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The Search for John White by Sue Harrison – FinderMonkey Senior Researcher

When this case was assigned to me I knew it was never going to be an easy one. The gentleman we were searching for had been missing for some 40 years. When he disappeared his car had been found at Dover and some years later he had been declared legally dead. To most people this would have seemed a hopeless case but here at FinderMonkey we know that things are rarely as they seem and to assume the obvious is a recipe for failure. We started the case like any other by searching birth marriage and death records and then checking our data systems for a John White with a matching date of birth and also checking for any John currently resident in the UK with a matching date of birth working on the assumption that John may have chosen to change his name.

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When the results were negative I called Jennifer to discuss the case. Jennifer had initiated searches with other organisations so she was not at all surprised by what I had to say. I wanted to speak to Jennifer and get a sense of what had driven her to search again. I knew that she had to believe that John was still living. I talked to Jennifer at length and immediately sensed her absolute belief that John was not dead. I sensed that she wanted to prove this and to show that she had been right about it all these years. We discussed John and how he had always talked about the desire to live in Spain and own a bar. I told Jennifer that we could research bars in Spain and see if we could find any that were owned by an ex-pat called John who would have been in Spain for around 40 years.

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We did find one bar in Spain where a man who was referred to as “Manchester John” had been in residence for many years. I knew John had some links to Manchester before his disappearance and so looked into this further and managed to source some recent footage of him in the bar. We sent this to Jennifer who was unable to be certain if it was John or not, after all 40 years had passed. I called the bar and spoke to John who was able to confirm that he was not John White. I spoke to Jennifer again and said that the only option we were now left with was to search Spain for a John White with a matching date of birth. We had found no evidence of John being in Spain or even of him being alive and so were wary of encouraging Jennifer to make the decision to do this. I was torn between not wanting to foster false hope and making sure no stone was left unturned.

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I was conscious that this was most likely going to be Jennifer’s last attempt to find John and I wanted to ensure that she was offered every chance of doing that. Jennifer instructed us to carry out the further research in Spain and waiting for the results of that research was excruciating for me so I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for Jennifer. By this point I desperately wanted to be able to give Jennifer some answers and closure and tried to prepare myself for a negative result.

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When I had the news that there was one John White in Spain with a matching date of birth I felt a whole rollercoaster of emotion. I was incredibly happy that this wasn’t the end of the road and that there was a very real possibility that this could be Jennifer’s missing brother but I was also incredibly conscious of what this news would mean to her and how crushing a blow it would be if this was a coincidence and not her brother at all. When I called Jennifer to let her know she wasn’t at home, she was on a train and travelling. For a fleeting second I almost didn’t tell her the news there and then. I knew she was in a public place, surrounded by strangers and this was going to have an incredible emotional impact on her. Then I realised I had to tell her right there and then. This lady had waited 40 years for any kind of news, even the tiniest shred of hope and I knew that there was no “wrong” time to break the news. I urged her to be conscious that this could turn out to be someone other than her brother and stressed that she must be prepared for that. We had no evidence that it was her brother just that this was someone with the same name and date of birth.

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I will never forget the day I found out that the John White we had found was indeed Jennifer’s long lost brother. Jennifer had called me in the days before to advise she could not get through to the telephone number we had given her. It was an answering service with a Spanish message. I had urged her to leave a message and asked her to let me know if she managed to get through, I came into work early the next morning to an email from an elated Jennifer telling me that she had left a message and that John had called her back, it was him, she had spoken to her brother after 40 years. I was elated. I was crying and laughing at the same time. I was glad no-one else had arrived at that point so I could have a good cry without an audience but at the same time was desperate for someone to arrive so I could share the news. I was overjoyed, relieved and overwhelmed with emotion. I called Jennifer and we cried some more. I no doubt drove my colleagues mad as I think I “bounced” around the office for a week.

People often ask me how I cope with the emotional side of the work we do. It’s a simple answer, we get emotional because we genuinely care and if we didn’t care we wouldn’t do nearly as good a job. What other job gives you this kind of satisfaction, it’s worth every tear we shed.

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