Hello everyone. If you haven’t listened to episode 215, “Searching for my Birth Father,” I suggest listening to that episode before continuing with this one. Just go to johncertalic.com/215. Today’s episode, #216, continues with the theme of how understanding our past helps us understand our present when we see how God began shaping us early on to find joy in being the person he created us to be.

Before we get into this I need to tell you that Carol, our announcer and executive director on vacation this week. Filling in for her is the latest addition to our staff, our chaplain and family cat, Father Patrick O’Malley. You’ll see his picture at the top of our show notes for today’s episode.

Picking  up where we left off in the previous episode

We left off episode 215 with the end of a conversation I had with my mother in the early 1990s about wanting to track down my birth father. The only information she had on him was that Jack Byrd, a truck driver, lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1948.

I’ll continue now reading from edited excerpts from my book, THEM  that describe what I did next. 

*   *   *

At the time of this talk with my mother, our son and daughter were attending Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, about forty miles from Fort Wayne. I learned through my genealogy class that Fort Wayne has one of the best genealogy libraries in the country.

Planning a trip to discover more about my past

I thought I would extend one of our weekend trips to visit our kids by driving to Fort Wayne to try locating this Jack Byrd. But without the Internet, and certainly without Google, I didn’t have a lot to go on. Just his name, and a seemingly common one at that, his occupation, and where he lived 43 years ago.

Before going to Fort Wayne, I started some research from home using directory assistance. (My apologies here to the thirty and younger crowd. Ask your parents or grandparents about “directory assistance.”) I called the Fort Wayne area code, asking for the phone number of any Jack Byrd, of which there were three. Each with different middle names or initials. So I called my mother and asked her if she remembered his middle name, and she did —it was Edward. Jack Edward Byrd.

Then I called the only Jack E. Byrd listed with directory assistance and found out he wasn’t the Byrd I was looking for. This Jack Byrd told me the following, “Back in the 1950s, I used to get mistaken for him all the time. Bill collectors and other people kept calling me, thinking I was the other Jack E. Byrd. It was quite annoying. Sorry I can’t help you out, but good luck in finding him.” 

A second dead-end in search for my birth father

Starting this search process surprised me; something I had ignored for thirty years had developed into a sense of urgency to locate my birth father. It created an adrenaline rush in me that lasted for about six months. In the genealogy class I learned of services that track down birth parents for adopted children. So I contacted one and paid twenty- five dollars for them to try locating Jack Edward Byrd. They came up with nothing. They’re not trying hard enough, I thought. 

Undeterred by this dead end, Janet and I decided to visit our college kids over their homecoming weekend in October of 1991. We drove down on a Thursday evening.  Then on Friday, while Janet spent time with our daughter Jennifer and our son Michael in Winona Lake, I drove over to Fort Wayne. I wanted to use what I had been learning in my genealogy class to try locating this mystery man in my life. 

My first stop was the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, where I camped out in the Genealogical Department. Looking through every source I could think of, I documented my research as I used to do when I wrote term papers in college. Using one bit of information to lead to another energized me. I started looking through obituary notices from the Fort Wayne newspaper. I found nothing there. I had to move on to something different, and to do it quickly, for I was due back in Winona Lake the same evening to attend homecoming activities with our kids. 

Looking for keys to my past at the library and courthouse

Checking out city directories, I found listings for Jack E. Byrd from 1946 to 1955. His employers indicated several trucking firms he worked for during this period. He disappeared after that. I looked for current listings of these same trucking companies, but they did not exist anymore. Had they still been in business, maybe an old-timer there would have remembered my birth father. Time was running out and I still hadn’t gotten the information I needed. Maybe I’ll have to come back and visit the addresses where he lived in the early 1950s to see if any of the neighbors were there at the time, and if so, ask if they knew his whereabouts. 

With nowhere else to look in the Genealogical Department of the Allen County Library, and with time moving quickly, I went across the street to the Allen County Courthouse. It was there I found a treasure trove of information I needed. Room 201 houses the marriage and divorce records, so I started there. I was surprised, yet not surprised at what I found. 

It’s amazing what information you can find on a marriage license. I discovered Jack Edward Byrd was born on April 4, 1922. This April 4th date is a very significant date in my own history, which I will get to later. 

Back to the story. Jack Byrd married a woman named Helen Jane Williamson in 1940. I was pretty sure this was my Jack Edward Byrd because it showed his occupation as a truck driver living in the area. This marriage was his first of six, five of which ended in divorce. One ended with the death of his last wife. 

My birth father’s other family

At the time of my birth in February 1949 he was on wife number three and had four children from these marriages. Then there was me. I was conceived the same month his fourth child was born. So he was right in telling my mother when she announced her pregnancy to him that he had another family in Indiana and couldn’t support the two of us and his Indiana family at the same time. 

I certainly had no illusions my birth father was the epitome of virtue or that Focus on the Family was going to be contacting him anytime soon to present a lifetime achievement award. He was married three more times after I was born. On several of the wedding licenses, I noticed he either lied to whomever recorded the information, or there was a misprint. 

The clock was ticking ever faster as I read through all this data. I wrote down names and any possible contact information from documents I discovered that I could later follow up on when I got home. Once I had gotten all there was to get in room 201, I then checked for civil and probate records, but I wasn’t very thorough because their indexing system was hard to figure out and there wasn’t time to learn it. 

I still had about an hour left to do whatever research I could. There was more I could check, but it might have to wait for another trip to Fort Wayne. But the adrenaline was flowing and I wanted to use every minute left. 

One final push to gather information about my past

So I went across the street from the courthouse to the city/ county building to look for records there. Nothing turned up for Jack E. Byrd, but I did find a few records for his son Timothy Kevin Byrd. First a property deed from 1990, then divorce papers from his wife. I wrote down any names and contact information I could follow up on later. 

With lots of paper filled with my notes, I headed back to Winona Lake for the evening activities with our son and daughter. I had spent the day using what I learned in the genealogy class, as well as what I learned from a summer job when I was a teacher. I worked for an insurance investigation firm where I checked court documents, looking for criminal records and civil actions. Added to this were the skills I developed as a headhunter, where I used one 

bit of information to lead to another. All of this experience came into play in searching for Jack Edward Byrd. I think I was enjoying this process more than I should have. It gave me a sense of control and power over what had rendered me powerless for so many years. 

Once we were back home in Milwaukee after my foray into the secrets of the Allen County Courthouse, I organized the notes I had taken and began mapping out a plan to locate Jack E. Byrd.

Making phone calls to discover more of my past

Using directory assistance, I started calling Jack E. Byrd’s ex-wives and children, whose names I had found on marriage and divorce records. Several of them were easily located; others I could not find. The ones I could locate were scattered around various communities in Indiana. Unlike their husband 

and father, they didn’t stray far from their Hoosier roots. He, on the other hand, as I discovered, strayed as geographically as he did in his marital relationships, ending up in various cities in Alabama and Florida. 

In calling the contacts I located, I didn’t want this skeleton in their family closets to come falling down on them, fracturing something in them like it did me. I didn’t want to open a can of worms for them. I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. I didn’t want to use other clichés for this very important process to me. I had to be honest, yet not reveal too much that would arouse suspicion. 

So when I called, I would introduce myself and simply say, “I am doing research into my family history and as part of the search, I’m trying to locate a Jack Edward Byrd, someone I think I may be related to. Do you know if he’s still alive and if so, what his phone number is?” 

One bit of information leads to another piece of my past 

No one ever questioned my motives. No one ever asked how I might be related. No one ever asked, “Well, if you think you’re related to Jack Byrd, do you think maybe you might be related to me, too?” If they had, I probably would have just hung up the phone without answering. I’ve learned not every question people ask needs to be answered. I’ve also learned on the rare occasion when people ask me a question that makes me feel uncomfortable, it helps to ask a question in return, “Why do you ask?” 

One particular ex-wife I contacted, a woman living in Rensselaer, Indiana, was most helpful. She had lost track of her ex a number of years ago, but she had a lot of names and phone numbers of family members who might know the whereabouts of one Jack E. Byrd. She did think he was still alive. I spent many evenings calling these leads and asking each of them for additional leads. Lots of phone calls, but no success. That was okay, though, because I was doing something. I could do, rather than feel. Doing something gave me a measure of control. It quieted the “you never should have been born; it’s not how people are supposed to come into the world” voices. 

One night, while going through my notes from my research in Fort Wayne, I found notes I had scribbled down from the divorce papers of one of Jack Byrd’s sons, Timothy Kevin Byrd. I should mention that in my search, I was always asking for leads to any of Jack Byrd’s children, thinking they would likely know how to reach their father, if in fact, he was still alive. 

An attorney gives me a clue to help discover my past

For some unexplainable reason, when I was at the courthouse, I also wrote down the name of the attorney and law firm that handled the divorce for Timothy Kevin Byrd, which took place in the 1980s. 

The next day, I called the law firm of that attorney and asked to speak to him. Relieved he was still with them, I explained I was doing some family history research and noticed in some court documents he represented Timothy Kevin Byrd’s divorce. 

“He is someone I may be related to and I’d like to talk to him. Do you know how I can reach him?” 

“Well, if I did, I couldn’t tell you—attorney-client privilege and all that. I do remember him, though, and by the way, he goes by Kevin Byrd. I haven’t talked to him in years, but the last I heard, he had moved to Ohio.” 

That explained why I couldn’t locate him through directory assistance in the (219) area code in Indiana. In those days, there was no nationwide directory assistance—you had to make a request for a person in a specific city, or at the very least, in a specific area code. 

“What about his wife, his ex-wife? Do you know how I can reach her?” 

“Hmm. I think she still lives in the Fort Wayne area,” he replied. 

This is sure awkward

I had her name from the divorce records so I called directory assistance in Fort Wayne, got her phone number, and then waited a few days before calling. I sensed this call was going to finally lead to where I wanted to go. It felt like I was closing in on a hunt I did not want to end. It was like coming to the end of a good book you didn’t want to finish because the pleasure of reading it would also come to an end. That’s why I waited before I called. 

More nervous than in any of my previous calls, when Kevin Byrd’s ex-wife answered the phone I said, “Hi, you don’t know me, but my name is John Certalic. I’m doing research into my family history and as part of this, I’m trying to locate a Jack Edward Byrd, someone I think I may be related to. I understand you used to be married to one of his sons, Kevin. Is that correct?” 

Then silence. And more silence. 

Finally, with a nervous, halting voice, she replied, “Yes, that’s correct.” 

“I’m wondering if I can ask you a few questions about Jack Byrd.” 

Silence once again on the other end of the line. After a very long pause, she said, “Can you call me back tomorrow?” 

With her voice cracking, it sounded like she was starting to hyperventilate. “I was married to Kevin for only a year and your call has just opened up a lot of very painful wounds and memories.” 

Opening up painful wounds in another’s past

“Oh, of course I can call back. I am so sorry. It was not my intent to do this to you. I am so sorry.” 

“Call tomorrow. I just need some time to think about this and see if I can talk about it. It was all so terrible.” 

“I understand, and I apologize for the pain I’ve caused you.” 



Yikes! What had I done to the poor woman? Some stranger calls her out of the blue and wants to bring up a very painful part of her past. I felt terrible. So I waited several days before calling back. 

“Hi, this is John Certalic again, I spoke to you a few days ago.” 

“Yes, I remember. I’m sorry I cut you off, but that period in my life was so awful. It was a very abusive marriage. But you asked about Kevin’s father, Jack. He and Kevin were very similar. Angry, abusive men. Jack was very tall. His face was pock-marked, probably from acne as a kid years ago.” 

“Is he still alive?’

“I don’t know. It’s been many years since I last saw him.”

“Do you know where he might be living now?”


“How about your ex-husband, Kevin? Do you know how I can reach him?”

“I don’t have a phone number for him. The last I heard, he was living in Columbus, Ohio.”

“Well, thank you so much. You’ve been very helpful to me. And again, I am sorry for reminding you of a painful part of your past.” 

“That’s okay.” 


Another clue to discovering my past

It was becoming clear to me that perhaps the path to Jack Byrd was through his son Kevin. So I called directory assistance in Columbus, Ohio, and found no listing for him. 

Another roadblock. What do I do next? 

I went back to my notes and after looking through them, decided to re-contact Jack Byrd’s ex-wives to see if they knew how I could reach the son, Kevin Byrd. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. 

One of the ex-wives said, “Oh, Kevin. Yes, he is living in Columbus, Ohio now. I think I do have his phone number. Let me see, now. Where did I put it?” 

Oh, please, dear God. Let her find the number.

“Yes, here it is. His phone number is ….”

Now we were getting somewhere. Another lead, a good lead, to 

follow up. The adrenaline was flowing again. I now knew how to reach the closest relative yet to my birth father. But I was getting more nervous about blowing my cover. What if he was more inquisitive than all the others? What if he wanted to know how I thought I might be related to his father? I needed to be honest, yet I wanted to respect everyone’s privacy. I didn’t want a repeat of what had happened with the call to his ex-wife. 

It was getting a bit tense. A week went by before I summoned the courage to call the son of my biological father. My half-brother, Kevin Byrd. Same father. Different mothers. It occurred to me then that all of my siblings are half-brothers or half-sisters—the four I grew up with, and the many others I had never met. Nothing in me seemed whole. 

Everything was half-this, half-that

Everything was half. I was half-happy. Half-depressed. Nothing was full as it should be. I was not even fully adopted, for I had been raised by half of my birth parents, and adopted by the other half. This sometimes depressed me, 

too. If both my birth parents had abandoned me, maybe I would have had more reason to be depressed all the time as a kid and young adult. 

Nothing was normal. That’s how it felt during my search. 

Not long ago, though, I found some healing from this at a wedding for one of my nieces. I don’t remember how we got on the subject but my brother Joe, who I grew up with, looked at one of my sisters and me, and shaking his head in disbelief, said, “I NEVER considered John my half-brother. He was always just my brother. Never just a half-brother.” What wonderful healing words those were to me. 

The final clue 

The search for my birth father, rather than depressing me, energized me. The next thing to do was to call his son, Kevin Byrd. After staring at the phone one evening, and picking it up and setting it down once or twice, I finally dialed his number. 

“Hello, you don’t know me, but my name is John Certalic. I’m doing some research into my family history and as part of this, I’m trying to locate a Jack Edward Byrd, and I understand you are his son. Am I correct?” 

“Yes, I’m his son.”

“Great. Is he still alive?”

“Yes, he is, last time I checked.”

“Do you know where he is living now and how I can reach him?”

 “Dad is living outside of Mobile, Alabama. He moved down there when he retired. He got tired of winters in the Midwest. I’ve got his phone number right here; I just talked to him a few days ago. Here’s his number… Oh, and when you call, let the phone ring for a long time. He’s hard of hearing now and it will take him a while to get to the phone.” 

“Thanks. I appreciate your help. Goodbye.” 

Now what?

More to come in the next episode

We need to stop here because I know you have other things to do with your day. But we’ll pick up and hopefully finish this story in our next episode, #217 in two weeks. I think you’ll be interested in hearing what happened when I actually called Jack Byrd and what he had to say to me. 

For now, though, I want to remind you of the theme of this little chapter of my past, namely that understanding our past and where we’ve come from helps us understand our present when we see how God began shaping us early on to find joy in being the person he created us to be.  

It’s a theme that can be part of your story as well. For me, I certainly didn’t find any joy at the time in being the person God created me to be. That realization took time. But looking back now, I can see things more clearly. 

The April 4ths connections 

Here’s just one example, the whole April 4th thing that I mentioned earlier. In my search for Jack Byrd, I discovered his birthday is April 4th. That day is also the day I found Jesus in 1968, which is my spiritual birthday. It’s also the same day Martin Luther King was assassinated. He transitioned out of this world into a new life the same day I entered a new life.  

And then the same thing happened to one of the dearest people in my life, My mother-in-law, Elda Millane, when she died at age 96 on April 4th, 2020. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for at least the previous 12 years. It was both a sad and joyous occasion. And it’s the subject of episode 059, “The Last Place You Would Ever Think to Find Joy.”  I’ll have a link to it at the bottom of the show notes.  It’s really one of my favorites. I hope you listen to it someday.

Thinking about all these connections to April 4th just gives me chills and draws me to the love of God.


In closing, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to think about how God has been shaping you, even from an early age, to be the person he’s created to be. And to find a measure of joy in that reality.

Well, that’s it for today. If there’s someone in your life you think might like to hear what you just heard, please forward this episode on to them. Scroll down to the bottom of the show notes and click on one of the options in the yellow “Share This” bar.

And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them.  And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows

021: The Most Important Relationship of All

059: The Last Place You Would Ever Think to Find Joy

029: An Adoption Relationship Story- Part 1

030: An Adoption Relationship Story – Part 2

Most prior recent episode

215: Searching For My Birth Father

All past and future episodes    JohnCertalic.com

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