Tag Archives: Search angels

My Adopted Life: Highlights of 2015

As I look back on 2015, meeting my sister, Michelle, and niece, Chrissy, stand out as high points in my journey to uncover truths about family.

The reunion came about after many phone calls. During those calls, Michelle spoke candidly about her childhood, revealing the unvarnished truth about growing up as the only girl, with three brothers, a beloved father, Dick, and Lillian, our hard drinking, hard living bipolar mother who struggled to keep everything together. They all lived in a modest house in Northbrook, a leafy suburb 35 miles north of the bungalow where I grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. Without going into all the details, Michelle survived a lot of hard knocks.

Planning the trip and traveling to my sister’s town, Galveston, Texas, felt exciting and unsettling, I was not the only nervous one. Michelle and Chrissy were as jittery about meeting me as I was about meeting them but as soon as they saw me, they welcomed me. Michelle was outside her house, smoking a cigarette, waiting for me as I drove up in my rental car. We looked each other up and down and then we hugged. Chrissy and I hugged. The three of us headed out for lunch at the Golden Corral.

Blood relatives: my sister, Michelle, center, and niece, Chrissy on the right
Blood relatives: I met my sister, Michelle, center, and niece, Chrissy, on the right, for the first time in 2015.

Eating, shopping for trinkets, looking at family photos and gabbing, lots of gabbing, made the awkwardness go away. We had a good day together.

Michelle is the closest relative I’ve found since I started searching for family. Meeting her in person was cool. I wanted to have a face to connect with the friendly voice on the phone. Four and a half years older and several inches shorter than me, Michelle describes herself as a tomboy. People at the restaurant and gift shop came over to chat with my sister, who loves to talk.

Were we full or half sisters? During the visit, Michelle took a DNA test, which I had purchased for her. The test results established that we were half sisters with different fathers. That’s what Michelle had told me all along but I wanted proof.

It’s exciting to find a new sister. Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test and Ancestry’s DNA test have turned up hundreds of cousins who are somehow related to me and while it’s interesting to know I have so many relatives out there, it’s not nearly as thrilling as finding a sister.

I found Michelle with the help of Marilyn Waugh, a wonderful search angel who tracked down family on my birth mother Lillian’s side. I also played detective. My husband, Tom, and I pored over records including obituaries which were available online. I made many phone calls and was able to track down Michelle’s stepmother, Jeannie, who put me in touch with Michelle.

Michelle called me first. “I’ve always known about you,” she said in her flat, Midwestern accent.

Finding a sister, hearing her voice on the phone and realizing she had known about me for most of her life while I was discovering her for the first time made my head spin. I don’t remember what I said – it was very awkward – but that’s how it all began.

Touched By An Angel

Remember I told you about my search for biological family on Facebook? Well, it fizzled.  But I have good news. Working with an excellent search angel, who found me here, I have connected with five family members on my mother’s side.

Talking to these people over the phone, I’ve learned quite a bit about my late mother’s life. (I will tell you more about it later.  It made me cry.)  My family members promised to send photos of my mother. I can’t wait to see them.

Thank you, Marilyn Waugh, for digging up the official records for me.  Waugh, past president of the American Adoption Congress, conducts adoption searches for the Kansas state government. She also directs Adoption Concerns Triangle of Topeka, a search and support group.

bigger photo of marilyn waugh
Search angel Marilyn Waugh

“I became a search angel after searching and connecting with my birth son, Michael,  24 years ago,” Marilyn says. “People helped me on my journey and, as a ‘thank you,’ I help others.”

(You can reach Marilyn Waugh at her website.)

I never would have been able to find the records without Marilyn. Believe me I tried. I got lost in the weeds trying to navigate the online directories. For amateur searchers like me, piecing together family history gets tricky when you’re trying to track down your mother. My mother was married twice so she had three names during her life.

Marilyn uncovered a census record from 1940 and that pushed our search in the right direction.  I wanted to make sure the woman we found on public records was my birth mother. Marilyn dug up an address for her on Ancestry.com and it matched her address as it appears on my birth certificate. That plus the conversations with relatives connected the dots for me.

I don’t have all the answers to my questions. I would like to find out who my father was and would love more details about my mother’s life. My ethnic background is still unclear. I also want to know how my adoptive parents got connected with my birth mother in the 1960s.

If you want to track down your family, find a search angel. These search experts do not charge for their services or, if there is a small fee, it covers the cost of database access. You can find a search angel by visiting G’s Adoption Registry or by contacting a representative from your state at the American Adoption Congress. Word-of-mouth recommendations are another good source.

I would love to hear about your search for family. What was it like?