Gardner resident Louis Morrow, 83 (on left), met his brother Bob Haggerty, 74, for the first time ever on May 5. Recent DNA tests connected the two, who previously never knew they even had a brother. Submitted photo
Special to The Gardner News
In August 2016, while watching a TV ad for ancestry DNA testing, Karin Livella, Gardner, made an offhand remark to her husband that she might like to do that test.
Not long afterwards, her husband purchased the kit for her.
Livella followed the directions to collect her DNA by mouth swab and submitted it for analysis.
Late in October, the analysis of her DNA was completed, and the results were put into a database, where others can access and compare.
“I didn’t think anything would ever come of it, none of us did,” Livella said.
Then one day in late January 2017, she got an intriguing email from Robert Haggerty, an attorney living in Washington D.C.
“He said we shared enough (DNA) to suggest that he could be my uncle,” she recalls.
Haggerty asked if she was open to pursuing it further. Livella immediately said yes. The next day they spoke on the phone for the first time.
“In the first couple of minutes of talking he told me, ‘you are the closest biologically related person I’ve ever found in my life, you’re the closest relative I’ve ever come across.’”
As they talked more, they began to try and figure out if the biological connection was on her mother or father’s side.
Livella’s father, Louis Morrow, is 83 years old and never had any reason to think he had a brother.
He has known since childhood that he was adopted as a baby but never knew anything about his biological parents.
“My mother put me in her lap one day and told me I was adopted, but I didn’t know what that meant,” said Morrow.
In the 1990’s, Livella and her mother had tried to find information about her father’s biological ancestry.
The organizations they inquired with at that time would not release much information. The one thing they did discover, was his mother’s height – and that she had been a schoolteacher in Missouri.
As Livella and Haggerty continued their initial phone conversation, Haggerty mentioned that his genealogy research had revealed his mother had been a schoolteacher in Missouri.
Livella said she immediately felt that they were talking about the same schoolteacher.
She said to Haggerty, “I think you’re my Dad’s brother.”
Haggerty had been searching for years for biological connections. Some years ago he’d found some cousins. It appeared that might be as far as it would go.
Now, it was a bit overwhelming to suddenly process the idea that he has a brother he’s never met, and that brother was alive and well in Gardner, Kansas.
“He didn’t believe me at first,” Livella said, adding that he got real emotional and choked up a few times.
Haggerty also knew something the Morrow’s did not – his mother’s name.
After sharing that, more pieces of the puzzle would start coming together.
Following that first contact, Livella said she called all her siblings first. After hearing the information, they all were astonished, but agreed it sounded likely that an uncle had indeed been found.
She then went and told her Dad the story. She said at first, he was in shock. He had never once in his 83 years had any reason to think he had a brother.
Livella says her dad and mother sat silently and listened attentively, carefully considering the unexpected information.
This revelation prompted the Morrows to hire an attorney to go to Jackson County court and petition for the release of his original birth certificate and records.
They got the birth certificate, which identifies the biological parents. For the Morrows, that was sufficient proof that Bob Haggerty and Louis Morrow are brothers.
Since then, more DNA testing has also confirmed the relationship, and through the release of records, and Bob’s previous genealogy research, much more has been learned.
Rather suddenly, the family now has a more complete picture of Louis and Bob’s biological roots.
They know both of their biological parents’ names and now have seen a portrait photo of their mother, Katherine.
They know she was a young school teacher in 1933 when she became pregnant with Louis.
The father, a local farm boy (named Louis) turned away from involvement.
In those days, unwed mothers often were encouraged to give up their babies for adoption.
From birth, Louis was at St. Anthony’s Home for Infants in Kansas City, Mo.
Among the recently obtained records are letters from Katherine to St. Anthony’s.
Her decorous handwriting and proper grammar reflect the school teacher in her – but the carefully chosen words belie a confused young mother with a broken heart.
In one of the letters, she tells the administrators how she is trying to make more money. She includes a payment of six dollars to be applied to her bill. She writes that she is thinking of moving closer to the institution so she can see her baby.
“Is my baby still there?” she asks.
Katherine never got the baby back. Louis was soon adopted. She resumed teaching.
Nine years later, Katherine again found herself an unwed mother.
She took a year off from teaching and went to California to stay with her sister, who was a nun. There, Robert (Bob Haggerty) was born and given up for adoption.
Afterwards, Katherine returned to school teaching in Missouri. Her family there never knew she had been pregnant.
Bob Haggerty has been in contact with cousins – children of Katherine’s sisters, some who knew Katherine – and they were stunned to find out she had ever had children.
It was a secret for over 80 years.
In May of 2017, Bob Haggerty traveled to Gardner to meet his older brother, Louis Morrow, in person for the first time. Bob is 74 and Louis is 83.
Livella says the two brothers, and their families, clicked right off the bat. It was an emotional and happy beginning to a new relationship.
Or is it an old relationship?
The Morrow family also is now aware of a line of cousins they never knew of before.
“We’re going to a reunion at the end of September and meet all these people,” Livella said.
Louis Morrow has lived in the Kansas City region all his life. He and his wife Patricia have been married for 56 years and settled in Gardner in 2001. They have four adult children, who have given them grandchildren, and the whole family calls Gardner home.