‘It’s like we have always been family’: 20-year search leads to father in Smyrna

Alfonso “Al” and his wife Dolores Kraft are anticipating a special Thanksgiving this year in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Alfonso “Al” and his wife Dolores Kraft are anticipating a special Thanksgiving this year in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Over the last three months, Andrea Boyd has discovered numerous traits she shares with newly found dad Al Kraft.

One in particular — perseverance — carried her through a 20-year search that at times sputtered as she chased names just off enough to send her down wrong trails. In May, though, a question — “did you say Kraft?” — led her to Smyrna and the man known in Central Delaware as “Mr. Positive.”

“It seems like we have always been in each other’s life,” she said recently from her home in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Happiness bubbled in her voice as she wondered over parallels in their lives: Both working as disc jockeys for gospel radio stations, both enjoying public speaking, both willing to fight for social justice for others.

“She is just like me,” said Mr. Kraft, sitting on a piano bench in the music room of his Smyrna home on Lake Como. “That girl is stubborn just like me. She laughs just like me. She is spiritual like me.

“We talk Bible.”

Andrea Boyd and Al Kraft are enjoying discovering how much alike they are, from facial expressions to the way they laugh. (Submitted photo)

Andrea Boyd and Al Kraft are enjoying discovering how much alike they are, from facial expressions to the way they laugh. (Submitted photo)

In the beginning

The story begins in 1976 when Mr. Kraft and Ms. Boyd’s biological mother, Lisa Whitten, were stationed with the Navy in Portsmouth, Virginia. The two became “good friends,” Mr. Kraft, 69, said, but he lost track of her once his temporary duty assignment at Portsmouth ended. He didn’t know she was pregnant.

He remembers vividly a phone call from a friend in 1977, telling him Ms. Whitten had died in a motorcycle crash. Nothing, however, was said of a child.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Mr. Kraft said.

He didn’t know Andrea, 7 months old when her mother was killed, was born in late 1976 and placed in foster care. If he had known, he said, he would have fought to raise his daughter.

A Louisville, Kentucky, native, Mr. Kraft transitioned from the Navy into the Marines, had two children with his now ex-wife, was wounded in Vietnam and eventually ended up Smyrna, married to retired jazzercise instructor Dolores. He stays busy motivating others to be positive and serving other veterans as an outreach chaplain.

The family crowded together for a selfie in the Kraft family kitchen in a July visit. Clockwise from left are DeAndre Walton, Travis Boyd, Dolores Kraft, Andrea Boyd, Al Kraft and Jordon Boyd (in front). It was the first visit for sons DeAndre and Jordon. (Submitted photo)

The family crowded together for a selfie in the Kraft family kitchen in a July visit. Clockwise from left are DeAndre Walton, Travis Boyd, Dolores Kraft, Andrea Boyd, Al Kraft and Jordon Boyd (in front). It was the first visit for sons DeAndre and Jordon. (Submitted photo)

Andrea’s story

“I had a good life,” Ms. Boyd said, thanks to adopted parents Edward “Steve” Walton and Esther Walton Lassiter. Mr. Walton died in a car crash when Ms. Boyd was 12; Esther remarried.

The two welcomed their new daughter into their North Carolina home when she was 6 months old; the adoption was finalized when she was around 2 or 3 years old, Ms. Boyd said.

They also adopted a son, AJ.

The Waltons were open about the adoption.

“I told Andrea when she was 3 or 4 that she was a special little girl because she had two mamas,” said Ms. Lassiter, of Gates, North Carolina.

“You couldn’t pay for parents like them,” Ms. Boyd said.

The urge to search for her biological parents didn’t strike until she headed off to college at 17. Military benefits from her biological mother helped pay for school.

“I always was curious but the curiosity got to be a little more when I went in to do the paperwork,” she said.

She had known her birth mother’s first name for a while, but with receiving the military benefits learned her full name and Social Security number. That got her thinking about who fathered her.

“I had to know who he was,” she said.

Andrea Boyd, left, said her adopted mom Esther Lassiter always encouraged her in the search to find her biological parents. (Submitted photo)

Andrea Boyd, left, said her adopted mom Esther Lassiter always encouraged her in the search to find her biological parents. (Submitted photo)

“That’s part of the whole journey. I was forced to learn to be who I am. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t look like anybody.”

Another reason propelled her forward: the birth of son DeAndre Walton in 1995.

“When I had my oldest son it was the first time I ever felt what it was like to be blood related. My oldest son being born triggered the need to search.”

The search

In the mid 1990s, before the explosion of Internet resources, genealogical research meant pulling court records and scrolling through newspaper articles saved on microfilm.

Ms. Boyd started with the one on whom she had the most information, her biological mother.

“I had to put in a lot of leg work to find her history, going to libraries to pull newspaper articles from 1977. I wanted more and more,” she said.

“It became like an addiction. I could go days and wouldn’t think about it. Then something would trigger it.”

She called it a hunger.

A major clue was learning Lisa Whitten’s final military payment went to her mother. Ms. Boyd traced her maternal family to Connecticut.

“I found them on my adopted mother’s birthday,” she said.

She called her maternal grandmother.

“She knew my birth date and my name,” Ms. Boyd said. Her birth mother had named her Andrea.

The search to find her birth parents became like an addiction for Andrea Boyd. (Submitted photo)

The search to find her birth parents became like an addiction for Andrea Boyd. (Submitted photo)

Culture shock

Although Ms. Boyd is biracial and fair skinned, culturally she identifies herself as African-American.

“Four people were waiting when I got off the plane,” she said. “My grandparents and two uncles.

“I was raised African-American, but when I got off the plane and saw the people (I) share blood with, and they are a different race …” she paused.

“It was a bit of a culture shock.”

Her maternal grandmother shared what information she had on Ms. Boyd’s conception. She knew little since she only learned of her granddaughter’s existence when the military police knocked on her door to tell her of Lisa’s death.

Her grandmother thought her father’s name was JJ.

Ms. Boyd, who knew her father had been in the military, turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Paperwork had indicated two possible names of her father. One did include a name beginning with J. The other was Alfonzo Croft.

“One name was common,” Ms. Boyd said, “and one was wrong.”

She zeroed in on Croft in 2006, thanks to a helpful employee at the Social Security Administration. Ms. Boyd was there to change her name after her marriage to Travis Boyd.

The employee asked if she was adopted and then slid her a piece of paper with the name Croft written on it.

Lisa Whitten was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1977 when her daughter Andrea was 7 months old. (Submitted photo)

Lisa Whitten was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1977 when her daughter Andrea was 7 months old. (Submitted photo)

Her next step was to request her original adoption papers. It provided little information because relevant names were blacked out. She studied it for years, holding it up to the light, squinting for anything that might be visible through the black.

Her keen eye noticed the tail of a “y” peeking from beneath the redacted state of her father’s birth. It was the right length to be Kentucky.

“I kept looking, kept plugging away,” she said. “It was frustrating.

By then, more records were available online. She worked on the computer whenever she had opportunity.

“(My family) will never know how many hours I put in,” she said. Some people suggested she hire a private detective.

“I was determined I wasn’t going to pay somebody,” she said. “Whomever was called, it was going to be my voice he heard.

“Finding Dad was extremely hard.”

An answer in a question

Ms. Boyd’s search took a new twist in the spring when she talked to a representative of the agency holding her original adoption records.

She told him her father’s name was Alfonzo Croft.

“He went ‘hmmmm, did you say Alfonzo or Alfonso?’ ” she said. “I said ‘Alfonzo.’

“He went ‘hmmm, did you say Croft or Kraft?’ I said Croft … I know he’s from Kentucky’”

She explained how she had figured out Kentucky.

He then told her “you know everything you need to know.”

Ms. Boyd puzzled over the strange conversation. Years of searching for Alfonzo Croft had yielded nothing relevant so she typed Alfonso Kraft in an Internet search engine.

Information popped up. Enough that she knew she had a hit, not her father but his son. Her brother.

“I’m an attorney so I’m pretty easy to find,” said Alfonso “Doug” Kraft Jr., a lawyer in Atlanta.

Ms. Boyd called his Georgia law firm, but Mr. Kraft had left for the day. An associate confirmed he worked there. She asked him to send Mr. Kraft a message requesting he call her regarding a personal matter. Instead of delivering the message, the associate gave her Mr. Kraft’s number and urged her to call him.

She hesitated.

“What do you say to someone,” she asked when you are introducing yourself as an unknown older sister?

Still, she had come too far to not make the call. She left a message.

“Ten minutes later he called me back. He said something in her voice had him calling; normally he wouldn’t have.”

“It was weird at first,” Mr. Kraft said. “She was asking a lot of questions … I don’t know what it was. It was kind of weird. I wasn’t absolutely sure …. but I wanted her to talk to Dad.”

Mrs. Boyd, however, began to doubt when some initial answers didn’t add up. Mr. Kraft said his father was in the Marines when he was growing up; she knew her father was in the Navy and near the end of his enlistment when she was conceived.

Then Mr. Kraft sent her a photo of his father.

“When I saw it, any doubts I had walked out the door,” she said. “That moment was the most powerful moment of my life.”

Mr. Kraft gave her his father’s phone number.

Waiting

She called Al Kraft in Smyrna. He didn’t answer. She left a message and waited.

Her brother advised her to text him. She did, but still nothing.

“I’m very impatient,” she said. “I texted him again. ‘I’m Lisa’s daughter …’ ”

Meanwhile, her brother called his sister Tiffany Young in Louisville, Kentucky.

“He told me ‘our sister just called me,’ ” Ms. Young said.

“I went ‘What?’ ”

“Then he said ‘at least I think she’s our sister.’ ”

He filled her in on Ms. Boyd’s background.

“I always wanted a sister so I was excited,” Ms. Young said. She quickly tracked down Ms. Boyd on Facebook and listed her as sister.

“It was more of me wanting a sister,” she said. The two talked that night. They exchanged photos and when Ms. Young saw the one of Ms. Boyd she was more sure of the relationship.

“They look alike,” she said of Ms. Boyd and her father. “They resemble each other.”

Both Ms. Young and her brother sent texts to their father, urging him to talk to Ms. Boyd.

Twenty-four hours after Ms. Boyd first called Mr. Kraft in Smyrna, her phone rang. It was May 21.

“It was good but awkward. You know?” she said. “He said he recognized my mother’s name right away and remembered when he got the call in 1977 about the motorcycle crash.”

He acknowledged he could be her father.

In Smyrna, Mr. Kraft was a bit stunned. He had made the call from his basement “man cave,” a tastefully decorated room with a chess set and laptop on one side and an entertainment center on the other. Music CDs, one of Elvis Presley’s gospel music and others of Mr. Kraft’s favorite songs, lay on top.

“When he came back upstairs,” Mrs. Kraft said, “he was shaking his head and said ‘You are not going to believe this. I have a 40-year-old daughter.’ ”

The ties that bind

The relationship grew quickly.

“It’s like we haven’t missed any time,” Mr. Kraft said. “It’s like we have always been family.”

Their first meeting — June 4 in Smyrna — sealed the family connection.

“When they first met, the eye contact showed they were so happy,” Mrs. Kraft said.

“Everybody said there’s nothing about you that is not like your father,” Ms. Boyd said.

The bonds go beyond blood.

Although Ms. Lassiter had encouraged Ms. Boyd in her search, she knew little about how it was going until Ms. Boyd knew for a fact she had found her biological father.

“I’m happy for her,” Ms. Lassiter said. “It made her complete.”

“They are co-parenting me and they have never met,” Ms. Boyd said of Ms. Lassiter and Mr. Kraft.

Ms. Lassiter laughed. “She was in a dilemma one day (and I said) call your daddy.”

Meanwhile, the three siblings talk regularly, but have yet to meet face-to-face. That will come in November when the entire Kraft family will gather in Smyrna for a Thanksgiving celebration.

Ms. Young expects the bond to grow stronger once they meet.

“All this time I wanted a sister and I had one,” she said. “I hope we can start our own story, one of our lives together as brother and sisters.”

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