Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rollercoasters are supposed to be FUN

Rollercoasters.  The one amusement park ride I can still enjoy without losing my lunch. Happens with age, or so I have heard. I love every stage...from waiting in line (as long as it is a reasonable temp outside) to that last turnstile where they group you according to the available seats in a row. I love the click of the bar, the clink clink clink of the chain as it drags you up to the precipice of your wild release...the anticipation...and the screams that I would swear came from someone ELSE.
Unless you have ridden the same coaster over and over, most often it is hard to anticipate the twists and turns, and you just have to hang on and hang tight!

This journey I am on has been much like that hard to anticipate wild ride. The ups and downs, the joys and disappointments, a few bruises from hanging on too tight at times, and not tight enough for others.

The excitement of the "new" group of cousins I closed with at the end of my last post has not quite panned out like I had hoped. My attempt at communication via phone (an actual conversation) and snail mail has only been met with silence. For me, silence has never been golden. I would rather someone be painfully honest than to not respond at all.  I am only wishing to learn more about that proverbial cloth from which I have been cut. As I lamented to a friend, she just looked at me, and rather matter-of-factly stated that she did not even keep in touch with her first cousins. I understand that, but honestly (and I really would love some feedback in the form of comments on this post), if you had a phone call or a letter from someone stating that they had been adopted and had just discovered that you were their cousin...first or second, how ever many times removed...how would you respond? I really want to know some honest answers!

I have been poring over my DNA test results, and I am quite honestly overwhelmed. I had hoped that the results would unlock some clues to my birthfather's side of the family, and the clues may very well exist, but Sherlock seems to be napping. When you start getting into 4th cousins, and you don't have a name to go on, the prospect of trying to narrow things down is HUGE.

Here it comes...a coaster high! I had a friend email me an article that was published in the Boston Globe about a woman steeped in her own DNA and family tree search, yet she utilized what she learned in her own experience to help other people connect.  One of those reunions turned out to be sisters, and neither knew of the other's existence! How crazy wild is that? I had planned to just email this self-taught researcher for some guidance and advice, and as I dug to find her contact info, I also discovered that she lived in RI...where I myself will be soon. I have sent an email, and hope to be able to meet her for coffee and glean some wisdom in the art of genealogy research.

While I still plan to move forward, I am also trying to ease up a bit on the intensity of my search.  This is truly a potential addiction, and unguarded it can consume your every waking moment as long as the questions continue to loom larger than life. Recently, I was thinking of a children's book written by Max Lucado called "You are Special". I need to remind myself again (and often) that it is only because of the God who rescued my very life and gave me hope that I still am here to breathe His air...
He is a father to the fatherless and He sets the lonely in families (Ps 68:5-6). I am who I am because of Him, as well as the people He gave me...precious gifts to my heart that have invested in me over the years. I know I am not alone, and no matter how the rest of the story may unfold, I am secure in my identity, and my place in the midst of my marvelous comrades!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Cousins! Part II

Before I dive in to the subject at hand, I need to revisit and add a PS to my last post.  There is a story that I love about my birthmother's wedding rings.  Uncle Jerry and Aunt Yvonne had two girls that they adopted. When they were little, they loved to play with the rings and wear them around the house.  At some point, the engagement ring was missing, and could not be found. After much searching, it was assumed lost forever.
Travel down the road a few years, and arrive at a time of spring cleaning.  Items are being packed up to relocate to the thrift store.  Items including a stuffed animal...with a zipper pouch...a pouch which one of the girls just happened to look in before the final haul.  Guess what was found in the corner of that zippered pouch? The first time I heard it, I was amazed, and then rejoicing greatly to realize that someone came very close to making an awesome return on their investment in a stuffed animal, but Daddy saw fit to rescue the ring, preserve it, and through the Moffits, present it as a gift that overwhelmingly blesses my heart every time I hold it in my hand.

So I mentioned earlier that there were videos! Jerry and Yvonne allowed me to take them home with me so that I could transfer them to DVD. One was the video compilation that my grandfather had made, one a recording of his trip to one of the Alaskan reunions, and the third was a wedding video from 1989, Kansas City, MO.  I watched the whole thing while the DVD was burning. It was an outdoor wedding at a beautiful venue somewhat similar to the Gordon Lee Mansion in Chickamauga. I was struck by the artistic nature of the ceremony.  The processional music consisted of a recorder and a tambourine. There was original poetry, and a song written for the couple. The bride and the groom both walked the white runner with their parents on their arms. They read their own vows. The birds singing in the background, a breeze blowing through the trees, a humorous best man,  and a cultured band made for an enjoyable viewing experience. But other than a very brief clip where I recognized my grandparents, I did not have a clue who these people were. So if there is one thing I have learned many times over on this journey, it is to ask the right questions.
"Hey! Unc! Who is in this wedding video?" Turns out it was the daughter of my grandmother's sister.  Okay wait, so daught...yes, lessee, that makes the bride the first cousin of Unc and Judy, which in turn would be...um...my first cousin, once removed. (Thank you Ancestry for setting me straight! I never could figure that out! I always thought maybe once removed meant there had been a fight, HA)

The last name was very unusual, so I was off! Ancestry, Google, Facebook, and an obituary allowed me to find the contact information I needed. I ramped up the courage and picked up the phone. Answering machine...rats! What do I say? Better come up with something quick! Genealogy research...yes! that will do...
I hung up, and once again embraced a familiar state...the waiting.
A day or two later, I had begun burning a second DVD copy to send back with the original VHS tapes, and my phone rang.  It was cousin Pam (but she did not know that yet). I said "you are not going to believe this, but I am sitting here watching your wedding video right this minute". (cue weird stalker music)
Of course, I had to explain, and launched into a somewhat encapsulated version of my incredible journey of discovery.  Once I sufficiently proved my case, she accepted my Facebook friend request and we continued sharing back and forth.  As she told me about the early days and the connection to my grandparents, I began to realize that some of the pictures I had from the album that Yvonne had put together simply HAD to be Pam's family, so I shared them with her. Sure enough, it was them!

Pam's folks would frequently stop to visit my grandparents, and it was so fun to make that connection. I was saddened to learn that as they grew older, the cousins did not keep in touch as much, as is so often the case.  Life just gets in the way. We have talked several times on the phone, and she contacted her siblings to share the news.  I made copies of the compilation video for them, and shared photos on Facebook. I plan to have a New England Christmas this year, and hope to be able to connect with them at some point during the trip.

As I continue finding new connections and reaching out, I realize that not everyone will be quick to embrace my existence, and some may not even desire to know anything beyond just that.

Out of curiosity, I asked Pam to share her reaction to my first attempt at contact. My friend request on Facebook was ignored as spam because my profile pic was only my pretty red tonails, and she did not have a clue as to who they belonged to.  (Bon Qui Qui would probably blame in on short nails).

The phone call intrigued her and led to that first return call, and I am so glad that we are NOT experiencing a "failure to communicate".

As of this post, I have made an attempt to connect with yet another group of cousins,  this time second cousins made up of a brother and two sisters. Our mothers were first cousins, and our grandmothers were sisters.

Yeah, I am a bit nervous...again...

Friday, September 02, 2016

Hello, Moffits

Bethel Missouri. 

More specifically, Heartland Christian Community.  A Christian compound in the middle of a cornfield. In spite of the rural location, Google Maps brought Mar and I right to my uncle's doorstep.

Before I talk about the actual visit, if you know me even a little, then you know that I was researching and digging before the trip.  I am sure I am not the only one who might get a shiver or two at the thought of a Christian "community" or "compound".  Images reminiscent of Branch Davidians, or Heaven's Gate flirted with my imagination. Even memories of my own personal experience of a church steeped in misplaced emphasis on apostolic position were in the mix.
Don't get me wrong...I have always believed that a group of Jesus followers could successfully live in literal community...as long as they could successfully rid themselves of the negativities of the human condition, including things like pride, selfishness and arrogance.

So I researched and found no shortage of material.

Heartland Community (Oct 2014) (a 30 min report from KBIA Public Rado MO)

Heartland Home

Heartland - About Us (Heartland Website)

There were several other places that I researched, including a thread of comments which spotlighted both complaints and praise.  It seemed that the majority of the negative press came from the discipline side of the picture.  If some of the claims were true, then my eyebrows might be raised a little. However, I also know that after my years of ministering with a group in Orlando, I learned an awful lot about people struggling with a variety of issues.  You would find us in the jail, nursing homes, street ministry, a youth ranch (somewhat similar to Heartland in many ways). Addiction, respect, anger...people acting out based on what they had been dealt in life.  And there will always be the rebels who compound the issues at hand by being confrontational instead of respectfully challenging what is not right.  I did read many success stories of people who graduated the program and then willingly stayed on to work on the farm or various other positions.

So, I wasn't sure what to expect as we drove on to the property.

We found the house, and I took a few deep breaths.  I gathered up the remaining roses and the bouquet of flowers we had purchased to present to Aunt Yvonne.  Mar was ready with the camera, and I went to the door and knocked. Time seemed to crawl in those few moments, but finally the door opened, and there he stood.  Uncle Jerry...Judy's brother...my real flesh and blood relative!

I was not even sure where or how to start. My processor was on overload, and honestly I was so glad to have "never-meet-a-stranger" Marianne with me. We chatted, had dinner, and just dove in to getting to know each other.  I was thrilled to know that Jerry wrote poetry and dabbled in artistic outlets.  Scrimshaw was one medium, and I was fascinated by the detail!

Unc (as he lovingly came to be called) acted as our tour guide and showed us around the compound boasting the largest dairy farm in MO, with a huge milking carousel, a creamery shipping cheese all over, roughly 17,000 acres producing corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and raising dairy cows, beef cattle, goats and horses.

Back at the house, we had time to sit and talk, and they brought out some photos to go through.  In my ignorance I began snapping pictures of pictures. I say ignorance because I had no idea that Aunt Yvonne had been working tirelessly to put together an album for me to keep.  An album loaded with pictures of Judy, as well as some others of family. It was a fantastic treasure!!

Another treasure was when they presented me with Judy's wedding rings. It was a very beautiful set, but man did she have some little fingers, LOL! I am exploring some design ideas to see what options exist that would allow me to wear them.

There were also a few videos that we watched, and I got choked up to see Judy playing the piano and singing with my grandfather. There were many clips of old home movies that my grandfather had taken and put together on one video. There was also a unique wedding ceremony that I will talk about in the next post.

Sunday morning we all went to church together. It was a good service, and I was able to meet Charlie Sharpe, who founded Heartland.  One of the songs that grabbed me that morning was "Good Good Father", and I was reminded again that my identity first and foremost has always been defined by being loved by God. ("It's who I am") All of my life I was aware somehow of that love, no matter how crazy things were. Toward the end of the service Jerry and Yvonne asked me to go up with them for prayer. As we stepped out into the isle, Jerry leaned over and said to me "I can and will be your kinsman redeemer".  That was such a powerful statement in that moment, and it spoke healing to my orphaned heart.

Mar and I had to leave right away after the service because we had a 5 hour drive to get me back to the airport. Part of me did not want to say goodbye. The Moffits made me feel quite comfortable and welcomed me with open arms.
And of course I will be forever grateful to my chaufferette!
I had much to reflect on, so much to process...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

An Explosion of Cousins, Part 1


My name is Bernie Martin, and I am an Ancestry.com addict.

At least that is how I felt in the beginning.  Once those first few names were established on my tree, and those little green leaves kept popping up, I could not stop clicking! I loved discovering that my great great grandfather Torkel Thorson was born in Sweden. I started finding an abundance of links pointing to Alaska, but I wasn't sure because there was a difference in the spelling of the last name.  The individuals I had connected to up to this point were all Moffit...with one "T".  The Alaska links were all Moffitts...with two "T"s. Most of the information seemed accurate, so I kept adding things to my tree...people, documents, photos.  Before long, I had a message come through that said:

I took my time and waited a couple of weeks before I responded...NOT! I immediately wrote back and we compared notes to discover that Kris and I were double third cousins.  Our great grandfathers (brothers) married our great grandmothers (sisters). I learned that there was a family reunion every year in Alaska, and that the crew had a Facebook page set up with 114 members!  I had a huge grin on my face when Kris introduced me to them:
I sing songs like that and change lyrics to fit circumstances all the time! It's in the genes...

I could not work it out to attend the reunion this year, but it is at the top of my list for next year!

In her next message, Kris passed along some information about a book that she had published containing a collection of letters that her grandmother had kept from family members. She typed out all of the letters, and included photos of the original envelopes, along with intermittent photos of individuals or newspaper clippings. Of course I had to order a copy, and actually found two letters in the book that my grandfather had sent as well as a letter written by Judy!
In one of grandfather's letters, he refers to Judy taking a break from college to work for a year doing laboratory research. The letter was dated October of 1965, and at that time, she would have been three months pregnant...with ME! I have not yet put together a timeline to track her moves, or discover how she even ended up in OH, but I have some clues and hope to do that soon.

The next major event was the decision to take a road trip to Illinois.  My Chicago friend and I decided that we would join up and take off on a grand adventure.  I wanted to visit Decatur, where Judy lived and attended Millikin University. We spent some time at the library, and it just so "happened" that the library had just signed up for a free trial with newspaper archives. We were able to pull up several articles and print them off.  Judy's wedding announcement, her obituary, and different activities at the college. It was a very fruitful visit!
We also went by her house where she lived at the time of her death. We went by the funeral home and were able to view the records of the memorial service.

We stopped in at the church that records indicated she had attended at the time. They did not have any old directories for the years Judy would have been there. We also visited Millikin U, and stopped in at the bookstore so I could buy a commemorative shirt from her alma mater.
The time had come to leave Decatur and head west.  I had contacted Aunt Yvonne and Uncle Jerry and made arrangements to come for a visit. On the way to their place, we were going to pass right through Hannibal MO, town of Mark Twain, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Judy graduated from Hannibal High School, and after her death, her ashes were scattered in the waters. I later learned that both grandparents' ashes were also spread on the currents.
I wanted to somehow honor her life, and the fact that she gave me mine. I decided on roses...8 white roses.  One for every year of her life after my birth.  My friend chose one peach rose, a symbol of gratitude.

We took our bouquet and walked down to the bank of the river and found a secluded spot, away from the bustle of tourism that the town was so well acquainted with. One by one I tossed the blooms into the water, and watched as the current carried them away. I tried to remember where I was and what my life was like with each year represented.  With the final toss, the thought occurred to me to not let go of the stem, but follow it into the river, as though somehow her ashes still lingered right there in that spot, and waters closing in all around me would be a symbolic embrace. I cried for what never was, and grieved the loss of what I would never know. Everything in me wished to travel back in time and tell her to hold on, that her life mattered and pushing through the pain would be worth it.
We lingered a bit longer, and then continued on just a bit further down the road, to Bethel...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bernlock Holmes is Born!

I will do my very best to make this particular entry interesting enough to prevent napping. The attempt shall be to showcase a few examples of splendid sleuthing, dazzling detectivity and ingenious inquisitry.
(Perhaps I have been excessively mezmerized of late by the Modern Major General...)
The takeaway, I hope, will be the encouragement that sometimes answers we seek are hinged on asking the right questions, and following our instincts. Steve Brown used to say that the only dumb question is the one we don't ask.
Once I had my original birth certificate in my hands, the research mode was set to high speed.
I signed up for the free trial of Ancestry.com and started my family tree with what little info I had gathered to date. I began nosing around Classmates.com and sending what felt like hundreds of messages to various names I came across for her class, or the reunion committees, etc. I had two responses from the broad casting of my nets. One was from a reunion committee member who was actually a couple of years ahead of Judy, but still lived in Albert Lea. He sent me a picture of the house where she lived during high school, and contacted a friend of his at the local Historical Society. She was able to provide some very helpful information, mainly being the names of my grandparents. So I began a search with my grandfather's name, and rather quickly landed on his obituary. This provided yet more incredibly valuable information.  My grandmother had passed in 2000. I learned that Judy's married name was Forbes, which would prove incredibly helpful. The family had moved from Albert Lea MN to Hannibal MO, which was where Judy graduated HS. But, the biggest news that came from this priceless document, was that Judy had two brothers, and at the time of grandfather's death, one had previously deceased, but one was LIVING! It gave the names of both he and his wife, and two daughters, and the town where they lived at the time.  So, White Pages, you might as well be in on this too! I called the number, but there was no answer. I followed a few other links and discovered that my "aunt" (whoa) worked at a school in town.  So, of course I called the school and left a message.  The next night, I called the number I had one more time, and someone answered.  I began to explain the reason for "the craziest phone call they may ever receive", and laid out all of the information I had discovered. She verified the connections I had made, but when it came to Judy having a daughter...weeeeeellllll...she wasn't sure about that but would go talk to her husband.  So she put the phone down, and I waited...and on my end, I cannot tell you how long it actually was, but it SEEMED like for-e-ver! She (Yvonne) came back to the phone and told me that Jerry (my uncle!!) did not know anything about Judy having a baby, but that he would talk to me. He took the phone, and I explained again some of what I had uncovered. We chatted for a bit, and then I told him I would email them a copy of the birth certificate and a couple of the pictures so they could see. When we talked again, they assured me that there was no doubt I belonged to Judy, and welcomed me to the family. It was surreal. It was weird.  One question I did ask was why she had died so young. I was deeply saddened to hear that it was a suicide. Several weeks later, I was able to obtain a copy of the death certificate, and the cause was listed as self administered cyanide/carbon monoxide poisoning. There is a bit more to say about this, but that will be for a later post. Jerry, Yvonne, and I continued to communicate, and I made plans to visit them in MO, but that will also be for a later post.
After researching all I could about Judy's name, I turned to the address listed on the birth certificate. Google Earth let me know that it was within walking distance of Ohio State, so of course the assumption would be that Judy was attending school. I began trying to find old yearbooks, and eventually contacted the records department at the school. There were no records for a Judy or Judith. Hmmmmmm...what next? How about finding out who actually lived at that address? Historical Society for Columbus...and the page from the phonebook in 1966. It listed three names, one of which was Judy.  So that left two possibilities.  Back to OSU.  I was able to get a hit for both of the other occupants. One name was incredibly common, and has been somewhat difficult to track after 50 years.  The other was unusual, and through a short time period of following links, I had what I needed. A married name (CH), a phone number, and her current occupation. I started by emailing her at the college where she professored, and then left a voice mail with my contact information. Interesting to me that she taught at her alma mater, which also happened to be where Judy had obtained her chemistry degree. My guess is that they must have known each other, and then CH transferred to OSU.
One Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church, my phone rang. It was CH! I was so excited, and nervous...I just fumbled over my words.  I was speaking to someone who KNEW Judy. I wish so very much that I had taken notes that morning. She told me that Judy was a troubled soul,involved with things that she should not have been involved in, and that she needed more help than this lady was able to give her.  Part way through the year, she (CH) had moved out of the house because she was trying hard to concentrate on her graduate studies. She mentioned in passing that she thought maybe my birthfather had worked at a State Hospital in Indiana. She was certain that Judy had not even held me after she gave birth. She was glad that I had already heard about the suicide because she did not want to have to be the one to tell me. She seemed so nice, and so willing to help me. We exchanged information, and I was very excited about the prospect of actually hearing all about who Judy was as a person. I thanked her profusely, not knowing that that phone call would be the only one I would ever have with her.  Upon trying to reconnect, she emailed me to say that she did not wish to continue communication, that she had helped me all she could, and while she was sympathetic to my desire to learn more about my parents, she did not like to live in the past and wished me luck. Wow...I was crushed. I am not sure what happened back there in Columbus, or what circumstances would keep her bound and unwilling to even talk to me, but I have her picture up on my wall, and I pray that somehow, some way, God will change her heart and prompt her to pick up the phone, or send me an email. I believe she holds some much needed pieces to the puzzle.
The third big connection was made when I researched Judy's marriage to Mr. Forbes.  He was also a professor at the same alma mater, but had moved to NM in 2004. There were a number of G Forbes, so I really had to work at this one. I knew that he was a psychologist, and as a result of one particular article that I found, I was 99.73% sure I had pinpointed the correct individual.  So, I composed a very brief email and sent it off. When the reply came back, he commended my detective skills, and began to share with me a few things about Judy, and their brief life together.  They were only married for a few years, and he let me know that Judy had been diagnosed as bipolar (manic depressive), and he believed that my grandfather had also had some issues. I tried to get my hands on medical records, but even up to this point, have had no success. Not much hope really after 50 years.
G Forbes and I emailed back and forth several times, but some of what he remembered conflicted with some of the verified information that I already had. I did ask him if there was any possibility that he could have been my biological father, and he said that it was a reasonable question, but even tonight as I go back over his email, he never actually said "NO"...hmmmmmm...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

That NOSE!

I briskly walked from the post office back to my car, firmly yet gently grasping the envelope as though it were fragile, yet not risking the chance that anything would remove it from my fingers. I slid in behind the wheel and nervously sat. So many of my fellow adoptees had been posting on our private Facebook page about waiting to open their documents in the presence of spouses, or family members.  Chicago and my best friend were 10 hours away. Part of me knew it would be nice to share this moment, and yet part of me could not stand to wait one more minute.  I slid my finger under the flap and began to tear.  I unfolded the paper, and my eyes scanned until I saw it...the most important sequence of letters on the whole page. J-U-D-Y  C-A-R-O-L  M-O-F-F-I-T. I said it out loud, and then I stared at it in silence. This woman gave me life. I began to take in the other information on the page. No father's name was listed. She was 22, and was born herself in Wisconsin. I was 7lbs and 4oz, and the name field was blank, except for Moffit.  In true Bernie style, the thought that occurred to me was that I was simply "Little Miss Moffit".
Back at the office, I tried to keep my mind on my work, but found it increasingly difficult. That night as soon as I arrived home, I was online. The very first thing I searched was her name, and the very first thing that came up was a link to Ancestry.com.

My heart sank to read that she had passed away. I was devastated.
I did not know a thing about maneuvering the Ancestry website, so for your entertainment, I will admit that when I saw her parents' names listed as "Private", I thought to myself that they both must have been in the Army, and that must have been the connection to my dad, who was also Army. I am now much wiser and understand that private only means that the person who holds the information on any given family tree has set their security to private, as opposed to public.
I continued to follow links, and very soon ended up perusing the pages of a yearbook. Albert Lea High School, in MN. I found some pictures for a Judy Moffit, and upon laying my eyes on those images, there was no question...no doubt in my mind. I clicked away, taking screenshots, staring, crying. It is a very difficult thing to explain sufficiently what it is like to see resemblance, when previously any hints of likeness to family were elusive. She was in band and chorus, (musical, like me) and sat as president of the school's Red Cross. One picture made me chuckle. It was a band picture and she was in a strapless dress. I was amazed and thrilled to see my shoulders!

I could not stop looking.  I found a picture of myself in a pose similar to hers and posted us side by side. All I kept thinking was WOW...
The next day, I posted the above photo on Facebook, and had it on my phone to show to some coworkers, and the comment was consistently the same...that NOSE!! You have her nose! (and her mouth...and her dimples...sigh...)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Adoption Story begins

It was late 2013. I was browsing Facebook when I happened upon an article about adoption in Ohio, and how the laws which had permanently sealed adoption records from 1964 through 1996 were being challenged as unfair. I was immediately drawn in due to the fact that I myself was adopted in Columbus in 1966. I first learned of my adoption when I was 14. My mom (the one who adopted me, Mom 1, German mom) had traveled from New England to Florida to visit, and very nonchalantly informed me that I was not "hers". My dad was upset with her as he had no intention of ever telling me the truth. I was not sure quite how to handle this new information, as I was already dealing with so much at that time in my life. Over the years, I dreamed and wondered, I grieved and stuffed. In my early twenties, I did some minimal research, and submitted a petition for release of information with the Division of Vital Statistics in Columbus.  It would only be beneficial if a biological family member had also filed a petition. I never heard anything back.
I began to follow the progress of this new development, and the news came that on March 20, 2014, the law would be reversed, but files could not be accessed for a whole year to allow for any parties to redact their name from documents if they so chose. There should be no doubt that an intense excitement was simmering within, but that year may very well have been the longest year ev-er...
Finally! March 2015 rolled around. The Adoption Network in Cleveland organized a gathering in Columbus for all adoptees to be able to be together and file their paperwork together.  I wanted to be there, but could not work it out, so I ended up filing my papers via US Mail.
I was content with the waiting for about two weeks before I started becoming anxious. April 14 was the arrival of the big day.  I opened the PO box, and there it was...