Amazing and Unbelievable journey. I had always been aware and interested in family history. It was part of my life from my earliest memories as a child on the family ranch. I knew what I thought was a lot of my history. My mother was born in 1930 and passed away in 1964 in a tragic accident that was also investigated by homicide. My parents were divorced when I was 8 years old and I was living with my paternal grandparents. When I was 60 I decided it was time to get this on paper. As I sat building my paternal family I became very uncomfortable that my maternal side was blank - after my mother. So, I started building her adopted family. They had a great history in Texas as well. But as awesome as they were I was not satisfied. Once on a trip with my mother and half sister when I was 7 or 8 asked my mother a question about her parents. I don’t remember the question but my half sister turned around and said, “she doesn’t know the answer to that because she is adopted”. I asked, “What does that mean?” I always stuck with me and I had no idea how it related to me. I guess you would call it that “gnawing” feeling people have described that comes from their gut. I knew there was more. I knew I had more family somewhere in this country. I knew it in my gut!
At first(on my own), I got nowhere. I then decided that I would find a company that specializes in these types of searches for adoption. I had no idea they even existed but I had Google. One thing you learn in searching is that Google is your friend. That also got me nowhere in solving this case on my own but I found a company that you can hire to do this for you. However, after I started talking to them they started putting the sales talk on me and that made me uncomfortable. I am a professional sales person/business owner.
Then, I was able to find a group of totally awesome ladies that that volunteer their time to help adoptees. But, I am not an adoptee and they were still gracious enough to help me out.
I spent the next year with them directing me on the things I needed to do. All I really knew from family information (no proven documentation) that my mother was born in Bellingham, Whatcom Co., WA. I had her birth year as 1931 based on her death certificate. Birth certificates are only as good as the informant. I really did not believe I had any additional information. I am not much on hearsay and when the source is contaminated I really did not believe a few other things I heard when I was 15 – but I remembered them.
We tried to find records of her birth and adoption in WA state and Texas under her adopted name. NO BIRTH RECORD under her adopted name. We hit our brick wall. During this time I was still working on her adopted families genealogy and was determined to find my maternal family lines. I am not sure I could have proceeded without my search angels help and support. I remember asking my Dad when I was young how do we find my mother’s adoption record. He said, “all those records are at the courthouse and you just have to go ask for them”. Nope, not that easy. I actually befriended a clerk in the courthouse in the county where my mother was raised who got me access to the birth and adoption records in that county. They also searched for me. That is not the typical situation. I was also able to find an adoption friendly ally with the state birth records. I applied in several counties for my mother’s records under her adopted name and none could be found. NOTHING – she was a ghost.
During this time in building her adopted family tree I was able to find a 1st cousin of hers by adoption. He was very helpful and agreed to do a DNA test for me. This was in 2010 and autosomal DNA was at its infancy. I had previously done YDNA for my paternal side which a distant cousin had asked me to do to prove their line. I said sure but later my children told me I should not do that as there was not telling what could happen if someone has your DNA. It took me a while wrestling with that but I finally did it. It was all new to me. I am so glad I did because this cousin agreed to the test which I bought and sent to him.
In the early summer of 2010 we were thinking there might be a connection between my mother and her adopted family. There were 2-3 very good clues to suspect this path. I will also mention that this cousin was also able to send me a picture of my mother at 4 years old with her adopted parents and an 8mm film clip he had digitized when she was less than six months old. He had this information because his uncle, a physician in Bellingham, WA, was involved in my mother’s adopting and possibly her delivery. His great uncle’s sister (his great aunt) was my mother’s adopted mother and the great uncle was my mother’s adopted uncle. Her adopted mother and the uncle were brother and sister. Through meeting this cousin I was able to learn that her physician uncle and her adopted mother were of Norwegian descent and the uncle was very involved in the Lutheran Church in Bellingham. The uncle physician seemed to also visit his sister and my mother in Texas quite often as proven by the pictures and films he took of my mother and her family. The question also arose as to why did my mother’s adopted family travel all the way to WA (Whatcom Co. is the northern most county in the United States and they lived in one of the most southern counties in the United States. That had to be a grueling trip in 1931 and in the times of the Great Depression.
During this time, I started Googling Lutheran churches in that area and even the Lutheran Church as a national organization. I had learned years ago (in my early 20’s) that the Lutheran Social Services group was very involved in adoptions. I learned from my cousin that the physician uncle was very helpful with his church in helping young ladies of good character find homes for birth children. That kind of fired me up – I knew we were close to solving this mystery. I found out that there were two Lutheran churches in Bellingham in the 1920’s and they merged in the late 20’s to one church as socialization was changing the structure and a totally speaking Norwegian church was no longer relevant.
In July, 2010 I contacted the church formed from this merger and it was still in existence in 2010. I told them some of my story and told them I was looking for my mother’s baptismal record. It took a few days as the registry was in the basement covered in 70 years of dust. The secretary was extremely helpful and was able to find my mother’s record, copy it, scan it and send it to me in less than a week. How awesome as she had been baptized before they brought her to Texas. I now had proof of my mother’s birth date and year. During this time I was also able to obtain her elementary, jr. high and high school records from the small south TX town she had been brought to 2,000 mi. from her birthplace. I now had her birth date confirmed. But, we were still at an impasse on her biological family. The question still burned as to who are her mother and father. I believe the DNA test arrived about this time with my cousins results. We were not a close cousin match but did match very distantly by DNA. This was mid- August, 2010 and autosomal DNA test were in the 300-400 dollar range.They are a great family and I look forward to meeting this cousin one day. From the internet, I learned this church and the minister at the time of my mother’s birth and adoption. I also found that he kept a daily diary of his flock. I did ask for his diary records from this time but did not receive a reply. I understand births out of wedlock and subsequent adoptions were probably not an isolated incident.
Getting closer? Ok, we eliminated a close connection between my mother’s adopted family and myself. What do we do now? I was angry with myself as I have always been pretty lucky in my life and now with Google and finding information. But seemed my luck had run out and I would have to get a close DNA match. In 2010, I had about 25 – 30 autosomal DNA matches and today I have close to 700. That is only 3 years.
When I was 15 I visited my adopted grandfather in South Texas and his 2nd wife. She and my mother did not have a good relationship and my grandfather and I did not know each other until my mother’s funeral. I think I met him once when I was 5-6 years old. I knew he was wealthy (by farmer standards), wore a 3 carat diamond ring, raised cotton and milo and had also been a TX Ranger (at two different times). My mother and he were estranged due to a disagreement over her adopted mother’s property. The involved legal action. There is much more to the story but I will not go into it at this time. He did tell me that my mother found out she was adopted when she was 12 years old and from that point forward he had no control over her. She was lied to and felt betrayed. Things were different in 1942.
The Visit. My grandfather always took a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Funny, my paternal grandfather did as well. But, my adopted step grandmother and I were able to sit down by ourselves and talk. It was not a subject I would have brought up to my grandfather but I asked her about my mother’s origin. Did she know anything. This was in 1965 and my mother had passed in December of 1964. She told me, I think , I think, her father was a professional man and lived in California and that her mother or father had a father that was a minister and that her mother’s last name was Chaffee.
Because of the relationship I kind of discounted this information but did remember it. I remembered the name because I actually dated a girl named Chafe (with one f) in high school. She was absolutely beautiful (in an Elizabeth Taylor sort of way) – how could I forget?
It also turns out my grandfather did live in California. He went to USC and Berkeley (Masters). He then obtained his doctorate from Vienna University (in Austria). My grandmother was getting her Living Science degree from Berkeley (teaching degree). That is where they conceived my mother. So, the professional man and name were correct. Also, my grandmother’s father was a Presbyterian minister. And, if she knew, the rest of the adopted family knew. That makes me a little angry but it was a different time. I think it would have made a difference in my mother’s life.
Well, I told my Search Angel this story about the name (she is in this group). She said, “Why didn’t you tell me this story before?” I said, I discounted it as irrelevant because she said, “I think it might be….”. I did not want to send them on a wild goose chase. That is why I tell people “tell us your story and don’t leave anything out”. Sometimes adoptees are not forthcoming with all their information for one reason or another.
Turns out the search angels had a resource. I was given access to this resource and started pouring through 10 years of birth records from 1930-1939 for the whole state of WA. In three days I was going blind. These are copies of microfiche. Microfiche does not photograph well and can only copy what it sees. At that time the only typewriters were fabric ribbon which the ink fills in the spaces of 9’s, 8’s, 6’s, 3’s, 2’s, etc. But, they did have a very outdated search tool called Soundex. You type in a name and it gives you a code. You search on the code and it finds records that match that code. I typed in Chaffee and it brought up 3 pages to search. I can do that. 3rd Record Down – Father: CHAFFEE, Helen Dorothy (HUH?), Child CHAFFEE, Harriet Ann, father DANIELS, Edgar Eugene. Plus it had the years all were born and their birth locations. JACKPOT. Oh, and my mother’s given name was Harriet Ann given to her by….. as I had always assumed her adopted parents. Coincidence?
I was also able to obtain (great story) a certified copy of my mother’s birth certificate. I was able to find my mother’s 1st cousin in Idaho. AND, Aunts, Uncle and cousins in California. It has been awesome and has had positive effects on my life. I know who I am 100% and not just 50%. I have had several visits with my Aunts and Uncles in California. One of the cousins from my mother’s maternal side said “why bother” when the cousin from Ancestry.com asked if they wanted to meet me. I am OK with that in a clouded sort of way but he and I and his granddaughter that was given up for adoption have a great email relationship. My family in California has been totally awesome!!!!! They even invited my wife and I to CA on them to meet all the family before the DNA test was done (another long story). But, the minute she met me she knew I was my grandfather’s grandson he never knew.
I have since had an unsolicited 2nd cousin match through DNA testing on AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder this past year. I feel confident this would have been solved by DNA but I am so thankful for my Search Angels. I am complete. Good, bad or indifferent I know my roots and they are truly amazing and more than I ever dreamed possible.
Love my Search Angels, Diane, Patty, Margaret, and Penni (Penni obtained my mother’s OBC for me and it is a great story), Added by Diane, Penni basically walked into an office when they were busy and took it!