NEW BETHLEHEM – When Joe Geer came home from the military, his daughter noticed that Dad had different characteristics than his siblings. With the help of modern DNA technology several years later, he found a half-brother he never knew about.
After years of waiting, he finally made a connection.
Miles away, Jim Wotring and his family of New Bethlehem had always been interested in genealogy. His son, Jim Jr., decided to do an Ancestry DNA test. When the test came back with some surprising results, Jim Sr. took a test as well.
He was shocked when it matched him with a man in Tennessee.
Jim Jr. contacted Thomas Joseph Geer, who was apparently his father’s half-brother.
Geer and the younger Wotring began corresponding online; Jim Sr. and Geer exchanged several long phone calls and decided to meet in person. Geer and his wife made the trip from Tennessee and found they fit in perfectly with a new and unknown family. During a family get-together at EverMoore’s Restaurant in New Bethlehem in July, the two men shared their story.
“I started asking my sister about the family history after she made a casual remark one day,” Geer said. “We had moved to California from Cleveland when I was a boy, but we had lived somewhere else before that.”
The Geer family had been living in a grandmother’s house in Alcola in the early 1950s before packing up their car suddenly one Thanksgiving night and leaving everything behind.
“My parents had six kids, and took nothing with them but their clothes and a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the back of the car,” Geer said. “They left their furniture and everything else behind and moved to Cleveland where my dad had found a job.”
Geer’s mother was pregnant with him, something the other children did not know at the time. Geer and Wotring, who was a young child when this happened, pieced together the story during their online chats and real-life meeting last month.
Geer’s mother had an relationship with Wotring’s father. The two men were members of the Eagles club in New Bethlehem and may have even worked together in area coal mines in the later 1940s and early 1950s, Wotring said.
“We guessed that Mom came home and told Dad that she was pregnant. He still loved her, and we think they decided to leave town before anyone else knew,” Geer said.
Standing side by side, Joe Geer and Jim Wotring certainly look like brothers. Their hair and eye colors are different, but they are similar in size and build, have nearly identical noses and share more than a few mannerisms.
“Joe says he does not resemble the man who he thought was his father,” Wotring said. “He looks an awful lot like the men in my family, and people probably would have guessed the truth.”
Growing up more than 2,000 miles apart, Geer and Wotring led vastly different lives as adults. Geer traveled the world as a career man in the U.S. military, while Wotring stayed close to his roots in Clarion County. Geer is the talker; Wotring is more inclined to listen.
Both men were amazed by making the connection after more than 60 years apart, but seemed very gratified by it.
“I have this whole other family now,” Geer said. “I fit in with them.”