80-year-old discovers pieces of a past he never knew

Print
Email
|

by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on November 27, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 28 at 12:37 AM

His life has been long, but the book of his life is short, because his past was only a mystery.

"This is breaking rather late," said Patrick Joseph "PJ" Holland, flipping through pages of a photo album that's getting thicker almost every day. 

"Every day something else pops out," he said.  "It's not a coincidence these things are happening."

Holland was was orphaned at birth.  He never met his family. 

But in his 80th year, he finally found them.

A DNA test taken by a young aspiring actress in New York City was a match. Holland had submitted a DNA sample to a company called 23andMe years earlier. That young actress and her father flew to Dallas to meet Holland. 

Our original story on that day was picked up by television stations and websites across the world.  Thank goodness a Lubbock TV station chose to air it.  A woman there recognized the names... and the faces.

"My sister Margie, she watches it and she just can't believe it. So she races to my parents' house and she calls and says,  'Are you sitting down?  I've got some news to tell you!'" exclaimed Judy Ashworth.  "The names Hazel, Agnes, Holland, Mudon, are not something you'd normally hear, so it peaked her interest!"

Judy Ashworth didn't have to fly to meet PJ, the cousin she never knew she had.  She lives about 15 miles away.

"Everything collides at one moment, and I feel very fortunate that it happens to be in Plano," Judy said after giving Holland a hug as she introduced herself.  "You kind of wonder sometime if things all happen for a purpose."

Ashworth's grandmother and Holland's mother were sisters.

While there's no blood relation between PJ Holland and Marilyn Souders, she always considered him "Uncle."  When Souders was a child, her family took Holland in after he got out of the Army.  He had no other place to go, and became one of them.

Together, Souders and Holland spent years looking for his roots. Now each new relative they find leads to a new revelation, like some of the last photos taken of the woman who gave life to PJ Holland.

"My God," he said, seeing his mother, Agnes Holland, at 91 years of age.  He had only recently seen -- for the first time -- a picture of her as a teenager.  This was the first time he saw her as a grown woman. 

"That's where you get your long narrow face from," Souder told him.  "You see your eyes.  I mean you can really see yourself in your mother."

They also found pictures of the building where Agnes Holland lived... and the cemetery where she is buried.

"We are gradually filling in the pieces," Souder said. "You know, I thought I understood family and love, but this has taken on a whole new meaning."

They also learned the story about her son, PJ.  Agnes Holland was an unwed pregnant Catholic woman.  She ran away to give birth, and was rarely in touch with the family she left behind.  She couldn't afford to raise her son during the Great Depression. 

She left him at the Cincinnati hospital where he was born.  He was eventually sent to an orphanage, where his mother would some times visit.  But nuns told her it upset PJ to much, so those visits ceased. 

She lived a quiet life, alone, in Cincinnati.  Holland now knows there were times when he was within blocks of her apartment. 

She died in 1989.  And now her secrets are slowly being told.

"I'm sorry it's taken so long," Holland said, "but maybe that's the way it had to be.  And that's OK.  But it's happening now."

Souder is proud of what they've found.  But she isn't ready to stop.  "I lay in bed and I think of Agnes and I talk to her and I'm like, 'Agnes, you know, here's a few things I still would like to know.  You know, point me in the right direction!'"

Holland looked closely at the photos of his mother in her later years, and said he feels a new closeness with her, even though she's gone.  "I really get the feeling I'm in contact.  I feel something's happening here," he said.  "I think she and I would've gotten along real well."

"It's kind of like opening up doors that were never opened," he said. 

Or maybe like reading pages never written until now.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

Print
Email
|