Tuesday 29 August 2017

Finding Birth Parents

Earlier this year I assisted a friend in finding her birth mother. This was my first foray into looking for parents of adoptees and I was surprised how much information there actually was available to help in the process. For privacy reasons I will refer to various people here using only forenames, not necessarily all of them the real ones.

Our friend, Karen, had two sources of information. One, of course, was the official adoption records which, in Alberta, can now be obtained by children who were put up for adoption. The file contained the following:
·         the date of birth of the child, obviously (1950)
·         the baby’s name (Adele) given to her at birth, along with the name given by the adoptive parents (Karen)
·         the full name of the mother (Mavis) at the time of the child’s birth, and her occupation (stenographer)
·         Mavis’s place of residence, at the time of the child’s birth and the mother’s usual abode (Grande Prairie, Alberta)
·         information on the mother’s and father’s families, with names redacted, but with parents’ occupations and other personal information, for example the maternal grandfather had been wounded in WWI and was now deceased

All of this information together was important in discovering Mavis’s entire family.

Karen also had her DNA tested at 23andMe which resulted in a match with another person (Terry) of close to 12%. That meant they were first cousins. In an exchange of emails, they compared family trees and names and came up with the conclusion that one of the Terry’s uncles had to be Karen’s father as Mavis did not match with anyone in Terry’s family.

You cannot always know whether all of the information given in the record is accurate or factual. In the case of the Karen’s birth father’s name and family we deduced it was not correct, either because he lied to the mother about his background or she chose not to divulge what she really knew to the adoption authorities. For example, his name was given as Emanuel Ford and his family had lived in central Alberta and he was in the military. Other data – mainly the DNA test information – suggested that was not his name which led us to the thought that perhaps the child had only been conceived in a “manual Ford” vehicle – a little play on words there.

With Mavis’s full name and usual residence I looked first at voters’ lists. In Grande Prairie, there was a woman who fit the particulars of name, occupation and marital status living with another woman named Sophia. The list had been compiled the year before Karen was born. Sophia was a widow, which fit with Mavis’s father being deceased.

Patricia Greber, a friend at the South Peace Regional Archives, did a search for the family, including Mavis, Sophia and others. She found a 1967 obituary for Sophia that named her husband (Edward), daughter (Mavis), son (Jack) and several other grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. It was gold mine of information, particularly as it contained Mavis’s married name. Other news reports included a marriage notice for Sophia and Edward, a birth announcement for Jack, a death announcement for Edward and a 2007 obituary for Jack. All together they listed many people related to Mavis, both dead and alive, and where they lived at the times of the news reports. A person named Adele was listed, who was a half-first cousin to Karen, possibly the individual for whom she was first named.

I searched further for Sophia and Edward and found them and other family members on censuses, ship passenger records and military records, as well as on birth, marriage and death records. Armed with the information from all of this data I was able to piece together an extensive family tree for Karen on her birth mother’s side, going back to England and the USA, and with some interesting stories about how her parents had come together.

As I indicated, the obituaries for Sophia and Jack carried Mavis’s married name. They also named her husband, son and grandchildren. I thought to myself, “Most people today are on social media now. I wonder if Mavis is there as well.” A quick search of Facebook found both Mavis and her son, Jack, each site with a large photo library. There was even one of Mavis on her 89th birthday, looking hale and hearty.

The search for Karen’s biological father was somewhat more straightforward. With the information from Terry we could narrow down which of her uncles was likely Karen’s biological father. Only one was in the military (so that part of the adoption record information seemed to be true) and he probably trained in Grande Prairie around the time Mavis became pregnant. The adoption document stated the father was married at the time but other information indicated he did not marry until many years later although the wedding did take place in Grande Prairie.

In the end, Karen elected not to pursue a contact with her biological father – he is still alive – as it could prove embarrassing to him, his children and, of course, to Terry for having volunteered information about him. Karen did send a letter to Mavis, though, telling her a bit about her happy life as an adopted child. She left it with Mavis to decide whether any further contact would come about. Again, Karen did not want to cause any embarrassment to Mavis or her family and is quite content to go forward without any contact with her birth mother.

I should say that Karen has never been unhappy or unsatisfied with her life. Growing up, she always bragged to my wife that her mother and father got to pick her from thousands of babies while Linda’s parents had to take what they got. In both cases, of course, the girls were very content with their families. After Karen lost her adoptive parents, she got curious about the circumstances of her birth and started to look for information. She was pleased to be able to at least, and at last identify her birth parents and get to know the history of their families.