Monday, June 28, 2010

My Most Rewarding Genealogical "Find"

Let me share with you the story of what I consider to be my most successful genealogical find ever (certainly the most rewarding one).
Way back when I was still a working stiff, I used to bore my employer silly with stories of my successes with my genealogical finds.
So one day, he decided to present me with a challenge.
One that, to his mind, I would never conquer.
He shared with me the fact that he had been adopted as a baby and he was really curious about the details of his birth.
Would I undertake the search for his birth parents?
"Sure," said I.  "What details can you give me?"
Besides his date of birth (which I already knew), he was able to provide me with his birth name and the locality in which he was born.
Armed with only that information, I embarked on a journey like no other.
My first step was to register his search with the Ontario Adoption Disclosure Agency and their response provided me with his birth mother's name, her age, her occupation, and her address at the time of his birth.
Turns out that was all the information I needed to get me started.
But that letter languished in my briefcase for two years while work got in the way (and I continued to pursue my own family tree research in my limited spare time).
Then, on a particularly slow February day in 2005 when I was having no luck "finding my dead people," I decided to turn my attention back to the search for my employer's birth mother.
I did a google search of the birth name that had been given to us two years earlier and up popped an Ontario marriage record for a bride of the same name, of an appropriate age, two years after the birth date in question.  (My employer had told me that while he had been "given" to his adoptive parents as an infant, his adoption was not finalized until he was about two years old.)
The Toronto Star had at the time recently put their entire publication from the late 1800s through to 2002 on-line.  It was an easily searchable archive so I bought a short term subscription to the resource.  I pulled every reference I could find to the family name (which, fortunately, was not all that common) and found numerous obituary and memoriam notices, as well as occasional marriage and/or birth announcements.  There were also some interesting articles referencing various family members, all of which I collected and built a profile of the family that I hoped to eventually prove was my employer's "birth family."  One of the obituary notices confirmed what would have been the married name that the earlier google search had surfaced.
My next move was to head off to the National Archives of Canada to look up the City Directory entries for the years in question.
Pay Dirt!
I tracked the family right on up to the 1980s, which told me that my employer's possible birth mother had at least three children and had been divorced (or widowed) and remarried in the intervening years (the obituary notices I had found in the Toronto Star archives had also suggested two marriages).
Just because I could, I tracked her family backwards and was able to piece together her complete Canadian family tree by way of the City Directories and census returns. (I later researched her family further still, and compiled her UK ancestry).
By the time I was finished, I knew that her mother had died when she was a young girl, that her father had remarried, that she had a sister, who also had two marriages, and I had identified her sister's children and the marriages of several of her family members.
In short order, I had compiled a very impressive file on the woman who had probably given birth to my employer.
But I was missing concrete evidence to say absolutely that I had the right person.
In early June, a letter was sent to that "last known address" that we had received from the Adoption Disclosure Agency (which just happened to be a home for unwed mothers -- then and still).  Their reply indicated that they were unable to divulge anything without a release from the specific Adopting Agency and advised us how to go about securing that release.  (While my employer had authorized me as his agent for his search, authorities would deal only with him so I prepared all correspondence to be sent from him, under his signature.)  We quickly faxed the request for a release of any and all information relevant to his adoption and eventually an envelope arrived in the mail.
Oh, what a bittersweet but exciting day that was. 
The file confirmed for me that I had absolutely documented the right person's family.
And it provided my employer with information about him that he hadn't previously known (even as an infant, the only time he was 'difficult' was when he wanted food -- still true 59 years later!).
And the information in the file broke my heart.
Because the evidence was there, loud and clear, that this woman had never wanted to give her baby away.
Circumstances beyond her control required that she do what no mother ever really wants to do.
She named him; she fed him at her breast.
And then she gave him to a family who loved him dearly.
The file included a letter from the adoptive family expressing how delighted they were with their son, whom they had renamed.
And now that I had the proof I needed that I had in fact tracked the correct woman, I had to find her!
We had no idea whether she was still alive although there was no reason to assume she would not be.
To preserve her privacy and that of her family, we decided to cast the net as wide as we could in looking for a contact number for her.
So we started with cousins (remember, I had tracked her Canadian family tree so I knew all the players).
Nope, the first one we called couldn't help.  But he was really intrigued by the contact.  Perhaps his brother could help.
Nope, he couldn't help either, but if we do locate her, he'd love to reconnect.
Well, when push comes to shove you just have to move in.
On the evening of  June 22nd, a call was placed to her niece (remember that sister I knew she had?), who fortunately had also married into an uncommon family name and had stayed in the same area.  There was only one telephone listing for the family name.
Yes, she receives a Christmas card from her aunt every year.  She lives with her daughter now.  She couldn't remember her cousin's married name, but she was able to give us the address of where she lived because she still had her aunt's most recent Christmas card.
Lack of name or telephone number is no deterrent for me.
Computers are wonderful.  A quick plug-in of the address gave me the family name and the phone number I needed.
On the morning of June 23rd, another phone call was made.
"Hello," said my employer, "my name is Jxxxx Gxxxxx and I'm looking for Lxxxx Rxxxx."
"That's my mother," said the voice on the other end, "but she isn't well just now.  Can I help you?"
It was rather awkward as he explained the circumstances of his birth to his new-found sister.  There was a little uncertaintly on her part, since her mother had never even hinted at the existence of another child.  But she was extremely gracious, under the circumstances.
My employer was delighted at the prospect of having a "little sister" (who actually shares his birth date -- but 14 years his junior) and four brothers.
Information was exchanged; e-mails went back and forth; telephone lines were burning.  He invited his new sister to check out his website, which she did without hesitation.  Her immediate reaction was, “You look just like your mother.”
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day Jxxxx met his birth mother, and he has since met the rest of his newly-expanded family.  After what became a very joyful reunion for them, Lxxxx and her daughter continue to hold a very special place in my heart.
Once the dust settled from having finally found his birth mother, my employer said to me, "I knew you were tenacious, but I really never thought you'd do it.  Thank you so much."
At Christmas 2005, I received a lovely gift from his "baby sister," along with a card which reads, "Thank you for bringing Jxxx into our lives."
Frankly, I don't think I'll ever be able to top that find!

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