A simple letter forever changed the life of a New Castle family and the relative they never knew they had.
Gathering for their annual family reunion Sunday afternoon at Cascade Park, the Natale family welcomed a few new members into their circle. They included 68-year-old David Howard, a resident of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who met his New Castle relatives for the first time.
Given up for adoption as a child, Howard grew up in Alabama unaware of his Natale relations, until his daughter, Amy Duncan, began some researching of her own.
"My husband and I and my brother and his wife, we all have kids and we wanted to know what kinds of thing and information can we hand down to them," Duncan said. "This was before ancestor Internet searches, so I did random searches, picking Natale names to send letters to."
After her father was diagnosed with diabetes, Duncan thought it was more important than ever to learn about their family history, so she began the search on her own, her father and mother unaware of her inquest.
Her letters explained her search with a brief background on her father and a request for more information if the recipient had any.
It would just so happen that one such letter would find its way to the right Natales.
"Amy Duncan sent out 15 letters dated back to 1999," Fran Natale, Howard's cousin said. "My brother in Pittsburgh got one and gave it to me because he didn't know what to do with it."
"A lot of things went on after that with my family and the letter got lost somewhere. Two years ago, I contacted his daughter after finding the letter during home renovations."
Working together, Duncan and Natale used a cousin working in the Lawrence County Treasurer's Office to petition a judge and unseal the adoption papers, revealing Natale's relation as cousin to Howard.
Meeting for the first time Sunday afternoon, the two families saw each other as old friends, their years apart unapparent.
"I didn't know my daughter had written the letter," Howard said. "I was surprised and glad she did. After 68 years I finally get to meet (my family). Everybody is so nice and I'm so tickled to meet them."
Howard is unsure if he would have pursued the answer to his birth family himself, but he's "glad that Amy did."
Bringing his wife, Gayle, along for the trip, Howard spent the day with his birth family for the first time.
"For 35 years I've wondered about his family," Gayle Howard said. "It feels like we've known each other always."
Even during the day's celebration, David Howard was already looking toward the next Natale family reunion and where to go from here.
"I intend to keep up," David Howard said. "The Internet might make it easier, but my son called and we're already planning our visit for next year."
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