DNA search leads James Galiger to new family branches
For 47 years James Galiger of Allegan searched for his birth father with no luck.
First he went on a wild goose chase after being given the wrong name. Adding to his frustrations were search tools of the era, which included long distance operators and a rotary dial phone.
One of those wrong-named candidates hung up on Galiger. In the back of his mind he thought it might have been his real father who did not want to speak to him.
The search ended with no conclusion and no concrete information of where to look.
Last March, as Galiger closed in on turning 70-years-old, he gave it another shot with new technology allowing him to submit his DNA to a website specializing in biological searches.
“I wanted to find my father or his family and didn’t have any expectations—or that he was even still alive,” Galiger said. “I just wanted to know something about my birth father and family and for this information to be passed down to future descendents.”
A child of unwed parents in the 1940s, Galiger thought that if, by some miracle, his father was still alive—“Would he even want to meet me?”
And then the DNA had a match that put him in touch with a distant cousin who provided Galiger with a name. Although his location was another mystery, after some investigation, he was found.
Not only was Galiger’s father alive at age 94, he, his wife of 65-years and family, had also been searching for Galiger.
In late March, Galiger received a phone call he’d been waiting 47 years to hear: His father and his family wanted to meet him. In April, Galiger and his family traveled to Texarkana to meet them.
“It was a small airport and when I arrived I recognized my family standing in a group and then a bunch of strangers in another group and thought that must be them,” Galiger said. “Hugging my half sister, she said ‘welcome home.’
“That still gets to me,” he said as tears welled up again.
Learning some of the details of how Galiger’s parents were separated, Galiger said, “Let’s just say it wasn’t by choice—he liked cars and not always his own.”
His mother never talked about that part of her life and then Galiger found out why … 70-years later.
It involved a borrowed coupe from Burl Ives niece, whom his father had also been dating under an alias. A chase by police who shot at the car with 12-day-old Galiger and his mother riding along. (Fortunately the license plate was all that caught a bullet). A few prison breaks, one from Leavenworth and then a pardon by the governor.
“He really turned his life around,” Galiger said. “He is a stellar citizen of the community, organizing AA clubs and owning at least 40 different businesses, that I could count, including several Pecan Joes, which were similar to a Stuckey’s restaurant around here.”
Catching up with his new family, Galiger discovered he also had two half brothers, one of which he unknowingly attended the same high school with and lived only two blocks away from while living in northern Illinois.
Among many other coincidences, his best friend’s father had once been married in the 40s to one of Galiger’s newly discovered aunts.
He also discovered another aunt, who helped take care of him as a newborn baby.
His father’s sister is 96-years-old, sharp as a tack, and still remembered “Jim David” as an infant.
In August, Galiger flew with his newly found father to meet Annavene Bunn in Ojai, Calif.
He found her also quite interesting. Her husband William Bunn was an artist and designer who won commissions from the Federal Department of Fine Arts to paint murals in public buildings throughout the Midwest. Particularly fond of Mississippi River boats as a subject, his painting “American Venus,” styled after Botticelli’s painting “The birth of Venus,” is now in the Smithsonian Institute. It features a steamboat named “Annavene” on the Mississippi River and a nude woman wading to shore.
“I asked my aunt if she was the model,” Galiger said. “She said ‘yes I am!’”
As for his father, the two still have much to catch up on and continue to talk weekly over the phone. Father and son are discovering they have the same political views, interests and dislikes.
And if longevity is genetic, Galiger says he should’ve taken better care of himself and saved a lot more money for retirement.
“I talked to him the other day and at 94 he was moving cement blocks, saying they were a lot heavier than they used to be,” chuckled Galiger. “He was also doing repair work on his roof.”
But the best part:
“He told his wife all about me when they got married 65 years ago,” he said. “And one of the first things he asked during our first phone call was if my mother had a happy life—she died in 2002.”
Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at email@example.com or at (269) 673-5534.