New Branches on the Family Tree

by Dawn Gardfrey

On April 23, 2012, I received a phone call from someone claiming to be my brother. Of course I was dumbfounded. I thought I knew where I came from, who my biological parents were, and who my real siblings were. In short, I had a family tree, and he wasn’t on it.

I was adopted by Beverly Mitchell, the woman I called Mom. She and her first husband Kenneth Gardfrey raised me. When they divorced, she married Guy Mitchell, who – like me and my grandmother Ruby Johnson – survived the deaths in Jonestown by being in Georgetown that day. When my adoptive mother died in Jonestown, one of the secrets she took with her was the identity of my biological father.

I’ve known my biological mother for years but, like Beverly, she never told me who my biological father was. I guess I really didn’t want to know. Several years after I returned from Jonestown, though, I began having problems with my legs. When I was tested for Multiple Sclerosis, I found out I carry the trait. As far as I knew, no one in my biological family had MS, even though the disease is almost exclusively passed through genetics. Finally, when I told my biological mom what I was going through, she told me that my biological father’s sister – my aunt – has MS. That was when I learned about the true identify of my father and about the other half of my family.

I was initially as surprised as I was confused. Before this revelation, I thought I knew who my biological father was, in large part because that’s what I had been told. As soon as I met my real biological father, I felt a connection with him that was stronger than anything else I’d experienced.

As it turned out, my “new” brother Floyd was the one who began the search for me about two years ago. The only lead the family had was “Jonestown,” but no one knew if I was alive or dead. One day, a friend of his – a policeman in Gary, Indiana, where I was born – suggested that he Google my name. And there it was, on the “Who Survived” link page of this website.

At that point, he knew I was alive, but wasn’t sure how to get in touch with me. Fortunately, he persisted until he finally made contact.

I now have a larger family than I ever knew. I am the oldest of 12 siblings: seven on my biological father’s side; five on my biological mother’s side. I am still in the early process of counting my newly-discovered aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the other leaves on my new family tree. The story continues.

(Dawn Gardfrey is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition are Brenda Carol Cobb: My “BFF” and Surviving November: My Life After Jonestown Finds New Passion. Her previous writings for this site are collected here. She can be reached at dawn.gardfrey@gmail.com.)

Originally posted on July 28th, 2013.

Last modified on April 22nd, 2019.
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