Most of us, I suspect, have an adoption story somewhere in our family trees. It could be recent—or maybe it’s on a more distant branch that we haven’t identified yet. It might be a formal adoption, or informal. Sometimes openly acknowledged, other times in secret.
The advent of DNA testing means we may discover that a relative was not the biological child of the parents that raised him or her. Our matches may also provide evidence to identify someone’s birth mother or father.
For each of my DNA matches who are my third cousins or closer, I’ve identified our Most Recent Common Ancestor. Several of them had adoption stories, and this month, I’ve invited one of them to tell her story.
My name is Ruth Perry and I am adopted. I always knew this.
I was born in 1953 in Detroit. Soon after that, I was placed in the Methodist Children’s Home in Detroit. My parents had adopted my brother a few years before and were looking for a girl. Their neighbor worked at the Home and spent a lot of time rocking me at night and told them they should check me out. Six months after my birth, I went home with them.
As a child, I never felt like an outcast or that I wasn’t wanted. My mom explained that she and Dad could not have children, so they adopted my brother and me. The word adoption didn’t have much meaning to me.
As I got into my late teen years, I began to understand that someone made a decision to provide me with a better life than she could provide and I have always appreciated how difficult that may have been for her. In my early twenties, I got married and my parents gave me some papers regarding my adoption. One was the Probate Court Order of Adoption finalizing the adoption of Helen Rose Randolph and changing her name officially to Ruth Brennan. Wait…I had another name? I had never considered that I had another name. The other paperwork was 2 pages of doctors notes regarding my progress for the 6 months I was in the home. The doctor noted that I would be introverted and shy… he got it very wrong!
I had two children and thought more and more about what her life must have been like and if she ever thought of me. My life was going well, I had two good parents and a great family of my own. I always thought, if I ever got a chance to communicate with her, I would thank her and tell her I was okay so she didn’t have to worry about me (if she was). But it was the 1980’s and it would have been difficult for me to find her with the tools available then.
Around that time, Michigan allowed adoptees to contact the state and request non-identifying information about their adoption. You could also give approval for the State to give your contact information to any parent that might be looking for you.
I requested the information and received a two-page letter on January 9, 1984 describing my mom and her family. She was one of nine children and the third oldest. The letter explains that she stayed in a Maternity Home prior to my birth to keep her pregnancy confidential from the family. It described what she looked like, what hobbies she enjoyed and a few medical conditions she had. It also describes the other children, their height, hair color, birth year, hobbies, and any known medical conditions. My biological father’s height, hair color, profession, marital status (divorced) was also included along with his parent’s information. He did not participate in the adoption and gave up his rights immediately. She was 22 years old and he was 29. She also reported that she had a male child, two years before me, who was also adopted but not through the same agency and no information was available.
Now things started to change a bit. These were real people. I’m 6 feet tall; she was 5’6”, he was 5’11”. I have blue eyes and straight blonde hair; she had blue eyes, brown hair and he had blonde curly hair and blue eyes. Another child before me? Do I have a biological brother? Mom’s youngest sibling was in 6th grade when I was born which means he’s about 10 years older than me. What does he know about me?
I was still reluctant to dig much deeper into this. My concern was always that I would find her and she would not want to be found or she would come into my life like a mother. I had to think about my family. So, I put it to rest again.
Flash forward to 2019. My status has changed. My parents and husband all passed away within 10 months in 2015. I was preparing to retire. My kids were in their late thirties and I had 4 granddaughters. What if there was some medical condition they should know about and I was gone? How would they ever find out if they needed or wanted to get biological information?
I submitted my DNA to Ancestry in early 2019. Keep in mind, by this time I’m 66 so I wasn’t expecting to get much from it but at least it was out there. If you can’t already tell, I know nothing about DNA except you should never leave it behind at a crime scene. As soon as my results came back, I was surprised to see the last name Randolph in a few spots. I really didn’t know what I was looking at, but it was fascinating.
Soon after my results came in, I got an email from Ann. She stated that she was a genealogist and gave me her credentials. She wrote, “From the amount of DNA we share, the most likely (but not the only possible) relationship is that we are 3rd cousins. From our shared matches, I think one of your grandparents was the 1st cousin of my Grandpa (Harry Hammond b 1895 Indiana, died 1966 in Detroit.)” Ann then asked if she could do some research for me (YES!). I copied my DNA to GEDmatch as she suggested. It didn’t take long for her to let me know she was pretty sure who my mother was.
Ruth and I only share 18 cM. Normally, I wouldn’t have reached out to a match that size—we could be anywhere from 3rd cousins to 10th cousins, but she and my brother match on 97 cM. That’s a match worth pursuing! They are about the same age, so if they are the same generation from the common ancestor, AncestryDNA predicts a 48% chance we’re half-second cousins, 29% odds we’re third cousins, and lower odds for other relationships. Our shared matches suggested our common ancestors could be my Grandpa’s maternal grandparents: Lew Griffith and Betsey Carpenter. See image 1.
I’d already identified all of my grandparents’ first cousins, and one of them, Helen, had married a John Randolph in 1927. That’s the birth name on Ruth’s adoption papers. The non-identifying information Ruth was given said her mother was the third oldest in the family, born about 1931. That made Helen’s daughter Sandra the best candidate.
I’m retired and have more time so I started looking up her name. I didn’t have much luck in finding an obituary or anything thing else until September of 2019. I found Sandra’s grave and an obituary. So, Mom had passed away…. I wasn’t surprised as she would have been in her late 90’s, but still wished I could have thanked her. End of the story. But no…
She was survived by a daughter, Lisa Hogan. WHAT? A daughter?
I started googling and found Lisa living about an hour from me. I looked her up on Facebook and saw her picture. Okay, so now what do I do? I had come this far. So, I carefully worded a message to her (things like “I’m not a stalker, if you’re not interested,” etc.) and sent it through Messenger. A week later and no answer so I decided to put it in a letter. I mailed it on a Tuesday (8-27-19) and got an answer through Messenger on Thursday. We met for the first time on Oct 2 2019 near her home. We have visited each other several times before COVID and talk about once a week. She had heard from a family member right before her mom passed that she had a child that was given up for adoption but no one would confirm and mom never told her. Imagine finding a sister when you are 66. There are times when it’s hard to believe it ever happened and times when it’s wonderful to hear about mom and her personality. I found out that there is a medical issue my granddaughters might need to know.
Lisa and I are getting to know each other but I never miss an opportunity to tease her or tell her to respect her older sister. We’re having a lot of fun with this new part of our lives. She has met my daughter and we are finding it interesting to learn how we are alike. I’m glad I took this journey.
Update from Ann: Lisa took a DNA test and confirmed that she and Ruth are half-siblings. DNA has led us to Ruth’s paternal grandparents as well. They had four sons, any of whom might be Ruth’s birth father. I’ve left that to Ruth to follow-up if she wants.
Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving, with closer connections to family old and new!
© November 2020, Ann Raymont, CG®