Over the weekend, my father-in-law was hospitalized with complications from his diabetes. While the family can do nothing but wait and watch, I thought back to the time when my husband and I first met him. Yes, I said the first time we both met him. Due to his parents’ bitter divorce and a jealous new husband, my husband and his sister did not know their biological father until they were adults.

After the divorce, my mother-in-law moved and changed the kids’ last names, but did not do it legally. When it came time for us to marry, my husband had to go through the process of legally changing his last name. His birth certificate and the rest of the documents in his life did not match. He did not even know that his step-father was not his biological father until he was 16 and needed his birth certificate for Driver’s Ed. As a genealogy nut, I was intrigued by this missing person in my husband’s life. I told my husband I was going to find him. I wanted to look for him before the wedding, but I was going to school at night, working during the day and planning a wedding in my spare time. It would have to wait.

Two months after our wedding, I took on the challenge of finding my husband’s father. All the information we had was his first and last name and place of birth (which was Germany). It was 1990, so the internet was not an option. Since he had a unique last name, I went to the library and used their reference Yellow Pages from around the United States. I found 11 people with the same last name and wrote them all the same letter. I explained who I was, who I was looking for and the little information I knew about his marriage to my mother-in-law. I mailed the letters on a Friday.

On Monday evening after work, we were standing in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was before Caller ID and my husband answered the phone. The woman on the other line said she was my husband’s aunt. Her brother was my husband’s father and I had sent a letter to my husband’s grandfather. My mother-in-law did not tell us that he had living grandparents, aunts and cousins right here in Chicago – a fact that would have been helpful when my husband left home his senior year of high school. It was an amazing evening and that night, my husband talked to his father for the first time. He lived in Maryland, and they hoped to meet soon. We planned to meet the Chicago branch of the family that weekend.

We sat outside his biological grandfather’s house with some hesitation. These were strangers, yet my husband shared his name and DNA. We walked up to the house and an uncle answered the door. He let us in and behind the door, was another man. I assumed he was another uncle. I said hello. He nodded to me and then got up, turned to my husband and said, “Hello, son”. My jaw dropped and I stood there with my mouth open while father and son hugged for the first time in years. He had flown in last minute to see the son he lost touch with 18 years before. My sister-in-law was at college across the country, so she met him at another time.

The weird thing is, my husband looks just like his father and grandfather. The pictures that they shared of themselves could have been him and years later, I could see the resemblance in my children. It was a relief to have the mystery solved and learn about the family he missed out on.

As the years went on, we maintained a relationship with my new father-in-law, but the distance between our homes and the missing 18 years never allowed us to be close. We got word of his hospitalization from his sister on Saturday. He remains in ICU in serious condition. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving week.