Jim Ney went through 69 years believing he had no blood ties.

He trusted what his foster mom had told him.

Imagine the incredible moment when he answered the telephone in his Ohio home and a long-lost second cousin said, "You have family" - three living siblings and cousins.

Jim took himself off to the bathroom - that most private retreat - and wept. The news was so profound, so unexpected, so long in coming, it was almost impossible to accept.

At 71 years of age he had found his family and further learned he would never know three other siblings who had passed away.

The story is extraordinary because it isn't one in which family members were split asunder and scattered across the nation.

The seven Ney children were separated when their mother, Lillian Klick died in 1926 and their father farmed the children out to relatives and friends around Pennsylvania.

Jim went into foster care at 18 months old - too young to remember the brothers and sisters sent in different directions.

For many of the years in which Jim was lost to his family he lived in Perry County, only 10 miles away from some family members. A sibling might have walked by him and never known.

And it isn't as though no one knew Jim's roots. His foster mom, Ethel Snyder, knew. She just wouldn't tell.

In fact, Jim grew up thinking his last name was Snyder. He was a middle-aged man living in Ohio when he learned he had been born a Ney - and went to court to have his name legally changed.

Perhaps Ethel Snyder was silent for all those years because she feared she would lose the boy who had become her son. No one will ever really know; she died a year ago.

The search for Jim could have ended at that moment. But, ironically, her death is what propelled it forward for Bart Carpenter of Carlisle.

"My mother was a sister to their dad," Bart says. "My grandmother was a Ney."

Bart, who is 62, says Jim had six siblings - three of whom he knew.

"Raymond (Ney) was close to us because they came to our place quite a bit. When he got out of the service from World War II, he was at our farm in Perry County for about a month.

"He kept in touch afterward. I always knew he had a brother who had disappeared. I just figured he'd find him."

Raymond's search was directed toward Lancaster County, where he'd been told his brother had been taken. Finally, Raymond learned of Mrs. Snyder of Perry County but she refused to tell where the grown Jim had gone.

Coincidence is what focused Bart on Raymond's missing brother. "When my mother was still living, she and Mrs. Snyder were in the same room in the hospital. She wouldn't talk to my mother … wouldn't say anything about Jim except he was in Ohio somewhere.

"I went to talk to her once but came away with nothing. That's the way she was."

Mrs. Snyder went into a nursing home and Bart says he knew she was in poor health. He started watching the obituaries, figuring he'd learn of Jim's whereabouts.

His reason: "They're (Raymond and Jim) too old to look for each other. I'm going to have to do it." Raymond is 84 and lives in the Perry Village Nursing Home .

When the obituary appeared, Jim Ney was listed as a son along with an adopted daughter. But Bart still had no address.

He started looking for the adopted daughter, "but no one knew her. She picked mail up at the post office in Shermans Dale. There was no listed number. I knew people in Shermans Dale; they'd never heard of her.

"I went to post office one day and a woman told me she picked up mail every day. Another woman asked, `Why do you want to see her?'" It was from this woman he got an address.

He went to see the daughter, who doesn't want her name divulged. She gave Bart a phone number for Jim Ney.

"My brother picked it up" from that point. Bill Carpenter of Duncannon called Jim in Gettysburg, Ohio.

Eighteen months after Bart Carpenter decided to find the missing Ney brother, he was found.

At this late date, Jim has met his siblings - Raymond, Oscar and Miriam - as well as other cousins.

"It's a shame it went on all these years," Bart says. "You see this happening on television but not 69 years later - that's a long time."

In fact, Bart says he would have gone to "Unsolved Mysteries" to televise the case if the breakthrough hadn't come.

"It was a challenge. One way or another I would have found him." Bart says. "I just wanted to do something for Raymond. He'd looked for so long."

What a sad but lovely thought - brother searching for brother, decade after decade.

One of our correspondents wrote a story on the Neys for Thursday's paper. As I edited it, I made a few calls for additional facts. I couldn't stop; I had to know more. The story intrigues me.

It says something about families and the need for the ties that bind us to each other.

And this is a particularly nice thought during Thanksgiving week - a time when family members come together to give thanks for so many things, including each other.

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