BOWLING GREEN — The news brought both joy and sadness.
Shenita Burley and her husband, Aaron, of Texas, learned about Shenita's father's family by running a classified ad in the Hannibal Courier-Post. The outcome caused them both happiness and sorrow.
She learned her father, Logan Murphy, died in 1992. However, she also discovered she had local siblings, cousins and other relatives on her father's side. All she had previously known about her father was his name and that he was from Hannibal.
"I was very heartbroken to find out he had died, but it was a mixed blessing," Shenita said. "And it was hurtful to find I had a grandmother until a couple of months ago," she said. This was Margaret Lawson, her father's mother, who died in April at age 95. "That was a huge disappointment. ... Everybody described her as a pillar of strength and a very big part of their life growing up. She was so well-liked in the community," Shenita said.
Despite this disappointment, she said, "all around it has been a very positive experience, and I would do it over in a heartbeat."
The Burleys met many of Shenita's relatives for the first time when they recently attended a family reunion in Bowling Green. "I was ecstatic. I had a wonderful time," Shenita said, as her family (including one daughter, Ariell, and one granddaughter, JiMiya) was driving home to Fairfield, Texas. They had to return to operate their recycling businesses in Fairfield and Dallas.
"I was literally on cloud nine," Shenita said. "There just wasn't enough time. If I had known earlier, I probably would have made time to be there longer.
"My husband took pictures and numbered the pictures so we have names and who their parents were and how we are kin. My sister is into scrapbooking," so she will help put everything together, she said. She will keep in touch with her newfound family and hopes to return to Hannibal before winter. Some of her siblings also plan to visit her in Texas.
Shenita's parents met in Kansas City. Her mother, Dorothy Donald Nicholson, was visiting relatives. She returned to Louisiana before learning she was pregnant. Later she lived in Houston, where Shenita was born. She eventually married Floyd Nicholson, the man Shenita considers her father.
Shenita, 44, has four children, Ariann, Ariell, Arrington and Arillia; and three grandchildren. Many years passed before Shenita and Aaron began searching for Murphy. She learned Ariann, a computer engineering major, had secretly been trying to find him for years. And Aaron also wanted to find him for his wife.
After failing to find Shenita's father through Internet searches, they decided to try an ad in Courier-Post, which brought immediate results. Their ad was published July 1 and 2, and on the first morning it ran, Shenita began hearing from local relatives. "That morning the sun wasn't even up, and the phone started ringing," she said. "It didn't stop for two weeks."
The first to call was Marsha Mayfield of Hannibal, Shenita's cousin. Marsha said when she learned about the ad, "I was kinda blind-sided," but "out of curiosity I called the number, and we went from there."
She had the sad task of informing Shenita that her father and their grandmother had died. Marsha also gave Shenita details about other family members, including several siblings and cousins.
Learning her father and grandmother were dead was sad, Shenita said, but "I had my time of grief, but I bounced back when the phone started ringing. I talked to cousins and friends of the family." This began two months of correspondence by phone and Internet, resulting in Shenita attending the reunion. Marsha explained it was in Bowling Green because it was a combined family reunion of the Murphys and Clarks, and the Clarks are from Bowling Green.
After the reunion Marsha went to the hotel where the Burleys were staying and continued their visit. "It looked like she was trying to consume 44 years of catching up in one day," she said.
Marsha's first impression of her cousin was that "she is very personable and easy to embrace. Her countenance is kinda like what I thought. She wasn't any different in person than she is on the phone. Her entire family was very easy to embrace."
Shenita's sister, Teresa Crow Borndes, who now lives in Columbia, said she is happy Shenita had found her family. "I'm glad she found us, but I feel bad because she missed out on a lot of stuff." When she first saw Shenita, Teresa said, "you look just like me. I finally got a sister who looks like me. Angie (their sister, Angela Burrage of Peoria, Ill.) looks more like Daddy. ... We clicked, and I had so much fun with her. I plan to see her and wouldn't mind going to Texas and visiting with her."
Shenita's siblings, whom she has yet to meet, include Lorenzo of Davenport, Iowa, Camie of Monroe City and Sonya and Dawn, both of New London. Teresa offered to take Shenita to Iowa sometime to meet.
Shenita met her sisters Teresa and Angela the night before the reunion, explaining, "they had already come by the hotel, and we cried there."
Relatives she met for the first time at the reunion included her brother, Casey Minter of Monroe City, and cousins Pam Letcher of Hannibal and Marjorie Howard of Quincy, Ill. Later the Burleys went to New London and met her Uncle Vernon and Aunt Julia.
One thing that surprised Shenita was how much her son, Arrington, resembles her late father. "My dad's teen-aged picture looks like my son," she said. And her daughter, Arillia, looks like her sister, Angela.
She learned that her father was a Vietnam veteran and said, "If I had that information, I would have been able to find him with one phone call." Also, she was told, "he was an outdoors type, liked motorcycles, fast cars and was really crazy about his children. I found out he had looked for me. ... One thing all the family members have in common is they are really family-oriented. ... It was actually hard to leave."
Did she resemble her relatives? "I think so," she said, "but more like our attitudes and personalities were very similar, our likes and dislikes. One sister — everything she had on, I own."
Another likeness is professional. Shenita has started nursing school and will be returning. She learned Casey is in nursing school, and Angela is a nurse. Hair care is another similarity, she said. "Marsha does hair, and my girls and I do hair. My daughter is a licensed cosmetologist, as is Marsha."
Shenita's mother and step-father did not attend the reunion in Bowling Green because they had a family reunion the same weekend. Shenita said, "they are staying over, so I can tell them about the trip."