Monday, March 10, 2014

DNA and Researching Children of War

Jewish Museum, Berlin
Unknown Father - WWI to Vietnam
Perhaps your ancestor was a “war child”; a descendant of a WWI or WWII soldier. Or maybe you are the war-child of a Korean War of Vietnam War soldier who disappeared once the war ended.  many are dedicating their family search on US military men who fathered children overseas.  Some are seeking living relatives; others would like to know a bit more about their American family having no interest in meeting them. 

The opportunity for a serviceman to become involved with a local woman was great. Sure, some married, but many more left behind their DNA either not knowingly or not acknowledging. It was war after-all. The local women were left in men-less towns. Take Germany for example, most of the men were at war. The American soldier, likewise, was without wife or girlfriend in a war tense foreign country.  

In  recent a3Genealogy cases a WWII paramour still living, recounted the story of her West Samoan lover. This led  to locating the Ohio veteran’s family. In another tear jerker, a French war child found out her birth father died less than 6 months of commissioning a researcher. But she did connect with her new family. (Enough romanticizing for now).

Looking for Your War-Child Father
Locating the father of a war-child may be difficult but not impossible. Two parallel researches must be completed. Family folklore may provide a soldier’s name, a military base, maybe even a job position that will lead the researcher to a regiment/company. But the unsuspecting family will need a lot more proof. Expect, at minimum, a DNA test. Matter fact, we usually have DNA test results in hand, as it is often the key tool to locating family. Coupled with proper genealogical research, a DNA test may help uncover siblings, cousins, and extended family.

Research the Child. Begin with the birth and place of the child. Are there any salvaged photos of the mother and soldier? This is a case where a picture speaks louder than words. A photo will bring a relationship to life.  Know that matching photos on both sides of the water help.

Were any gifts or mementos left behind? What happened to the mother after the father left? Was the father of the child given to any authority? This occurred often in Germany providing further proof closer to the event. Can others vouch for the family story? In one case a younger cousin was able to identify the WWII soldier in the photo since she too often went to the military base and knew him.

Research the Veteran. Define the veteran’s military timeline. Through these details, you may also ascertain the probability of him fathering a child. Was he in the right place at the right time? It may be important to follow his company movement. Through analysis of this detailed timeline it may be possible to determine if the father even had knowledge of the child. When did the father leave the post?

Cultural Ramifications
The exact number of war children left behind is unknown. It is important to understand that there was enough shame to pass around. The women often were tormented, disowned by family, and even officially stripped of their country’s citizenship when a relationship was known. To avoid such ridicule, the father of the child was kept a secret. Visit The Human Problem: The High Cost of War Paid by Women for more information.

Maria Hohn tells us in GIs and Fräuleins, that 66,000 German children were born to soldiers of Allied forces in the period 1945–55.  Over half, 36,334, had American fathers. The number of war children continued to rise 10 years after the war.

Asian war children born of American soldiers garnered a new word of classification. Amerasian are persons born in Asia, to a U.S. military father. Several Asian countries - Japan, Thailand and So Korea, as well as islands in the Pacific Ocean - have significant populations of Amerasians.

Of course Western Samoa and the Philippines have notable populations of Amerasians.  In the Philippines the Pearl S. Buck International foundation estimates 52,000 Amerasians.  In the small region of Upolu , Western Samoa, it is suggested that over 1200 children were fathered by American soldiers (Stanner 1953, pg. 327).

Kathleen Brandt
Genealogist and Licensed Private Investigator

(Revsed/Updated: first published 30 April 2012)

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