Bill’s Texas Dream
As a child growing up in Leicester, the only thing Bill Wiley had that belonged to his father was a black and white photograph, which he carried around everywhere. “I had it, and then I lost it,” he says.
Bill’s father Wilbert, an African American GI, met Bill’s mother Betty when he was stationed in the UK during World War Two, and Bill was born in 1944. After the war, Wilbert returned to the US – and neither Bill nor his mother had any contact with him or his wider family again.
Bill on BBC's DNA Family Secrets
All of that changed in 2020, when, with the help of the BBC programme DNA Family Secrets, genealogists tracked down relatives from his father’s side in Taylor County, Texas.
“My wife Julie had been researching for years, but it’s really tough when you’re such a distance from the US and you can’t go to the local records office,” says Bill. “Now, thanks to the programme’s help, I’ve got this heritage I never knew existed.”
Connecting with family
Bill’s half-brother Donald sadly died in 2009, but Bill has become close to his nephew Don, and has spoken over video call with his cousins Phyllis and Regina, whose father, known as ‘Fireball Wiley’, was the first African American to be signed to the Abilene Blue Sox baseball team.
“There’s a real connection there,” he says. “It’s overwhelming at times. They’re such nice people and I’m so proud of them. I never dreamt anything like this would happen to me.”
Now Bill and his wife Julie are raising money to visit Texas and meet the family he never knew he had. Thanks to generous supporters and a series of fundraising events near their home in Loughborough, they are just £2,000 away from their £6,000 goal – which they need to reach to cover travel insurance for Bill’s medical conditions.
“Bill has a lot of unanswered questions, and this trip will help him answer them,” says Julie. “It will be a very emotional trip.” “I just wish all this had happened earlier when I was a bit healthier,” adds Bill, who turned 78 in December. “To get over there and meet everyone – it’s going to be the highlight of my life.”
All photographs copyright and reproduced with permission of Bill Wiley and family.