Sharon Lee Butler Schleyer of Hopkinton, Mass., always had unanswered questions about her father, Issac Butler.
Issac grew up in Flat Islands, now known as Port Elizabeth, which lies five miles off the coast from the community of Red Harbour.
“My father from here died when I was three and a half,” Schleyer told The Southern Gazette on Friday, Aug. 9 during her visit to the Burin Peninsula. “So, I knew relatively little about people up here. I knew I had relatives but no idea of how to contact them or where they were.”
Issac, who worked as a commercial captain on fishing vessels, left Newfoundland at age 28 to travel to Boston.
It was there he met Sharon’s mother and settled down to raise her and her older sister.
Schleyer explained that growing up all she knew of her father's past was he grew up on an island in the middle of the ocean.
“Being young when my father died, I didn’t hear the tales or whatever, and my sister is 10 years older than I am – she has Alzheimer's and she never really talked about dad,” she explained.
Schleyer added her sister provided some information about their father, but the were still many unknowns about his life in Newfoundland.
It was a chance e-mail from a woman in Burin, Newfoundland, that provided the link Schleyer had been searching for.
Hatti Lee Butler Pike told The Gazette she had received an AncestryDNA kit as a Christmas gift from her children. It was through results of the test that she was put in contact with Schleyer, who is the niece of her grandmother.
Pike explained that shortly after receiving the results, her husband suggested she reach out to Schleyer.
“I didn’t know if they were male or female because it was just S. Schleyer, so I just jotted a short note to her and asked her did she have an aunt called Jenny and was her dad’s name Issac?” explained Pike.
Pike, one of 12 children, added that when she received an e-mail from Schleyer confirming the information was correct, she told her she had a large family in Newfoundland.
She explained that growing up she would see pictures of Sharon and her sister on her grandmother’s wall and would often think about them through the years, “…Are they still living? Do they have families?” said Pike.
“But where do you start? Boston’s a big place, so thank God for Ancestry, because if not we would never have met.”
Standing where he lived
Schleyer said by visiting Newfoundland and having the opportunity to meet her family she has been able to find some of the answers she has looked for.
“It healed my heart,” she said. “…standing on the same ground that he walked on, I could feel a closeness to him, and meeting people that knew him as a kid.”
She added hearing stories of where he used to play, and of the adventures he'd had, “I know my father was a child, but I didn’t know what he did on an island, I had this vision of this big huge island somewhere in the middle of the ocean.”
Schleyer said visiting Port Elizabeth was a very emotional experience. “It made me feel where my roots were, I wasn’t transplanted anymore.”