KERNERSVILLE, N.C. -- Beth Pritchard is an investigator by nature. Spending 28 with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, working her way up to the rank of major before retiring in 2015, she spent her career solving some of the most violent and heinous crimes the county experienced during her tenure. But, after retirement when she couldn’t answer questions about her own family, she fell back on the tactics she’d perfected during her career.
"With investigations, it's just one of those things where it gets inside of you and you have to look under every rock,” Pritchard said.
In 2017, during her routine mammogram, she was classified as “high risk” to develop breast cancer.
"I had to fill out a very lengthy medical questionnaire and I didn't know some of the questions or the family history,” she said.
Beth asked her father, Mike, to learn more. However, Mike was adopted, so he didn’t have the answers she needed. So, Beth did an Ancestry DNA test. She got several matches but didn’t know if they were from her mother’s side or her father’s. Her mother was deceased, so she needed Mike to take the test as well.
"He had a specific list of DNA matches and the first one was BB. That's all it was. The initials BB,” Beth detailed.
Another close match was a woman named Dorothy Gabriel. She also noticed the account for “BB” was managed by a K Ballance. Beth messaged both of them.
"Put on the investigator cap from way back,” she said. “It's a skill set that you never lose."
Dorothy responded to Beth, and they started trying to figure out the connection. Beth learned that she was one of six children birthed by a woman named Julia.
"Make a really long story short, her mother was my Dad's mom,” Beth detailed.
She’d discovered her adopted father had a half-sister, named Dorothy, in Kentucky. But her information gathering was just beginning, as she turned her attention back to “K Ballance.” At that point, all she knew was “K Ballance” lived in Kernersville. Next, she started searching all the names which fit that criteria.
"Found a Karen Ballance, with the husband of Bob Ballance,” Beth recalled. “BB."
Beth started looking into Bob Ballance, and found out his father’s name was Owen, as well as his date of birth and when he died. She knew she was on to something, so in April 2019, she decided she would simply show up on Bob’s doorstep in Kernersville.
“I just needed to do it,” she said.
"I thought for sure it was someone selling something of course,” Bob remembered, of when his doorbell rang.
Bob had been raised as an only child in Raleigh.
"A lot of my friends had brothers, or sisters,” he recollected.
At first, Bob was hesitant to let Beth and Mike inside his home. But when Beth told him she was trying to figure out her medical history, he obliged.
"He had just gotten finished talking about the medical history, Karen said, 'Oh yeah, don't forget about the spleen thing,’” Beth said, with a look of elation on her face.
When Karen said, “the spleen thing,” Beth’s ears perked up. She asked Bob if Karen was talking about Hereditary Spherocytosis.
"He looked at me like, 'How did you know that?' I said, 'Because my Dad has that, I have that, my sister has that,'” Beth explained. “My daughter has that, my nephew Carson has that."
Hereditary Spherocytosis is an inherited disease that affects red blood cells. It’s also quite rare.
"We all got chills and almost started crying,” Beth recalled.
Beth, Mike, Bob and Karen knew they were uncovering something special.
"It was overwhelming,” Bob said. “Emotionally overwhelming."
Through further investigation, including historical maps, Beth was able to place Dorothy’s mom, Julia, and Bob’s father, Owen, in Raleigh in 1939.
"They must have met somehow some way," Beth discovered. “That's where my dad came from."
Mike had been born in Durham in August 1940, then was immediately put up for adoption.
"Owen never mentioned he had a son,” Beth said. “Don't even know if he knew it."
Owen married shortly thereafter, and four years later, Bob was born.
Bob, who always thought he didn’t have any siblings, had a half brother all along.
"It's uncanny. Dad looks like Owen, Bob's dad,” Beth said, of Mike.
"That was kind of the first clue, then as we talked everything fell right into place,” Bob added.
Since their realization, Bob has come to find that his “new” brother and their father had a lot in common. Owen had been the chief photographer for Raleigh television station WRAL and Mike also became interested in photography. Both had motorcycles, and both experimented with ham radio, which Mike still partakes in today.
"It's good to have a brother now,” Bob said, with a smile.
The crowning stroke on this newly discovered lineage is that Bob decided to settle in Forsyth County to be closer to his grandchildren.
"He's lived all over the state, and in other states and he ended up settling in Kernersville. It was meant to be, just meant to be,” Beth said. “God's looking out."
In the months since they first met, both sides of the family have embraced each other as one. Their children have all met, and they’ve planned several family gatherings.
Beth has also traveled to meet Mike’s half-sister, Dorothy.
Today, Bob is 75 years old and Mike is 79. Both are in good health and looking forward to spending more time together.
"I'm just really happy about where we are and just excited,” Bob said.
Beth has since put together a more detailed family tree, including pictures of the relatives they never knew they had.
"We found a brother and we have that connection,” Beth said.
The newly enlarged family met for an early Christmas gathering two Saturdays ago.