Uniting the Smithers and the Grays

Piecing together a separated family

Missing People; James William Smithers of the United States and Jake Henderson Gray of Australia are the same person

In December 2008, Dr. Fitzpatrick of Identifinders had the pleasure of reuniting a family from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, with long lost cousins in the United States, thanks to a DNA match and dogged genealogy research.

Lucinda Gray was born in Sydney, Australia, the youngest of five children of Jake Henderson Gray and Betty Raynor Hill. Her father had been a good provider and a capable businessman who ran a farm in New South Wales, Australia. Unfortunately, Jake Henderson Gray died in 1970 without ever revealing his true identity to his family or friends.

For years, Lu researched her father with almost nothing to go on except what her father had told family members. For example, he said that his mother was named Teresa, his father named Edward, his brother Charles, and that his birthdate was 14 April 1893. Her birth certificate said that he came from El Paso, Texas, and she told us that he sounded just like Willie Nelson. He told her he attend the University of Chicago for three years, and then enlisted in the Navy in the Great Lakes Naval Base during WWI.

Lu was familiar with a family story that said he left the United States when he got into trouble as a younger man, arriving in Australia in the mid 1920s. However, through the years she had come to realize that it was impossible for her to distinguish which of her father's stories were embellishments, and which were true. And without a last name to go on, it had been impossible for her to make any progress establishing who her father really was.

In search of some answers, Lu accepted Dr. Fitzpatrick's invitation to join her Fitzpatrick DNA study in about 2002. He did not match any Fitzpatricks, nor did he match anyone in the online databases where DNA results are available to genetic genealogists for comparison. At the end of 2008, however, she informed Colleen that she had come across a match with a member of the Smithers DNA study. This was significant since the Smithers name had come up once before in notes her mother wrote many years ago on her mysterious husband.

It only took several days, but at last Colleen identified her father Jake Henderson Gray as James William Smithers from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. The names in his family were all as he had told her—in fact his mother's maiden name was Teresa Henderson.

His US draft registration records confirmed Jake-James' birthdate as 14 April 1893 but also revealed that in 1917 he had a wife and a 9-month-old child. Colleen quickly found his wife Lucille and 3-year-old son Edward C. Smithers in the 1920 US Census living in Lake Charles, LA. This led to the discovery of Smithers relatives still living in Lake Charles, and a reunion with a brother and a sister that Lu never realized she had. Lu's father had been married twice in the US and had fathered a total of three children Unfortunately, one of Lu's long lost brothers died in 1957.

In the last few days of December 2008, the Gray family from Australia and the Smithers family from the United States have experienced nothing short of a miracle in being reunited.

Lu's new brother John Lane Smithers lives in North Carolina. He is in his 80s and has been searching for his father for 60 years. He has an enormous amount of info on the first part of James W. Smithers' life up to about the time he left for Australia. The chronology he constructed for his father's life is partially based on letters J.W. Smithers wrote back to family members in the US as he traveled through Europe, finally settling Down Under. Combined with Lu's research on her father's life after he arrived in Australia, the family has developed a reasonably complete history of Mr. Smithers-Gray. From ship's records we know that he arrived in Sydney from Port Said, Egypt on 4 Sept 1924 on the Moldavia with his second wife Lillian (Elizabeth) Lane.

This is a project in progress. The two families, with Identifinder's help, are still filling in the gaps of Mr. Gray-Smithers' life between his arrival in 1924 and the start of his life with Lu's mother Betty Hill in the 1940s. But in the meantime, we have two ecstatic families (actually one big ecstatic family) in the US and Australia, who are trying to catch up on what has happened over the last eighty years.

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