GI Baby: finding my dad after 43 years

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07 May 2020
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Pauline as a baby and her mother
Pauline Natividad’s life – as a GI baby - began in the last few months of the Second World War. Born to a serviceman in the American army and her mother, living in England, Pauline’s remarkable beginnings were just the start. Helen Tovey spoke to Pauline over the phone recently, about her quest to trace her father.
GI Baby: finding my dad after 43 years Images

 

Press play, to listen to Pauline re-tell her tale. Unfortunately the phone line wasn’t very clear, so we’ve included a transcript of Pauline’s words (below), for you to read as you listen to her recounting the story of her search…

Pauline:

My beginnings

I was born here in Southampton, the daughter of Dorothy Allison and my father, I was told, was Paul Natividad. Also my mum had a nickname - Pat. She was in the Women’s Land Army. My father – he was based in Winchester at the time. He was a US Army medic. They met at a dance at Eastleigh, like a lot of the girls and GIs did at that time, and I was born in January 1945.

My Dad & D-Day

Through 1944, approaching D-Day, when my mum was pregnant with me, and my dad knew that she was expecting me, but he had to go over for the D-Day landings. They were last in touch here, just before D-Day. He left from Gosport and went across to Omaha and advanced, eventually, on down through France. During the time my dad was away my parents had kept in touch. He was then injured in France and was brought back here late ’44, hospitalised, and actually saw me, early January ’45, when I was a baby. But as soon as he had completely recovered he was sent back to France, and subsequently back to the USA, because the war in Europe had ended by then.

My mum

In the meantime, my mother had me as a single mum. We lived with my grandparents until I was 3 and a half, and she went on to eventually marry a Southampton man, and I had two sisters – two daughters were born. But sadly my mum died, when she was just 28, of a sudden awful illness, and I was brought up with my grandparents. I went back home to my grandparents.

My unusual surname

Right from a child, I always had the last name, Natividad. I remember, very young, going to the cemetery with my granny, with flowers for my mum, and I found a war memorial, with names on. I had been told my father was injured in the American Army, and I didn’t know much else – and I didn’t know if he was dead or alive. But at this time I remember looking on a war memorial – that maybe his name would be here in Southampton… but of course it wouldn’t be. The other side of the coin, thinking to myself, maybe, he was alive somewhere.

Seeking clues as a child...

I remember going around to the local telephone box. Pulling open the door and getting the book down. I looked in the Southampton book to see if he might be in there – because I thought the whole world was in there. So it was those early years that I just wondered all the time.

When I was around 13 my granny gave me a jewel box that had been my mum’s, with some mementoes in, including two letters and some beautiful greetings cards - one particularly said “Kisses for Pauline from her Daddy”.

I got on with life. I got on and left school and eventually got married and was married for quite a long time, then sadly that broke up, and I ended up on my own – not saying that I was sorry for myself – but I started to reflect back on my life, and who I was.

With the help of my friends...

I had the great support of two friends in my office at the time, who said let’s see what we can do.

I know the first thing I did was write to the American embassy in London, but that was pretty negative at the time, because the slim information, or lack of information, I had of my father. I didn’t know his date of birth and I didn’t know where he was from in the USA. One aunt did tell me one time that maybe he was from South America, and that didn’t really ring true, but eventually I found he was from Texas.

But we went on and eventually found an address in the USA for the military personnel records office in St Louis, and I thought I was on a bit of a lead there, but it came back they had no such person on their records. But they also referred to the massive fire in the ‘70s where millions of records were destroyed of service people, and my father’s would have been in the listings that they’d lost.

We used to use the little local library a lot, the reference library. We’d go over there and look for anything about America, and try and find things about GIs, wrote to a lot of veterans’ organisations in the States, but usually no response … a whole bunch of different ideas I had.

Help at hand...

One day, one of my friends at the office, Linda (she was very supportive through it), she’d seen reference in a ladies’ magazine about the Mormon church and their family history searches. There was a Mormon church in Southampton here, with a family history centre. We went along, just for advice from them, and they gave me more insight into my last name. There were quite a few in the lower states, the southern states, in America – Natividads – up to California, and many in Mexico. I didn’t feel that my father would have actually been from Mexico, as he was in the US Army, as a young man.

Eventually, missing out a lot of things we did along the line, I started using the reference library in Southampton where they had phone records I discovered, and I concentrated my search on those southern states of America, like along California and Texas.

I reduced down to about three [Natividads] that I had a hunch about. I remember one in Maryland, and I think at that point I had phoned that number (I had barely ever phoned America in my life then) – and they had never heard of my dad. The second one was no use. And I ended up just working back on other stuff – I had paperwork all over the place, on different ideas.

Getting warmer...

Then on the 22nd November 1988, Linda came in, and she’d written a letter for me, to yet another military government address, and she said, “Your father’s not Paul, he’s Pilar”. And I said, “No, he’s Paul on the letters and the cards to my mum and that’s why…”. And she said, “Listen. Look…”

By then we had an Army serial number. We had acquired an Army serial number. It took several years to pick that up. And to cross match it … and they said they had no trace of a Paul Natividad, and they were saying that the name was Pilar, that matched that number. So, at last I knew his true first name and that’s what I was looking for.

I had a Victor Natividad in El Paso, Texas on my list. My dad’s middle initial was ‘V’, on a signature he’d made on one of the documents – Pilar V Natividad – so I felt that maybe he was related, to family. And on the particular day – 24th November 1988 – a friend came by, and said, “Goodness, you’re still doing all this stuff”. And I said, “Well, I feel I want to call this Victor. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to say”. We talked about this a while and he said “Well, maybe I can”.

Making the phone call...

We were very fortunate. We phone around 8pm I think it was, in the evening our time. And we called El Paso, without knowing the time differences, and a Victor Natividad answered immediately. It was explained to him that I’d been searching for a serviceman, Pilar Natividad, that was known to my family here during World War 2. “Oh yes, my dad was over there”, Victor was saying. And we sort of closed in the conversation, of the little snippets we did know. And then introduced the fact that it was my father I was looking for. And Victor said that it sounded like I was his half-sister.

He was rather happy to hear this. And he suddenly told us that it was Thanksgiving Day in America. It was actually on Thanksgiving Day I called. And my dad was over in California visiting family. [Victor] said would I call back, having spoken to Dad, and he was just going to tell his wife and the kids what was going on, and our sister, a sister in El Paso as well.

So the next call was to California, and one of the little kids in the family answered, and said “Oh no, Grandpa’s gone to Arizona”. And we were given yet another number, which was some of my dad’s step family.

I was trembling inside. I was feeling shivery. And I was feeling “No, no. He’s not going to want to know me”. And also Helen, within those first few seconds, it was hearing that he was alive. When actually all the time I was thinking he was probably killed in the war, most likely, you know. Really I suppose, a rejection… that maybe he’d died and that was it. It was all seconds of all these thoughts.

Speaking to my dad...for the first time

When we got as far as Arizona, they said just call my dad, he was right there. And I was feeling – no I can’t talk to him, I can’t. And… a similar conversation. He was told that we had just called his son Victor in El Paso, and subsequently got through to Arizona, and confirmed that he was based in Winchester as a US Army medic – yes he was. And he knew the Allison family in Swaythling, Southampton? Yes. And he had a girlfriend, Pat Allison? Yes. And a daughter Pauline? Yes he did.

Well Pauline’s here. And she’s been looking for you for a long, long time, and would it be okay to talk to her. And he said, “Yes. Put her on”…

We had a lovely long conversation. It was so natural – amazingly natural. Bittersweet, because I introduced the fact that my mum had died when I was small, and I had grown up with my grandparents which he always just felt so bad about. But it’s how it was. He always used to say, in the latter years, that he pictured me growing up with my family – the family that he’d met – my aunts and uncles and everyone, and my grandparents.

But we went on to exchange photographs and write letters, because this was a whole new introduction, and I hoped to go out the following year to visit.

I was just totally elated, and the evening was getting on, and I called the girls from the office and immediately, one came over and was here almost all night. We were jumping about and having a drink. The other friend wasn’t able to.

My fabulous colleagues...

But by the morning, I was living alone, and I just didn’t want to be home any longer. I wanted to get on into work with my friends – this was the next morning. I worked for a local bus company in Southampton and for many years I was in the office. I sort stumbled into the canteen, and told the first people I saw. And they wrote up on the blackboard, “Pauline in the cash office has found her dad after 43 years”. 43 years it was… “her American GI dad”. And then through the morning, it was all just so exciting – an amazing, amazing thing to be sharing. By midday the secretary called me to her office and said, “Come in, and sit down”.

I was always a conscientious worker and I said, “Oh, I’ll make it up. I can’t concentrate, I’m just so excited”.

She said, “Pauline. Sit down and listen. While you’ve been floating around on your cloud all morning, we’ve been having a collection for you, and we already have almost £500 in the pot… It turned out that they were just so absolutely wonderful. They wanted me to go for Christmas…

Meeting my dad...

I flew out there on my own. Three planes. To El Paso, Texas. On 20th December that year… A whole load of mixed feelings again – quite similar to that first time of talking to my dad. I was excited, scared, apprehensive – but mostly just so excited. Then eventually, when I arrived in El Paso, a stewardess came along to me and said, “Oh, we just want to hold you back for a moment”. People were getting off (it was a small plane by then), and I thought, “Oh – just let me go…”

It turned out that the local media had already come, with the paper, here. It was the various press that pick up the story, and it had gone out on Associated Press before I went. It turned out that a little group of my family were waiting for me, but also a local TV company. All I could see was a group of people holding a banner, saying “Welcome Pauline. We love you”. There were various ages, little children up to adults, and I scanned the group and I could see a tall white-haired man, to the back of it, and I thought I am sure that is my father…

Tracing a GI dad

We're really grateful to Pauline for sharing her story with us. Pauline was really fortunate that she was able to trace her father, but she encourages other people in her position, that the answer might be out there. Useful leads to try, in order to search for a GI father are:

GI Trace, the organisation established to help people trace their GI fathers. You can also find Pauline's account of her remarkable story here

Pauline advises that many people are finding DNA tests are invaluable to help them trace their GI dads. DNA can be so useful, especially if you don't have a name to search on. DNA will also allow you to find connections with other relations, should your father have passed away.

For more useful beginner information to help you with your DNA journey, click here.