7.04.2010

My Father Search Series Update: I got his death certificate and may have found a cousin!


I have been told that this is playing out like the perfect movie.

I have also been told that some people might not believe all of this is happening the way that it is.

I even find myself in shock as I write this blog because Allah (God) is blessing me every week to get one step closer to finding a living relative connected to my deceased biological father.

One step closer to finding out what is on the other side.

Check this out….and you might not believe it!

On June 28, I returned to the offices of the Houston Health & Human Resources Department to obtain a copy of my father’s death certificate. This was my third time attempting to get it.

During my first two attempts I was told I did not have enough information because all I knew at the time was the month and year of his death. I came armed with ample information this time due to the research I did at the library, which you can read about in my previous post: “Meet my grandmother Queen Ester Carter”.

With my manila folder full of documents, names and dates, I filled out the death certificate request form. This time I knew the date of his birth, the exact date of his death, the names of my grandmother and grandfather plus their birthdays as well.

I knew I could not be denied this time but I was honestly still nervous!

My ticket number was called. “Number 880, please go to Window 3 to be served.”

I went to the window with the form, paid the required $21 and stared through the glass at the Black male clerk. After about two minutes of processing he stamped my form, gave me a receipt and instructed me to take my information to “Window Ten” to pick up my personal copy of the death certificate for Mr. Joe McCray, Jr…..my pops.

“Yes!” I said to myself.

Uh oh. Here comes the “strange” turn of events.

I went to the window and it was being run by a Black woman wearing glasses. She took a form off of the printer and as she glanced over it I saw my father’s name at the top. I was getting real excited.

Then she says “It will be a few more minutes Mr. Muhammad.”

With a blank stare, I said “Yes maam.”

I sat on the waiting bench positioned directly in front of the window and I noticed she was staring at me through the glass before she started helping the other people in line behind me. Their transactions took almost less than a minute so I was wondering why I had to wait.

Was there something wrong with the death certificate? Did I have to verify more information? All of this and more was running through my mind.

Once she cleared the line, she picked up my father’s death certificate and again started staring at me.

Out of my obvious impatience I said “Maam is there a problem with the certificate?”

She said “Please come to the window sir.”

Then she asked “Hey, where’s your grandmother’s people from?”

Thinking this was another test, I pulled out my manila folder and said “Well, according to the research I have here, her family is originally from Montgomery, Texas. However, my mother told me that my dad, his brothers and others were raised in the Studewood area here in Houston.”

She said “Well that means you and I might be cousins. My last name is McCray and there’s a lot of us McCrays still staying in Studewood. I stay over there now.”

You could imagine the look on my face. The initial thought was not to believe it but the second thought was “Out of all of the windows, I would be sent to the one that a potential cousin is working at?”

She goes on to explain how the names on the death certificate sounded familiar to her because she said she remembers hearing about a ‘Joseph McCray” in her family being killed but she never knew that side of the family.

“I think my grandfather and your grandfather are cousins,” she said.

I can’t front, I got teary-eyed as I gave her a brief summary of the search I have been on since September of last year and what led me to this particular point. She was amazed herself by us meeting like this. She told me that she would ask her relatives and gave me her cell phone number.

She jokingly told me, “Don’t be bugging me, now.”

I said “Of course I am.”

I left the office building. Before I could get to my car I was glancing over my father’s death certificate. For some reason I first wanted to know what caused his death. I had been told stories about it but I wanted to see if it was true.


It was. He died from a gunshot wound in the chest on March 13, 1988 at 1:45pm on Cullen Blvd in Houston and he was pronounced dead at 2:15pm. He was only 39. I was going on ten at the time.

“Someone shot my daddy,” I said to myself.

His listed occupation is a mechanic for Exxon which I knew about from my mother. However what we didn’t know was that he had a surviving spouse and her name is listed on the certificate. May be I can find her! It also listed the place of his funeral and the site of his burial.

This was a lot to take in. 

I found myself sitting in the parking garage for a while with my eyes closed imaging him being shot in broad daylight. I was told stories of how he had got involved in hustling at one time in his life and how his death was drug-related. Someone suggested I find out if the homicide was solved……I think I will.

I called and shared the news about obtaining the certificate with my family and close friends. Everyone was as shocked as I was about the woman at the window potentially being my cousin.

What are the odds?

I waited a day before calling the woman I met at “Window 10”. She told me she had yet to ask around to her relatives but she still planned to. Then she suggested that I look up the names of my grandfather and uncles in an online real estate site to see if their names come up so we could obtain a physical address or phone number.

I told her I would and she said she would be sure to call me back.

I did the search but was unsuccessful in finding anything registered in their names. She called me back on June 30 to see if I had found anything and I told her I did not.

“You must not have looked good enough because I did,” she said.

“Really?” I replied.

“Yes. I found a home that has the names of your uncles listed as the owners. It could be them,” she said.

I wrote down the address and thanked her. Again she promised to ask her older relatives if they are familiar with that side of the family to verify our kinship.

I did a MapQuest search of the address. You already know I wanted to go that same evening but I didn’t want to be popping up to someone’s home late at night and it not be them. Lol!

My family and I decided to wait until the next day. One problem! Over the last three days it has been storming and flooding throughout the greater Houston area so I have practiced a little patience.

However, as I write this on the morning of the 4th of July, the sky is clear. There is a chance for more rain but not like the last few days so this may be the day.

I may have a chance to go to that address, knock on the door, and embrace my two living uncles. I would be a step closer to living a life independent of the thoughts of the pain of not knowing the other side of the family tree.

What are the odds? My story is a testament that anything is possible.

I will let you know what happens.

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