Sandy’s story began in Exeter on Thurs. 21st Dec. 1944, when weighed in at 7lb 3oz.
Her mother was 19 and a hairdressing apprentice, her father, 20 and a GI Serviceman.
Although her father had been paying an allowance of 15/= (75p!) per week through the Navy, times were very hard and it was decided that Sandy would have a better chance of life if she was adopted.
She was finally adopted in June 1946 by a lovely couple, to whom she will always be grateful. They told her that she had been adopted some 8 years later, but it did not affect her at that time, probably because she did not understand its full meaning.
At 16 she was given her adoption certificate which gave her the names of her natural parents and told that her father was an American serviceman called Ralph Lee Edwards and her mother a friend of the family. She decided then that if at all possible she would like to find him. She spoke to her adoptive parents and with their help, support and encouragement, set out on her search although at the time she did not know how to go about it and never realised it would take almost forty years to complete.
Back in the 60’s foreign travel for ordinary people, unless rich or famous was only just beginning and also communication with other countries was in its relative infancy, not like now, when you can get almost any information at the press of a button!
Her adoptive parents had kept in touch with Sandy’s natural mother, maternal grandmother and aunt. Over the years, this Aunt Ruby was as helpful as possible but as she was only about 15 years old at the time of Sandy’s birth she could not recall a lot. However, she did believe that he may have been in the Navy and based at Dartmouth and that he may have come from Alabama. All maybes!
With this limited information, Sandy wrote to hundreds of people and departments both civilian and Naval all over America and some in the UK. For a while she concentrated on Alabama simply on the assumption that after leaving the U S Military Service he may have gone back to his home state. She visited Dartmouth and surrounding areas and eventually found out that he may have been in and around the South Hams in Devon, with the US Amphibious Advanced party of the Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) preparing for D-Day.
Over the years she wrote to every RL Edwards in America. As you can appreciate with such a common name she was really up against it, but she was very determined and just kept preserving despite all the knock backs received. During the years of the search she wrote to three presidents, various chat show hosts, Cilla Black (whose producer was a Ralph Edwards!), Oprah Winfrey, Rikki Lake and employed a PI - all to no avail.
She contacted various service depts. in America to see if they could help. All they did was send back forms to fill out- surely common sense would tell them that if one could fill out their questionnaires with all the info. they required then one wouldn’t be contacting them in the first place!
During the past 20 years Sandy joined TRACE & Warbabes. Through Warbabes, she and 5 other GI Babies took the US Government to court about 12 years ago. The case was won under the Freedom of Privilege Act and this has over the years enabled a number of GI Babies to contact their fathers. If it could be proved that the GI being searched for was in fact the father, the GI baby would be allowed to send an open letter to him via the National Personnel Center in Missouri, who would forward the letter to his last known address. Although Sandy duly wrote her own letter it did not help directly as she since found out that her father moved around a lot. But at least it has and will help others.
During the years of searching her life went on relatively normally, marrying, having two lovely daughters and mum and dad behind her every step of the way. They were wonderful parents and she will always be grateful to them. They may not have given birth to her but they certainly gave her her life. She could not have wished for a better mum and dad had she actually picked them herself. They will always be her mum and dad no matter what. But there has always been a yearning to find out a little more about her roots and heritage and who she really is.
In 1996 she finally got hold of her adoption records and at long last a small breakthrough. It had an address in Birmingham, Alabama and although 52 years old it was a start. It was where RLE resided prior to the war. Once again she hired a PI but to no avail. She contacted a library there for help and they eventually sent over an obituary for her paternal grandfather (Vernon), dated 1980. In this were the names of her father, his two brothers and a sister or so she thought at the time.
As mentioned earlier, Edwards is rather a common name so she decided to search for the sister whose surname was Tinsley, feeling that she had more of a chance with that name. She eventually traced her, but she turned out to be an elderly aunt of her father instead. During the short conversation she mentioned that Ralph was down on the coast visiting his brother. With help from a friend with a computer and the internet, together with numerous calls to all the Edwards on the coast, one Sunday afternoon she eventually got to speak to his brother, Max in Panama City (Florida) and had a very nice, long conversation. This call took place on 2nd March 1997. At long last after 37 years, Sandy had made contact with a member of her American family. Until then she didn’t even know if her father was still alive or even if he had survived the war. She sent all her relevant papers to Max, sat back and waited and thought that at last her long search had not been in vain and hopefully it may have a happy ending.
Three weeks later despite having that very nice, sympathetic and all-important phone call with Max, everything was returned with a very curt reply. She phoned Max who this time was very abrupt and said that he had spoken to Ralph who said it was a long time ago and he could not remember.
If they or anyone thought that after 37 years of searching that Sandy was just going to give up, they were very much mistaken. It made her even more determined, as she felt annoyed rather than upset at this rejection. She tried for a Paternity Suit but was unsuccessful.
With the 50 year old address of her father and the fact that she had a signature for him,
she went back to the National Personal Records Center and contacted Charles Pellegrini. With this more concrete info Charles was able to let her have Ralph’s service records.
Sandy learnt that he had a wife, 2 daughters and 2 stepsons. Charles was also able to send a copy of Ralph’s signature on the service records that matched the one on the adoption certificate. It also showed her the various places where he had been stationed and that he left the Navy in 1960.
Anyway to cut short her next step in the search she eventually located an address in McCalla, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Eventually after more calls, letters and maybe a few white lies, she made contact with a very helpful lady in a courthouse in Tuscaloosa who actually gave her a phone number for the McCalla address, though the name was Adcock and this didn’t make any sense at the time. On Thursday 1st April 1999 she rang this number and spoke to a Mrs. Terri Adcock.
Terri turned out to by the daughter of Ralph’s partner and she opened the conversation with: "Yes, I know who you are"! They continued to communicate over the following 18 months, until August 2000, when Terri suggested that Sandy should phone Ralph on his forthcoming birthday.
And so, very nervously on 2nd September she picked up the phone and dialled his number. "How ya doin’" were the first words she heard from her father.
Subsequently, she spoke to her father several times and each time it got a little easier.
In October 2000, Ralph sent a small gift and card for her grandson’s christening.
At Christmas she received her first written contact with him in the form of a Christmas card. In the phone calls with Terri she had been invited to stay at her home but Sandy always held back as she wanted an invite from her father.
Early in 2001, she received a letter from Terri, once again inviting her over.
On Monday 19th Feb 2001, she phoned Ralph and had a little chat about this and that. During that conversation she decided nothing ventured nothing gained and not mentioning Terri’s invite to visit, just asked him if she were to come over to America some time that year would he be prepared to meet her. Sandy wasn’t prepared for his answer though, which was: -
"Sure, fine that would be real nice hon, you just let me know when you’re coming and we’ll make some plans. We’ll pull something out of the hat Honey. Maybe even visit my brother Max".
Sandy just couldn’t believe that what she had started in 1960, would finally end up with her meeting him in 2001. A dream come true!
Sandy feels that it is probably a little difficult for people who are not in the same situation to understand why she continued her search for so long when others would have given up a long time earlier. Even some other GI Babies have said the same. But there was a need, a very human need and longing to know who she was and where she came from.
Her natural mother has said she is like her in certain ways. When they have something between their teeth they do not give up until it is finalized.
Since the initial rejection in 1997, Sandy has received her US passport and citizenship - so at the time that Ralph did not recognise her, the US government did!
Sandy flew out to America on June 26th 2001 to meet her father.
The reception she got was marvellous. All the family turned up at the airport to greet her. Everyone she met was so welcoming and the feeling she had was beyond her wildest dreams or expectations. She spent a month with him and had a ball.
They discovered that they liked the same foods, had the same personality and there were so many other similarities she can’t name them all.
Sandy says that her father is a really lovely man with a sense of humour to die for.
They have developed a real closeness but it is a shame that they are so far apart. Hopefully he will come over next year to visit Sandy’s family and she will again go back to see him as many times as she possibly can.
Ralph died February 2015 at the age of 90 - BUT Sandy said she had about 15 wonderful years of knowing him and spending time with him in every one of those years!!!!