|3. Picking up the trail. I didn't have much to go on at first. I knew only that I had been adopted from Hope Cottage Adoption Agency in Dallas, TX in 1939. (Oh, and one time years ago, my mother had told me that she thought my birthmother's name was "Mrs. Tillie". Turns out, she wasn't far off.) To begin the quest, I wrote to Hope Cottage in 1985 to inquire about my beginnings. I asked that as an adult adoptee, I be given all the information about the circumstances of my birth that could be legally provided. The agency was very sympathetic and wanted to help, but under Texas law, there were definite limits to the information they could release to me. What they did provide at that time was a typed, single-spaced, multi-page summary (in story form) of selected information contained in my file. Omitted from that summary were any specific names or places that could be connected to my birthparent's identities.
The story sent by Hope Cottage covered only the plight of my birthmother. My birthfather was barely mentioned, except to say that he was 72 years old when I was born! (So at least I learned that I have some pretty good longevity genes on the paternal side.) The information they sent was constructed from pre- and post-adoption interviews of my birthmother and some of her family by Hope Cottage social workers in 1939 and 1940. Apparently my birthfather and his family were not interviewed, which was not uncommon in those days.
I was initially disconcerted and put off by the Hope Cottage story. The age of my birthfather at my conception was weird in itself, and the portrait painted of my birthmother was bothersome. She was reported to be an emotionally unbalanced and troubled young woman. She was depressed. She had eating disorders. She was something of a social misfit in that she had never dated and even in her late 30's when I was born, she was described as having little knowledge of men or of sex in general. Further, while carrying me she attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized for the final month of the pregnancy. On the plus side, she had a college education (a rarity among women of that era) and taught Home Economics in high school. My discomfort with the story was increased when I learned that during the three months I was at Hope Cottage, the nurses there gave me the name "Monte". Though this was a natural thing for them to do, I found it unsettling to learn that I had once been called something other than Jerry. And Monte??? Puh-leez!
After reading and rereading the Hope Cottage summary several times, I decided that I really didn't want to know any more about my origins, thank you very much. I abandoned the trail and did not pursue the matter again for almost 16 years. Fear of the unknown had come home to roost.
|6. The library meeting. At this point Dave Lossos' considerable genealogical and computer skills again came into play. We also had some good luck. Armed with the names Daniel Harkey and Pearl Tullis, plus their locations, Dave set to work to find out more about them and their families. One of his first steps was to enter both names into web-based search engines to see what information might turn up.
A few days after I had provided him my birthparent's names, I received an exciting phone call from Dave. He had struck gold on the Harkey side. Though there were no useful search engine returns on "Pearl A. Tullis", the name "Daniel R. Harkey" produced a veritable motherlode of information. Harkey had been a rather notable lawman in the Old West and had even written a book! It was entitled "Mean as Hell - The Life of a New Mexico Lawman". In the book he gave colorful accounts of some of his exploits and experiences with outlaws. The author of the book was given as "Dee" Harkey, which was how we learned that Dee was his nickname. Then Dave dropped the other shoe - he had located a copy of the book in the St. Louis County Library on Lindbergh Blvd! He asked if I could meet him there. This was all incredible to me. I expect genealogists must live for such moments.
I could not immediately digest the flood of information Dave was telling me on the phone. It was just too much, too quick. Nevertheless, I told Dave I would indeed meet him at the library and jumped in the car soon after we hung up. As I drove I tried to go over what Dave had told me so far. I found much of it confusing, but the one fact that stuck was that my birthfather had been a lawman in the Old West! Nothing against accountants or lawyers or firemen or other worthy professions, but for romanticism and excitement, they pale in comparison to Dee Harkey's career choice. To me, who had spent many a youthful hour watching the old cowboy movies in which the sheriff rounded up the bad guys, learning that my birthfather had been a lawman in Texas and New Mexico in the late 1800's was a thrill.
I arrived at the library to find Dave already there, proudly holding their only copy of "Mean as Hell…" in his hand. (Thank goodness it had not been checked out!) Excitedly we thumbed through it, looking for pictures. There weren't many, but at last, on page 193, we did find a photo of Dee Harkey. At that moment, at age 62, in the St. Louis County library, I laid eyes on the image of an ancestral blood relative for the first time in my life.
My resemblance to Dee's photo is unmistakable, particularly the mouth and eyes. I could not stop looking at it.
Dee Harkey and Jerry
What occurred next at the library was a bit of serendipity. Dave suggested that I sit down and peruse "Mean as Hell…", while he searched the archives for information about Pearl Tullis and her family. It turns out that Dave knew the Genealogy Librarian, that she was from Louisiana, and that she had the complete Louisiana census records right there on microfilm. Shortly, Dave returned with photocopies of the 1920 census records of Pearl Tullis' immediate family - parents and siblings! All of this took less than two hours at the library. In that brief time, my feelings of disconnection to the rest of the world began to melt away.
|7. Harkey Contact. To be a genealogist these days requires great computer skills, especially on the World Wide Web. Dave Lossos has these in spades. In the next day or two, before I could fully digest all that I had learned about my origins, Dave had located some actual living Harkey blood relatives and had even talked to them by phone. These relatives were Myrtle Fritschy of Carlsbad NM and her sister Evalyn Stephens of Ojai, CA. Myrtle and Evalyn are grandchildren of Dee. If the Harkey family tree is extended to include me, these two ladies are my nieces - daughters of Dee's daughter (and therefore my half-sister!) Eva Brown.
Photo of Jerry's nieces: Evalyn Stephens (left) and Myrtle Fritschy
I apparently had not made it clear to Dave that I still wasn't sure if I wanted to actually make contact with living relatives, but all of that uncertainty was overtaken by the next event in this saga. Dave had given Myrtle and Evalyn our phone number and they called our home in St. Louis! Phyllis answered and chatted excitedly for a few minutes, then called me to the phone. Oh my. I had not been expecting this call, and was not sure what to say. No problem. As luck would have it, Evalyn just happened to be visiting Myrtle in Carlsbad, and I found myself in a "conference call" with the two of them. Thankfully, it was an easy conversation.
I have already mentioned the misgivings I had about contacting people in my birth family. At least on the Harkey side, all those fears evaporated during that phone call. Myrtle and Evalyn could not have been nicer or more warm and welcoming. They were also very excited. They even asked if we could fly down to Carlsbad the next day to meet them face-to-face. (We couldn't on such short notice.) I was pleased to learn that they had been aware of my existence. More amazingly, they had actually known Pearl and also that Dee had fathered a child with her. Myrtle and Evelyn had been teenagers at the time. Mercy! Here were two people who had known both of my birthparents! They were able to tell me a little about Pearl; that she was a shy, quiet, soft-spoken Southern lady; and that Pearl had taught one of them to drive a car. Pearl had lived with their Aunt Myrtle (Dee's other daughter and another half-sister for me) and Dee long enough to become a temporary family member. They told me some of their memories of Dee and that he was known in the family as "Biggie". One of the first questions they asked me was if I have big ears, as that is how Dee got his nickname. Thankfully, I don't.
During the course of this lengthy phone call, they mentioned that in October of 2001 there was to be a celebration in Carlsbad known as Heritage Days, in which notable families in the area's history would be honored. This particular year, Dee Harkey's family was to be one of the honorees and many Harkey descendants would be coming for this event, and they invited us to come too. At first we had to decline, because we had already scheduled and paid a non-refundable deposit for a trip to England at the very time Heritage Days would take place. Then fate stepped in again. The England tour for which we had signed up was cancelled because of the Mad Cow disease epidemic. We could attend Heritage Days after all.
As it turned out, Linda Fritschy, Myrtle's daughter, was the first blood relative I would meet face-to-face. This occurred in August 2001. Linda had contacted me via email not long after my phone conversation with her mom and Evalyn. Linda and her friend David Rogers were coming to St. Louis to attend a weekend Indianapolis Racing League car race. On the day before the race, we arranged for me to pick Linda up at her hotel, give her a quick tour of the city, then for Phyllis and me to take her and David to dinner. I was nervous before picking her up, but her friendly manner quickly put me at ease. It was a fun day and Linda was an excellent representative of the Harkey clan. It made me look forward to meeting more of them in Carlsbad in October.
|8. Heritage Days in Carlsbad. Phyllis and I found the visit to Carlsbad for the Heritage Days celebration a wonderful experience. To a person, the Harkey clan in attendance was very accepting of me and treated us a little like royalty. This is worth mentioning, because most of the branches of the family tree had been unaware of my existence much before October 2001. My showing up out of the blue could have proved awkward for some of them, but it didn't seem to.
As for me, I was enchanted to see Dee Harkey's old stomping grounds. While surveying the surrounding landscape, I could envision him riding across the desert or into the Guadaloupe Mountains in search of horse thieves or whatever. Some aspects of the visit gave me an otherworldly feeling, though. So much had happened, so fast. Scarcely five months prior, I had known almost nothing about my origins and yet suddenly there I was in Carlsbad, NM, in the company of new-found relatives, having my photo taken in the front yard of the house in which I had been conceived!
Dr. Myrtle Harkey's house in Carlsbad where she, Dee and Pearl lived in 1939
There were many other highlights of the visit. These included seeing the land that was once Dee's 600,000-acre ranch, visiting his grave at the local cemetery, seeing his knives, guns and other memorabilia on display at the local museum.
Jerry at Dee's grave in Carlsbad
I also got a hat. In the aforementioned photo of Dee in "Mean as Hell…", he is wearing a rather distinctive looking hat. At the afternoon picnic and again at the dinner that evening, we had enjoyed a Dee Harkey impersonator who was dressed like Dee, wearing a similar hat. Afterwards, I asked the impersonator if I could borrow the hat and have my picture taken in it. He was happy to lend it to me and when I went to return it, he said I should keep it, as he probably wouldn't need it again. When I wear it, I don't really exude the same imposing persona as Dee Harkey (I look more like a city boy who got lost on the way to a dude ranch - see p.5) but I enjoy having it.
Dee's gun, spurs and handcuffs
Probably the most lasting memories of this trip were the Harkey family themselves. As a group, they seemed interesting, accomplished and caring. They were openly curious about me but never made us feel like the outsiders we were.
Harkey descendants and spouses at Heritage Days in Carlsbad, New Mexico - October 2001
|9. What about Pearl? At this point in the search, Dee Harkey and the Harkey clan were much more real to me than Pearl and the Tullis's. For one thing, Dee had written a book, and for another, by now I had met several of his descendants. We attempted to correct this disparity. As a start, we contacted the Social Security Administration. From the SSA, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, we learned that Pearl died in 1983, at which time she still resided in Pineville, LA. We could surmise that she probably never married, because her last name was still Tullis at the time of her death. From the 1920 Louisiana census, Dave found the names of her parents and of her many siblings. Using an internet search, we obtained the names and addresses of several Tullis's in the Pineville area and sent queries to them by mail, but got no useful responses. Thanks to Dave Lossos (who else?), we had a photo of Pearl when she graduated from college. (She is attractive in the photo, but I don't see the striking resemblance to her that I do to Dee.) However, we knew virtually nothing of her life after my birth, and very little of it before she went to Carlsbad. Having exhausted all the simple options, our quest for details of Pearl's identity lay dormant for over a year. Perhaps when the time was right, we would try again to solve her mystery.
Pearl Tullis at 1926 graduation from Louisiana State Normal at Natchitoches (now Northwestern Louisiana State Univ.)
|10. Louisiana odyssey. The time became right soon enough. Having done all we knew to do from afar, Phyllis suggested we take Dave Lossos on a field trip to Louisiana and see what we could find out about Pearl. So in May of 2003, four of us (me, Phyllis, Dave and his wife Mary) set out by car from St. Louis for Pineville, having no idea what, if anything, we might find there. Though my expectations for this venture were not high, we would succeed beyond any of our dreams.
We made the trip down in two days, spending the first night in a small Mississippi town about 100 miles south of Memphis, TN. The next day we stopped for lunch in a town where Dave's research showed that some of Pearl's family had lived before moving to Louisiana. We had a very pleasant lunch but did not find much of interest at the courthouse there, and so continued on, crossing the Mississippi River at Natchez, into Pearl's home state of Louisiana.
Pineville is a typical small, southern town near the middle of the state. It is across the Red River (yes, the same famous Red River that separates Texas and Oklahoma) from Alexandria, a larger town of about 80,000 people. Upon arriving in the late afternoon of our second day, we checked into an historic hotel in downtown Alexandria. (Where, we learn, some famous WWII generals once stayed while overseeing some army battle exercises.) Later that day, we left the hotel to search for the address of the Tullis homestead (Dave had obtained this from the 1920 Louisiana census.) It was easy to find. The original house is still there, but it is now a gift shop. I wanted to see the inside, where the Tullis's must have gathered to decide my fate (see Section 13 below) when informed of Pearl's pregnancy with me, but it was closed.
On day three, our search began in earnest at the courthouse. To pursue our quest, we were armed only with the above-mentioned sketchy information about Pearl and her family. However, that was plenty for Dave, the genealogical leader of our expedition. At the courthouse, Dave had no trouble finding and getting a copy of the marriage certificate of Pearl's parents (my maternal birth grandparents.) It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Photo of Pearl's parent's marriage certificate
Our next stop was the Alexandria Genealogical Library. By looking in old phonebooks from the 1930's, we found a listing that gave the phone number and address of Pearl's father's furniture business. We deduced that the Tullis family home was next door to the business - another small piece of the puzzle.
Our mission really began to take off when we visited the Alexandria Library, where the local newspaper obituaries are archived. Though we knew only the month of Pearl's death and not the day, that information was sufficient. We simply searched through the obits of that month until we found hers. It was a fount of useful information. We learned the names of the funeral home that was used, the cemetery where she was buried, the hospital where she died and her survivors! We were excited about pursuing these leads.
I had already visited Dee Harkey's grave in Carlsbad, and it was a personal goal of mine to find Pearl's gravesite on this trip, so we next headed to the cemetery. It is quite large, and there was little hope of just stumbling across our objective. However, there was a small house on the grounds where burial records are kept and luckily, a helpful woman was on duty there at the time. She found Pearl's gravesite location on an old map and directed us to it. In short order, we located the gravestones of Pearl's mother, father, some siblings, and yes, of Pearl herself!
|11. The Plot Thickens. Did I mention that my expectations for this trip were low? Well, had our mission ended there, I would have declared it a success so far as I was concerned. Actually it was just beginning - someone had left flowers on the Tullis graves.
Jerry at Pearl's grave in Pineville, Louisiana
Now fully intrigued, we left the cemetery and stopped by the old Tullis family home again. Alas, it was still closed. Surprisingly though, we noticed there was still a furniture store next door, now specializing in office furniture. We talked to a salesman there, but he knew nothing of the Tullis family. I could only fantasize as to which window might have been Pearl's room and what all must have gone on inside the house and store.
The former Tullis family home in Pineville, Louisiana
Phyllis and I next decided to visit the hospital where Pearl died to see if we could ascertain the cause of death. Although the people in the hospital records office were friendly and would have liked to help, Pearl's patient file was stored away on microfiche in a warehouse somewhere and could not easily be retrieved. Dead end.
Our final stop of the day was much more fruitful. Phyllis and I paid a visit to the funeral home mentioned in Pearl's obituary. After we explained our mission, we were led to the upstairs offices where an accommodating young girl was happy to dig out and make a copy of Pearl's burial records. It was quite complete and we were glad to get it, but as Pearl died in 1983, the names and addresses of surviving relatives in attendance were likely too old to be of much use. Fortunately, we thought to ask if they had also handled the funeral of one of Pearl's younger sisters who died in 2000. The answer was yes, and we obtained a copy of those records also. Among the relatives listed as having attended the funeral was a niece, Fran Smith of Baton Rouge, who would therefore be a first cousin of mine. Eureka! A possible living Tullis relative was identified!
|12. Tullis Contact. I was not immediately sure that I wanted to actually meet any relatives. Again, that was never a high priority for me. I decided to think on it overnight, but awoke the next morning feeling that having come this far, and having met some Dee Harkey descendants, I really should try to contact some of Pearl's relatives to complete the circle. So I gave the okay to proceed, and asked that Dave be my front man and make the introductory call to Fran. Success! Dave was able to get in touch with Fran immediately. I was not in on that phone conversation, but as Dave related later, Fran was totally surprised and excited, saying something like "Aunt Pearl? Had a baby!?" Yes, and he's here now.
Fran invited us to come immediately to their home in Baton Rouge and meet face to face, so we piled into the car and made the 2 ½ hour drive to Louisiana's capital city. We arrived at Fran's house after lunch. She and her husband Sheldon were there and greeted us quite warmly. It turned out that Fran is the keeper of many Tullis family photographs and artifacts. We had a wonderful visit, during which we learned that Pearl was a much- revered family member and had enjoyed a long and successful teaching career, mostly in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Fran and Sheldon had nothing but high praise for and fond remembrances of Pearl. We also learned that Pearl was an accomplished painter, especially of ceramic pieces. Oh, and by the way, it was Fran who had put the flowers on the Tullis' graves.
Cousin Fran Smith and Jerry - Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Though very pleasant and rewarding, our visit with the Smiths was short, as they had a funeral to attend later that afternoon. However, they told us of another cousin, Abby Voelker, who lives in Alexandria. Fran had already called Abby and told her of the unexpected new family member who had appeared out of nowhere, and Abby wanted to meet us, so we headed back to Alexandria and to visit her and husband "Nook" at their home.
Sample of Pearl's artwork
Actually, Fran had made another phone call before we arrived in Baton Rouge. This call was to Grace Christian Sandefur, an older family member who also lived in Alexandria. Grace, it turns out, is the only living member of the Tullis extended family who had been aware that Pearl had once been pregnant. Thus, she provided validity to Fran and Abby for the idea that Pearl was my birthmother. Upon arriving back in Alexandria, our first stop was at Grace's apartment. Grace was very gracious and shared many pleasant recollections of Pearl. She recalled that as a teenager, she had been told that Pearl had once pregnant but was instructed to forget she ever knew about it. This she did, she told us, at least until we came calling.
Jerry and Grace Christian Sandefur
By now, it was late afternoon of a busy day. We left Grace and found the Voelker's house. We sat with them on their porch and had drinks, exchanged stories and basically got to know each other. They too were very gracious and welcoming, and we had a charming visit with them. The next day, Abby took us over to a cemetery on the local Army campgrounds where some of the Christians (Pearl's mother's family) were buried.
Cousin Abby Voelker and Jerry - Alexandria, Louisiana
|13. Mission Accomplished. By now, the four of us felt we had discovered about all we could for one trip. So, flushed with success, we headed back to St. Louis. Before we got out of Louisiana though, we had a brush with one more Tullis family member. We got a call on the carphone from Abby's sister Mary McClure who lives in Baton Rouge. She had been unable to meet us when we made the trip to see Fran, and she wanted to let us know how excited she was to have a new cousin. She told us that she had a lot of Pearl's artwork and wanted to send some to us. She added several pieces to our collection and it is a joy to have the beautiful evidence of Pearl's talent on display in our home.
What a trip! In three short days in Louisiana, we had filled in many blanks about Pearl and her life. We had located Pearl's grave, seen the Tullis family home, met some blood relatives, and gotten confirmation that someone in the family knew that Pearl had a baby. We learned that she was a much-loved "favorite aunt" and a dear sister. Professionally, she had a long and successful career in what to me is one of the noblest of callings in life - teaching. In addition, we had with us some examples of her skill as an artist.
Pearl A. Tullis - circa 1955
Knowing that Pearl had led a happy, productive life in the midst of a loving family gave me a sense of relief. I had feared that the unwanted pregnancy and having to give up her baby for adoption might have left her sad and bitter. I am thankful that was apparently not the case. However, as Abby and Fran pointed out, keeping this secret all those years and taking it to her grave must have been very difficult for Pearl. All in all, we had discovered that Pearl was quite a lady!
The phrase "mission accomplished" does not do justice to the success of this trip.
|14. The Teacher and the Marshall. Now we come to the final piece of the puzzle about how I came to be - the tale of how Dee and Pearl got together. This part of my story has been pieced together from the material sent by Hope Cottage and from subsequent conversations with Myrtle Fritschy and Evalyn Stephens.
So, how did Dee and Pearl, separated by a thousand miles in distance and by over thirty years in age, get together to create me? Here, in abbreviated form, is the essence of that story.
In 1937, Pearl was a school-teacher in Pineville, LA, probably living with her parents. According to the Hope Cottage account, she was in poor health physically and emotionally. The specific nature of her problems was not spelled out in much detail, though it was mentioned that a spot had been detected on her lungs. Suspecting Tuberculosis no doubt, the Tullis family probably felt that a drier climate would be beneficial to Pearl. A family friend in Carlsbad, NM informed the Tullis's of a chiropractor, Myrtle Harkey, in Carlsbad whom they thought might somehow be able to help Pearl. Myrtle (or Myrnie as she was known in the family) was a daughter of Dee Harkey. Pearl was sent to Carlsbad to get treatments from Dr. Myrtle Harkey.
On arriving in Carlsbad, Pearl lived with the family friend (name unknown) who had recommended Myrtle, and began getting treatments. Some months later, the friend unexpectedly moved to Albuquerque, leaving Pearl without a place to live. By this time though, Pearl had become friends with Myrtle, who continued to treat her. After learning that she no longer had a place to stay, Myrtle invited Pearl to move into her home. In exchange for room and board, Pearl agreed to help out with general housekeeping duties.
Myrtle's father Dee Harkey, who was about 71 years old and long-retired, was living with Myrtle at the time. So, under this housekeeping arrangement, Myrtle, Dee and Pearl all lived in Myrtle's house in Carlsbad for the next several months. Sometime during this period, a relationship developed between Pearl and Dee, despite the 34-year age difference. Again, Pearl was naïve in the ways of men and sex. Pearl and Dee did not go out as a couple, but would often be alone together in her room. Eventually, she became pregnant. Naturally, when this development came to light, there was much consternation among the Harkey's. It was decided that it would be best for Pearl to return to her own family in Louisiana. Myrtle gave her some money and she was taken to the bus station for the long ride home. I guess that was my first bus ride.
According to the Hope Cottage report, once back in Pineville, Pearl did not immediately let on to her family that she was pregnant. In due time though, she had various health complaints and upon examination, a doctor informed the family of her condition. This was not welcome news. In that era (late 1930's) birth out of wedlock was not acceptable in polite circles. The Tullis family gathered (probably at the family home in Pineville) to discuss possible solutions. A younger sister, June Chambers, who lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, suggested that Pearl return with her to Dallas, where she could see Pearl through the pregnancy and help arrange for the baby to be given up for adoption. The family agreed and this plan was carried out.
Already emotionally troubled, the pregnancy was difficult for Pearl. According to the Hope Cottage records, she became distraught, to the point of attempting suicide by turning on the gas stove in her sister's apartment and putting her head in the oven. She was hospitalized and under psychiatric care for the last month of pregnancy.
Finally on March 9, 1939 Pearl gave birth to a baby boy. That would be me. On March 16, 1939, I was released to the Hope Cottage Adoption Agency in Dallas for placement.
And that is the story how I came to be.
|14. Epilogue. Despite my original reluctance to do so, I am glad to have made contact with descendants of Dee Harkey and Pearl Tullis. I am pleased to have a man with such a strong pioneering spirit of the Old West as birthfather and a successful schoolteacher and artist as birthmother. I would like to have known them. As fruits of our quest, we have hung two of Pearl's painted plates on a wall opposite a framed original line drawing from Dee Harkey's book. So, symbolically, in the home of the child they created, Dee and Pearl are together again.
I felt a nagging sense of incompleteness to Pearl's story in that I couldn't see a resemblance to her in any of the photos we had.
Pearl at age 10
However, in March 2005, cousin Fran Smith came to the rescue. She had come across some old family photos, including one of Pearl at about age 10 or so. Now I can see a clear resemblance, especially in the eyes, nose and chin.
Jerry at age 2
I hope that both Dee and Pearl did not worry too much over me after I was given up for adoption. I regret that I was unable to let them know that I was OK.
In thinking over the story of Dee and Pearl, I am struck by the randomness by which some of us humans enter this world. Despite such philosophical musings, I am glad to finally know of my origins. This knowledge has helped me feel more connected to this world. Now I know where I came from. It wasn't the stork after all!
Comments Dave Lossos
To return to the "Genealogy in St. Louis" Web Site click here.