Search for roots proves fruitful
He wrote wanting to know if we had information about his great-great-grandfather.
Had he written requesting information about any other early Tonganoxie resident, it's unlikely I could have helped, other than by directing him to local historians.
But Steve Argilla, who lives in Hayward, Calif., wrote asking about George R. Broadbere, a former British sailor who in 1882 founded The Mirror newspaper.
Argilla, who is 52, had never seen a picture of Broadbere, except for a faded unmarked photo of a child, who was said to be Broadbere.
In contacting The Mirror, Argilla hit pay dirt.
It just so happened that he asked about a man whose picture was given to me three years ago by John Neibarger, a picture I framed and have kept in my desk. The picture, taken in the late 1800s, shows Broadbere and his one-armed printer standing in front of The Mirror office.
At that time, said Neibarger, a former owner of The Mirror, whose father, Walt Neibarger, was also a former owner, The Mirror office was near where the Mom and Pop Ice Cream Shop is today.
In the photograph, Broadbere looks stern in his long sleeve white shirt, bow tie and hat. He stands on what appears to be a wooden sidewalk in front of the business.
I scanned in the photo and e-mailed it to Argilla.
Within an hour, he sent this reply: "It is quite astonishing to be able to actually see an ancestor from so long ago. Indeed, it is a humbling and emotional experience. I sit here now with tears in my eyes that I have been given the opportunity to gaze upon the man who is my grandmother's grandfather! Amazing!"
Through our communication, Argilla has also learned that the Tonganoxie Library has microfilmed archives of The Mirror dating back to 1882. These are newspapers in which a thorough search would certainly reveal much about the publisher and his family.
Argilla's motivation for wanting to learn more about his family makes his search seem all the more profound.
When he was a teen-ager, his mother told him she had given up a son for adoption, a half-brother who would have been two years older than Argilla.
She spoke with great pain and sorrow about having given up a baby, Argilla said. The child had been born at a home for unwed mothers. As the years passed, she longed more and more to meet her first-born son.
"But she didn't know where he lived, or who took him," Argilla said.
Before she died in August 2000 from complications of cancer, she asked Argilla, and his two younger brothers, to search for their older half-brother.
But it was the half-brother who found them.
Wanting to know more about his biological family, "Rob," who lives in Chicago, contacted the agency that had handled his adoption. Through social security records he found the name of his mother. And in December, he mailed a letter, which ended up being delivered to one of Steve Argilla's younger brothers.
Because Steve is the oldest, the younger brother asked him to contact Rob. Joyous phone calls and e-mails followed. Now, the families plan to meet March 29 when Rob, his wife, and three of their six children, fly to California.
For Argilla, the experience is unparalleled.
"It's really marvelous," Argilla said. "I feel more of a sense of family I think than ever before."
And the realization that he can pinpoint his ancestors who helped settle Kansas brings home his citizenship.
"It's more a sense of my American-ness," Argilla said. "When I think about it, that those times were what most Americans would associate with the wild west, that is kind of an extraordinary thing to think about."
Argilla, who plans to visit Tonganoxie eventually, wants to help his brother catch up on his biological ancestors -- in part by researching the family's genealogy, which Argilla will post on a Web site, and by finding out more about the until-this-week-unseen frontier publisher.
"I think ultimately my immediate goal is to give my new brother a sense of his own family," Argilla said. "He wanted so much to be able to find out about our mother. He never got that chance. But he does have a chance to find out about the rest of his family."
And to think it all started with a letter.
The rest is history.