Lee was 16 months old when his mother was killed in a pedestrian accident in Michigan. His father had been killed in an industrial accident in October of 1938, 6 months before his birth. His brother Carl was 11 and his sister Betty was not yet 16 at the time of their mother's death. Betty stayed in the Detroit area, but as she wasn't old enough to take custody of the boys, they were both sent to Kentucky to live with different paternal uncles. Carl went to live with Ira Yeary, and Lee to live with Harvey Yeary. Harvey Yeary and his wife adopted Lee when he was about 3, changing his name at that time from his birth name of Henry Yeary to Harvey Lee Yeary II.
Carl certainly knew Lee as is little brother, but they did not live close by and only saw each other at family gatherings. And as Lee's adoptive parents didn't wish to discuss the adoption, he was encouraged not to bring up the past. Betty did visit her brothers in Kentucky at least a few times as well.
I do not know for certain, but my guess is that Lee suspected something was up before he found the actual documentation. He has indicated that he was disappointed with his parents for keeping the truth from him, and I don't doubt that the fact that he was never told the young man and woman he believed were his cousins were actually his biological siblings played some role in that.
Goodness, quite a bit of tragedy there. I tend to really look at the human side of things and what people must have felt. The poor mother, losing her husband during the Depression with 2 kids and a baby on the way (given the age gap between sibs you almost have to think 'oops' baby!) and then all three children losing their mother not long after. And then how confusing and upsetting it must have been for Betty to lose both her younger brothers and Carl to have to move families at that age. Not to mention Lee and the trauma of losing your mom as a toddler, as well as your older siblings. At 16 months the permanent memories would not have formed but it would have been a highly traumatic event.
Sadly those attitudes toward adoption were so common in the 1940s -- keep it a secret, etc. Every adoptee I have ever heard of who found out years later and were never told was very traumatized by the discovery.
As an adoptive mom I am just really sensitive to that. Fortunately now there is more openness and less secret-keeping.
Yes, I'm sure it was incredibly tragic for the older kids, especially Carl. Ira's wife died when he was still a teenager, so he lost yet another parental figure young. I have seen family photos of Carl as a teen with young Lee and it's obvious he loved Lee very much. He was, after all, Carl's only direct link to his original family. I've heard different reasons why they were split up, but except for Betty, no one who might be able to tell the actual story is still around and Carl himself died in the late '90s. By the time Lee put the pieces of his story together, Carl was married with his own family, so I don't think they ever had a chance to really become brothers.
Just curious. How did you all learn this family history, and see photos?
I am just interested. :-)
While I'd prefer not to explain exactly who I am, I'm married to a Yeary family member. Never come close to meeting Lee Majors himself though, so I'm afraid I have no other tales to tell.
Wow, what losses for Carl - both parents, his older sister and baby brother, and another parental figure.
I tend to think that perhaps at that time, the importance of keeping biological siblings together and preserving original family ties was not seen as quite as important as we think it is today. I imagine that with family stepping up to take in orphaned children they were focused mainly on each having a home. Still so sad, though. And I imagine Lee's adoptive parents thought they were doing the right thing by just closing the door on the past.
Lee's A&E Biography show included a snapshot of his biological father Carl Yeary (although it was hard to tell what he really looked like) but no picture of his biological mother. I wondered why and what she looked like. He had to get those stunning looks somewhere!
Biological mom Alice is somewhat of a mystery. Both she and Carl falsified their ages on their marriage license because they were underage to marry in Michigan. It's believed she was the daughter of Scandinavian immigrants who settled in PA. I've seen a couple of photos of Carl Sr. as a very young man and he looked like a darker version of a young Lee. Same eyes and expression. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a photo of her but my guess would be that Alice was fair, as her son Carl was even more of a towhead than his brother. Betty had darker hair like her father.
Interesting discussion. I've always wondered about Betty, did she marry? kids? where does she live? Things like that. It must have been very hard on her and Carl to lose their family like that. Maybe one family member couldn't take all 3 in so they had to be split up.
Yes, Betty married, had a family, and ultimately settled in Ohio.
I can't say for sure of course, but my guess is the age differences between Alice Yeary's three children played a role in where they ended up after her tragic death. Had Betty been just a little older she may have been able to raise her brothers on her own. Especially with the war shortly thereafter providing so much work for young women. Had the boys been closer in age, maybe more of an effort might have been made to keep them together. But that's just speculation; it's not possible to go back over 70 years and put oneself in the shoes of any of the people making such decisions. Bottom line is that the family of Carl Yeary stepped up and raised his orphaned boys. And regardless of how it was handled, I believe they were both immensely grateful for that.