Sleuthing for my father

On her death bed my mother revealed a shocking secret. Now I am trying to solve its mystery

Topics: Since You Asked, Family,

Sleuthing for my father (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Advice,

The last thing my mom said to me was, “When I was young …” and then she died. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me. Then I found a letter she had written to a friend saying that the man she was in love with is my actual biological father.

My dad and I were in shock with the DNA results and now I have spent countless hours trying to find out who this man is. I can’t ask anyone as they are all dead and my dad said it must have been this guy who was in town for a short time while attending ammunition-inspector school in Savanna, Ill., but didn’t know a name.

I hired an archival researcher and a private investigator but no one can help me. Can you help me? I found out that many people came from all over the U.S. to attend this school and all I need is a list of names from around November 1961.  Please, please help me.

Into the Past

Dear Into the Past,

I love a mystery. I’m tempted to begin investigating myself. But I can’t do that. So you will have to keep at it.

It is hard to sustain a search without regular encouragement. So while I can’t fly there and help you look, I can offer encouragement to keep looking. Setbacks are to be expected. It will be slow going. You have to keep moving forward.

You may have begun to feel hopeless and want to give up. But if you give up you’ll never find out. At least if you keep at it until you have exhausted every avenue, you will have an answer. The answer may be that this man’s identity will never be known. At least that would be an answer. You will want the satisfaction of knowing you have done everything possible. So keep at it. If you become discouraged, take a break. Find elements of the investigation you can perform without expending much energy. But keep it going.

Be ready for your mind to play tricks on you. If discovering your biological father’s identity evokes any fear or uncertainty at all, then you may feel tired or discouraged because part of you does not even want to know. You may have thoughts like, Oh, who cares! Why bother! Beware of such thoughts. Your feeling that no one can help you may be one of those thoughts. Beware of the voice in you that says it is hopeless. That is the voice that really does not want to know.

But the real authentic you does want to know. Knowing where we come from is a deep human longing.



You hired an archival researcher and a private investigator. If their initial work turned up nothing, that is not so unusual. Such an investigation requires dogged thoroughness, going over ground already covered, doing things by rote even when it seems senseless, beginning yet again, trying illogical options on the off chance that something may lead to something. It can be maddening.

But there must be an answer! How many people can there be who attended ammunition-inspector school in Savanna, Ill., in November 1961?

The military keeps records. If this was a military operation there must be records. If there are records then they can be found. If you keep looking you will find them.

This column has many astute and creative readers. Perhaps one or more of them will have ideas or knowledge that may be helpful.

Good luck on your quest!

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