March 27, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 1 - Finding Marion Hess

My blogs have been coming infrequently I know, but I think that you will be getting a little flurry in my new multi-part series "My New Identity Crisis." What is my new identity crisis? Do you ever have these moments in your life where you wonder just what or who you are? That is where I am right now. I feel like I'm caught between two worlds, one of which is familiar, has been sprinkled with hardness but also has a lot of good in it, and is the place where up until now I have known myself. The second is a new, mysterious world, full of history that I don't know and possible traps I cannot see, but also exciting possibilities.

The Hess family early 1970sThe beginnings of my identify crisis began back in September or October, I can't remember which. First, some back story. I was adopted. I came to my adoptive family at age 2½. So, throughout this story I will use first names so that it won't be confusing because as I go on, believe me, it will get confusing. I was adopted by Vernon and Shirley. As I grew up, I began to realize that Vernon didn't know much about his father and mother. In fact, none of his brothers did either, and they didn't talk much to each other about what they did know. I became fascinated with the mysterious Marion Hess Sr. and his wife Norma Pacheco, who died when Vernon was about 7 years old, leaving five sons motherless with an erratic and moody man who said very little about his life before them.

Vernon died in a fire in 1990. He had been preceded in death by his brothers Lonnie and Jack. I attempted to talk a bit about Marion Sr. with Vernon's brother Marion Jr., but Marion Jr. would only reveal bits and pieces and nothing very substantial. I soon figured out that this was because Marion Jr. didn't know very much about his father either, and was also seeking information.

Norma Pacheco and brother BudMarion HessThere were tantalizing clues about Marion Sr. A death certificate on file in the Mendocino County seat of Ukiah told that Marion was born in Akron, Ohio. In my 20s, driving to New York from Wisconsin on a business trip, I made a side trip to Akron and tried to look for a birth certificate in the public library there. Unfortunately, since I hadn't done much genealogical research before, I soon learned what all genealogists know -- you must have a lot of time and patience. Censuses aren't conveniently alphabatized, but soundexed. Birth certificates from the late 1800s or early 1900s aren't always available, because many people weren't born in hospitals, and of those who were, the existence of a birth certificate depended on whether the hospital made a practice of issuing them.

However, I was resilient. I sent in a few bucks to the Social Security administration and received a copy of Marion Sr.'s original social security application. From that, I learned that his mother was named Eldora and his father was named Andrew. No more information was forthcoming. And to make matters worse, all of his papers were burned in a house fire in the 1950s.

With the advent of the internet, I began every so often typing his name into a search engine to see if any information would pop up. Usually nothing did. Once, I thought I hit paydirt but then realized I got some information about Marion Hess Jr. I learned at that time that Marion Jr. had over 7000 vintage vinyl 78 rpm records, which were probably worth quite a bit. Marion Jr. died in 2004, I think. After he died, I assume that these recordings went to his sole surviving brother, Robert, who is still alive and living in Idaho.

This past October or so, my wife's sister sent a link to a website called Rootsweb that had information on her family. Just for the heck of it, I typed in Marion Sr.'s name again. I believe I had tried this before in a previous year but nothing came up. However, this time I found something! Someone had posted information about Marion Hess that I had never seen before. Not only did it list his and Norma's marriage but it also listed information about Norma that I certainly never knew, including her mother and father and their various marriages and children. There was an e-mail attached to the information, and so I e-mailed the person to ask her where she had gotten the information and what her interest was in my family. Her name was Ruth, and when she e-mailed me back, neither of us knew that it would set us on a journey that would reveal my own lost past.

Next post: Ruth's proposal

Photo 1 - The Hess family, early 1970s. From left to right: Michael, Vernon, Pauline, Shirley, Mari

Photo 2 - Norma Pacheco and her brother, Bud "Wealthy" Pacheco

Photo 3 - Marion Julian Hess, Sr.

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Blogger Pauline said...

I've never seen such a seemingly innocent photograph that told such a sinister story. It's like that moment in the horror movie where you yell, "No! Don't open that door!!!" And to think... it's my birthday party picture!

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mary B. said...

This is exciting stuff, Mike. I can't wait for the next installment! :)

9:39 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Hi Michael,

I was led to your blog by a post to on November 19, 2006. I am the granddaughter of Julian Eltinge Hess, Marion Hess (Senior's) first son from his marriage to Helen Floyd from Ohio. I spent many years gathering genealogical information with my grandmother and I would be willing to share what I know with you, including the names of Andrew and Eldora's other children. If you are still interested in this information, please contact me at

Thank you,
Kelly Hess

12:59 AM  

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