Father, daughter get early present

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 25, 2009

Jessica Schoembs’ 16-year international hunt for her father heated up three months ago when the German homemaker hooked up with a documentary television crew on a tip that her father might be in Vicksburg.

The 26-year-old mother of four arrived in the River City from her native Darmstadt, Germany, weeks before Christmas, with the two-person German television crew documenting the trip. Schoembs had five days in Vicksburg to find her father, equipped with just his name — Robert Earl Jackson — his birth date and a photo, all given to her from another German who was confirmed through a DNA test to be her half-sister.

“I was not sure he was in Vicksburg, and I had a lot of doubts,” she said through a translator of her first impressions of Vicksburg. “What if I don’t find him? What am I doing here? What if all of this is for nothing?”

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Schoembs and the film crew started what they thought would be a lengthy search at City Hall. She met with Mayor Paul Winfield on Dec. 10. He didn’t recognize the man in the photo Schoembs showed him, but suggested she talk to North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield.

“She came in and asked about him, and the name Jackson rung a bell, of course, but I know a lot of Jacksons,” said Mayfield. “So I asked her if she had a photo, and she showed me one. I took one look and recognized the man immediately, and I said, ‘I know who your father is.’ She started jumping up and down, and was hollering and screaming. She just about passed out. She couldn’t believe it.”

By chance, Mayfield had gone to school with one of Jackson’s brothers. The alderman gave his old classmate a call while Schoembs waited anxiously in his office, stunned that her long search for her father — which, for years, had been stymied by her mother — finally appeared to be making real progress. 

“I was shocked,” Schoembs said, speaking without a translator. “I try as hard as I can for 16 years to find him, and had nothing. And suddenly, I show the alderman a picture and he say, ‘Oh, I know this guy, one second,’ and he’s calling my uncle.”

Schoembs had been misinformed about her father from the time she was old enough to understand the concept of a mother and father. She said her mother suffered from a depression-like illness and had told her since she was a child an occasional boyfriend of hers was her father. The man, however, had never treated her as his daughter, and Schoembs said she never really believed her mother.

As she grew older, Schoembs began to increasingly question her mother about her father, but never was nearer the truth. As she entered her teenage years she began using the Internet to look for him. Becoming a mother herself at 19 years old strengthened her resolve, she said.

One of her Internet leads this year turned up a woman she believed might be a younger half-sister.

She contacted German television station TVNTV, which occasionally airs documentary shows that follow people looking to reunite family members. They heard her story and began following her in Germany. The first step was performing a DNA test on Schoembs and the woman believed to be her half-sister. The test showed they shared the same father. Her half-sister gave her a name: Robert Earl Jackson.

Schoembs and the television crew began booking their trip to Vicksburg.

Meanwhile, without Schoembs knowing, her newly found half-sister e-mailed Jackson, with whom she had been in contact for years, and asked if he knew a 26-year-old girl named Jessica.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I know her. I know her mother,’” Jackson said. “When she asked me about it, that really got me; that’s when it all really started coming back.”

Jackson was born and raised in Vicksburg. He graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1979 and immediately moved to Massachusetts to attend Boston University.

“But I didn’t stay long because I decided to go into the military,” he said.

He had been to Germany before and hoped to stationed there. IAs luck would have it, he was sent to Darmstadt after basic training, and while there he met Schoembs’ mother, Antonia Schoembs Akkoyun. 

“Her mom was my first girlfriend in Germany,” Jackson said. “I had met her because I was also a bouncer in a club while I was in the Army. I met her sister first and she introduced me to her. One thing led to another and we ended up dating for about three years.”

About five months after the breakup, Jackson said he ran into Antonia Schoembs Akkoyun and learned she was pregnant.

“But I didn’t really think nothing about it, because we both had different partners,” he said.

Jackson had become close to Akkoyun’s family over the years the two dated and he had kept contact with her parents and sister after the two split up and Schoembs was born.

“I knew them all, because back in the day every American GI had what they called a German family — a family to spend the holidays with and so on,” he said. “They were my German family.”

When Jackson saw Schoembs for the first time after she was born, he said he immediately noticed a resemblance.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, she looks just like me,” he recalled. “In my heart, I knew she was mine from day one.”

However, Akkoyun insisted Jackson was not the father. It would be years before inexpensive paternity tests could easily be found, so it was without proof that the two argued about Schoembs’ paternity when they ran into each other at family gatherings or in the city.

“We went back and forth about it for a long time, and finally I said, ‘OK, she’s not mine, I’m not going to fight you about it anymore,’” Jackson said. “By that time, I was married and had a son that’s just two months older than Jesse is. But I still would see her grandparents and her aunt from time to time and I would see Jesse, and I would always make little insinuations that I was her father.”

Jackson ended his military service in 1983, the year Schoembs was born, but remained in Germany for 18 more years as a civilian before returning to Vicksburg in 2001 to be with his ailing mother. He lost contact with this German family. He began working as an over-the-road truck driver, a job he still enjoys. Germany was still close to his heart, he said, but he didn’t really anticipate returning — until, that is, he got a call from his sister on Dec. 10.

“She said, ‘Your brother’s been trying to call you on the phone, something about the mayor and your daughter,’” Jackson said. “I just thought, ‘Oh no, what did Mary do,’ because I have a daughter in town named Mary.” 

When Jackson got his brother on the phone, he was asked to meet him in the parking lot where he worked. The reason was left vague, Jackson said. All he knew was it had something to do with his daughter. Unbeknownst to him, Schoembs and the television crew wanted to keep the reunion a surprise.

“I pulled up and there was a bunch of people standing in any empty parking lot and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on here? This can’t be good,’” Jackson said. “I could see my brother, but I didn’t see Mary anywhere.”

Nervous and a bit scared, Schoembs said she hid behind her uncle as her father approached. Finally she stepped into view, stopping her father in his steps.

“He look at me say, ‘you’re not Mary!,’ and he look at me again and say, ‘I know you — you’re Jessica!,’” Schoembs recalled, again without a translator. “The feeling was… there’s no words for it. And he come up to me and hug me, and I’m crying and crying.” 

“When she finally stuck her head out from behind my brother I just thought, ‘Oh, my God. It’s her,’” Jackson said.


“Of course, I was. I was just gone,” he said. “Even to this minute I am still in total awe. Because, for me, it’s really been 24 years. To find out after 24 years what I knew to be true all along: it’s about as heartwarming a feeling as you can have.”

Still, as with any father-daughter reunion that spans more than two decades, some of the emotions are bound to be bittersweet.

“I have a stone in my heart, because when I was small I was never allowed to be a child. Never,” Schoembs said. “My mother was sick and my aunts and uncles were never there for me, so I was alone. Meeting my father, though, I don’t feel alone now.”  

“There’s a lot of questions, there’s a lot of things I found out that hurt my heart,” Jackson said, “because I wasn’t able to be there to help her through the things that her father should have been there to help her through. But there’s one thing she found out about me: I hang on my kids. That’s why I’m putting all my energy right now into figuring out a way to get our entire family together. Me and my other daughter in Portland have already been talking about how we’re going to put it all together.”

Aside from Schoembs, Jackson has eight children, including three daughters in Germany and two others in Portland, Ore., and Houston. He has nine siblings and a “huge” extended family, some of whom Schoembs was able to meet at a reunion barbecue during her stay in Vicksburg. Schoembs and the film crew flew back to Germany on Dec. 15, but in the five days they spent in Vicksburg the reunited father and daughter were able to do a lot of catching up and planning for the future.

Schoembs said she hopes to bring her four children, ages 19 months to 7 years, to Vicksburg next summer to meet their grandfather for the first time — or the second time if Jackson gets to Germany first.

“I have already started to make plans to take a vacation back to Europe,” Jackson said. “I have to. I have grandkids I’ve never seen. There’s brothers and sisters and grandkids who have never met each other. There’s more reunions to make.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com