SOMERS, N.Y.--Seventy-six years ago, Lanny Silks was born in Lewistown, Pa. Very shortly after that, his mother left him. Just two years ago, Lanny began his quest to uncover who she was. That genealogical journey has brought him to Somers.
“I grew up hearing people talk about my Mom and Dad Silks, my adopted parents,” the retired steelworker said. “They would say, ‘Abe Silks ain’t your dad.’ People just making remarks, thinking I wasn’t paying attention.”
But Abraham and Mary Alice Silks weren’t his adopted parents–not yet. Lanny’s birth mother left him with the family of his biological father, George “Bud” Corson. Lanny grew up believing that Bud, 23 years his senior, was really his brother. Mary Alice was actually Bud’s biological mother, and Lanny’s grandmother.
As for Abe Silks, Lanny explained: “My adoptive father was my biological grandmother’s second husband, not a blood relative. “Stay with us...
“I was probably 9, 10, 11, I forget just how hold I was, but I was rummaging around in the attic, and I found this document,” Lanny said. “It says ‘writ of habeus corpus,’ and I saw Mom and Dad Silks’ name, my name, and this other name, ‘Linda Lou Morgan.’ ”
Ms. Morgan, as Lannie would discover, was born in Somers. But we’re getting ahead of the story.
Small town innuendo and dusty attic chests aside, Lannie still had no formal confirmation that he was anything but Abe’s and Mary Alice’s own son. That came a few years later, when he was 13. The Silks took him to the Mifflin County judge’s chambers so that he could give legal permission to be adopted. Up to that point, they were merely Lanny’s custodians.
Bud, at that time 36 years old, still did not acknowledge Lanny as his son, however, and the rest of the family maintained the ruse. No one ever mentioned his biological mother.
“All these years, nobody in my family would tell me about her,” Lanny said. “I think it was to protect my biological father’s wife. He married a girl from Arkansas, named Alberta. All this secrecy, I believe, was to hide from her that her husband had sired a child with another woman. And then she passed away here just a couple of years ago. So now as far as I know, everybody concerned with this story is now dead–except me!”
At age 74, the game was afoot: Lanny Silks set out to discover his heritage.
Lanny convinced the woman he was raised to believe was his niece–Bud’s daughter–to agree to a DNA test. The results indicated that she was, indeed, Lanny’s half-sister.
Those legal documents in the attic, it turned out, were the remnants of a custody battle the Silks fought with his birth mother when Lanny was 2 years old. Records indicate she may have spent time with her father in Huntington, L.I., before suddenly re-appearing to unsuccessfully claim Lanny two years after his birth.
“I saw a copy of the original birth certificate,” Lanny said. “It has my mother’s name on it, but I have since found out it is one of two names she went by. She went by Linda Lou Morgan, but her actual name was Bernice Linda Morgan.”
Lanny learned of the alias when he was able to track down his mother’s enlistment records with the U.S. Army. After she failed to win his custody, Linda–or Bernice–journeyed to Baltimore where she worked briefly as a waitress. She then traveled up to Binghamton, N.Y., where she joined the WACS in September 1942. Ironically, she was honorably discharged five months later when the military realized that she had a dependent child.
Linda/Bernice ventured back to Baltimore, where she found employment with the Coast Guard Police at the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard. After that, she dropped off the radar–except for one memorable blip that Lanny has kept framed in his mind for more than seven decades.
It was Christmas time, as it had to be. Lanny was around 5 years old.
“I was at home with Mom and Dad Silks and all of a sudden there was a hubbub,” Lanny said. “I remember somebody shouting, ‘She’s here!’ The next thing I know I was being hustled up the steps by my adoptive sister, and then I stood at the top of the steps for I don’t know how long, and then someone said, ‘bring him down.’ And there was this woman and this guy, both well-dressed, bearing gifts. I can remember my mother being a tall, elegant woman–that’s the memory I have carried with me since that time. Tall, dark hair, slim. She wanted to kiss me goodbye, and I wouldn’t let her.”
That was 71 years ago, and Lanny Silks hasn’t seen his biological mother since.
The odds that Linda/Bernice Morgan is still alive are “slim to none,” Lanny agrees. She would be 96.
But if she was, there’s a chance that someone in her hometown of Somers might know something. Even if she has passed, Lanny figures, there may still be surviving friends of the Morgans who can tell him something about his family on his mother’s side.
It is worth noting that there is no shortage of family in Lanny’s life. He has four daughters, a son, and “something like 14 or 15 grandchildren.” He also has two great-grandchildren. The whole family still lives within a hundred miles of the patriarch.
Yet it’s not quite enough, he said. “I’m getting a little long in the tooth here, and before I check out I want to find something out about my mom!”
If you have any information about Linda/Bernice Morgan (or Linda Lou Morgan) please contact: Lanny R. Silks, 941 Locke Mills Road, Milroy, Pa. 17063. He can also be reached at 717-667-9675, 717-994-0262, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.