The following except is from an article by Ray Weiss, published in the May 22, 2011 edition of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
PORT ORANGE — Not long ago, the names on the headstones were no more meaningful to Michael Davis than any others in Woodland Cemetery.
Now, they are family.
Down from Murfreesboro, Tenn., Davis, 52, stood in the otherwise empty graveyard off Orange Avenue where seven of his half brothers and sisters are buried. They are a small part of an extended family that he never knew existed until 2009.
What began a year earlier as a search for his dad’s whereabouts, decades after being abandoned, turned into the discovery of a bizarre and sometimes brutal family history.
The story’s lead character was Robert Davis, a 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound monster of a man who fathered at least 24 children with three wives in three states before his death in 1970. Of the first 12, who were raised near Port Orange, only one is still alive.
“None of them knew about this until I came along and joined the family together,” Davis said, kneeling next to several family graves. “They have a right to know we are half brothers and sisters.”
His mother was the second of those wives.
They married in a town right outside of Nashville in 1945, just a few months after Robert Davis left his first wife and children in Allandale, now part of Port Orange.
“When I first started, all I wanted to know was where my father was buried so I could visit his grave. I never dreamed it would be anything like this,” Davis said. “No, it’s not a happy family reunion. But I found brothers and sisters I didn’t know.”
Besides the 12 children locally, the elder Davis fathered five in Tennessee and at least seven in Missouri, where in 1963, at age 64, he married his third wife, a 17-year-old girl in a small town near St. Louis.
“As far as I know, there were three marriages. But there may be more brothers and sisters I haven’t found,” Davis said. “Two years, 1961 and ’62, are still unaccounted for, when he was in Kansas City.”