Stories of relatives who went missing

This morning, I was listening to the Bob & Tom Show on the radio. One of the hosts, Bob Kevoian, related the story of his grandmother who left the family in the early 50s and hasn’t been heard of since. Kevoian even still has a picture of himself as a toddler sitting on this grandmother’s lap. This picture was allegedly taken the weekend before this grandmother left.

The other host, Tom Griswold, said that he has two first cousins who he is unable to locate.

This is somewhat remarkable. Both men don’t seem to come from what you would call broken families. And while this is still a small sample size, how common or uncommon is it to have close family members who simply went missing and are not accounted for?

I have relatives who I haven’t talked to in ages because the relationship is strained, but at least I know where they live (through other relatives).

I have had a couple of cousins who cut all contacts with the family if that qualifies. My elder brother ran into one of them at a convention in Las Vegas after about a 30 year absence. They were very close as kids, he said he was polite but cold and kept the meeting extremely brief.

I was visiting relatives a few years ago and we went to the cemetery where my grandparents and some other relatives are buried. There was a stone with a name I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was my grandfather’s brother. In the late 40s he boarded a train to New Orleans and was never heard from again (New Orleans can do that to a person).

Theory is he hoarded a lot of silver, and came across someone who wanted it.

My mother came from a family of 13 siblings, many of whom went on to have large families. There were four siblings in my family. That’s a lot of Aunties and Cousins. They were spread all over, from the Yukon to Miami, literally.

I never really even knew all their names. So I suppose there are a tons of lost relatives in my family!

My great grandfather did a disappearing act. I’m hazy on details as my grandfather wouldn’t have his name mentioned in his presence, but this would’ve been around 1910ish when my grandad was a small boy.

GGF was a merchant seaman, captain of a boat hauling goods between Ipswich (SE England) and Holland. He would take on a cargo here on behalf of the vendor, take it to Holland, sell the goods, pick up another load destined for England, come home, give the money to the vendor, step and repeat.

Well, one day he picked up his usual haul of goods (which didn’t belong to him), sailed away… and was never seen again. Leaving a young wife and several small kids. No reports of any shipwrecks in the narrow English Channel at the time.

Fast forward 50 odd years, and my grandfather is on a business trip to a coastal town about 50 miles from home. Our family name is English but very unusual - there’s only a handful of us in the whole country, plus my grandad shared his first name with his missing father. When he checked into a hotel, the clerk said ‘how strange, an old guy with the exact same name stayed here last night’.

We will never know if it was him. Wish I could go on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and find out what happened to him, the naughty old seadog.

This echoes the story of actress Kim Cattrell. Her maternal grandfather left his wife and three little daughters in 1938. The mystery was solved on Who Do You Think You Are.

Here’s the scene where Cattrall presents the results of the research to her mother and her aunts (who had, until then, not even seen a picture of their father). Very strong (starting at about 5:30; this is video 4/5, but you should watch the whole episode):

Apparently we don’t know what happened to my great aunt (mom’s aunt). She immigrated to the US through Ellis Island with her mom (dad was already here), and apparently got married and settled in the SE Pennsylvania/Philly area, or so we’ve been told. All contact was lost. We don’t know if she’s still alive (probably not), whether she had any children at all, and what her husband’s name was.

My mother’s uncle lost touch with the rest of his family for a while, but years later someone bumped into him by accident and he got back in touch. Apparently he was the kind of guy who always marched to the beat of his own drummer and no one was really shocked that he would disappear and reappear later.

One great-grandfather was apparantly a Slovenian potato farmer with four kids. Lost his wife, so he up and left to America…alone.

I’m thinking there’s a whole set of cousins and such over there that are wondering ‘WTF happened there?’

My maternal grandmother had a brother who was mentally handicapped. He lived with my grandparents since all their parents had died and for whatever reason, my grandmother’s sibs were unable to take Joe in.

He did have a job, and I’m fuzzy on the details, but I think it was within walking distance of home - I don’t think he took the bus or streetcar. One day, Joe’s boss came to my grandmother’s house to find out why Joe didn’t come to work. My grandmother had packed his lunch and sent him off that morning, and that was the last anyone ever saw of him. No one knows if he met with foul play or just decided to go somewhere. My mom was just a little girl when it happened, so she doesn’t remember many of the details. He’d surely be dead by now, since he’d have been well into his 90s today.

My great grandfather ran off to South America, leaving my great grandmother alone with her two boys. There’s a photo of him on a horse. Apparently there’s a village down there full of his offspring.

AFAIK this wasn’t an uncommon scenario. Many men emigrate solely to work, then send money home. It still goes on today.

Both my maternal grandparents left parents and many siblings back in the old country when they emigrated here. My maternal grandfather came with two of his brothers; my grandmother, a brother. Everybody eventually went their separate ways and married. My grandfather, IIRC, was the only sibling who could afford to sail back to the old country to visit his parents. He couldn’t because there was a civil war going on there at the time. When that stopped, WWII started. He died before the war ended.

According to family legend I have scores of cousins and distant relatives in the old country. I wouldn’t who they were if I tripped over them. My mother’s maiden name is as common as Smith is here, so trying to find them would be the proverbial needle in the haystack.

My father’s mother’s mother left her children in the late 1920s. She moved to Baltimore and a few years later got remarried. No one in my family, so the story goes, ever heard from her again. When I began helping my family clean my great aunt’s house I found a few letters from the mother to the children. They kept in contact quite a lot it seems. I wish my family had let me go through the house before they threw out a lot of stuff as I know there was probably a box or two of letters that I didn’t find.

I ended up tracking down and finding a few half aunts and uncles that the family kind of knew existed but knew nothing else about.

My wife has at least a couple of relatives with stories of first husbands who simply walked away during the Great Depression and were never heard from again - the stereotypical “going out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back” thing.


Not only men, there’s many Latin American women in that situation.

Inventing names for my family tree, my great-grandparents Jane and Peter married against her parents’ wishes; she got disinherited and disowned for it (turns out those 19th century novels are more realistic than one may think). When Peter, a doctor, died during an epidemic leaving Jane with a baby and a toddler, she moved in with some distant relatives. My grandmother Anne grew up having access to “proper” schooling but also knowing she was indebted to these relatives, as her mother’s closer ones wouldn’t even talk to them. Eventually Anne married my grandfather, Paul; they had five children, of which my dad was the third. When he started preschool, there was another boy in his class with the same unusual lastname! The first in Dad’s case, the second for this boy.

He remarked upon this unusual occurrence when asked how his first day in school had gone, and suddenly the only adult who still behaved like she was made of flesh was an increasingly-confused Anne: everybody else had frozen. The other boy disappeared shortly thereafter…

The boy was my dad’s cousin, by a sister of his father’s who’d married against her parents’ wishes and been disinherited and disowned (in the 1940s!). These relatives emigrated to Venezuela; the next generation (that is, my father’s cousins), from Venezuela to the US. Eventually, one of my second-cousins met a nice guy in college and, after getting over the shock of him having an even worse set of Basque lastnames (ours has more words, his has more syllables), married him. They spent their honeymoon in Spain, seeing the land of their ancestors - and at one point, they opened the phone book for our province and looked for my family’s lastname.

Phonebook listings are usually of the form
Firstlastname Secondlastname, Firstname
Firstlastname, Widow of (my grandma Anne)
was the first listing since “no second lastname” goes before any second lastname: she was the first person they called, and was delighted to meet them and call the whole tribe over, which is when Dad finally found out who the boy had been and why he’d so mysteriously disappeared.

I was living in Miami at the time - so were the parents of this second-cousin (others were in California, and the second-cousin and her husband were moving to NH). As I told my parents when they gave me the contact information, “I moved across an ocean to get away from the family and I have relatives 25 minutes away? Bloody relatives, can’t get rid of them!”

My wife has an aunt who took the kids and joined a cult in Puerto Rico thirty-some years ago. One of her teenage sons never returned. No one has a clue where he went.

My aunt, my mom’s sister, took off when I was a kid. I remember her being a strange, somewhat mentally ill woman who had some serious emotional issues. She showed up clear out of the blue one holiday, and then never heard from her again. Recently I realized that my cousins would either have never met her, or have no memory of her, which struck me as strange and sad.

Mine is not of a relative, but of the brother of one of my childhood best friends. His name is Alexander Ratnasothy, and he’s an Irish national with a Sri Lankan father, though he was born and grew up in England in the same town as me. I knew him fairly well, as you do with similarly-aged siblings of good childhood friends; he was a good bloke, good sense of humour, interested in the world.

He vanished while trekking in Nepal. His sister (my friend) flew out and spent months searching for him, going to asylums and hospitals and living in a Nepali village. His dad and other brothers also searched. They got some more info and also his passport; without that, he can’t do much. He looked Indian but he only spoke English.

His parents aged about thirty years in the first three years of his disappearance. They are such lovely people and it hurt to see how much his unexplained loss had affected them. Whatever happened to Alex, and even though I’m sure he knew his family loved him, he probably had no idea just how much impact it would have if he went out walking one day and never came back.

I don’t know if this quite fits in, but I never knew my maternal grandfather. He divorced out of the family before my mother was born. Nobody that knew him would ever talk about him. (And they’ve all passed away.)

An accident? Foul play?