WASHINGTON, Mo. - After 18 years of searching for his family history, a Missouri man has found his half brother living just 80 miles away.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote late last year about Don Schroeder's nearly two-decade search for his birth father, James White. Schroeder's birth mother dated White just twice before White left for the Army and dropped out of sight. Schroeder, born in May 1955, was then adopted by parents who have since died.
About two decades ago, Schroeder decided to track down his birth parents. Finding his mother was easy, in 1996. His father was more elusive, partly because Missouri's adoption records laws are among the nation's most restrictive.
Soon after the newspaper story, Niels Zussblatt offered to help. He is an analyst at the National Personnel Records Center with a reputation for finding relatives of babies conceived while U.S. soldiers served overseas.
Zussblatt found record of a James Carl White with a July 18, 1935. His Army enlistment was about 10 months prior to Schroeder's birth. Records showed White died of a heart attack in Littleton, Colo., in 1989 at the age of 54. The investigation also found that White had a surviving son.
Ironically, the son, James Guy White, lived near Washington, Mo., about 80 miles from Schroeder's home near Jefferson City.
In December, Schroeder made the trip, traveling down country roads to the tidy house where James Guy White lives. No one was home, so he wrote a note: "My name is Don Schroeder. I am looking for James White. We may be related."
James Guy White's reaction was mixed. Life with his father wasn't always easy. His father and mother divorced, then his father left with another woman, first in California, then in Colorado. James Guy didn't really know his father until he was 21.
Still, he called Schroeder and invited him over. His wife, Christy, could tell right away they were brothers.
"The eyes were a dead giveaway," she said.
A January DNA test showed with 99 percent certainty that the men were related.
James Guy White was happy to find Don but said he wasn't prepared to fully talk about the sometimes painful past he'd put behind him.
"When I first met Donald and he spent the day, I was exhausted. I mean just mentally exhausted," James Guy White said. "Afterward, I said, 'Christy, this is stirring up so many memories and feelings.' So I'm just slowly taking it in."
Both men have been through divorce. Both concede their paths weren't easy. They plan to go to Colorado together in May so Don can meet James Guy White's family and visit the family burial plot.