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How I Got the Surname of Drake

Written by Jeff Drake
8 · 19 · 22

In preparation for a return trip to the UK and Ireland this fall, I have been revisiting my family tree and previous genealogical work. I want to have my ducks in a row in case I get a response from the group of Irish genealogist I’ve contacted. I have what is known as a genealogical “brick wall” in Ireland that I have been wanting to bust through for some years now. So far, no takers.

I have been working on my family history for over 30 years now. That’s a long time, and I’m forced to admit that at this point I’m somewhat tired of explaining to people how I came to have my mother’s maiden surname, Drake, instead of my father’s surname. I understand why folks want to know, so I don’t complain. Still, to avoid future confusion, I think I should explain it one more time. So, here goes.

My name is Jeffery Lynn Drake. I was born in San Francisco, California, on Saturday, February 17th 1951 at 2:36 PM. According to a historical weather report, that day in San Francisco was partly cloudy with a mild rain shower in the afternoon, just in time for my arrival. A portent? Ha!

My mother’s maiden name was Mary Ellen Drake. Yes, I do indeed have her last name instead of some other, although this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the name on my birth certificate says, Jeffery Lynn Gaier (pronounced “Guy-er”). My mother gave this name to the hospital as it matched the man she identified as my father: Henry Gaier, a man I would not meet face-to-face until I was an adult. Growing up, I was periodically told in numerous drunken phone calls from my mother that Henry Gaier was my father. This, I now know, was not true. And my mother knew this, or she at least suspect as much. Years later, she did admit to not knowing who my father was in response to me pressing her on the subject. That was the last time I ever saw her face-to-face, just before my deployment to Vietnam in 1970. Sadly, the anger I felt for her the entire time I was growing up extended well into my adulthood.

I eventually got answers to all the questions I had about Henry Gaier. A DNA test in the 1990’s proved that Henry and I had no biological connection whatsoever. Upon learning this, I was resigned to the belief that I would never, ever, know who my biological father was. Years later the family tree industry changed and I began working on my genetic genealogy and my hope sprung anew. A Y-DNA test in 2015, combined with a lot of hard work and the kind help of some potential cousins and half-siblings, helped me finally discover my biological father’s family. It turns out that their surname is “Lee.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the story…

At the age of 18, prior to entering the Army, my uncle offered me the chance to legally change my last name to Drake. He told me that if I was going to do it, I’d better do it before entering the Army, since doing it afterwards would be a paperwork nightmare. I jumped on his offer. He had apparently wanted to do this for years, but my grandmother fought him on it, for her own reasons. To me, it was an opportunity to honor the only family I had ever known: my grandmother, Agnes Drake, and my uncle, Mike Drake, the people who raised me. It also meant that I would finally have a last name that meant something to me.

And that is how I acquired the same last name as my mother. The Drakes were the only family I ever knew and regardless of what my biological father’s last name was, I am a Drake and will remain a Drake until my dying days. Genetics means that I am related to the Lees, but it doesn’t make us family, although some have become my friends. Becoming a family, however, takes years.

So, now you know.

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.