked the VIEW THE MATCH link and scanned the results.
Indication is Jeff could be Hilary’s 1st cousin.
And then this bombshell:
This also appears to indicate Jeff shares a strong match with Virginia Tedrow-possibly Parent/Child
Wait a minute! Did Virginia have a baby nobody knew about? She would have been 39 years old. Not impossible; again, probably unlikely.
Then I remembered something Hilary mentioned many years ago.
I called her, but no answer. Already in the air. Damn!
I sent her a text and begged her to call me as soon as she landed in Cabo. I also emailed her Jeff’s message and the DNA results.
Hilary called as soon as they touched ground a couple of hours later.
Oh My God! This has to be Ainsley’s son. The date, the Children’s Home Society—there’s no question, Jeff is Ainsley’s son!!
Ainsley is Hilary’s older sister by two years, and at that time was 18 and a recent grad of Menlo Atherton High School. Hilary had told me early in our courtship Ainsley had a baby soon after high school.
Hilary asked—more demanded
What, are you going to do?
When you come home we can figure this out.
That notion was summarily rebuffed.
You need to deal with this, now!
And she-who-is-always-right, was.
We came up with a plan.
I sent Ainsley a carefully worded text—the fact I was texting her at all surely sent up warning flares.
Hi Ains-Give me a call when you get a chance. I have some interesting news to share with you.
Lame, I know, but that’s the best I could think of.
While I waited to hear back from Ainsley, I brought our daughter, Brittany, into the loop.
Ainsley called a couple hours later. She was at home in Pacifica just southwest of San Francisco.
Hi….so what’s up?
Her question was laced with apprehension.
As I said, we don’t text or chat.
I asked her if she was a member of Ancestry.com.
I got right to it.
Ains, I got a message today through Ancestry.com. Hilary and I are members and we’ve taken the DNA tests. So has your Mom. Let me just read it to you.
By the time I got to I was adopted by the Pehrson Family in May of 1967, we both were sobbing. I struggled through the rest of it.
Ainsley was stunned, to say the least.
That has to be him!
I told her about the DNA matches, particularly the Parent-Child one with Virginia.
We had a good laugh about that.
I did a DNA test with National Geographic awhile back. I’m 99% positive Jeff is my son, but I should probably do the Ancestry test just to be 100% sure.
Al didn’t want to have kids.
Albert and Ainsley were married in 1977. He was a Vietnam War veteran, a brilliant engineer and inventor, and eclectic blues guitar player. Al also battled diabetes and the “Irish Affliction.” He passed away in 2000 at the too-young age of 55.
Al saw too much in Vietnam and the horrible things man does to his fellow man. He just couldn’t bring one of his own into that world. He suffered PTSD. He also came from a large family with lots of siblings, cousins and nieces and nephews. And, of course, there was your Brittany and Jimmy. Those were his kids.
I gave my son up for adoption immediately. I saw him maybe for a few moments. I never thought it was my place to look for him. But…. if he ever wanted to find me… I’ve always been open to that.
The tears began to flow again.
I just can’t believe this is happening now. After all this time, my son—my only child—is reaching out. It’s only been a year and a half since III died.
III (pronounced ‘three’) and Ainsley became soul mates a few years after Al died. III was brilliant, theatrical and unique. An early computer programmer, he set up some of the biggest banks with their data processing systems, majored in theatre at Cal Davis and then became a management consultant specializing in team building for an A-list of tech and communications clients.
III eschewed email and never owned a cellphone. He wore pants that didn’t require a belt and refused to allow his photograph to be taken. He was an early fixture in the Haight-Ashbury community in San Francisco and put over half a million miles on his VW Microbus he registered, of course, “Mr. III.”
III was named after his grandfather and father. As the 3rd, the only part of his name that was truly his was “III.” So, after 26 years of waging war with the California courts and agencies, he ultimately prevailed and his name was legally changed to III. He was like that.
As you guys know all too well, the Universe works in mysterious ways. To think I have just lost my second husband, and the child I thought I’d lost 52 years ago now has resurfaced and wants to connect with me at the time I need it the most….
Ainsley bemoaned the fact she was so busy with work.
I’m having a hard time processing all this. I suggested,
How about I send you Jeff’s message and the DNA matches. Take your time and sleep on it. I won’t respond to Jeff until we speak again.
Jeff and Ains would later tease me of trying to slow down the reconnection. Maybe you just can’t take the lawyer out of the man.
Meanwhile, Brittany had been seriously stalking ‘Jeff Pehrson’ on the internet.
Dad, Jeff has his own Wikipedia page. He’s a rock star! And he lives in the Bay Area. There’s lots of photos of him on Facebook. There’s no question he’s Ainsley’s son. I’m just freaking out about this!!!!
Jeffery Vernon Pehrson was born February 21, 1967. Another Vernon! His musical resume was astounding:
Co-founded Box Set in 1989…20 years of touring Europe and the U.S. performing with The Dave Matthews Band, Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson, Hot Tuna, Bare Naked Ladies, Goo Goo Dolls…Bay Area Band of the Year…played with the Jefferson Airplane 50th Anniversary Band…
In 2010 he joined FURTHUR formed by Grateful Dead bandsmen, Bob Weir (also adopted as a child) and Phil Lesh.
And on and on….
I felt like Mission Control and thanking God I was retired. Hilary was eager for updates and Brittany was sending us everything she was finding on Jeff. The excitement level was off the charts and the three of us were texting non-stop.
This is a bombshell of the best kind.
OMG how will this unfold? Like a movie hopefully with a happy ending.
Does he have kids?
I don’t think so; he has a fiancé.
He’s super liberal. Likes wine! All good.
Oh, what a gift for Ainsley. I just pray he’s a good soul.
I have a good feeling. Was waiting for this day.
And on it went into the evening.
Ainsley called me around Noon. Hilary had spoken to her late the night before and had given me the heads up on what her answer would likely be.
I would like very much to connect with Jeff, if that is something he would like to do.
I had sent her Jeff’s Wikipedia page and she was astounded that, like her, he’s lived in the Bay Area all his life and by their shared love for the same music.
I went to high school with Bob Weir. He was with The Warlocks before they became The Grateful Dead. Back in the day we loved to see the Warlocks, Dead and Jefferson Airplane in concert.
We settled on a game-plan. I would send a reply to Jeff through Ancestry and promised to let her know the moment I heard back from him. You could cut the anticipation with a knife.
Hi Jeff- thank you for reaching out to me. As soon as I got your message, I forwarded it to my wife’s family. It would certainly appear that my wife’s older sister is your birth mother. I’ve spoken with her and she would like to connect with you, if that is something you would like to do. She lives in the Bay Area. Here is my email address. Shoot me an email as far as next steps and what you would like to do. We can also get on the phone if you like. I can tell you our family is pretty excited about this. Best regards Vernon “Casey” Gauntt. I go by “Casey.”
Jeff would tell me later he could tell I was a lawyer by my meticulously crafted message. Well, as I said before…
Bam! Jeff responded within minutes.
I can’t thank you enough for getting back to me. The last 24 hours has truly been a whirlwind, and I’ve been completely overwhelmed, in the best way. I would very much love to connect with Ainsley, yes. I understand she lives in Pacifica, which is about 40 minutes from me.
I actually reached out to her yesterday with the most carefully worded note I’ve ever composed and sent it to her on Facebook Messenger as well as to her Acorn Consulting email address.
I’d be truly grateful to connect with all of you as well.
For 52 years I’ve wondered about my natural family, and it feels so good to hear from you!
Please let me know how Ainsley would like to proceed. I understand this may be delicate for her, so I’m more than happy to do this in any way she feels most comfortable. Thank you so much, Casey.
He certainly sounded like a good, thoughtful guy. I quickly replied to Jeff and let him know I was going to forward his email to Ainsley and have her check for his FB message.
He’d clearly been doing his own research and come up with her name, email address and where she lived. I also sent Jeff her personal email address and let him know
She has no other children, by the way.
My sense is at this point it’s all good if you two communicate directly and make contact.
I’ll double check with Ainsley. I’m happy, of course, to facilitate in any way. We look forward to meeting you, too, Jeff.
‘The Eagle Has Landed’
I sent Jeff’s message to Ainsley and, of course, to Hilary and Brittany as well. I also mentioned to Ainsley that, although I was happy to further facilitate, it appeared Jeff was comfortable communicating directly with her at this point.
Everything was in motion and I felt it would be OK if I went to see Wyatt’s little league game. Of course, I brought my phone and kept checking for messages.
After the game, I went for an early dinner with Britt, Ryan and the boys at a casual Italian restaurant near their home. Ainsley and Jeff dominated the conversation.
Brittany was beyond excited to discover she has a fifth cousin. Hilary’s younger sister, Leslie, and her husband don’t have children, so Jeff would be her only cousin from the Tedrow side of the family.
And Hilary and I were still getting our heads around we are Jeff’s Aunt and Uncle.
At 5:44 P.M. my phone pinged with a message from Ainsley.
Her message to Jeff included her phone number.
Ainsley called me a little after 8 o’clock. She had spent the last two hours on the phone with her son. He called immediately upon getting her FB message. I could pin a lot of amazing adjectives on her recount of their conversation, but the one that shone through so brightly was ‘happy.’ Ainsley was over-the-moon happy.
We can’t believe how much we have in common
We’re so much alike—our personality, the way we talk, the things we like and don’t like
He has a fiancé, Sara, who’s a great cook. We’re all invited to the wedding
He told me all about his mother, Janice, who raised him and who he adores. She’s the one who encouraged him to look for me
Jeff is going to call me MomA. ‘Well, after all, you are my first mother’
He and Sara are coming over on Sunday to take me to brunch
The connection with Jeff was so strong
We’re both so happy
She was all aglow. Ains signed off. She had to call her sister, Leslie, respond to Hilary’s and Brittany’s texts and bring them all up to date.
It’s been an amazing 36 hours. I’m so exhausted and excited. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep. Thank you
This past December, Hilary and I made our annual pre-Christmas pilgrimage to the Bay Area to be with Virginia, Ainsley, Leslie and her husband, David. We gathered for lunch at Virginia’s assisted living community in Foster City.
Joining us was our nephew, Jeff, and his lovely fiancé, Sara. This was our first opportunity to meet them, and we’d been looking forward to this for a long time.
Jeff could not have been more warm, loving, and compassionate. He is also gregarious, funny, and quite comfortable taking the lead in conversation. As he admitted
Spending over 30 years as a front-man before large audiences, all that time on the road…you see and learn a lot…there’s not much room for shy or reserved…
He shared some hilarious stories.
Jeff was shocked when I told him James Taylor’s first name is also ‘Vernon.’
I’ll have to mention that next time I see him.
He even knows my idol, James Taylor! The perfect nephew.
Ainsley passed around a photo of the sisters’ grandfather, C.D. Tedrow, a prominent banker from Princeton, Illinois. We all were stunned by the resemblance between Jeff and his great-grandfather.
I was seated next to Virginia, now 92. Her body is frail, and she has good days and not so good with her memory and ability to speak. This was a very good day. She couldn’t take her eyes off Jeff throughout the lunch, and several times she grabbed by hand and proudly said
That’s my grandson…
Most of all, what really moved Hilary and me, were the affectionate looks, touches and exchanges between Ainsley and Jeff.
Jeff is family.
He assumed his seat as though he had always been there.
And we couldn’t be happier and more grateful.
Ain’t Ancestry.com grand!