Story of a Surviving Orphan Train Rider

From the mid 1850’s to to 1930 over 200,000 youth were moved by train across the United States. Many were adopted while others ended up in orphanages or other type of foster care.

In some cases their families knew of the move and in other cases the youth were just removed from the streets and placed on the train in hopes of offering them the opportunity of a better life.

Most would never have contact with their birth families again. There was no such thing as “open adoption” or “reunion registries”.

Today there are but 15 survivors from the Orphan Train days. The following is the story of one survivor.

Orphan Train rider Stanley Cornell’s oldest memory is of his mother’s death in 1925.

“My first feeling was standing by my mom’s bedside when she was dying. She died of tuberculosis,” recalls Cornell. “I remember her crying, holding my hand, saying to ‘be good to Daddy.’ ”

“That was the last I saw of her. I was probably four,” Cornell says of his mother, Lottie Cornell, who passed away in Elmira, New York.

His father, Floyd Cornell, was still suffering the effects of nerve gas and shell shock after serving as a soldier in combat during WWI. That made it difficult for him to keep steady work or care for his two boys.

“Daddy Floyd,” as Stanley Cornell calls his birth father, eventually contacted the Children’s Aid Society. The society workers showed up in a big car with candy and whisked away Stanley and his brother, Victor, who was 16 months younger.

Stanley Cornell remembers his father was crying and hanging on to a post. The little boy had a feeling he would not see his father again.

The two youngsters were taken to an orphanage, the Children’s Aid Society of New York, founded by social reformer Charles Loring Brace

“It was kind of rough in the orphans’ home,” Cornell remembers, adding that the older children preyed on the younger kids — even though officials tried to keep them separated by chicken wire fences. He says he remembers being beaten with whips like those used on horses.

New York City in 1926 was teeming with tens of thousands of homeless and orphaned children. These so-called “street urchins” resorted to begging, stealing or forming gangs to commit violence to survive. Some children worked in factories and slept in doorways or flophouses.

The Orphan Train movement took Stanley Cornell and his brother out of the city during the last part of a mass relocation movement for children called “placing out.

Brace’s agency took destitute children, in small groups, by train to small towns and farms across the country, with many traveling to the West and Midwest. From 1854 to 1929, more than 200,000 children were placed with families across 47 states. It was the beginning of documented foster care in America.

“It’s an exodus, I guess. They called it Orphan Train riders that rode the trains looking for mom and dad like my brother and I.”

“We’d pull into a train station, stand outside the coaches dressed in our best clothes. People would inspect us like cattle farmers. And if they didn’t choose you, you’d get back on the train and do it all over again at the next stop.”

Cornell and his brother were “placed out” twice with their aunts in Pennsylvania and Coffeyville, Kansas. But their placements didn’t last and they were returned to the Children’s Aid Society.

“Then they made up another train. Sent us out West. A hundred-fifty kids on a train to Wellington, Texas,” Cornell recalls. “That’s where Dad happened to be in town that day.”

Each time an Orphan Train was sent out, adoption ads were placed in local papers before the arrival of the children.

J.L. Deger, a 45-year-old farmer, knew he wanted a boy even though he already had two daughters ages 10 and 13.

“He’d just bought a Model T. Mr. Deger looked those boys over. We were the last boys holding hands in a blizzard, December 10, 1926,” Cornell remembers. He says that day he and his brother stood in a hotel lobby.

“He asked us if we wanted to move out to farm with chickens, pigs and a room all to your own. He only wanted to take one of us, decided to take both of us.”

Life on the farm was hard work.

“I did have to work and I expected it, because they fed me, clothed me, loved me. We had a good home. I’m very grateful. Always have been, always will be.”

Taking care of a family wasn’t always easy.

“In 1931, the Dust Bowl days started. The wind never quit. Sixty, 70 miles an hour, all that dust. It was a mess. Sometimes, Dad wouldn’t raise a crop in two years.”

A good crop came in 1940. With his profit in hand, “first thing Dad did was he took that money and said, ‘we’re going to repay the banker for trusting us,’ ” Cornell says.

When World War II began, Cornell joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He shipped out to Africa and landed near Casablanca, Morocco, where he laid telephone and teletype lines. Later he served in Egypt and northern Sicily. While in Italy, he witnessed Mount Vesuvius erupting.

It was on a telephone line-laying mission between Naples and Rome that Cornell suffered his first of three wounds.

“Our jeep was hit by a bomb. I thought I was in the middle of the ocean. It was the middle of January and I was in a sea of mud.”

With their jeep destroyed and Cornell bleeding from a head wound, his driver asked a French soldier to use his vehicle to transport them. The Frenchman refused to drive Cornell the five miles to the medical unit.

“So, the driver pulled out his pistol, put the gun to the French soldier’s head and yelled, ‘tout suite!’ or ‘move it!’ ” Cornell recalls.

Once he was treated, Cornell remembers the doctor saying, “You’ve got 30 stitches in your scalp. An eighth of an inch deeper and you’d be dead.”

Cornell always refused to accept his commendations for a Purple Heart even though he’d been wounded three times, twice severely enough to be hospitalized for weeks. He felt the medals were handed out too often to troops who suffered the equivalent of a scratch.

His younger brother served during the war in the Air Force at a base in Nebraska, where he ran a film projector at the officers’ club.

As WWII was drawing to a close, Stanley Cornell headed up the teletype section at Allied headquarters in Reims, France. “I saw [Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower every day,” he recalls.

On May 7, 1945, the Nazis surrendered. “I sent the first teletype message from Eisenhower saying the war was over with Germany,” Cornell says.

In 1946, the 25-year-old Stanley Cornell met with his 53-year-old birth father, Daddy Floyd. It was the last time they would see each other.

Cornell eventually got married and he and his wife, Earleen, adopted two boys, Dana and Dennis, when each was just four weeks old.

“I knew what it was like to grow up without parents,” Cornell says. “We were married seven years and couldn’t have kids, so I asked my wife, ‘how about adoption?’ She’d heard my story before and said, ‘OK.’ ”

After they adopted their two boys, Earleen gave birth to a girl, Denyse.

Dana Cornell understands what his father and uncle went through.

“I don’t think [Uncle] Vic and Stan could have been better parents. I can relate, you know, because Dad adopted Dennis and me. He has taught me an awful lot over the years,” Dana Cornell says.

Dana Cornell says his adoptive parents have always said that if the boys wanted to find their birth parents, they would help. But he decided not to because of how he feels about the couple who adopted him. “They are my parents and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

Stanley and Earleen Cornell have been married 61 years. She is a minister at a church in Pueblo, Colorado, and is the cook at her son’s restaurant, Dana’s Lil’ Kitchen.

Stanley Cornell believes he is one of only 15 surviving Orphan Train children. His brother, Victor Cornell, a retired movie theater chain owner, is also alive and living in Moscow, Idaho

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All They Want for Christmas!

Almost fifty-eight years ago, in the early hours of one
morning, a young nineteen year old unwed woman gave
birth to her first child…a boy.

She spent most of her pregnancy in a home for unwed
mothers as her father would not, as he said, allow a
bastard child in his house.

She was uneducated and unable to provide even the
basic needs for herself yet alone for her newborn child.

She did what she thought would be best for him. She
placed him lovingly for adoption within hours after
his birth.

She wished for him the best; a loving, nurturing,
stable family and a home to call his own.

Instead he spent the first year of life in a hospital
nursery and also the nursery of the same home for
unwed mothers his mother had spent her pregnancy.

Despite being a white, blond, hazel eye, healthy baby,
no one came forward to adopt him…he was NOBODY’S
Child!

Those first days in a nursery turned out to be
eighteen years of being moved from one foster home to
another or institution; fifteen moves by age eleven.

During those years he would attend many schools, never
having long time friends. He at a time would find his
bed on a back porch and be forced to steal food from
other children at school to dampen his hunger pains
from being fed only one meal a day. He would face the
horror of sexual abuse at the tender age of ten.

Each Christmas, as he heard the carol, “All I want for
Christmas” he would change a few of the words so his
birth mother’s wish for him would become a reality.
All I want for Christmas is a Mom and Dad to call my
own! That this would be the Christmas a family would
adopt him and call him son!

His wish never became a reality. Christmas, the most
joyous time of the year for children, became a time of
anguish and pain for this boy. The pain continues even
now. 

He aged out of the system at eighteen, thrust out into
the world whether he was ready or not.
 
Somehow, with the help of a few mentors, hope and a
deep inner faith this baby boy was able to overcome
the years of his childhood. He received a college
education and began a professional career.

At age of thirty-one he suffered a massive heart
attack. He could not answer the doctor’s question of;
“What’s your family medical history?” He was
embarrassed and ashamed for as far as he knew…he
still had no family to call his own.

He began a search for the person who he thought would
be able to provide some answers…the mother who
lovingly relinquished him years earlier.

The search took four long years. It was a painful,
trying and at times a frustrating journey as he met
numerous obstacles along the way.

He remembers vividly the message left on his answering
machine on April 17, 1986, “This is your mother!” They
would speak a few hours later…a phone call that
would last for hours. His spine still tingles and eyes
tear up as he remembers that day now nineteen years
later.

He met his birth mother not many months later. It
unfortunately was just the beginning to what turned
out to be a very strained relationship at best.

They never developed a mother/son relationship; even
saying they became friends would be stretching it.

This relationship ended tragically a mere twelve years
later. Painfully it happened on Christmas Day 1998,
the first and only Christmas he would ever spend with
any immediate family. His mother, on her own accord
this time, rejected her son and wished him dead as she
could not bear learning her son…her first born…was
gay.

All the anguish of the unfulfilled Christmas wish of
the past years came flowing back to him. He would
spend that Christmas night alone in a hotel, crying
himself to sleep. After all these years he realized he
still did not have a family to call his own and
probably never would….he was still NOBODY’S CHILD!

Despite several attempts at reconciliation by the son;
mother and son were never to speak or see each other
again in her lifetime. She passed away just shy of
three years after turning her son away.

The son, after time, was able to forgive his mother
and to thank her for not only giving him life but
making the decision she did on the day of his birth.
Despite how his childhood was; it had been the correct
decision.

He also was able to search, find and meet his father
once. His father did not wish for a relationship and
his father passed away four years after he found him.

His half siblings, from both his mother and father’s
side, rejected him as their brother.

The one foster family whom he called to be Mom and
Dad, even after he was on his own, are both long
passed away.

What should be a joyous occasion remains a painful day
as it always has been. It brings forth those memories
of a childhood he cares not to remember.

He has, in recent years, found and met extended
family. They have welcomed him with open and loving
arms. He has even been able to share Christmas with
many of them. Yet, pain, rather than joy, is his
holiday season…there is still a hole in his soul!

He will receive well wishes from friends, extended
family and others this holiday season. However, in
many ways he will still feel alone. There will never
be Christmas wishes from a mother, father, brothers or
sisters…and his heart breaks. His eyes still tear up
when he hears, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

Despite those painful memories he moves forward. The
hope and faith that sustained him through these many
years continues to sustain him.

How do I know each detail of this person’s life?  I am
that son born to the unwed mother almost fifty-eight years
ago.

The wounds of the passed have in many cases healed;
however, there are many that just scabbed over waiting
to be broken open anew…they will never heal. The one
that will never completely heal; a Christmas wish
never to be!

Why do I share these memories with you? It is not to
obtain any sympathy for I survived my childhood and
will survive it all and continue moving on with my
life.

I share it because of the thousands of “legal orphans”
stuck within our foster care system today awaiting
their forever family to come forward…to call them
son or daughter.

Many people have asked me over the years, “What did I
want the most as a child and what do kids in foster
care today want?” The answer to that question is no
different today than it was for me as a child; “A
family and home to call my/their own!”

Millions of children soon be thinking of the holiday season and will write their wish list to Santa this year. In most cases the one wish of foster children will not be written or vocalized. They will hold it deep within their hearts as many have been too
disappointed on Christmas’s past. 

They will awaken Christmas morning bright eyed and
wishful only to have their little hearts broken yet
again…there will be no family or home to call their
own. They will lay their heads upon their pillows, if
they are lucky enough to have even a temporary home,
tears within their eyes but yet a hopeful heart that
maybe, just maybe, next year!

As we begin to think of baking gingerbread houses,
decorating our trees and homes, buying gifts for loved
ones or sending a card to a friend; I ask you to think
of the children in foster care that would love to be a
part of your holiday planning.

It is far too late to make their wish come true this
year in most cases, however, if you begin working on
it now it could become real for yet this Christmas.

If you are unable, for whatever reason, to bring
another’s child into your life as your own please do
something to at least brighten their holiday season a
bit.

Many will find under a tree, as I did so many times,
only their semi-annual clothing allotment from foster
care and maybe a toy or two.

Visit your local agency; bring a gift or offer to host
a party; anything to make the holidays just a tad
easier for them.

No, their Christmas wish won’t be fulfilled by these
gestures, but it might bring a smile to their face for
at least a bit.

Clothes, toys, candy etc will last just a short time;
a family and home can last forever.

Won’t you consider being a forever family to a foster
child in need of one and make their Christmas wish,
their everyday wish, a reality. On this Holy Night of
the year let them once and for all sing, “I am Home
for Christmas!”

Next month, Novemember, is National Adoption Awareness Month…though it is now only October it is never too early to start the process.

Make the Christmas season a time of joy for a child,
after-all Christmas is for kids!

Peace!

Family Medical History…What About Adoptees?

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona in 2005 began an initiative to encourage supposedly ALL Americans to learn about their families’ health histories. This would be a way of promoting personal health and preventing diseases.  He has even collaborated with others to offer a new web site and free computer program to help families collect and record this information.

Dr. Carmona stated, “The bottom line is that knowing your family medical history can save your life. Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment and knowledge can’t give us the information family medical histories can.

However, how are the millions of adopted across the country who have their records sealed suppose to obtain the information that Dr. Carmona says could save their lives?

Many question why adoptees search for their birth family or at least information about them. Most of those who question come from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives.

They have little to no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

Through the first thirty-two years of my life I did not care about birth parents, family, heritage, medical history or any of that stuff. I had enough issues involved in just growing up and making something of myself, without having to spend time contemplating that bigger picture.

I should note, to this point of my life, I did not know even the names of my birth parents.

1982 changed all that!

I suffered my first heart attack. I still remember the doctor asking, “What is your family medical history?” I was embarrassed when I had to respond “I do not know!”

I am one of the fortunate ones. I was not adopted, but was placed for adoption at birth. I rode the merry go round of the foster care system for eighteen years. After my heart attack and embarrassment of not being able to answer doctor’s questions I began searching for the answers.

Even as one who was not adopted, many closed their doors and records to me during my search. I can only imagine the extreme difficulty adoptees have in getting the answers which could save their lives!

I know adoptees who have been searching for years, without success, to find the very basic of information; a birth parent name. This is due to he laws concerning adoption still on the books in many states.

I have known adoptees, even when the release of medical information about family could have saved their lives, were refused their request for information. This is wrong and has absolutely no justification.

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same it’s considered abnormal? Seems hypocritical to me!

I now know my family medical history. This, however, came about only after eight long and costly years of searching for my birth family before the days of Google, etc.

My search was, in comparison to adoptees, relatively easy despite the length of time it took.

My search had its ups and downs. My initial search to just find the information needed to locate my birth Mother to get medical information, took four years. It would take another four years before I would find and meet my birth Father. They have both since passed away. During that time, I learned how to be a detective; to ask questions, which to most would have appeared stupid. I even had to learn to lie to just get the information I wanted.

I found my birth Mother, my birth Father as well as siblings. None were very cooperative in answering my questions about family health, heritage or genealogy. If they had been, it might have saved me sixteen more years of research.

My search went far beyond my original intent. The question is; WHY? Why did I go beyond the original intent of getting simple medical information? Why did I want to find my birth Mother? Why did I ever want to meet her? Why did I want to know my roots? Why take twenty years spending great amounts of time, energy and money researching my family history? Why look for living members of an extended family?

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information; then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

I have found most the answers to my questions. The void that was in my life has been filled. I now feel I am a whole person; I know who I am and where I came from. I am now in the position that children raised by their birth parents are in. I no longer have to feel different or abnormal. I found far more information about my family genealogy than I ever expected to. I found and met members of my extended family. I can now see in pictures family resemblances and say…see I belong! In learning about my great grandparents, aunts, uncles and Polish people as a whole, I learned, in so many ways, why I am the person I am today.

This is why I and others search, the desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you…you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I had a good life prior to beginning my search and have done well during the search. The end result of my search just has made it better.

Since the 1970s, some states have opened up their adoption laws, opening Adoption Registries. Many adoption agencies now enter into open adoption agreements. However, in many cases, the adoptee is at a distinct disadvantage if they choose to search for their birth parents or any information that might identify who they are.

Though things have improved in the past twenty or so years, much more needs to be done. Most state Adoption Registries require both the birth parent and the adoptee to grant permission for identifying information to be shared with the other party. If consent is not given or if nothing is on file indicating either way, any requests for information will be denied.

Current laws, even with updates, still play havoc for those adoptees from the 1930s, 1940s and even 1950s. In many cases, the birth parents or adoptee, do not know the new laws regarding Adoption Registries. Also, the birth parents or now adult adoptees have passed away. Even in death, information cannot be given. In most cases, the law that supposedly was “in the best interest of the child” has become, “best interest of the birth parent, dead or alive.”

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family medical history, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world.

To those who are not adoptees, or from a situation such as mine, I ask you; “Knowing all that you know today about yourself, family, family medical history…how would you have liked to have all that information kept from you? Would it leave a void in your life? These are the conditions under which adoptees are expected to live. In truth, you know you would not like to live this way; why would you expect an adoptee to be any different from you?

To birth parents, I have a message. We understand, in most cases, your decision to give up your child was made only after a great struggle within yourself. We know what a painstaking decision it was that you made. We know you made that decision because of the love you had for your child, and that you wanted what was best for him or her. I ask that you continue to act in the best interest of your child, who is now an adult and no matter how good a good a home they went to, or how well they have done in life, may still feel incomplete. PLEASE, file information with your respective state Adoption Agency from which your child was adopted. Give your consent to have it released to your child when they reach adulthood. Let them fill the void within their lives. Without your consent this information will never be made known to them.

Adult adoptees, who search for answers, do not mean you any harm. They do not want to disrupt the lives you have since built for yourselves. They just want and need answers to questions to which only you can unlock the door. Even if you do not wish for any type of relationship with your child, provide the information that would allow them to be whole.

My search was satisfied when I was able to sit with my birth Mother and find out the true story of my birth; the gut-wrenching decision she made to give me up, and why; my true Polish heritage and the vague medical history that would allow me to better care for myself.
I would have been satisfied if she had just provided me these facts in a letter and not agreed to meet me. I would have had the basic information I desired.

The fact she agreed to meet me, despite how our relationship turned out, was above and beyond what I had hoped for or expected during my search.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family medical history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my heritage is
Polish!

This is why I searched. This is why anyone would search. To any adoption agency employee, state Adoption Registry employee, or more importantly, birth parent who may read this…allow adult adoptees to have the thrill I have had. Allow them access to the information they may need or want to fill in the blanks in their lives. Allow them to become whole! This is vitally important for adoptees of earlier generations. They need the information while it might still be possible for them to meet the birth parents whom for whatever reason, had to give them up. If the birth parent or adoptee is already deceased, then the adoption records should be opened without question.

My question now to Dr. Carmona is, “Will he join the battle for open records?” He sees the importance of ALL to have their medical history available to them. Does he truly believe ALL or will he allow millions to continue to have the doors to this information closed to them?

Dr. Carmona addresses only one of many reasons adoption records should be opened to adult adoptees. There are numerous other reasons. However, if one’s life can be saved through family medical information or diseases fought or even prevented…this should be enough reason to open the sealed vaulted doors.
  
It is OUR information locked behind the vault doors and we have a right to it!

For those privileged to have their family medical information and wish to organize it, print it out and have it added to your doctor’s records for you; you may download it at: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.
The program is called “My Family Health Portrait.” 

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

My Story in Newspaper

I was fortunate that during August/September 2004 a reporter and photographer spent several hours with me to prepare articles sharing my story in my then hometown nespaper, “Midland Daily News.”

To my surprise when the articles appeared they were on the front page of the October 3, 2004 (Sunday) front page on top of the fold. The newspaper has a subcription of 42,000.

I have placed them on my web site, there is a link at the bottom of the first  page leading to the 2nd article.

 The URL is: http://www.larrya.us/midland.html

Since I am still receiving E mails almost 3 years later from the articles I thought I would also share them on my blog.  

A Search Guide for Birth Parents/Adoptees/Foster Youth

I created this special tips blog for adult adoptees, birth parents and some foster children, as I am a strong proponent of “open records.” I believe every person has a birth- given right to know who they are and where they and their ancestors come from.
If states will not pass open records laws for adult adoptees, they should have the right to search if they so choose. I do not believe this right should be extended to minors.

I also include foster children because of my own situation. I was placed for adoption at birth, but instead ended up in the foster care system until I aged out at age eighteen. I had been totally disconnected from my birth family. Sometimes a foster child’s search can be as difficult as an adoptee’s.

I wish many of the tips I am including here were available to me at the time of my own search. However, despite my limitation, my search was successful.

The tips listed below are not listed by importance, only you can determine which might be important to you and what priority it is given.

TIPS
1. Create a search journal. This may assist you in keeping track of the steps you have taken in your search.
2. Discuss the search with your adoptive parents. They may be willing to assist you in your search or be able to provide you with necessary information. Remember to let them know that you love them and your need to search does not, nor will not, affect your relationship with them. This will help them to not feel threatened by your need to search.

3. As early in your search as possible, if you have a computer with Internet access, join adoption and genealogy newsgroups and/or support groups. They cannot only provide resources to search, but may also offer moral support during your search process.

4. Locate your amended birth certificate. Write your State Office of Vital Records for it.

5. Obtain a copy of your final decree of adoption. Write the court that finalized the adoption for it.

6. Obtain your petition to adopt. The same court that finalized your adoption should have this as part of their records.

7. Contact the adoption agency that placed you to obtain non-identifying information. You may possibly receive information you might not expect.

8. Contact the law firm or attorney who assisted in your adoption for the same reason as above.

9. Contact your delivery physician again for the same reason as above.

10. File a waiver of confidentiality with the adoption agency, law firm and courts. This will allow your information to be released to a birth parent or sibling in the event they are searching for you.

11. Apply for medical records from the hospital where you were born ONLY IF you have the name of your birth mother and/or father. Adoption should not be mentioned as you may find this avenue immediately closed to you.

12. Attempt to retrieve your original (pre-adoption) birth certificate. You may not receive it, but you have nothing to lose by requesting it.

13. Formally petition the court to open your adoption records. To forward identifying information, the court will need a reason. An example would be a medical reason. Unfortunately this has not proven very successful, but again, an avenue to try.

14. Register with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). Also, if the state in which you were adopted has an adoption registry, register with it. This allows the registry to release information if family is looking for you.

15. Check both county and state records for marriage or divorce records for either birth parent. If you know the names of your birth parent(s) this will be a very useful tool, especially if your birth parents were in fact, at one time married.

16. Learn about the adoption laws for your state. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse.

17. Check county or state death records for birth parents and both grandparents. This record will include who provided the information on the certificate, as well as the funeral home involved. The funeral home could provide you names, addresses and possibly phone numbers of survivors. Requesting my paternal grandfather’s death certificate, on a hunch that he was deceased, is what unlocked all the doors for me in the search for my birth mother.

18. Send for a copy of Where to Write for Birth, Marriage, Divorce, and Death Records available from: Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

19. Write to Adoption Regulation Unit to access your adoption records.

20. Order a copy of The Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives from: The National Archives, Washington, DC 20408. You will also want to check the tips I provide for genealogical research, as some of them could be useful to you.

21. Find maps for the area where you are searching.

22. Create a profile of the hometowns or regions where each of your birth parents is said to have been from.

23. Create a list of all the libraries in your area and the areas where you are focusing your search. They will be a good source for finding obituaries for family members who may be deceased. The obituaries will list survivors which may lead you to your birth family.

24. Check local newspapers from where you were born for birth announcements. Your local library usually has old newspapers going back several years.

25. Check local newspapers from the area where your birth parents were born for their birth announcements.

26. Check local newspapers for wedding and engagement announcements for your birth parents.

27. Check in old city directories to try to locate your birth parents or other relatives. These can be found at many local libraries or historical societies. I tracked my maternal grandfather for over thirty years using this resource. When his name suddenly disappeared, I then requested a death certificate from the state.

28. Check in city directories to match an occupation to a name. Some older city directories actually listed companies where people worked. Finding out where my paternal grandfather had at one time worked led me to my birth father’s sister and eventually to my birth father.

29. Cross reference city directory information year by year.

30. Check in city directories to locate old addresses of birth parents and possible neighbors. Former neighbors of a birth parent may be able to tell you where they might be now.

31. Check phone books and national telephone directory discs for birth relatives.

32. List yourself in the telephone directory of the area where you were born, and in the area where you live now. An unlisted number could lead to a dead end for someone who might be searching for you.

33. Check any possible surnames against a book of name deviations.

34. Speak with your local librarian. They will prove to be invaluable in directing you to many of the resources in this guide.

35. Locate all churches of the faith of your birth parents in the area where they were living at the time of your birth and where they may live now.

36. Check local churches in the area where you were born for any baptismal, marriage or death records.

37. Check local churches in areas where you believe your birth parents may have resided for their baptismal, marriage, or death records.

38. Join a local or national search and support organization, and sign their registry if they maintain one. Support of others during the very stressful search process will prove invaluable to you and they may also be able to provide tips and clues for you to use. One group that proved very helpful during my search was ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement Association). Most major cities have a local chapter.

39. Create your own library of search and reunion books.

40. Advertise in adoption search magazines. Be sure to list your “birth name” if you know it as well as your “adoptive name.”

41. Advertise in newspapers where you believe your birth parents may now reside.

42. Order a copy of How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military 1-800-937-2133.

43. Contact old neighbors for forwarding addresses and other possible information.

44. Visit old neighborhoods in person to locate past acquaintances of your birth parents.

45. Check with former employers about possible forwarding addresses of birth parents.

46. Check old high school and college yearbooks in the areas of your search.

47. Check with high school or college reunion chairman about the current address of a birth parent or request a list of entire class.

48. Contact a private investigator or consultant. I suggest this only if all else leads to a dead end. Investigate any investigator before hiring them.

49. Request from the court that finalized your adoption the appointment of a Court Investigator. The CI will attempt their best to locate a birth parent or sibling. However, they will only be able to provide non-identifying information directly to you. They will ask you to write a letter to the person found without identifying information. All communication will be through the CI. Only if the person found agrees to have contact made can the CI then assist in a reunion or the exchange of identifying information.

50. Leave no stone unturned…you never know where you might find the gold nugget of information you have been looking for!

Might I make one more suggestion? If you find your birth parents and a reunion is planned here is an idea for a gift. Make a book which might include pictures, any news articles of accomplishments and possibly a letter about you, why you searched and that you are happy you located them.

When I met my Birth Mother for the first time, I gave her a red rose for each of the thirty-six years of the life she had given me. As I left her suite at the end of our first day together, I gave her “my book” so that she could read it privately after I left. When I met her the next morning she greeted me with tears, a hug and a thank you. Despite how our relationship ended twelve years later, I believe that book is something she treasured for the rest of her life. She passed away in October 2001.

This guide of tips does not guarantee success. It is a tool to use in your search and not an all inclusive one at that.

I hope you will find it useful and I further hope your journey will in the end meet your goal.

Was Search for Birth Family Worth It?

Having done a successful search for my birth family, but a not so positive reunion…I still say the journey was worth it!

I began my journey years ago after suffering a heart attack at age thirty-one and having to answer the embarrassing question from the doctors about family medical history with a, “I don’t know.”

I was placed for adoption at birth, but ended up never being adopted. In the first eleven years of life I was moved to three institutions and eleven foster homes before finding stability at Boys Town, Nebraska.

Though I was fortunate to have my birth mother’s name from the start of my search, it still took four, long years of searching before she was located…it would take another four years before I found my birth father.

My birth mother was an alcoholic and still years after my birth, harbored the hatred toward her father for forcing her to give me up for adoption. Her life had not been an easy one. I believe she also resented the fact that my life turned out better than anything she could have been able to offer me, such as a college education and good career.

She had four more children after me. She did raise those children and was unable to offer them the opportunities I had been given.

My birth father ran when he found my birth mother was pregnant as he had done once before while serving in Germany during W.W.II. He had one more child after my birth.

Neither reunion was a positive one. After twelve years my birth mother gave me up a second time because I am gay. She wished I had never been born and that I would die of AIDS rather than her having to bear the burden of being the mother to a gay son.

My birth father was always distant and cold. I only met with him once for an hour out on his back patio.

Both have since died.

My five half-siblings rejected me.

I was able to thank my birth mother for at least giving me life and also thank her for her decision to give me up the first time. Her decision was a wise one.

She also was able to provide the needed medical information.

She provided just enough information for which I have after several more years of searching, been able to locate extended family and spent my first Christmas with a number members of my “real family” in 2002. This Christmas past I met yet another twenty-eight entended family members. They have welcomed me with the openess and love my immediate birth family could not.

I have also discovered my heritage and have been able to trace my great, great maternal grandparents roots back to Poland.

Yes, it took years of searching and yes, the reunions were not all positive. Yet they provided the answers I was looking for and finally answered the main question of WHO AM I?

I went into the search expecting little to nothing to result…I found far more than I could have ever expected.

I share all this to let you know…despite the ups and downs of the journey…I found the journey was worth it and I would do it all over again.

If you are considering a search you may have fears as you search, but don’t let them stop you…even if you end up with a rejection or a negative reunion…you will end up a far stronger person…I know I did.

Hopefully, during your search, you will find that as you grow as an individual, you will also become stronger and develop realistic expectations for what you may discover during your journey.

If you have made the decision to search, please remember these few items of advise:

1. Think about the reasons you want to reunite with your parent, child or sibling.

Remember, they have a family and so do you. You can’t turn the clock back or expect to fill the role that you have not played all these years. You are adults, strangers with genetic ties, coming together to build a relationship. Be realistic about the role that you feel you can play in their life and vice versa.

2. You must go into the reunion with realistic expectancies, not fanciful hopes.

If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations, and those expectancies are dashed. These unrealistic expectancies can set you up for failure. It is not what happens in people’s lives that upsets them, it’s whether or not what happens in their lives is what they expected that upsets them. Don’t allow yourself to think that everything in your life will suddenly be resolved overnight once you reunite, or you will be let down.

3. A reunion is an event, but the relationship is a process that needs time to unfold.

You have to really work to build a relationship and you have to be patient. Start out with the goal of finding something that is comfortable for everybody, and don’t put any pressure on yourself.

Allow a natural evolution of things to take place.

Like all relationships, expect your relationship with the person you have reunited to go up and down. Your best chance for having a good relationship long term is to take it slow and move at a measured pace. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Be patient and let it unfold naturally, so that it will be lasting. You don’t want to do anything that would cause this coming together to separate you again.

Why Search for Birth Family?

Why search? Why not leave the past alone? What do you hope to gain from your search? These were just a few of the questions asked of me during the course of my search.

Most questions came from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives.

They had no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

My search went far beyond even my wildest dreams.

The question still is; WHY? Why did I go beyond the original intent of getting simple medical information? Why did I want to find my birth Mother? Why did I ever want to meet her? Why did I want to know my roots? Why take twenty years spending great amounts of time, energy and money researching my family history? Why look for living members of an extended family?

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information; then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

My search had its ups and downs. My initial search to just find the information needed to locate my birth mother to get medical information, took four years. It would take another four years before I would find and meet my birth Father. They have both since passed away. During that time, I had to learn how to be a detective; to ask questions, that to most would have appeared stupid. I even had to learn to lie to just get the information I wanted.

I found my birth mother, my birth Father as well as siblings. None were very cooperative in answering my questions about family health, heritage or genealogy. If they had been, it might have saved me sixteen more years of research.

I have now found most the answers to my questions. The void that was in my life has been filled. I now feel I am a whole person; I know who I am and where I came from. I am now in the position that children raised by their birth parents are in. I no longer have to feel different or abnormal. I found far more information about my family genealogy than I ever expected to. I found and met members of my extended family. I can now see in pictures family resemblance’s and say…see I belong! In learning about my great grandparents, aunts, uncles and Polish people as a whole, I learned, in so many ways, why I am the person I am today.

My search was satisfied when I was able to sit with my birth Mother and find out the true story of my birth; the gut-wrenching decision she made to give me up, and why; my true Polish heritage and the vague medical history that would allow me to better care for myself. I would have been satisfied if she had just provided me these facts in a letter and not agreed to meet me. I would have had the basic information I desired.

The fact she agreed to meet me, despite how our relationship turned out, was above and beyond what I had hoped for or expected during my search. Of course, because I found out I was Polish and because my grandfather was ashamed of this heritage, I continued my research to find out as much as I possibly could about my family. I wanted to know why and when my ancestors came to America, what they did with their lives… I wanted to be proud of them. I have achieved that goal.

My only real regret is that I waited so long before I began to search. If I had begun at age eighteen or twenty-one, I might have been able to meet many aunts and uncles who were still living at the time. By the time I did begin my search and found all eleven children of my great grandparents, they were deceased. What a missed opportunity on my part.

I have been privileged to get to know some of my extended family and they have added so much to the picture. Through them, pictures and stories have been shared with me. You can only imagine the intense feelings I had when I saw the pictures of my birth parents, great grandparents or other family members or the first time; the feelings when I walked through the homestead my great grandfather built with his own hands 112 years ago; the feelings when sitting with an 89 year old first cousin and hearing stories of my great grandparents, her mother, aunts and uncles or the feelings when being able, at the age of 52, to spend my FIRST CHRISTMAS with family I could call my own.

This is why I searched. The desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you…you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I had a good life prior to beginning my search and have done well during the search. The end result of my search just has made it better.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my heritage is Polish!

This is why anyone would search.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same its considered abnormal? Seems hypocritical to me!

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world.

It is OUR information locked behind vault doors and we have a right to it!