Without the DNA test, it is unlikely that Ray would ever have unraveled the mystery of his father’s ancestry or what became of him. Ray’s DNA had two close matches, 1st cousins, whose names were not the same of any known relatives on his mother’s side. After contacting both cousins and using family tree information, it soon became apparent that Dave “Red” Saunders was actually born William R Smith. Let’s just call him “Red” to save confusion. Red’s mother died soon after giving birth to him in 1917. His father, Albert, felt unable to care for the three children, Red, an older sister and an older brother. They were sent to live with their maternal grandparents J G and Maggie Manning. The grandparents had two of their own daughter’s living at home at the time. The grandchildren of these daughter’s also show up as matches in Ray’s DNA profile. After a few days of fact checking, Ray’s first cousin contacted me again and then she and Ray spoke so we were able to gather some more hints. The grandparents died within a year of each other just as Red was reaching adolescence. It appears that Red felt that he could make it on his own and ran away around the age of 13 or 14. It was decades before anyone in his family saw him again. He did show up at a family reunion shortly before his father Albert’s death and was able to reconcile with his father. Using family tree data, census data and other records available through Ancestry, I was able to locate what I believe were to be the names and dates of Ray’s biological grandparents several generations back, AND many family members have posted pictures so he is able to get a glimpse of what that side of the family looks like. As an added note, one of the new-found first cousins has auburn hair just like Ray’s father. Ray really wants to visit his father’s grave and there is some indication that his father married several other times and has other children, so we are not through unraveling the mystery, but at least now we have some real clues to help us get there. Link to Red’s info on Ancestry. (I have attached a lot of documents that may or may not be related to Red, but seem to be strong clues).
What about the last name Saunders? Before Ray ever did a DNA test, I had unearthed a Seaman’s Protection Certificate signed in Mobile with the name Samuel B Saunders and a photograph of a young man that looked very much like the one photo we have of Red. Now that we know that Ray is not biologically a Saunders, I am more convinced than I was at the time of that discovery that this is actually the same person that was calling himself Dave Saunders when he married Marguerite. If this is true, the young man would have been about 14 or 15 at the time he signed on, not 19 as his “birth certificate” indicated. I believe he borrowed someone’s certificate to get a job, but couldn’t use the same first name in life onshore because it would have caused problems for the real Samuel Saunders who probably didn’t work at sea. I located Samuel B Saunders on many other ship’s crew lists along the coast between Texas and Florida, so it appears he continued working under that name for decades. I know at least one other has to be the same person because although there are no other photos, the same distinguishing mark, a mole on his leg, is mentioned in the ship’s crew list. The connection to this Samuel B Saunders is just conjecture on my part, but at least it is another clue.
And for the record, there are no Clemens in Ray’s side of this family tree.
Ray has made contact with his father’s widow. She is slightly younger than Ray and she was married to “Red” for 45 years. They have several children together. She said that Red also has at least 2 other children, so it appears that Ray has 6 half-siblings. Ray did ask her if Red had a birthmark on his right leg and she said that he did not, although he did have a bad scar on his foot from a bullet wound for which the bullet was never removed. He told her that he had been in the Navy during the war before it was discovered that he was under aged.