American connects with his Bermuda relatives
In 1922, Charles Noble Goins and Mildred Dill Goins divorced after nine years of marriage.
Mr Goins went back to his native Massachusetts with their son, Charles Leroy, and left their daughter, Grace, with her mother.
Relatives here longed to discover what happened to him and then, three years ago, Charles Leroy’s grandson, Marlon Lyles, contacted Viola “Pinky” Rogers after discovering their connection through Ancestry.com.
Ms Rogers was one of four children Mrs Goins had with Arthur Simons after her divorce.
She would often talk to them about the son she lost.
“That was what was done in those days,” said her granddaughter, Tanisha Edwards.
“The father kept the sons, and the mother kept the daughters. But my grandmother was adamant that he was kidnapped by his father.”
Their lost brother captured the interest of Ms Rogers and her siblings. For years, one was in constant correspondence with Barbara Lyles, Charles Leroy’s daughter, and Mr Lyles’ mother.
“My grandmother found out about the letters months before she passed away last year,” Ms Edwards said. “She seemed confused and surprised but she also could have forgotten as she was having some mild dementia at the time. But she was still very sharp mentally, so I can't imagine why they wouldn't have told her because they were all so close to each other. My grandmother was the glue that held the family together.”
Mr Lyles knew of his Bermuda relatives but was not interested as a child.
“The last time my mother wrote to her family in Bermuda was 20 years ago,” he said. “Then she moved into a nursing home and all that communication was lost.”
As time went on Mr Lyles, an artist, became increasingly interested in his island heritage. Five years ago he found a letter from Bermuda in his mother’s things that included photographs of a wedding at St James Church in Sandys. It was a clue.
“Churches are always a good place to start,” he said. “I told my mother about what I was doing and she was excited.”
He telephoned St James and someone there gave him Ms Rogers’ number. He left two voicemails, but never got any response.
“We only got one of the messages,” Ms Edwards explained. “We could not understand it. The only thing we could make out was the Chicago area code.”
Ms Rogers was very excited when they got the message, immediately guessing that it was family trying to reach them.
For Mr Lyles, everything became clearer after he took a genealogy test through Ancestry.com.
“I didn’t connect with Tanisha right away,” he said. “It gave me hundreds of people I was related to who had also taken the test. I had to sort through that.”
Eventually, one of the people he matched with put him in contact with Ms Edwards. She put him in touch with her grandmother.
By that time his mother had died, the pandemic was raging and he was not easily able to jump on a plane to meet his newly-found family. Early last year he was able to FaceTime with Ms Rogers, who was overwhelmed by the experience.
“It was amazing,” Ms Edwards said. “She had goosebumps.”
Mr Lyles was able to show his great aunt a photo of his grandfather, her lost brother. There was a striking resemblance between Mr Goins and Ms Rogers’ other siblings.
“It was wonderful to connect like that,” Mr Lyles said.
He was able to FaceTime with Ms Rogers once more before she died in May 2022 at age 98.
“It was almost like she was hanging on to meet her brother’s family,” Ms Edwards said. “She was finally able to meet that side of the family, and then peacefully passed away.”
Mr Lyles finally visited Bermuda for the first time last summer.
“I wish that reunion could have happened a little sooner, for my grandmother’s sake,” Ms Edwards said.
He returned this year, just before Cup Match.
“This time around, it felt like coming home,” Mr Lyles said. “After I do the family stuff my husband is going to join me and we are going to enjoy sightseeing and the beaches.”
After years of research, Mr Lyles has learnt a lot about his family history.
Born in 1884, Charles Noble came to Bermuda sometime between 1900 and 1906 from Marlborough, Massachusetts. His brother Luke Goins and his wife, Nellie Atkinson, also lived here.
In April 1906, Luke organised a variety show put on by The Coloured Jubilee Minstrel Troupe at the Mechanics Hall in Hamilton. Charles was one of several solo performers.
The Royal Gazette reported that there were false shouts of “fire!” while he was on stage which caused people to leap from their seats in a rush to get outside.
Because he kept singing in an effort to keep people calm, Charles was hailed as a hero.
His son, Charles Leroy, was born in Warwick in 1913. In the United States, he lived in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana. He was married three times, and had five children.
“I think he might have been a steelworker,” Mr Lyles said. “I never knew him and he died in 2004.”
• Marlon Lyles would love to meet other relatives in Bermuda. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org