Finding My Father: Regis Sullivan

Purpose of This Narrative

A few years ago, a friend whom I’ve known for decades approached me at her mother’s memorial and asked, “Larry, do you know who my father is?”

I was stunned, since I had known her mother for over fifty years and I had known the man whom I had always considered her father for nearly an equal length of time. Later, my wife said to me, “That makes total sense. I’ve always felt that J___ was different from her siblings.”

Perhaps my tale may help her find her father. Maybe it will assist someone else seeking a relative’s identity.

This story is also addressed to my new Sullivan siblings and their progeny. I combine my known history with Ancestry.com records to weave a narrative that affirms that over 76 years ago my mother Pat and father Regis—he went by the name “Rex”—got together in the heat of the moment and created a unique branch in their families’ trees.

I am posting my story here:

  1. To demonstrate to my new Sullivan family—new siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and their spouses—that finding my father has been a life-long goal; and

  2. To provide a model that others may use to locate an unknown relative or simply build a family tree. I show how I used the Ancestry.com tools to locate my father. The website provides outstanding search tools that provide access to more than 15 billion records.

My Parents: Patricia Rogers and Regis J. Sullivan

Pat Rogers about 1938 and Rex Sullivan about 1944
Pat Rogers about 1938 and Rex Sullivan about 1944

There are lots of questions, but no longer opportunities for definitive answers:

  • Given they were work colleagues, did other people at work know they were seeing each other, as it's highly unlikely that it was a one-night stand? (While in Dearborn, he was likely already engaged to Jane Lies, a fact probably known to my mother.)

  • As Bob Nowka (my “father” according to my birth certificate) had suggested, did Pat accompany Regis to Chicago on a business trip, and was I conceived there? Chicago was the site of the Montgomery Ward headquarters.

  • Did Regis know of the pregnancy? (Almost certainly he did.)

  • How soon after my mother became pregnant did Regis leave Michigan for Chicago, where 69 days after I was born, he married Jane? (She may have graduated from Mount St. Joseph College in Cincinnati only days before their June 14, 1940 wedding.)

  • Did he ever tell Jane he had gotten my mother pregnant and did he know of my birth?

Key Dates in This Saga

The table below lists key dates from Regis's birth to the present to help put the story in perspective.

Dates and events to assist in following the story
DATE EVENT
16 Mar 1914 Regis James Sullivan ("Rex") is born in East Liverpool, OH.
2 Mar 1918 Jane Margaret Lies is born in Chicago, IL.
13 Nov 1920 Patricia Mary Rogers ("Mom") is born in Cleveland, OH.
1936-1938 Rex meets Jane when both are in college.
Jun 1938 Rex graduates from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. He probably proposes to Jane in 1938 or 1939.
Jul 1939 Rex and Mom get together and I am conceived.
29 Mar 1940 Mom marries Bob Nowka "for respectability."
7 Apr 1940 I am born at Providence Hospital in Detroit.
Jun 1940 Jane graduates from Mount St. Joseph College in Cincinnati.
18 Jun 1940 Rex and Jane are married in Riverside, IL.
5 Apr 1941 The first of seven children is born to Rex and Jane in Detroit. It's a boy!
15 Aug 1941 Bob Nowka divorces Mom, after learning that he is really not my father.
24 Jul 1953 My name is formally changed from Lawrence James Nowka to Lawrence James Riggs.
17 Aug 1953 The last of the Sullivans' seven children, a boy, is born in Detroit.
12 Sep 1964 Mom dies of cirrhosis in Minneapolis, MN, at 43.
18 May 1989 Rex dies in Stuart, FL. at 75.
3 Jul 1995 Jane dies in Stuart, FL, at 77.
11 Sep 1997 I receive the results of a Paternity Test that Bob Nowka suggested: "Possibility of Paternity: 0%"
12 Jun 2004 One of the children, Jeffery Alfred Sullivan, 53 and a twin, passes away, in Cincinnati.
7 Oct 2015 I see the results of my Ancestry.com DNA test, which include someone called "C.P." whom I don't recognize.
11 Oct 2015 I chat with C.P.'s son, Stew Peters, of Allison Park, PA, who, after hearing my story, enthusiastically agrees to help me find my father.
29 Oct 2015 With Stew's help, I determine that my father is Regis Sullivan, as the 1943 Ann Arbor City Directory identifies him as the assistant manager of a Montgomery Ward store there. He is Stew's dad's second cousin. Stew's dad's mom Grace Sullivan was the sister of Alfred Sullivan, who is Regis's dad.
30 Oct 2015 I find Regis's name in Regis Metzger's Ancestry.com family tree.
31 Oct 2015 My daughter Cathy locates Regis's phone number on the internet, calls it, and speaks to Bonnie, my half sister. They chat for a long time. My half-brother Paul calls me and we talk for quite a while.
7 Dec 2015 Paul receives the results of a DNA test; it confirms he is my brother.

Overview: Birth to Discovery of Real Father

I was born on April 7, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan. My birth certificate indicates my father was Bob Nowka. He and my mother were married days before I was born but they never lived together. They divorced the following year. My mother died in 1964; never even once did she suggest to me that Bob was not my father. Likewise, never once during this period did Bob make any attempt to contact me.

My early years:
From birth to the age of about 9, I was raised by my mom—there was no dad in my life and no man in hers. Then she met Clyde Riggs; he charmed her and married her. When I was 10 we all moved to California. Like my mom, Clyde was an alcoholic. He was autocratic: he punished me, and he beat me, and when I was 14, I had had enough. I left home to live with my grandmother Rose Rogers, who raised me until I was 21, when I went into the Army.

In 1997, I contacted Bob’s family. He had married and he and his wife Ivy had had three children; by then, his wife and one child had died. After this contact, Bob suggested we undertake a paternity test and I concurred. The test results showed “0% probability” that he was my father. He suggested that my real father was a work colleague of my mother at Dearborn’s Montgomery Ward store. With only that clue to go on, I searched a bit more, but finally gave up.

In 2015, I submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com, expecting only to discover where my ancestors had come from. But the results included much more—there were identities of numerous close and distant relatives. Realizing that many might be from my father’s side, I contacted the son of what Ancestry dubbed a “2ND COUSIN” of mine. Twenty days later, on October 29, 2015, I found the “Michigan connection” he had been helping me search for: Regis J. Sullivan, a coworker of my mother at the Ward store.

The “2ND COUSIN” mentioned above is Charles Anthony Peters, The tree below illustrates my genetic connection to him—he is actually my first cousin, once removed.

Sullivan Family Tree Showing Connection between Me and Stew’s Dad
Sullivan Family Tree Showing Connection between Me and Stew’s Dad

A “Cousin Tree” or relationship chart is useful in determining how two people are related. One follows with the location of C.P. shown; he is my 1st cousin, once removed.

Cousin Tree Showing Relationships and Location of C.P.
Cousin Tree Showing Relationships and Location of C.P.

My story follows. To “cut to the chase” and only read about the events following submission of my DNA to Ancestry.com, skip ahead to My DNA Test of 2015.

My Birth

I was conceived in July 1939, and born in Providence Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, on April 7, 1940, at 3:06 pm. My birth certificate gives my name as Lawrence James Nowka, and states that my mother was Patricia Mary Rogers, 19, and my father was Edmund Robert Nowka, 20. Her occupation was Stenographer and his, Ford Factory. My mother’s residence was given as 14562 Prest in Detroit.

On the birth certificate (a certified copy I obtained in 1964) the question, “Is mother married?” is present and her answer was “Yes.” Bob—he preferred to be called by his middle name—married my mother on March 29, 1940, nine days before I was born. They were divorced on August 15, 1941, in Detroit. Later I would learn from Bob that they never lived together. The marriage took place solely to give my mother respectability when I was born.

But if Bob was not my father, why did he marry my mom? I got insight into this issue decades later, as well as what led to their divorce after 504 days.

My Birth Certificate with a Birth Name of Nowka
My Birth Certificate with a Birth Name of Nowka

Bob was born in Hastings, Nebraska, on September 14, 1919, and died on February 8, 1999. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and reached the rank of sergeant. He is buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Ancestry.com contains the following Michigan divorce record summary.

Ancestry.com Records of the Nowka Marriage and Divorce Dates
Ancestry.com Records of the Nowka Marriage and Divorce Dates

Birth to 1997

From 1943 to 1949, my mother was married to Reginald Rosevear. They produced my sister Sue in 1945, but it was a strange marriage as Reg—like Bob—never lived with my mom. Reg’s story is equally intriguing as he was the manager of the Dearborn Montgomery Ward store!! He and Regis likely knew each other, and both were intimate with my mother—perhaps she was attracted to men whose names began with R-E-G.

In 1949, my mother divorced Reg and married Clyde Riggs, whose surname I legally took in 1953.

Over the years I initiated and received some contact with the Nowka family.

  • In 1961, when in Detroit en route home from Europe, I telephoned Elwood, Bob’s uncle. He gave me Bob’s phone number. I called and spoke to Ivy, Bob’s wife. She was not cooperative or encouraging, so the call was unproductive. I later learned that Bob’s mom Gladys, who was good friends with my grandmother Rose, was upset with Elwood for not calling her. “I would have gone to the airport to pick him up!” she had said.

  • In 1980, 1982, and 1990, I spoke with Bob’s brother John and John’s wife Louise. They were very supportive and believed Bob was my father. However, John, who was 14 years younger than Bob, was intimidated by Bob. After John called me in 1982, he went fishing with Bob, and brought up the subject of his paternity. Bob said, “Mind your own business.” In 1990, John said he remembers a family disagreement over my mother’s pregnancy. John was only 6, but he recalls his father yelling, “You’ll marry that girl!”

  • In 2015, after initially posting this story, I spoke to Louise by phone. (She still lives in Michigan, but John passed away in 2006.) When I told her I had found my father, she was thrilled! During our conversation, she recalled the 1961 incident. Elwood, whose nickname was Spike (presumably after the comedian Spike Jones), had also called Louise in an effort to find Gladys. She immediately called John at the trucking company where he worked; John drove to the airport but “just missed” me. About that time, Louise had a conversation with Bob regarding my birth. “The timing was not right,” he stated, implying that they did not have sex around nine months before my birth.

  • In 1997, I wrote John and Louise to request a visit as we were traveling to Detroit. Mary and I, along with our two sons, were welcomed into their house, and Bob’s daughter Alice, then 48, was present. During the discussions that ensued over the next five hours, I was a bit surprised to learn that (1) Alice had not known I existed until two weeks earlier when John told her I was coming, and (2) she was skeptical at first that I was her half-brother, and she repeatedly asked questions, attempting to ferret out common physical traits. In fact, she laughingly said she was looking for the one that would serve as the “smoking gun.” During our Detroit visit we met with Alice twice and had several phone conversations. Alice was intrigued by the idea of having an older brother and we had seemed to bond from our very first meeting. Her dad, she said, was not ready to meet me just yet, but was willing to undergo a blood test. “This will provide a definitive answer!” I thought.

Waiting for Paternity Test Results

I located http://www.dnacenter.com on the web and sent instructions to Alice. “A few drops of blood would be taken from Bob and me at labs near each of us. The samples would be sent to the DNA Diagnostics Center, where the DNA would be extracted, cut into fragments, and processed. “Probes” would be bound to selected unique segments of the two parties’ DNA. The child’s DNA contains a visible band pattern that is unique—half matches the mother and half matches the father. This process is repeated with several segments from different parts of the DNA. If the patterns match over several segments, paternity can be established with greater than 99.9% certainty. If Bob and I were not father and son, the first segments checked would almost certainly not match. More than one segment is compared to establish paternity beyond a reasonable doubt.”

I bore the cost of $475.

Bob and I sent in our samples and we waited.

In the meantime, I corresponded with Alice, who wrote,

“I, like you, am very drawn to you and our newly found relationship. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always wanted a brother, or if it is because you are. I am so strongly drawn towards you. It is almost some inward instinct and a closeness that I cannot put into words.

“I want you to be my brother. If the DNA testing finds you not to be, I am hoping that I can “adopt” you as my brother, as I don’t want to give up what I’ve found. I hope that I’m not sounding like some kind of a nut case. I just feel as if there has been so much that we have shared and such an understanding of what we are about. How do you feel about this? Would you want to continue to correspond if you are not my blood brother?”

On Aug 14, 1997, Alice wrote in an email:

“I would like to write and send you an autobiography of my life, in the event that we are siblings. We would have a lot of catching up to do. I would also like to fill you in on the highlights of my children growing up. Would you be interested in doing the same? This would be a lengthy task and would take some time to complete. I may be jumping the gun, but if you are my brother, I would want to see you and your family again soon. I would want my children to meet their cousins (not half-cousins). I do have a “half hang up,” don’t I? How would you feel about that? You are learning quickly that I shoot from the heart. I apologize if my emotional-driven correspondence is bugging you in any way.”

I also heard from Alice’s daughter Beth, a student at the University of Michigan.

“I hope things go well with your blood test! Al and I are very close, she’s my best friend, and I have been supporting her all the way! I will never forget her apprehension when she told me the news over lunch just a few short weeks ago. I am totally thrilled about this new discovery, especially after seeing your picture and talking to you on the phone. You are exactly the dear gentleman I expected you to be! I can’t believe how brave, and patient, you are! It’s astounding how you have been talking to John and Louise for so long!”

We all hoped for test results that would confirm Bob’s paternity.

Paternity Test Results

On September 11, 1997, I received the results. They stated, “Probability of Paternity: 0%.” I was stunned. I felt like crying. All my hopes for knowing my father had been dashed, and Bob’s statement that “The timing was not right.” turned out to be correct. I had bonded with his family, a wonderful family, and instead of my quest being over, I had to start all over again.

Paternity Test Results Showing Bob Nowka Is Not My Father
Paternity Test Results Showing Bob Nowka Is Not My Father

A New Clue, One that Ultimately Led Me to Regis

On September 21, 1997, I wrote an email to my family describing some new information I had obtained from Bob, which Louise had passed on to me. This clue turned out to be the key to finding my real father. In other words, without this information, I never would have found Regis. I wrote:

“Well, the search for my biological father goes on. I got the results of the paternity test back. They showed that Bob Nowka was NOT my father. I’ve learned a bit more about some events surrounding my birth.

“My mother was born in November 1920. She probably graduated from high school in 1938. She went to work as a secretary for Montgomery Ward at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Schaefer—the store may very well still be there. Her boss was a married man named Mr. Weinstein (first name unknown). He occasionally made business trips to Chicago and took her with him. She would have become pregnant about July 1939. Some time after she became pregnant she told Bob Nowka—she had been seeing him and had had sexual relations with him—that he (Bob) was the father. His mother Gladys and my grandmother Rose Rogers—my mom was Pat Rogers—were good friends. Bob agreed to marry my mother a few days before I was born—partly to give respectability to the birth and partly in response to pressure from his family. He told Alice, his daughter, recently that he did so because, “I’m not a bad person.”

“He never lived with my mother but agreed to pay alimony (he said “alimony” and not child support). He went to a lawyer named John Fish in Dearborn to draw up the papers. Some time later my mother told a girlfriend that Bob was not the father. This girl did not know Bob but did know one of Bob’s friends named Johnny O’Brien. Johnny told Bob, who decided that was sufficient reason to stop the alimony. This girlfriend, Johnny, and Bob went to Mr. Fish’s office—Bob stayed in the car because he owed the lawyer some money—and after that meeting Bob paid no further alimony. Bob can’t remember the woman’s name, although he does know that she and my mother had a falling out later, perhaps over this incident.

“So at this point, we have three leads: Mr. Weinstein, who is a candidate for paternity; Mr. Fish, who at some point had some records and conversations that might be helpful; and Johnny O’Brien, alas an all too common name.”

The essence of these clues was, “My father was a colleague of my mother at Montgomery Ward, and his name may have been Weinstein.”

When I told this to Cathy, she asked cheerfully, “So dad, does that mean we might be Jewish?”

I said, “Could be.”

Looking for Mr. Weinstein

Two years later, in 1999, I was again in Detroit. I visited the Montgomery Ward store in Dearborn, and asked if the personnel records from 1939 were available. The lady with whom I spoke was very sympathetic to my story, but said they would have been forwarded to the Chicago headquarters.

A few days later I was in Chicago, where I visited the Human Resources department at the Montgomery Ward headquarters. I asked, “Do you happen to have the personnel records from 1939 for the Dearborn store?”

“No, they have been destroyed.”

I persisted, “How can I be absolutely sure this is the case?”

“Because I am the person responsible for destroying them.”

Checking the 1939 Dearborn City Directory

For the next twelve years, I did nothing to advance my search.

In September 2011, I went by myself to Detroit, checked into the TownePlace Suites in Dearborn, and made trips to the Detroit and Dearborn libraries for what I considered “genealogical research.” I discovered City Directories, and looked through those of Detroit and Dearborn for the year 1939. I focused on Weinstein entries, hoping I might find one who worked for Montgomery Ward. (If I had found one, I had no idea what I would do next, but at least I would have a name to work with.)

The 1939 directory contained entries for both my mother and her parents, all living at 3636 Jackson in Dearborn. My mother was shown as an office worker for Montgomery Ward and Company. However, no Weinstein was listed as a Ward employee in either the Detroit or Dearborn directory.

1939 Dearborn City Directory Showing Listings for My Mother and Grandparents
1939 Dearborn City Directory Showing Listings for My Mother and Grandparents

If I gained any knowledge from the trip, it was the discovery of the existence of City Directories—precursors of telephone directories, but with much richer content. Since they were updated every year, it was possible to follow city residents, and their spouses, jobs, and addresses over successive years, or look up information for a specific year.

I did nothing more until 2015, the year that I found Regis!

My DNA Test of 2015

On August 17, 2015, I paid $89.70 to Ancestry.com for a DNA test kit. When the kit arrived, I spit into a tube, sealed it, and mailed it back. On October 7, 2015, I went online and looked at the test results.

Where My Ancestors Came From

I am European. Five regions are mentioned, but I am mostly Irish and Western European. The TYPICAL NATIVE entry below identifies what percent of a typical native’s DNA comes from that region today. I have no DNA—not one bit—from outside the European region.

Map Illustrating the Five European Regions of My Ancestors
Map Illustrating the Five European Regions of My Ancestors

A Mysterious Cousin Appears among My Closest DNA Results

I had expected no more from the test than the ethnicity estimate described above.

But what I found next gave me hope that my search might yet bear fruit.

DNA matches were provided, sorted by Relationship. Those genetically closest to you appear first in the list; matches are placed into six categories.

These include CLOSE FAMILY, 1ST COUSIN, 2ND COUSIN, 3RD COUSIN, 4TH COUSIN, and DISTANT COUSIN (5th - 8th cousins). Matches representing over 3,000 cousins are listed for me; all but 39 of these are distant cousins.

Nevertheless, one’s focus is on the nearest cousins, since a wealth of information can be gleaned from them and the trees that many provide. Ancestry.com provides means for contacting any of your matches.

Results are continuously updated from matches among new DNA samples that people submit. My matches grew by 13% over my first two months of membership, i.e., the number of cousins listed went from about 2,650 to over 3,000.

The first four matches that appeared, illustrated below, represent my closest relatives. I knew three of them: D.R. or David Rogers is my mother’s brother’s son; JSummerR is David’s daughter, Summer Rogers; and John Forsgren is the grandson of my grandmother’s sister Harriet, who married Franklin Forsgren.

Four Closest Relatives Who Have Submitted DNA Samples
Four Closest Relatives Who Have Submitted DNA Samples

But who is C.P.?? I suspected immediately he was from my father’s side. The entry mentioned it was “administered by speters101.”

And what does 1st-2nd cousins mean?

Note the ? above to the right of Possible range: 1st-2nd cousins. When you click on it, you get an explanation of the meaning of the relationship:

Possible Relationships for a Second Cousin
Possible Relationships for a Second Cousin

Degrees of separation is a common term of reference when speaking of relationships. For example, there are:

  • 4 degrees of separation between me and D.R.;

  • 5 degrees between me and C.P.: see the Sullivan Family Tree at the beginning of this article;

  • 6 degrees between me and John Forsgren; and

  • 5 degrees between me and JSummerR: me to my mother, that mother to her mother; that mother to son; that son to son, and that son to daughter.

Placement of JSummerR after John Forsgren suggested that sorting matches by Relationship was imperfect; otherwise, the last two would be reversed in the list.

Still, to find my father, starting from C.P. I would go up one generation to C.P.’s parents, and look for my father as a child of one of the parent’s siblings.

If that search did not prove fruitful, I would go up one more generation to C.P.’s grandparents and repeat the process. If I still had not found my father, I would continue by going up one more generation to C.P.’s great-grandparents and look at the offspring of each of their siblings.

However, as I suspected there were only about 6 degrees of separation between me and my father, I felt I would not need to go up very far.

I Contact My Cousin—He Is from My Father’s Side

I obtained speters101’s email address from another genealogy website, and on October 8, I emailed him. I explained who I was, and then asked, “if there is a history on your side of the family that was centered in the Detroit or Dearborn area in the late 30s, then that would suggest that C.P. is from my father’s side. ... My father might have been a work colleague of my mother’s at Montgomery Ward in Dearborn.”

speters101 (who is Stew Peters, he told me) promptly replied, “Happy to help any way I can. CP is my dad, recently deceased. However, I am the family historian and I would be glad to speak with you and help your quest any way I can. ... Just off the top of my head I do not know of a Detroit connection but I’ll think on it. ... Call me Sunday night if you wish.”

We spoke on the phone for over a half hour on Sunday, October 11. He explained that his father was an only child, but was married to a woman whose maiden name was Sullivan.

I located C.P.’s obituary online. The obituary states, “Mr. Peters was born Aug. 23, 1933, in Wellsville, Ohio, to Clarence H. Peters and Mary Grace Sullivan.” This was a valuable hint, one which facilitated my search, given that Clarence H. Peters was an only child.

This meant that I should initially focus on the Sullivan side and look at her siblings, since there were no siblings on the Peters side. If nothing promising resulted, I would go up one generation on both parents’ sides and explore that level.

Over the next few weeks we communicated via email, and at the same time I explored his family tree on Ancestry.com, initially by using their search facility to search for Mary Grace Sullivan from Wellsville, Ohio.

Search for a Mary Grace Sullivan from Wellsville, OH
Search for a Mary Grace Sullivan from Wellsville, OH

I Discover My Grandfather, Alfred J. Sullivan, but Didn’t Know It at the Time

I was interested in knowing who Mary Grace’s siblings were. Stew had told me that his dad (Peters) was an only child and that his mom (Sullivan) was one of up to 12 children. However, the results of the search suggested that during her life she had also used the name Grace Mary and even simply Grace. So I repeated the search, using only Grace Sullivan.

Search for a Grace Sullivan from Wellsville, OH
Search for a Grace Sullivan from Wellsville, OH

I found her in the 1910 census, which lists Grace, her parents, and seven siblings. The census record states that 11 children had been born but only 8 survive. (In 1900, the child mortality rate for the first year of life was about 160 deaths per 1000 births. Today it is under 7 in the U.S.)

1910 Census of the Sullivan Family with Eight Children
1910 Census of the Sullivan Family with Eight Children

Would one of Grace’s siblings be my grandfather or grandmother? I decided to work through them in birth order, starting with Alfred, who was born about 1887 (1910 minus 23). In 1910 Alfred was living at home.

In 1920, the date of the subsequent census, would he be married? My mother was born in 1920; therefore, my father would likely have been born in 1911-1920.

Regis, My Father, Appears for the First Time

I searched for Alfred in the 1920 census. See below. The record shown appeared at the top of the search results, even though for the census he had given his name as A.J. rather than Alfred. The search algorithm gave high precedence to his home (Columbiana County, Ohio) and birth year.

Search for Alfred Sullivan and 1920 Census Search Result
Search for Alfred Sullivan and 1920 Census Search Result

The 1920 census record showed he and his wife Catherine had produced four young children.

1920 Census of the Alfred Sullivan Family with Four Children
1920 Census of the Alfred Sullivan Family with Four Children

William (b. ca. 1913) and Regis (b. ca. 1915) fell within the date constraints of my father’s birth. Even Robert (b. ca. 1919) could be a candidate, although I suspected he might be too young.

Could one of these boys have become my mother’s boss at Montgomery Ward in Dearborn in 1939? I was looking for some evidence that one might have been in Michigan around this time. Then I discovered this among Ancestry.com search results.

It was an entry in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Directory from 1943:

1943 Ann Arbor City Directory with Regis J. Sullivan at a Montgomery Ward Store
1943 Ann Arbor City Directory with Regis J. Sullivan at a Montgomery Ward Store

The last entry shows a Regis J. Sullivan working in Ann Arbor as an assistant manager for Montgomery Ward, married to Jane L. (I would find out later her maiden name was Jane Lies.)

My notes from 1997 state, “My mother was born in November 1920. She probably graduated from high school in 1938. She went to work as a secretary for Montgomery Ward at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Schaefer—the store may very well still be there.”

Bingo!! It was October 29, 2015, and I had discovered my father’s identity. (The entry suggested that four years after I was conceived, Regis had been given the Ann Arbor store, 35 miles from Dearborn, and promoted to assistant manager.)

Stew Sends Me Congratulations

I emailed Stew and he replied:

“I think you got it! Regis was Grace’s nephew I believe. ... you look just like Grace’s brother Joe Sullivan from your pic on Ancestry. ... I think you threaded the needle, cousin.”

And then about an hour later:

“Larry, you have me really excited. I don’t know of any male descendants of Alf Sullivan, Regis’ father. However, if we can get a male Sullivan to get a DNA test and you guys are related, then I would have to say Regis is your man. I do not know too much about that branch but let me see what I can do.”

Following Regis Using City Directories

I knew now that Regis was my dad and that he would appear in the 1939 Dearborn City Directory, and indeed he did. Ancestry.com does not by default include city directories in their All Categories search. They must be requested as a separate category and I haven’t figured out why this is necessary.

The city directory search enabled me to follow him from student in East Liverpool, OH, to his Montgomery Ward ascendancy as “salesman” in Dearborn to a married assistant manager in Alpena and Ann Arbor, MI.

Five city directory entries for Regis were among the search results.

Search All City Directories for Regis Sullivan
Search All City Directories for Regis Sullivan
Regis J. Sullivan’s City Directory Appearances
Regis J. Sullivan’s City Directory Appearances

Information extracted from these five entries is summarized in the table below.

Regis Sullivan’s appearances in city directories
YEAR ADDRESS CITY+STATE JOB WIFE
1934 825 Bradford Ave. East Liverpool, OH Student  
1937 825 Bradford Ave. Liverpool, OH Student  
1939 4942 Neckel Ave. Dearborn, MI Salesman MW&Co  
1941 123 S. 9th Ave. Alpena, MI Asst. mgr. MW&Co Jane M.
1943 506 Maple Ridge Ann Arbor, MI Asst. mgr. MW&Co Jane L.

The actual records combined into a single image appear below.

Actual Records from City Directory Appearances
Actual Records from City Directory Appearances

On December 22, 1943, Regis enlisted in the Navy. As a college graduate, he was made an ensign, the entry officer pay grade. His file number was 336661. The photograph of him earlier in this document shows him in his Navy uniform. The record below is from the Navy Military Register.

Record Showing Regis’s Naval Enlistment
Record Showing Regis’s Naval Enlistment

On April 1, 1951, he appeared in the Navy Military Register again, the entry stating that on April 1, 1945, he had been promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Record Showing Regis’s Promotion to LtJG
Record Showing Regis’s Promotion to LtJG

A Navy Muster Roll record (not shown here) indicates that Ensign Sullivan had sailed from Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands aboard USS Wyman (DE-38) around August 15, 1944.

Regis’s Life in Dearborn

His 1939 Dearborn address was 4942 Neckel Ave. That is now Neckel Street and the block on which his boarding house was located is now a shopping center. The map below illustrates where his house was and the short distance he had to walk to get to and from the Montgomery Ward store. The store was razed in 2008.

Map Showing Distance from Home to Work
Map Showing Distance from Home to Work

My mother lived at 3636 Jackson St. in Dearborn, now a city parking lot at the northwest corner of Jackson and Carlysle Streets. Her 5-mile commute to or from work would have taken about ten minutes.

What Happened in 1939 - 1940?

In mid-1939, Regis got my mother pregnant. According to an Ancestry member’s tree, on June 15, 1940, he married Jane Margaret Lies in Riverside, Cook Co., IL, city of Jane’s birth and place where she had lived much of her life. Jane was born March 2, 1918, and died July 3, 1995, according to Social Security records.

She appears in the 1940 census as Jane Lies, living at home at 87 Lawton Road in Riverside, IL. The census record is not dated but the form asks that you enter “Name of each person whose usual place of residence on April 1, 1940, was in this household.”

Regis does not appear at all in any 1940 census records. He must have left Dearborn either in the latter half of 1939 or the first half of 1940.

My mother appears in the 1940 census as Patricia Nowka, residing with her mom and dad and two siblings at 14562 Whitcomb. (It was actually 14562 Prest, which is one block to the west; I believe this was a census taker’s error. My birth certificate, which appears earlier in this document, states 14562 Prest.) The three children listed are Bill (William) (b. January 26, 1923), Mary (March 29, 1929), and Pat (November 13, 1920). Bill and Mary were honest with their ages, but my mom bumped her age from 19 to 22. I am not listed although this was likely because of the April 1 cutoff. I entered the world on April 7.

My Mother’s Family in the 1940 Census
My Mother’s Family in the 1940 Census

Conclusion

I have spoken on the phone with a new brother in Arizona. I explained to him how I had come to believe that Regis was my father. He was helpful and provided me with some useful family history. If my notes are correct, I have five new brothers and two new sisters. One of the brothers, Jeffery Alfred Sullivan, a twin, died of a brain tumor at 53 in 2004.

The brother in Arizona submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com. The results came back identifying him as CLOSE FAMILY. My DNA results are sorted in order of closeness and he is rated as my closest relative, even closer than my granddaughter. Both he and Tori (V.K. below) are 2 degrees from me.

Two Close Family Matches: a Sullivan and a Granddaughter
Two Close Family Matches: a Sullivan and a Granddaughter

Where do we go from here? I honestly don’t know. But I am delighted that future generations will be able to trace back both sides of my family. I hope that my Sullivan siblings and their children and grandchildren will be able to meet some of the wonderful people in our family.

Dear Sullivan Relative...

If you, the reader, are from the Sullivan side of my family, drop me a line—go to the Contact Us page and say “Hi.” I know there are lots of you out there bearing the Sullivan or Metzger or some other surname.

You’re living in Chicago or Clarkston, MI, or Boca Raton, FL, or Cincinnati or St. Louis, or just maybe California, where we are.