BY MARY WICOFF
— Bill Hutchins’ quiet life in suburban Chicago was turned upside down –— in a good way —this year when he discovered a large branch of his family tree in Danville.
“It was astounding, almost life changing,” he said in a telephone interview. “I thought I had only half of a family.”
His Danville-area cousins are just as thrilled at the discovery, and have welcomed Bill and wife Marty into their family.
Miriam Boothe of Perrysville, Ind., said the local relatives are thankful that the couple has come into their lives — and this is the perfect gift for the holiday season.
Bill had been brought up by his maternal grandparents, Edward and Mattye Buchanan, in Menasha, Wis., and didn’t know anything about his father’s side of the family. He was 3 months old when his parents divorced; Bill saw his father, William G., once a year, but the man never spoke about his background and relatives.
Bill, an industrial designer now living in Park Forest, recently compiled a biography of the Buchanans. While researching the Hutchins side, however, he hit dead ends.
In June, Bill went to a genealogy site and entered the name Fred Lew Hutchins (a relative he had heard of) in the search box. He was amazed when a photograph of his great-uncle popped up. That photograph — which had been posted by Salvador Hutchins of Danville — matched one Bill had in an album given to him after his father’s death in 1982.
Stunned, Bill e-mailed Salvador immediately, asking: Could we be related?
An hour and a half later, Bill was surprised to receive a phone call from Miriam.
“I called him and everything started,” Miriam recalled. “He knew very little about his father’s side of the family. He thought all of the Hutchinses were dead.”
Miriam filled him in on the family history from the Hutchins side.
Seeing that Bill, 75, was overwhelmed by the revelation, Miriam decided to ease him into the fold. On June 30, she and two of her sisters drove to Park Forest to meet Bill and Marty.
“The meeting could not have been better,” she said. “We had a wonderful time.”
Without saying a word, Bill reminded her of her grandfather, the Rev. Tobias Hutchins, former pastor at the Second Baptist Church and the Union Baptist Church, both in Danville.
Miriam said she noticed that Bill displays the same sincerity and kindness that defined previous Hutchins patriarchs.
Meeting the clan
Having broken the ice, they decided Bill and Marty should meet the entire Hutchins clan in Danville in October.
“They met a host of new faces — several generations of Hutchins who were eager to exchange family stories and strengthen new bonds,” Miriam said.
Bill, who was raised by his grandparents, is used to a quiet life. So, meeting the local relatives was quite a jolt.
“I was surprised at the size and vitality of the family,” he said. “My Danville relatives are so alive and so kind — I could have benefited from this kind of relationship and family (while growing up). I would probably be a better person for it.”
Bill also was impressed with the youngest relatives, describing the children as respectful and nice, and adding, “I was very happy to see it.”
Bill also learned that the Hutchins side of the family is very diverse — with Mexican, African-American, Indian and Caucasian blood.
In addition, he learned that his Danville lineage has historical significance.
The Hutchins family tree includes Bill’s cousin, Jan Hutchins, a Danville native who graduated from Yale University and became mayor of Los Gatos, Calif.; Tobias Hutchins, the brother of Bill’s grandfather, who gave a eulogy for President Abraham Lincoln’s favorite servant and was cited in Bobby Short’s book as coming to Danville “like a blast of dynamite”; and historian Fred L. Hutchins, another brother of Bill’s grandfather, who’s honored with a special day in Memphis, Tenn., each year.
In appreciation for his long-lost family, Bill has decided to give the children a collection of books that his grandmother, Martha Buchanan, read to him when he was young. Miriam said these books, which are more than 70 years old, are part of Bill’s legacy and may be his most cherished possession.
Receiving this collection is the highest honor, Miriam said.
She added, “This holiday season, the Hutchins family is counting their blessings. They have been gifted with Bill’s stories, his cherished library, and a novel piece of their history.”
But most importantly, they added two more members to their loving family.
After meeting his newfound family in October, Bill was driving home from Danville, and he said to his wife: “As long as there are people like this, our country is not in trouble. They’re honest, hardworking people. We have a good foundation.”
Bill and his relatives are keeping in touch through e-mails and phone calls, and plan future visits.