DOUBLE SPRINGS - Many children grow up knowing their father, his looks, his mannerisms and his character. Some grow up with their father across town or even across the nation. Not many, though, grow up without ever seeing their father because he lives in another country, but that is what happened to Georgia Rose Evans, of Stamford, Lincolnshire, England.
“I always knew right from when I could understand,” Evans said, referring to her heritage. “My grandmother always told me, ‘Your dad is an American, Marie is your mum, but you stay with us.’” She was given the name Georgia Rose after both of her grandmothers, providing a hint for research much later in life.
Georgia’s mother met someone a few years after she was born, got married and had two daughters. The assumption is the husband did not want Georgia because she was someone else’s child.
“It didn’t hurt me because my grandmum and granddad loved me to bits. They brought me up in a wonderful household, and I couldn’t have been better. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a lot of love in the house,” she related. “I always thought my dad would come and find me one day. I didn’t want to go off with him, but I did always think of meeting him one day.”
She married at age 20 to Keith Evans, both serving in the Royal Air Force at the time. She told him early on about her situation, and Keith was supportive.
“If you ever want to go look for your dad, we’ll do it together. We’ll do what needs to be done to find him,” Georgia said he told her.
Life had other ideas at the time. Keith and Georgia have two sons and were involved in raising them.
“The tools weren’t available (to do research at the time), she said. “Then the internet came along. It made things a lot easier.”
Georgia’s grandmother only knew four things about her father: he was an American serviceman in the Air Force, she knew his name as Wallace Stewart, thought he was from Alabama or Georgia and Evans was named after both grandmothers.
“When I had our first child, we called him Neal Andrew. My birth mother said, ‘You’ve named your son after your grandfather and dad.’ I didn’t know my dad was called Andrew, so then I had a full name: Wallace Andrew Stewart.”
Georgia related an interesting story concerning the naming of her first born. Not only did she unknowingly give him her father’s name, but her maternal grandfather’s name, as well. Her grandmother had remarried after her first husband, Georgia’s biological grandfather, tragically passed away in an automobile accident. It was not until many years later she found out about it, unknowingly giving her son the same name.
Years ago, she had originally approached her mother about the search for her father.
“I said to her, ‘Do you mind if I look?’” Georgia laughed. “I didn’t want to offend anybody.” Her mother gave her assent, though Georgia thinks her mother thought she would not find out anything with what little she had.
Using Ancestry.com, Georgia began researching to find her father. Eventually, it was narrowed down to just a few possibilities.
One of the keys to unlocking the mystery was his obituary, noted Keith.
“I’d been coming up with dead ends according to Ancestry,” Georgia said. “Keith said to me, ‘If you think this is the man, let’s find out if they have an archive.’ Keith had worked in the United States and found out genealogy was big over here,” she continued.
Research ensued to find the nearest archive where Wallace Stewart was raised. Since he was raised in Houston, Georgia contacted the Winston County Archives and received a copy of his obituary, which showed that Georgia had a brother and two sisters.
“We’d found out he passed away in 1994, the same year as my grandmother. We knew he was gone, and I’d never meet him,” Georgia said.
Another key to the mystery were Stewart’s military records. The Winston County Archives suggested Georgia apply for his records from the National Military Archives in St. Louis, Missouri.
“What we didn’t want to do was contact anyone in the family before we knew. We didn’t want to turn up, only for it to turn out to be the wrong person, the wrong family,” Keith stated.
The military record showed Wallace Stewart was stationed at the right time and in the right place (Lindholm, South Yorkshire, England) to be the father of Georgia.
“He would have come over and initially gone to Heyford, but his B.F.P.O. (British Forces Post Office) address changed to Lindholm from 1954 to 1956. It actually puts him in the place,” Keith said.
“If you go back to the 1950s, we (the United States and United Kingdom) were sharing nuclear technology. He was over with an American attachment in Lindholm for two years providing security to what would have been quite top secret material. We do know he left the U.K. just before she was born. We also know he went to Turkey in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. In the mid-1960s, he left the forces, got his pension and actually worked as head of security for Texas Instruments,” Keith elaborated.
Keith continued, “He (Stewart) divorced his first wife and that was painful for the children here. He moved to Texas with a lady, and when we contacted the family, they actually contacted his second wife. The eldest sister went to visit her in Texas.”
Assuming part of the story, Georgia says her father left the U.K. 10 days before she was born, and 18 months later, he came back to the U.K. for 17 days.
“That was unheard of. He must have seen me at that point,” Georgia said.
“He came to my grandparents’ house and mentioned that his parents wanted to adopt me.”
However, her maternal grandparents had become attached and did not want to let her go.
“A cousin of mine said our (paternal) grandparents came to live in Florida away from the family here in 1957. They only stayed two years and went back (to Houston). I never arrived. We think they moved to be away from Wally’s family,” Georgia said.
“They were living next door to his first wife,” interjected Keith.
“So we know my grandparents knew about me. Everybody wondered why did they move to Florida. They loved Alabama,” Georgia stated.
Keith continued, “We’re fairly convinced that Wallace came clean with his first wife and it was part of the divorce. He must have made her aware. All of the siblings have come to an agreement and are confident he told her there was a girl in England he fathered.”
After receiving a copy of the military records, Georgia’s mother was taken ill and never came out of the hospital.
“I never got to talk to her about it,” Georgia related.
“I was so excited, there were tears of joy and I wanted to reach out, talk to the only person left who knew anything about him (her birth mother). In his records there were personal statistics, things I had no knowledge of. My birth mother was in hospital the week I got those records. Regrettably, I never got a chance to tell her. I’ll never know if she may have been happy for me. She had never spoken to me about my biological father. Sadly, she passed away that week,” Georgia said.
A by-product of searching for ancestors is unanswered questions, Georgia stated.
“There are going to be things you will never have answers to, sometimes because the only ones who can tell you are no longer living,” she continued.
Armed with the best information she had, Georgia contacted the family in Houston.
“I followed the guidelines in Ancestry,” Georgia said. “They say handwrite a letter, send a photograph and in the letter, say things like ‘I am your sibling,’ ‘I have the facts,’ ‘I hope I’m a nice surprise and not a nasty shock’ and ‘I would love to get to know you, but I totally understand,’ giving them the option. I didn’t know if I was going to find people who were open to meeting me or whether I was going to find people who weren’t.”
The letters were mailed, with the addresses being found on white pages with the names being found from the obituary.
The first person to get a letter was Georgia’s brother Arnie Stewart and his wife, Kay. Thinking it was political in nature and someone wanting money, it took a few minutes for them to realize who it was from.
“He sat there reading the letter. He said, ‘Kay, it’s a letter from my sister.’ She’s like, ‘Why is your sister writing you? She lives next door.’ He showed her the picture, and Kay said, ‘There’s no denying whose daughter she is.’ Well, I didn’t know I looked like anybody!” Georgia exclaimed.
“Nobody ever told me I looked like somebody. So that was a shock.”
Ten days after the letters were mailed, Georgia received an e-mail from Arnie and Kay’s youngest son, Adam, stating they were thrilled and the family had gathered around to read the letter. After a week of exchanging e-mails, curiosity got the best of Georgia.
“I said, ‘I was sort of thinking you would ask me how I could prove who I was. Why haven’t you asked me how you know for sure I am who I say I am?’ He said, ‘It was obvious.’ Well, not to me! So Adam sends a photo of my dad. We’re so alike it’s scary. I sat there with chills running up me because of the resemblance to my dad.”
It was the first time Georgia had seen her father.
The resemblance goes deeper as well. Georgia has a surgical scar, the same size as her sister Pam.
“It’s crazy!” Georgia laughed. “We have the same eye color and blood type.”
Pam’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer Stewart, Arley librarian, remembers the first time Pam heard from Georgia.
“I was shocked at first. Then after reading the letter, we knew it was sincere,” she said. “We all believed it. You couldn’t help but see the resemblance in the pictures.”
Georgia has been to Winston County three times since January, 2016 when that first contact was made. The first time in September, 2016, she and Keith stayed in Cullman to not put pressure on the family. Pam, being a researcher, had many photos laid out.
Keith said, “I found the photograph of Wallace Andrew Stewart at R.F. Lindholm in 1955.” This was further proof that he was her father. In the photo, he was standing in front of a small Morris Minor, a tiny car of the 1950s.
“We felt at home,” Georgia said of the first time they came to Winston County.
“Last year, I stayed with Kay and Arnie, and they looked after me. They fed me so much I went back as freight,” she joked. “I ate a Southern breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy (and jelly) every morning. The gravy is very different from the English equivalent. Other meals included fried taters and a wide variety of fresh vegetables grown by Kay in her garden plot, some which she had canned herself the previous season. Kay makes a great banana pudding, too. I also had fried okra and skillet cornbread at my sister Pamela’s home which I had never heard of, let alone tasted. All of the home cooking was delicious, and I took some recipes home with me.”
“I feel more like I know where I came from,” Georgia said. “It’s been a journey. What I found has been amazing. Southern hospitality; you can’t explain how wonderful that is. Time was taken off work to be with us. One sister traveled from Florida with her husband, many meals were cooked and served with much love. The whole encounter will live in our hearts for evermore. It was a truly moving experience,” she continued.
Georgia fondly refers to her new-found relatives as her “Alabama Family.”
“On my last visit to Houston, my sisters, brother-in-law and I went along to the Winston County Archives to meet some of the kind people who had helped me in my search. We had a warm welcome that day and enjoyed taking our time to look around...I found the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable,” she said.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.