Set during the civil rights movement in 1960’s Canada, it had all the makings of a great romance that was not meant to be. She was a young red-haired jazz singer from Scotland trying to make a career, he – a handsome African-Canadian jazz percussionist who played in the band with her. They fell in love, and had their first and only child together, Raymond.
Raymond’s family managed to stay together for two years before the social unrest in the area brought things to a head.
“Mum was a white woman raising a black child,” Raymond said. “[My parents] both knew that we couldn’t stay in that environment. Mum brought me to New Zealand, where we found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years later. Though there was some contact with other family members for a little while, I never heard from my father again.”
Though growing up without his father’s family was a tragedy, the gospel of Jesus Christ and a loving mother helped Raymond know who he was.
“My mother was very careful to instil in me a strong sense of identity and pride in who I was. Even though I wasn’t raised around my father’s family and their culture, my mum made sure I was proud of my black heritage.”
The decision to find his father’s family came much later in life, after marrying a beautiful Nga Puhi girl, moving to Australia and raising seven children of his own.
By now the spirit of Elijah had set in and Raymond was gathering bits and pieces of information. He managed to gather around 300 PDFs, but Google would only get him so far!
“I knew there was a big family over there,” he said, “I ended up tracking down the email of a first cousin from my father’s side named Gail. I sent her an email that said, ‘I think I might be your cousin.’ Within a few hours another cousin responded, and it all started from there.”
Raymond was still not interested in meeting his father, but over the next decade the spirit of Elijah would not let him leave things alone and he corresponded with various cousins Including a first cousin named Carrie.
“I was hesitant at first because my father had not been a part of my life,” he said. “I didn’t feel like meeting him now would add anything. There was no animosity toward him, I had a great life with my mum, I just had no desire at that time to meet him.”
With gentle persuasion from his wife and not so gentle persuasion from first cousin Carrie, Raymond finally decided to take that step. In October of 2015, more than 50 years after contact was severed Raymond agreed to a phone call.
“It was a conference call between my father, Carrie and me.” He said. “He didn’t know I would be on the call. I remember sitting in a car park with my phone waiting to hear my father’s voice for the first time. Yes, I was nervous.
“The conversation was cordial and easy… like family. We promised each other that we would meet and six months later I was in Toronto.”
With a video camera in hand, Raymond gathered all the family history information that he could. He interviewed those, including his 86-year-old father, who carried with them the treasured family stories, and took photos of photos, and Raymond shared with them all that he had found.
“I was apprehensive about meeting my father,” he said, “but just like the phone call, It felt really natural and easy. We both shed a few tears.”
After three short weeks in Canada, Raymond’s family had multiplied beyond what he had imagined both amongst those living and those who had passed on. He sought permission to take names to the temple and has since done the work for the first four generations on his father’s side.
“Reconnecting with my father after so many years was a wonderful experience.” He said. “I enjoyed listening to the stories he shared of growing up in a large family in Montreal; dad was one of nine children.
“Even though I never met my aunties and uncles, I felt a closeness to them when I took their names to the temple. I had the privilege of participating in the sealing of each of them to their parents, and during the session I felt their presence. I look forward to the day when I will finally be able to meet them and embrace each one of them.”