We love it when our members share stories of how Find a Grave® has helped connect them to their ancestors. We recently heard a touching story about how Find a Grave helped one man to connect with more than 50 living family members – and it was all thanks to a simple photograph.
In 1944, Wanda McKnight gave birth to a son named Jimmie Don McKnight. Jimmie Don grew up and at age 18, moved away. He fell in love and married a young woman named Sharron. They lived in Illinois and had a baby boy named Ronnie Lee. Wanda was anxious to meet her new daughter-in-law and grandson, but before she had the chance, Jimmie Don died tragically at age 19. In one life-changing moment, Wanda lost her son, Sharron lost her husband, and seven-month-old Ronnie lost his father. Sadly, the two families lost track of each other.
Over the years, Wanda tried desperately to find her daughter-in-law and grandson. In 1981, Wanda died, never having met either of them. After Wanda’s death, her siblings continued the search. For more than 50 years, they looked – refusing to give up.
About ten years ago, Find a Grave member, Randy Hooker (a cousin to Jimmie), began searching for Sharron and Ronnie. One day while working on his Ancestry® family tree, Randy received a “hint” indicating that Jimmie Don’s headstone photo was on Find a Grave. He was curious, having looked at the memorial before and noting that there was no headstone (after Jimmie Don’s death, Wanda couldn’t afford to purchase the stone, so the grave remained unmarked for years).
Randy clicked on the hint, and to his surprise, there was an actual headstone. Randy recalled, “Upon reviewing the memorial for Jimmie, there was the photographed headstone. Who purchased the grave marker? It most certainly must have been purchased by someone who knew Jimmie. I noticed the name of the person who had taken a picture of the grave marker was “Tammy McKnight.” She had joined Find a Grave just 3 months prior. Having spent nearly ten years myself trying to find Jimmie Don’s wife and son, I couldn’t let that one slip by. I knew it was a long shot. What are the chances of her being able to help, maybe 10 or 20 percent at best?”
Randy sent a message to Tammy through Find a Grave. He asked if she knew anything about the family of Jimmie Don McKnight or his father Trellis Lee McKnight, also listed on Find a Grave. Her reply was the biggest surprise this family had experienced in a long time. Not only did she know the McKnight family, but she was married to Ronnie Lee McKnight, son of Jimmie Don and Sharron. “Call it lucky. Call it what you want,” said Randy. “It was a miracle. For those who don’t believe in miracles, this is proof they still exist.”
They exchanged phone numbers, and Ronnie was able to connect with family members for the first time. His aunt told him stories about growing up with his father and stories about his grandfather, Trellis. He learned that Trellis served in WWII at was wounded at Iwo Jima. The family kept a framed picture of Trellis in his uniform, his purple heart medal, and also a photo of Jimmie Don at age 19. Randy recalled, “It was one of the happiest days in my life to ship the picture of Trellis to Ronnie, his grandson. For Ronnie, “that picture and pictures of my father, were the first time I had seen their faces.” Imagine searching for one side of your family for 50 years – knowing they were out there somewhere, and then learning they had been searching for you as well!
Randy described his first phone call with Ronnie: “Even though we had never met, it was like talking to someone you had known your whole life. Missing was the expected hesitation of talking to a stranger. The first question I had to ask was if he could play the guitar? It may seem a silly question, but our family has for generations played guitar, including his mother Wanda, and his grandfather, John Austin. It was considered a gift, and a slowly fading heritage to our family since not many inherited those talents. Only a handful of us inherited this gift, including myself, having taught myself to play guitar. I have played for some 50 years now. It is truly the greatest gift I have ever received. Try to imagine how I felt when Ronnie answered my question and replied, “Yes I play guitar and taught myself.” We had found our Ronnie. Ronnie had finally come home… finally.”
Ronnie had been searching for information about his father’s family for much of his adult life and had come up empty-handed. But now this! The entire chain of events that brought these two families together began when Sharron and Ronnie purchased a grave marker for Jimmie Don. Their efforts, combined with Tammy’s effort to upload a photograph of the headstone to Find a Grave, have allowed Ronnie to connect with his father’s family. Some call it coincidence, but the McKnight family calls it a miracle.
“You have the heartfelt appreciation of our entire family for being true “Miracle Makers.” Locating our lost relatives was truly a miracle I never thought I would live to see. Our family is forever grateful to Ancestry and Find a Grave for giving the gift of “FAMILY.” It is truly the one gift that keeps on giving.” -Randy Hooker
Thanks, Randy, and thanks to all of our members who contribute to Find a Grave. It is because of your efforts that families like the McKnight’s experience miracles.