Yesterday, I took a 3-hour drive South to be welcomed not only by my Sister and Brother-In-Law’s hospitality, but was also pleasantly surprised to be showered by even more hospitality from their Sister-In-Law, Barbara! Patty and I made a sporadic decision on Friday, to have a Girl’s Day Out on Saturday! No real reason. We just wanted to see each other and hang out…You know, like sisters do?! We didn’t really have any big plans, she was just going to show me around the small town she lives in and the town she works in.
So having Barbara join us on our outing was just fine with me! I am friends with her on Facebook and I recalled that she also loves the beach, so I figured we would get along just fine! We headed downtown to a little dress shop where I was encouraged to partake in a little retail therapy…They had to twist my arm, but I gave in. Then we went to a newly opened shop accross the street where they had a variety of beautiful things, including a lot of handmade and usual jewelry pieces….Right up my alley!!
Patty and I were looking at some engraved necklaces and bracelets and found one that said something about “having a sister as a grown-up best friend, starts with all of their wonderful, shared childhood memories.” We put it down and both just looked at each other…And said “Uh No. That’s not us…We were robbed of that part.”
You see, we just met last January at 55 and 60 years of age. Up until then, we had never even met. And she didn’t even know she had me as a sister. She had never heard my name. Or seen a picture of me. Or been told about me. And I had only recently learned about Patty after finding my Aunt Nan through Ancestry DNA testing. Aunt Nan remembered Patty as a cute little bitty girl. And she also remembered a younger, little brown-haired, brown-eyed baby sister named “Teresa” being with her sister, our biological mother. When I initially contacted Aunt Nan, she was just sure I WAS “Teresa.” Little did she know, that I was not “Teresa”…I was a much better kept secret. And that there were many more secrets and twists and turns to follow.
I have written about the loss of my adoptive mother and all of the trauma that surrounded that situation. That loss, coupled with the loss of relationships with other adoptive family members on my father’s side of the family left a big void. I feel certain they were told they had to choose…him or me. And since he has the bigger wallet and bank account, you can probably guess who they chose. My Momma had very few family members left and none of them were close geographically. I had my immediate family, and my husband’s family, whom I loved dearly, but I was used to having lots of extended family. And after we moved from the area in the country where I grew up and the county where I went to school and had made many friends, I really felt kind of “alone”.
We had also just been through a legal battle involving my Momma’s resting place and a lawsuit filed by my father, which I will get into in another blog. But all of these things helped to push me toward searching.
However, as silly as this may sound, it was actually a novel “The Secret Daughter” by Kelly Rimmer, I read that I consider responsible for making me take action. I will never forget staying awake all of one night back in the fall of 2016. Brad woke up at about 4 a.m. to look over and see me still reading away on my Kindle…He said “What in the world are you doing still reading?? Do you realize what time it is?” And the truth was, I had absolutely NO idea what time it was or how long I had been reading…I just knew that I could NOT stop now!! And I told him so…It picqued his interest so he wanted to know what was so intriguing?
I began telling him about this book I was reading. It was about this young woman who had gotten pregnant before marriage in the late 1950’s. She was not allowed to stay with her family and her boyfriend was away at college. So she was sent to a “maternity home” in a neighboring city. She was alone and afraid. And learned very late in her pregnancy that she would be expected to give the baby up for adoption, even thought she did not want to and neither did her fiancé, but the families were of no support and basically, she really just had no choice. Enter this social worker from the Maternity Home who took a special interest and liking to the young lady and was so sympathetic to her pleas to keep her baby, that this social worker agreed to take the baby, personally, on a temporary basis with the understanding between her and the young lady that as soon as she got out and was able to get with her fiancé and get married, she would give the baby back. However, little did she know, her husband had a different idea.
Long story short…The young lady NEVER got the baby back. The Social Worker’s husband made a deal with the administrator of the maternity home to “change” the records, including the babies’ date of birth, name, etc. to match when she came to he and his wife and they kept the baby and raised her as their own. And they never told her that she was NOT their own flesh and blood.
She found out in her late 30’s when she got pregnant and decided to have her own baby. That is when the truth finally came out. The young woman was completely devastated by this news…She was hurt, and angry and scared, and made a decision to try to find her own mother and hopefully, her father. And she did. And she had several siblings…And she was warmly welcomed by all of them! The birth mother was beside herself happy…Giddy, would actually be a better word. After they were reunited, they became very, very close and had a wonderful relationship! Her birth mother told her how there was never a day that went by that she didn’t think of her. But that she had agreed in a legal document to not look for her daughter, but said she had been hoping since the day her daughter turned 18, that she would find her so they could be reunited. She was heart-broken that she had not been allowed to keep her baby and had always hoped and prayed for a reunion. And that her daughter was happy and well taken care of. It got me thinking about my own adoption situation and some of the things about it that just didn’t make much sense to me.
What if the reason my adoptive father wanted to keep me and my adoption such a secret was that maybe something like this had happened??!! It would make sense as to why he went ballistic when I found out at six years old that I was adopted and why he wouldn’t want that informtion to get out. And did it have something to do with my Aunt (his sister’s son had told me about my adoption) and her family…Is that why he didn’t speak to her for over 45 years?? Until my Momma left him?? And having learned what I had about him and how he controlled my adoptive Momma, and that she had left him once shortly after they were first married due to being treated badly, but had came back and then they got me not long after??? Was all of that just a coincidence. My imagination was just absolutely running wild with itself! Could all of this be inter-related? I had so many thoughts and questions, and “what ifs’!! And I had no idea how or from whom to get any anwers?? I knew so little about my own adoption that I felt anything could be possible, right?
So, later that morning, I called my Aunt and Uncle in Florida…They were two of Momma’s few remaining close relatives. I got their voicemail. I got a call back from my Aunt that night. We caught up a bit and I asked her if she would mind to tell me what she knew about my adoption. She said she didn’t know a lot and didn’t think my Momma knew very much either. However, she said as best as she could recall, Momma had told her that I had been abandoned and left in an apartment in Evansville and was found by some neighbors who turned me over to Social Services. I asked her how old I was when my parents got me. She said she knew I was close to a year old, but didn’t know my exact age, but stated my birthdate as the one I had aready known. This was all basically what I had been told by my Momma, but then my Aunt dropped a BOMBSHELL…She said “I do remember your Momma saying something about “them” thinking that there was a twin brother, but they weren’t sure where he was or what had happened to him?” WHAT??? A TWIN??? Now my head was spinning….I said “Wait a minute…They thought there was a twin brother?” She said that was what Momma had told her that she had been told. I asked if they ever found him?? She said that to her knowledge, it was never confirmed. I told her I was in shock! She asked my Uncle, who was there with her what he remembered and he concurred with her story. And the location. And the timeline. I was totally blown away! I thanked them for taking time to talk with me and asked them to let me know if they remembered any other details and they promised me they would. I then called my adoptive Momma’s younger sister and asked her if she remembered anything about my adoption or about Momma and my adoptive father getting me? Surprisingly, she said almost exactly the same thing as my other Aunt, including the “twin” part…I asked her if she knew if they ever found or confirmed that there actually was a twin? And like my other Aunt and Uncle, she did not. She said she never heard any more about it, so just figured it wasn’t right or that something had happened to him.
To say I was floored, is a huge understatement!! I was not prepared for what I had just learned! Was there really a twin brother out there somewhere?? And why hadn’t my adoptive parents, especially my Momma, ever mentioned this to me? Had my father forbid her from telling me? Had she learned that the twin didn’t make it and she didn’t want to upset me by telling me that? Or did he get kept by my biological mother? Or father? Or both? Because he was a male? Why didn’t my parents adopt him too? Was there something wrong with him? Were we together when we were left in that apartment? Did we look alike? How long were we together? Were we hungry? Did we comfort each other? Were we cold? Did we have on clothing and blankets? What was his name? Did he go to my school? Was he in my class??? Oh my gosh….So many questions?? I went and got out my school yearbooks looking at the boys in my class to see if anyone looked like me?? Of course, the mind will see resemblances if you are looking for them?!
So….THAT was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! That was when I decided I had to find out if I had a twin brother, or any other siblings for that matter?! At that time, I had no idea how one would even go about starting a search like this? But I was determined to find out!!
After doing a little bit of internet researching, I learned that I could request my records from Vital Statistics in the county where I was born, so I began by going there and asking for my original birth certificate. What I got was my birth certificate with my adoptive parents’ names on it. Once they learned I was adopted, I was referred to the State Office of Vital Statistics. I was told I had to complete some forms and they would be reviewed to see if they could give me any of my identifying information. I did so…meticulously answering all of the questions I could and stating the reasons why I wanted to know. I mailed that in on October 31, 2016. About a month passed and I received a letter from Vital Statistics in Indianapolis and a form containing “non-identifying information”, which was virtually of no help to me. However, I was relieved to know that it did confirm my birth date. I also learned that I weighed 6 lb. and 1/2 oz., and was 18 1/2 inches long, which could be small enough to be a big twin. But it was also very close to the weights of both my babies and they were single births. There was nothing noting whether I was a single or multiple birth. I learned that my biological mother was reportedly 24 when she had me and my father was reportedly 27. But no names or anything else that would be helpful.
So, the next day, I called the new friend I had made at the Vital Records Division and asked her what I could do now? She told me that my adoption record was sealed, which she had already told me was common and likely the case. My recourse was to petition the court to appoint an advocate and ask them to release my identifiying information. I talked to a friend of mine who was an attorney and got some coaching as to what to put in the letter and completed the additional forms required. I mailed it November 16, 2016.
I got an early Christmas present on December 23, 2016 that the Judge had ordered the State Registrar to respond to this petition. I called my friend at the Vital Records Divison again and asked what exactly this meant. She said that it would likely result in an intermediary being assigned. At that point, I would need to pay $400 in attorney fees and this intermediary would research my record and give me the information they felt I should be privy to. I was trying to be excited, but somehow, that didn’t really feel like a “win” and it didn’t sound overly promising.
It was that same year on my December birthday that I found the DNA Detectives group, made a post about my birthday and noted being abandoned, caught CeCe Moore’s attention, got invited into Foundling Finders, shared my story and ordered a DNA test, submitted it and got assistance from CeCe Moore and some other special search angels when my results came in.
So fast forward to April 2017 when I first talked to my biological mother on the phone after I had messaged her asking if I could possibly be her daughter. It was not a pleasant initial interaction. She denied that I could possibly be her daughter, stating that my brother Michael was born less than 2 months after me, so it couldn’t be possible…The problem was, I had already talked to my brother Michael and he was actually 13 months younger than me, but she argued his birthdate with me. She told me I likely belonged to her older brother. I asked why she thought so and she said because I looked like a photo of him she had hanging on her wall. (Well, he is my UNCLE, after all?!) There was really nothing positive about this phone call and honestly at that point, I sort of hoped she was not my biological mother, because she didn’t seem very nice.
After consulting with CeCe Moore regarding her denial, she suggested Aunt Nan and I do 23 & Me DNA tests to see if our Maternal Haplogroups from our Mitochondrial DNA was a match. This would tell me whether my parent was one of Aunt Nan’s brothers or sisters. There were 5 brothers and 2 sisters besides Aunt Nan and Aunt Carol had already DNA tested and she was clearly my Aunt.
Skip forward to mid-May while I am in Florida visiting Aunt Nan. And Sissy, who I believe to be my sister or half-sister, has come in for a visit. Our 23 & Me results came in on our last evening there. And to no ones’ surprise, my Aunt Nan and I had matching Maternal Haplogroups…meaning that her sister WAS indeed my mother!! And Sissy was indeed my sister or half-sister. And Michael was my brother or half-brother. Had I mentioned that I had a “pretend” brother named Michael when I was a toddler and pre-schooler (I was an only child at the time)? How crazy is that?! It would also mean that little Patty who my Aunt Nan remembered was also my sister or half-sister!! WOW! Just Wow! DNA is giving us some cold hard facts, but no answers to “why?”
Sissy did an Ancestry Test and somehow talked our biological mother into doing one too. I talked to Michael about doing one, as well. Sissy also got her original certificate of birth and learned that our bio mother had 12 pregancies…According to this document, three of them were not viable and reportedly 4 of the babies who were born living, had since passed away by the latter part of 1966. That would leave five siblings living. Meaning if we found Patty, there was still at least one more to find. I still wasn’t sure who I was at this point…Maybe I was Teresa, but maybe not?
Sissy’s DNA test came back showing us as half-siblings. Shortly thereafter, she found her biological father’s name, but unfortunately found that he passed away about one year ago, so she would never get to know him. She did; however, learn that she had a number of half siblings! So that was exciting and a bit overwhelming. And our bio mother’s DNA results came back, clearly showing me as her “daughter”. So I contacted her and she returned my phone call. She said, “So, I guess I am your mother. You probably have some questions.” Seriously?? Of course, I had questions…About a million, actually! First one was of course “Why did you give me up?” This immediately put her on the defensive. She said that she had NOTHING to do with that! I asked what she meant. She said it was my father. I asked the next logical question…”So who was my father.” She said “Well, I will tell you about him and she gave me a name and then went on to say that he was a ‘mean, abusive bastard’ and he got mad one night and packed you and your brother up and left!” I said, “Wait, so I had a brother??” She said “Yes, he is your full brother and his name was Tommy.” I asked if he was older or younger? She said “younger”. I said “So Michael was between us?” She got a little flustered and said, “No, no…Wait, you were the baby…Tommy was older.” I asked her what my name was that she had given me and she told me I was “Karen Elaine”. Hmmm…sure didn’t ring a bell or sound familiar in any way.
So, I guided the conversation back to our “father”. I asked her if they were married? She said that they were NOT. I asked about him taking us and asked “So did he kidnap us?” She said she wouldn’t exactly call it kidnapping. I asked her what she would call it? She said that he just got mad and took you and your brother and told me I couldn’t do anything about it!! I said “So, what DID you do?” No answer. I asked “Did you call the police?” She said “no”. I asked if she went to look for us…And she said “no”. I asked if she did anything? And she said “No! I told you he said there was nothing I could do!” I’m thinking…Did I just hear all of that right? Didn’t she say our father was a mean abusive bastard? But yet she just let him leave with her toddler son and infant daughter and did “nothing”? That just doesn’t make sense to me…
I asked where I was born and she told me Evansville. I asked which hospital and she said she didn’t remember. I named the hospitals that were there. She still didn’t remember. I asked if she had my or Tommy’s birth certificates and she said “Well, no, I had to move out of that house and I couldn’t bring all of that junk with me.” I asked if she had any pictures of us when we were little? Same answer. I asked her if there were any other siblings besides Tommy, Sissy and Michael. She told me about Patty. I asked what happened to her and she said she chose to live with her dad. And I asked why she hadn’t kept Michael…Guess what? His dad was mean and abusive too; however, she was married to him. And Michael reportedly “chose” to stay in foster care even though he had an opportunity to come and live with her again, so that was also “not her fault.”
She then asked me if I had heard about her other “daughter”? I told her I had heard that she was actually her granddaughter and that she had reportedly raised her. She went on to tell me how spectacular this granddaughter was and how she home-schooled her many children and about the job she had previously and just how she was wonderful in general and had really “made something” of herself. She then said and I quote “Well, she’s just the best ‘daughter’ I could have ever asked for!” I said “Well, what about Sissy? She seems to have done well…She has a good long-term job. And a family.” She said “yes, she’s done all right for herself.” I told her that I had been at my job 22 years and the kind of work I did, and that I was married for 36 years, and that I had a son and daughter and 3 grandchildren and had been lucky to have a wonderful adoptive Momma and great grandparents and some wonderful extended family too. She said that she needed to get off the phone as she had somewhere to be soon. She did tell me that I could come and visit her at her grand-daughters if it was alright with her. And that if I needed anything else to let her know.
I got off the phone and thought…what did I learn from all of that? My head was still spinning. I learned that nothing seemed to be her fault and she took no responsibility for what happened with these babies and children she had given up. It also appeared that she had no sentimental feelings about me or Tommy, since she referred to our birth certificates and pictures as “junk”. I learned that she apparently did not really miss me, or care that I had a good life, or that I was even alive for that matter, as she said nothing about being relieved to hear that. Or glad that I had found her. Or that she ever gave me a single afterthought. And obviously she didn’t really even consider me as a “daughter”. She was definitely “detached”, to put it as kindly as I can. However, always being the optimist…I did learn what my name had reportedly been before I was adopted. I learned that I supposedly had a full sibling and his name…And that was exciting! And I learned the name of the man my bio mother claimed to be my father. And she confirmed that there was, indeed, an older sister named Patty. So, I thought at the time, that it wasn’t a total loss.
A good friend of mine who does some local genealogy work, agreed to help me try to locate my original birth certificate or some records regarding my birth now that I had a name and that we could possibly search for my brother, Tommy’s, too. We tried but came up empty handed. So I called my friend at Vital Records again to see if the new Indiana law had gone into effect allowing adoptees to obtain their own birth records. The law had passed, but it would not go into effect until the first of the new year. I told her I had been in contact with my bio mother and had found her through DNA. She told me I could ask her to give permission for them to open my adoption file….She would just have to complete some forms. So I called her back and asked her if she would and she agreed. I had the packet sent to her. This went on and on and the papers were finally completed correctly after Christmas. They were received at Vital Records after the first of the year and the turnaround time was at least 8 weeks. UGH! More waiting.
So now, we are in January of 2018…Sissy and a good friend of hers who does traditional genealogy helped her locate Patty with the help of the birth certificate Sissy was able to obtain and then by finding Patty’s marriage license. Within a day, Patty had been contacted and on the third day, I was in my car driving down into Kentucky to meet my other sister!! It was amazing. And so was her story. She was left at 2 1/2 years old. And she said she truly remembers it, even thought she was so young. I believed her….It would have definitely been traumatic. She said her father was often away for business or whatever and she was raised mostly by babysitters. She said she “panicked” if she was in public with a caregiver and she lost sight of them. She said that her abandonment issues have always plagued her, but she is very, very strong. She has probably been the most excited about all of the new family she has gotten to meet because she really had NONE throughout her life. She was not only disconnected from our bio mother’s family, but her father was evidently estranged from his family so she didn’t know them either. She only had her OWN family that she had made, including her husband, kids and grandchildren. She also had the family of her husband, including Barbara, who I mentioned meeting in the beginning of the story. I would have given anything if Patty could have been adopted with me…And we could have grown up together! I wished all of my siblings could have been kept together and adopted by my family!!
In late March I learned that I was NOT who my bio mother had told me I was, when I finally got my original certificate of birth, my record of adoption, and the death certificate of the man listed as my father on my birth certificate. My name was not Karen Elaine, but Sherri Ann, the same and only name I had ever known! Sissy got her genealogist friend involved again and with the death certificate of the man listed as my father on my certificate of birth, she located some of the family members who were still living. She was able to get me on the phone with one of the cousins who actually remembered me as a little baby. And she also remembered Karen Elaine…evidently she was my sister! And she said she doesn’t remember seeing Tommy, but remembers the family talking about him. According to her, we were all left with her Uncle, the man listed as my father on my birth certificate. She did tell me that Social Services somehow got involved and one of the aunts and uncles wanted to adopt all three of us, but it wasn’t approved, so we were all split up and adopted by different families. I asked one of the younger cousins if she would do a DNA test just to make sure that I was in the right family. She agreed to do one and it was sent to her.
In the meantime, I was able to get the remainder of my sealed adoption record in the county I was born. Brad and I drove to Evansville to pick it up. And I was in for yet another big surprise! According to the court documents and case worker notes, my mother had “abandoned or deserted me for six months or more”. And that wasn’t all….No where in any of that document was the man listed on my birth certificate nor that last name listed. I was referred to as Sherri Ann Kalman (which was my biological mother’s last name.). It was also noted that “Paternity was not established or determined.” Boy, oh boy…Why? Why all of the false information?
I learned through further study of my DNA results (after contacting CeCe Moore once again and sharing this latest set of facts) that the man on my birth certificate was NOT my father! I belonged to a completely different family!!! I was actually a Whitfield!!! I am still trying to figure which one of three potential brothers I belong to. They have all passed away. And two of them have no documented biological children, so there is no one to test. My bio mother will not tell me which brother it was, even though I have asked the direct question. She “doesn’t want to talk about it anymore” and “it is none of my business.”
Patty and I tried to pay our biological mother a visit a few months back, but none of the dates we could get off work to travel there worked for her. We just wanted some answers as to “Whys?” Why did she not want us? Why didn’t she ever look for us? Why did she only keep one of her babies to raise? Why doesn’t she consider us her daughters? What did she do with all of the other babies that were born? What were their names? Where were they born? What happened to those that reportedly died? Where are they buried? Who were their fathers? And on and on and on. So many unanswered “why’s?” Our only hope is that some other family members out there will DNA Test and we will get some new matches leading us to our other siblings who are hopefully still out there too!!
I have made contact with some of the Whitfield family and a few of the second cousins live fairly closeby. I have met them. Kathy and Joyce have been very nice and have provided me with some pictures of the brothers and my grandmother. I definitely look like her and I even favor these two second cousins! The two first cousins, who were actually the DNA matches that led CeCe to the three brothers, one of which is my father, are from Chicago and California. I have not had the pleasure of meeting either of them yet, but hope to one day soon! Some of the members of this family feel pretty certain of which brother I belonged to and they also feel certain that he didn’t know about me or he would have wanted to take care of me because he was a really sweet man. And that made my heart happy…Maybe I got some of my kindness from him. But I have to wonder, again, why? Why was I kept from him? Why didn’t he get an opportunity to know about me?
For now, we just keep plugging away…trying to find out the answers to at least some of the “why’s” we have…One thing I believe for sure and that is “why” certain people have come into my life. I believe that God knew I needed them. And maybe some of them needed me too. I believe everything happens for a reason…Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out what the reason is. But I am thankful for the new family members who have embraced me. And I am thankful that some of them live close enough to visit pretty regularly. And I am thankful for social media and texting and FaceTime, so I can stay in closed contact with those who live farther away. I have gotten to meet most of the relatives on the maternal side now and we have made some awesome memories. So even though we were “robbed” of our earlier days together, I feel we are destined to enjoy each other now and to make the most of our time together.