How It Feels to Track Down a Loved One

A PBS series reunites people whose lives crossed at "pivotal moments"

Tracking down a person from your past — a loved one or a stranger whose life intersected with your own — is an emotionally wrenching and potentially life-changing proposition.

We’ll Meet Again, a PBS documentary series debuting Tuesday, Jan. 23, featuring former TODAY host Ann Curry, relies on that drama. Curry will host the show and interact with participants featured in dramatic reunions with people whose lives crossed theirs at pivotal moments.

Many of stories featured in the show’s trailer also feature a historical bent. After all, it was far easier to lose track of people in the past — before the Internet, social media, genealogy websites — and during times of turmoil, like wartime or the Depression. The series features events of Vietnam, World War II, the Civil Rights movement and the attacks of 9/11.

My Family’s Reunification Story

My own family’s story about reunification is a good one. My late grandfather was adopted as a toddler from an Iowa orphanage and knew nothing about his birth mother or family history, but his adoptive brother remembered picking him up from the orphanage. Years later, they returned to sneak in and steal his file — a jaw-dropping pursuit by law-abiding, churchgoing people — and were successful. They tracked my grandpa’s birth mother, who wanted nothing to do with him. However, her extended family learned about the encounter and reached out to my grandfather.

When I went to Colorado and Wyoming on a family trip as a 7-year-old, little did I know we were there to visit this “new” family, who were welcoming and kind and continue to be known as our cousins today. Although I’m sure the reaction of his birth mother hurt my grandfather at that time, gaining an entirely new extended family had to make up for it in so many ways.

Stories like these abound and touch on a human experience that is surprisingly common.

A Touching Vietnam Story

In looking at the Minnesota Remembers Vietnam Story Wall, produced earlier this year at Twin Cities PBS (where Next Avenue is based), many stories submitted by readers touched on the themes of reunification. One, from Linda McBrayer from St. Paul, was especially compelling.

Her father died in Vietnam when she was an infant, and 38 years later, she received a phone call out of the blue from her dad’s commanding officer. It triggered McBrayer to do some research online, and in a quick Google search, she discovered an extended family that she didn’t know existed.

“It should be noted that my story is not unique — children are left without fathers in every war. But it is my story, so it is unique to me,” she wrote. “And perhaps it is important to tell my story so that these boys are not forgotten, so that families understand that fighting over where someone is buried, which may seem monumental and overwhelming at the time, can rob a small child of a grandmother, a grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, an identity, and perhaps, more importantly, a sense of who she is and where she came from.”

Preview of ‘We’ll Meet Again’

The same issues and themes will be explored in We’ll Meet Again, and a preview is available here:

By Shayla Thiel Stern
Shayla is the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS.@shayla_stern

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