In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents. Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.
The Lifelong Detective: Still Searching for My Birth family
By Marian Rogers
I always knew I was adopted, at least as far back as I can remember. My adoptive mother had told me I came from The Cradle and we often drove by it since it was near where I lived. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
My adoptive parents died when I was young, my father when I was eight and my mother when I was sixteen– both of cancer. So much loss, so much grief in my childhood.
I was then raised by my mother’s sister who had always lived with us. I remember my mother telling me that our family doctor had called her and told her that there was a little girl available for adoption and that they had to adopt her because she looked so much like her. Our family doctor, Dr. Sauer, also worked with The Cradle.
My adoptive mother always told me and my cousins that I was French and Irish, but years later, The Cradle told me that I was German and English, according to their records. I am so intensely interested in finding out who I am that I have had a DNA test done, and it shows I am predominantly German, English and Irish. I am awaiting results from an autosomal DNA to narrow it down more precisely.
In 1978, I decided to start searching for my birthparents and I met with the Cradle to learn more information about my birth family. I was told my maternal grandfather had died of cancer in 1940 and was a machinist. My maternal grandmother was a practical nurse. In 1984 I was diagnosed with cancer, which as far as I know was related to radiation to shrink my tonsils during the polio epidemic when I was young.
When I petitioned the courts to get my medical records for our daughters’ sakes, the Judge told me that as long as we had my husband’s side of the family’s medical history, then that should be good enough for our daughters. I found out afterward that the judge also had an adopted daughter, so he was either ignorant, or trying to protect his rights with his daughter.
I was born at St. Vincent’s Orphanage on January 26, 1942 and then transferred to The Cradle for adoption. St. Vincent’s often told women to use aliases so they couldn’t be traced. Apparently, my birth mother took that advice very much to heart. This was in the era when adoptions were closed and there was a terrible stigma attached to being a birthmother.
According to The Cradle, my birthmother used four different last names, two different first names, two different first names for my father, and a different last name for her mother than any of the last names she had used.
The law recently changed in Illinois and I was able to order my Original Birth Certificate. The names on it were the same ones I had known since 1978, when I got a copy of my adoption decree and had also been told previously what their names were by an anonymous person who had access to the original records.
Those names were Lillian Margaret Smith, supposedly born in Des Moines, IA about 1916 and Charles Robert Johnson, supposedly born in Chicago about 1914/1915. He was about 5’7”, 145 lbs., with dark hair and blue eyes. I was told my father had entered the Army in June 1941 and was based as an Engineer at Camp Forrest, TN.
However, having obtained a copy of the book for that summer at Camp Forrest, I could find no record of a Charles Johnson. I was told that my father had finished high school, but the only Charles R. Johnson that we have been able to find a record of so far that joined the Army in June 1941 did not finish high school.
His occupation did fit what I had been told though – that he had been a cab driver and messenger. However, his background was Swedish and it showed he was from Rockford, Winnebago Co. I was told my father had no siblings.
I was told my mother did clerical work, domestic work and worked for department stores. She was about 5 ‘ tall, 106 lbs., with black hair and blue eyes. I have brown hair and hazel eyes. I was also told that when she found out she was pregnant, she lived with a friend of hers on the South Side of Chicago at 1350 E. 73rd St.
In the 1940’s there were three families living at the address she gave on the birth certificate: Lawrence Peterson, Harold Hutchens, and Robert Pickham. Lawrence Peterson had a wife named Elizabeth and a daughter named Dorothy, who was about thirty in 1942. Is it possible this is the family my mother stayed with, since the daughter was close in age, and named me after the mother?
I was also told my mother had two brothers who died young from the flu and a sister who died at fourteen of TB. I have hired well-known investigators using the names I know, and they have come up empty.
I am really at a loss. All this work, all this searching, and still no answers.
My last hope seems to be through the Family Finder DNA test in which I can narrow down my heritage and hopefully, match someone else’s family up to the 3rd generation.
I have three beautiful daughters and don’t ask for much in this world, but I just want to know who I am – what nationality, something about my birth family, and feel I belong somewhere and have a family of my own, not just the one with my husband.
I feel like half a person and don’t know who I am. I just want those answers – like so many people have. Why do the courts feel adoptees are non-people and have no rights to know who they are?
Obviously, from my experience, having the Original Birth Certificate means nothing when it could be aliases on the form, and all the other information could be wrong, too. At my age, almost 70, the odds of my birth parents still being alive are extremely slim since they would be in their mid-90’s if they are still alive.
I feel I must have brothers or sisters out there somewhere and just want to know them and something of who I am. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK? WHO AM I REALLY AND WHAT IS MY BACKGROUND?
By Marian D Rogers, aka Elizabeth Ann Johnson