Gettin’ My Sleuth On . . .

I’m no Nancy Drew, but what the heck?  I sent this e-mail today.
nancy drew
To: Public Library
From: Laureen Pittman
Date: January 26, 2014
Hello,
My name is Laureen Pittman and I live in Riverside, CA.  I am doing some genealogy research and will be traveling to the library next week to do research and track down some information.  One piece of information I am looking for involves an incident that happened in 1963 (probably sometime in September).  The incident was an arrest (drug related charges) possibly at the junior college.  One of the arrestees was Margaret Michaels. I believe she was arrested with another individual—a male.  Margaret would have been 18 at the time of her arrest and the male individual would have been 20. Margaret was the step-daughter of a fairly well-known local tv news editor, broadcaster or anchor, Joseph Michaels.  Margaret was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug related charges.  But what I am looking for is the identity of the male that was arrested with Margaret. 
Am I correct in assuming that the Community News-Press was in existence at that time?  Would they have published or reported on local arrests, or would there be an “arrest log” that I could review in the newspaper from that time?  I’m hoping that the newspapers from 1963 might be archived on microfilm?  Would I be able to access the newspaper archives from September 1963 if I make a personal visit to the library?  Which branch should I visit?  Do I need to make an appointment to have these old archives located/pulled for review?
Any help or assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance.  I can be reached at the e-mail address shown above, or on my cell phone at XXX-XXX-0515.
Laureen Pittman

Rewriting The Past

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. — Edward R. Murrow

I had answers to some of the most basic, vital questions.  I knew the identity of my biological mother: Margaret Michaels.

I knew the identity of my biological father (thanks to DNA): Jackson Summer.

As you know, I have never actually spoken to Margaret.  The last “contact” I had with her was the self-bloated letter I received from her over 20 years ago.  She has no desire to meet me or to even carry on a conversation via letter or e-mail.  I have respected that.  She never disclosed to anyone, including her mother, my biological father, or her siblings (4 of them) that she was ever pregnant.  The only people in her “world” who knew she was pregnant and relinquished a child were the prison personnel (and presumably other inmates), social workers and hospital personnel.  It is also possible that her stepfather knew.  According to the story from the social worker (my non-identifying story), he was the one who turned Margaret in to the authorities, which resulted in her arrest.

So was it true that none of Margaret’s family came to visit her during her stay at the Greybar Inn?  She was there for 3 1/2 years (sentenced to 10).  If anyone came to see her during the first 3 months of her incarceration, they would have surely guessed she was pregnant (or she really liked the prison food).  I guess they could have come to visit after December (she was arrested in September) and not known she was ever pregnant. That makes a little bit of sense.  Margaret’s mother (my grandmother) was actually pregnant at the same time as Margaret (let’s get all the complicated details together, here). Remember this tidbit from my non-identifying story?

Baby Christopher is the 3-month old half brother.

Margaret’s mother (my maternal grandmother) gave birth to Baby Christopher (my uncle) about the same time that Margaret was arrested.  And it was Baby Christopher’s father (Margaret’s stepfather) who turned Margaret in. Margaret’s mother was busy raising 4 young children while Margaret was out partying, getting pregnant and getting arrested.  You follow?

Jackson Summer didn’t know Margaret was pregnant.  Jackson claims he doesn’t even know who Margaret Michaels is. More likely, he doesn’t remember. There were drugs involved. Drugs can alter memories, for sure. But Jackson does remember Marion Michaels. His first love. He’s still in touch with her.  Jackson even told Marion about me and our curious DNA match and about this mysterious Margaret person who has the same last name as Marion.  According to Jackson, Marion was not able to provide any information that would be helpful to us.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that I have been in touch with one of Margaret’s siblings.  We even talked about getting together to meet and talk.  I was hopeful that she could fill in some of the odd-shaped blanks hanging out there.  She was very clear that Margaret did not want to discuss the matter and did not want to be involved in any contact with me. She also confirmed that their mother (my maternal grandmother) still did not know about me.

Well, our meeting has not happened (yet).  Real life and busy schedules got in the way.  In the meanwhile, I started this blog to help me sort through it all.  My aunt read the blog.  She expressed her disappointment with the information I was putting “out there” in the cyber-world for anyone to see (even though I’ve changed the names of the key players).  We had an e-mail exchange about it.  She asked me to “Please stop.”

And you know what’s ironic?  Before the blog, this aunt had asked me to share the information I had discovered about my biological father through the DNA match. She wanted to know what I had learned about my biological father.  I believed she was sympathetic to my plight and genuinely interested.  Without hesitation I told her about the DNA match and gave details that Jackson had shared with me, in the hopes that sharing the information may lead to more sharing on her side of the family.  Absolutely not.  I’ve since asked my aunt specific questions about Margaret and their mother, and I’ve made a request for some specific health information that would aid me in making a decision about my future. She never answered any of my questions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that she owes me nothing.  I’m beginning to see a pattern.

I think perhaps Margaret is “bullying” her siblings. Maybe not in a schoolyard, overt kind of way, but definitely subliminally.  From what I can figure out, they are worried that the knowledge of my existence will “crush” their mother (my grandmother).  What information exactly, I wonder, is going to crush my grandmother?  The fact that Margaret had a child?  No . . . that can’t be. Seriously, I haven’t lived the kind of life that can be deemed a disappointment to anyone, in my own humble opinion. It’s gotta be the 50 year old lie. That her daughter, Margaret, never told her she had a child. Surely, she knew that Margaret had been in prison. That “disappointment” had already been felt, processed, and dealt with.  I would think. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. Margaret’s sibling wrote:

We do not know the circumstances leading to her pregnancy; it may have been quite traumatic.

She also mentioned several times that some of the information I’ve published wasn’t even true.  What!?  Not true?  You mean the story that I know and live every day about my identity and how I came into this world is riddled with untruths, cover-ups, and lies? Imagine that.  No seriously, why don’t you try to imagine that? I’ve lived this way my entire life.

So tell me something new.  Like the truth. There are people that actually know the truth, but won’t tell me.  Imagine that!  

So here are some theories.  These theories, of course, include questions or lead to more questions.  They were either drummed up by me, or by friends and relatives of mine in an attempt to fill the odd-shaped holes. Anyone out there good at solving mysteries?

About Marian

  • Is Marian is somehow related to Margaret?  A half-sister?  Remember–they have the same last name, and Margaret never really knew her biological father.  Her mother and father were separated and/or divorced (perhaps she wasn’t even married when she gave birth to Margaret at age 18!) when she was just an infant.  Marian and Margaret grew up in the same town.  Marian claims she knows nothing about Margaret or me.  It is unclear whether Margaret knows Marian.

About Margaret

  • It’s clear the story she gave the social workers about my biological father was not true.  It could have been an outright lie to mislead, or she could have simply not known exactly who the father was, so she described several individuals.
  • Why did Margaret’s stepfather “turn her in” and have her arrested?  How and why was he involved to the degree of having her arrested?  I have not mentioned this before, but Margaret’s stepfather was a well-known and recognizable figure in the community where they lived.  He was probably in his late 30’s at the time of Margaret’s pregnancy and arrest–and his wife (Margaret’s mother) was pregnant and about to give birth).  Did he know Margaret was pregnant?  Perhaps he suspected she was pregnant and knew about the drugs and didn’t want Margaret to continue with the drugs while pregnant? I wish I could contact him.  He passed away in 2006.

About Jackson

  • Jackson says he was never arrested.  So who was the man who was arrested with Margaret?  Was that made up, too?  I suppose that was something that Margaret could have told the social workers, but I assumed that they would have checked that fact–the arrest records would have been easy to find and confirm. If they knew his identity, wouldn’t he have to sign the relinquishment papers?  Apparently not.  The information I have simply states, “We have no information about your birthfather following his arrest.”

About “The Deed”

  • How did Jackson and Margaret come to meet and get together?  They lived in the same town, but went to different schools.  Both were obviously exploring the counterculture of the 1960’s via drug use. They most likely knew some of the same people. Obviously, Jackson doesn’t remember knowing her, let alone having some sort of relationship with her (even if it was only a one night stand).  Perhaps there was some sort of coincidental meeting “up North” when Margaret claims to have gone to San Francisco for a short time and Jackson was living and working up in Big Sur (hibernating up in the mountains to detox).
  • Perhaps my aunt was right about there being some sort of traumatic experience that led to Margaret’s pregnancy.  Rape?  Yikes.  I don’t even want to consider that.  I don’t know Jackson very well (hardly at all, actually), but it just doesn’t add up. Of course, Margaret was most likely involved with more than one man (who was she talking about when she described my biological father to the social worker?). Perhaps there was a traumatic incident of some sort and Margaret thought I could possibly be the product of it, and she made up a good portion of the information to hide the awfulness?

I suppose that’s enough conjecture.  Do you have any ideas?

The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.  ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

Next up: Something interesting about Margaret.

Red Light. Green Light. And Sometimes it Stays Yellow for a Long Time.

“I look for a sign. Where to go next. You never know when you’ll get one. Even the most faithless among us are waiting to be proven wrong.”
― Jillian Lauren, Pretty

I know what’s happening.  I’m emotional.  Scared.  Afraid of what might happen next.  Or maybe I’m afraid that nothing will happen next.

Sometimes I just go full steam ahead.  Everything makes sense and things happen.  Not always good things.  Even when good things do happen in this crazy search, it can be scary.

I do realize that it’s all emotional on my part.  I have enough raw data and information (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) to power through and get the answers that I think I need.  What if I upset people?  Maybe I don’t need the answers. Or maybe if I just keep telling myself I don’t need the answers I can move forward and get the answers and not be affected by the consequences.

No way.  I know that I am fully attached to the outcome of this whole thing.  After my second attempt at contacting Margaret some 25 years ago, my desire to reconnect with my biological family had somewhat faded.  I’m sure it’s because of her letters and the impact her words had on my delicate psyche. But why did I choose to be so affected?

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I don’t know why I got a bug up my ass in 2013 to reignite my search. Because I turned 50?  Maybe. Emotionally, it’s an all-consuming project.  It’s been difficult to accomplish stuff on my normal day-to-day to-do list.  One day I am motivated by my progress and new connections and the next I am frustrated by a relative’s mere stranger’s reaction and attitude and the emotional doors being slammed in my face.

So sometimes I see a yellow “caution” light in my mind. I have to take time out to process things. Sometimes I have to press “pause.”  That’s why there are some long pauses in this blog. I apologize for that.  But it’s all happening right now.  It’s affecting me right now.

I did hear from my bio dad.  He responded within a few days of receiving my message via 23andMe.

Jackson Summer, a Father wrote:  

What is very strange about this is that I am from the same town as Margaret and although not exactly 50 years ago the love of my life was named Marian Michaels.  We met in school. I was 16 and she was 14. To make a long story short we were together for 8 years at which time the relationship broke up because of my drug use. Because I loved her so much, I went away and straightened myself out. Unfortunately, I had destroyed the trust between us and we went our separate ways. I eventually married and had a daughter and Marian married and had a son and a daughter. Years later, my wife passed away due to cancer. Marian’s husband had died one year earlier.

Today Marian and I are best of friends and often visit one another.

Laureen, your inquiry has piqued my interest. There are so many coincidences in our stories. I would enjoy geting to know you.

My very best to you,

Jackson Summer

So that was a little odd.  My bio mom is Margaret Michaels. The love of his life was Marian Michaels.  Is this some other weird piece of an even more twisted and fucked up puzzle? It didn’t make sense.  So I gave him more details.  I paraphrased all of the information from the non-identifying data I had received from the wonderful Mr. Witt (I eventually gave him a copy of the paperwork with all of the details). Now he would know that I knew that he had been arrested with Margaret.  It also gave him a bit of back-story about his relationship with Margaret. It’s what I knew. My truth, right?  He couldn’t deny it. The part about “going away to straighten himself out” made sense to me–that had to be the time he served in prison. Had to be . . . right?  Plus, what about the DNA?  I know Margaret is my bio mom. And the DNA is solid confirmation (to most of the logical world) that Jackson is my bio dad. His next response:

Hello again,

One of the reasons I am as open to helping you find your dad is that my father died when I was 6 and although I was raised by my mother, she never gave me much information about his family. I very much understand what is like to not know about those who brought you into the world. There are so many coincidences about all this–to say nothing about the genetic match!

The problem for me right now is that I have no memory of being with anyone other than Marian Michaels during this time. I have written to her about this and asked her if she remembers any of the names you wrote about. I have not heard back yet. Also, I majored in Art and English, and although I helped teach a evening class at the city college, that lasted less than a month. I do not even remember if I took any classes at the  local junior college.  I was and still am an artist and I was well known for the jewelry and metal work I did. I used to sell my work at the beach every weekend.  I think most people who knew me then would have connected me with art and the craft of jewelry making. The description in the paperwork you provided simply does not describe me back then.  The area where I lived was very different then…..many artists, writers and creative minds.

It has been a long time and you have piqued my curiosity to no end. There is so much coincidence in time place and of course the genetic info.

My Best,
Jackson

I’m happy that he’s open and honest and willing to “help me find my dad.”

Skeptical? DNA Doesn’t Lie.

So, what did it mean?

50.0% shared, 23 segments

23andMe tests autosomal DNA. To break it down as simply as possible (I’m not a scientist and most of what I’ve read about DNA and genetics goes right over my head, so it helps me to keep it simple), the majority of our DNA is autosomal DNA. An autosome refers to numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. We all have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X chromosome and the Y chromosome).

The examination of one’s autosomal DNA is highly useful for genealogical purposes. If you share identical segments of DNA with another person, you share a recent common ancestor. The length and number of these identical segments will predict how close the relationship is. The more autosomal DNA that you have in common with another person, the more closely related you are.

A child receives 47-50% of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents, and similarly on average a child receives about 25% of his autosomal DNA from each of his four grandparents. The chromosomes recombine, or mix, as they are passed down from parent to child, so the size of possible shared segments gets successively smaller with each generation.

So check this out:

50% Mother, father, siblings
25% Grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, double first cousins
12.5% Great-grandparents, first cousins, great-uncles, great-aunts, half-aunts/uncles, half-nephews/nieces
6.25% First cousins once removed, half first cousins
3.125% Second cousins, first cousins twice removed
1.563% Second cousins once removed
0.781% Third cousins, second cousins twice removed
0.391% Third cousins once removed
0.195% Fourth cousins
0.0977% Fourth cousins once removed
0.0488% Fifth cousins
0.0244 Fifth cousins once removed
0.0122% Sixth cousins
0.0061% Sixth cousins once removed
0.00305% Seventh cousins
0.001525% Seventh cousins once removed
0.000763% Eighth cousins

(Data from International Society of Genetic Genealogy.)

If you are wading through the vast sea of DNA testing to aid your search, I would recommend reading author and adoptee, Richard Hill‘s website, guide and book, Finding Family.  His story is nothing short of amazing.  He searched for decades and finally found answers through DNA testing.  His results were not at straightforward as mine in the beginning–an adventure for sure. He started his DNA search when the science was just starting to evolve and he followed it through its evolution, using all of the available testing sites and sorting through all of the available information.  Mr. Hill has generously compiled all of the useful and invaluable information and has made it available to anyone who is searching.  For free.

I spent an entire weekend researching and trying to figure out what “50%, 23 segments” meant (thank you technology and Richard Hill!).  I was convinced that the Father that 23andMe found was my biological father.  Was he convinced?  Not so much.

Still Untold . . .

Last week I turned fifty.  Fifty?  Eeeek.  No one has flat out asked me if I’m having a mid-life crisis.  I must be holding it together pretty well.  Or maybe it’s just so obvious that no one wants to ask.  Don’t look her in the eye–she’ll crack, for sure!

I’d call it a kind of mid-life identity crisis.  It’s been about 22 years since the second letter from Margaret.  Okay, I’ll just go ahead and say the word I keep avoiding: Rejection. It’s a word that is commonly used in the adoption community, but I refuse to label her treatment of me as “rejection.”  She didn’t reject me, she rejected the idea of me.  She didn’t even know me.  How could she reject me?

To be relinquished at birth for adoption is one thing. That’s Margaret rejecting the idea of being a mother.  She was young and unprepared (not to mention a little preoccupied with serving a prison sentence), and a baby just did not fit in her plans.  Adoption was her salvation (and mine).  But to be rejected later in life by the woman who gave birth to me –to be rejected as a grown, rational (for all intents and purposes) adult asking questions about the very core of my being, seeking answers that most people take for granted, is something completely, utterly, and abhorrently different. I read an article some time ago written by another adoptee who described the feeling of rejection simply, but completely:

Me: I exist.

Margaret: I wish you didn’t.

Exactly.

I can’t control how Margaret feels.  I can only control my reaction.  And I’ll admit it hurt . . . but I’m not the type to kick something around forever.  It happened once (well, maybe twice . . . or 3 times), but my life is full of other moments.  Great moments.  Pretty darn good moments.  Why wallow in it?

Zach is now 22 years old.  He’s out on his own, happily finding his way with his music.  I’m proud of him.  A lot of other stuff has happened in the span of those 22 years.  By stuff I mean life.  Divorce, remarriage, another son.

Garrett (son number 2) is now 13.  When he was little, everyone said he was the spitting image of his dad.  He still looks like his dad.  Light hair, blue eyes, fair skin . . . once again, I was gazing into the face of my child looking for similarities and any sign of familiarity. Nothing.

Identity crisis or not, I have a great family and things are pretty peachy.  Over the years, I didn’t think too much about Margaret or my biological origins.  I was too busy with the here and now–the good stuff.  My boys were growing; they were keeping me busy.  And you know what else happened over the course of these years?  Science and technology happened.  All kinds of science and technology.  On the technology side, computers are now everywhere, connecting everything and everyone. The world wide web is constantly evolving, with its growing data bases, easy access to public information, instant communication and sharing of personal data via social media.

On the science side, I have been especially fascinated with the advancements in and evolution of DNA testing.  My husband, Guy, is a prosecutor who works with people who do forensic DNA testing.  Forensic DNA testing has enabled old cold cases to be solved in an instant!  How cool is that?  Well, it’s cool, but I wasn’t as interested in that as I was interested in the way DNA testing was being used for health and genealogy research. Talk about an evolution.

DNA genetic testing may be able to predict risk for certain diseases and medical conditions. This would be helpful. In addition, DNA testing can reveal information about family background and familial traits, ethnic heritage, and ancestral history. And finally, the newer autosomal DNA testing has become a tool that can accurately identify relationships between family members by comparing DNA segments.  Put technology (easy access via the internet) and DNA testing together and you’ve got . . . big business.  The bigger the database to compare your genetic results (thank you, internet), the more useful results you’ll get!  Genius!

Why not?  It would be great to finally have some information that might shed some light on my health and predisposition to particular illnesses. I sure wasn’t going to get that information from relatives. My boys are entitled to this information, as well!

As technology has evolved, prices for the DNA genetic testing have come down.  What used to cost nearly $500 is now $99.  I went with 23andMe.  I spit in a test tube and sent it in.  And then things got weird.

Quiet, But Too Well Poised to Be Shy

I understand the secrecy. I understand the shame.  But when a woman keeps a secret such as giving birth and giving away a baby, the secret, continued lies and shame should not follow her or her child for life.

Let’s clear up this secrecy and betrayal stuff once and for all.  A birthmother may be told that the birth records are “sealed,” but in reality, privacy cannot be promised or guaranteed, nor should it be expected. We’re talking about another human being’s identity and existence in this world!  Putting emotions aside, in fact, privacy and anonymity  is not  promised to a birthmother. Research has shown that the true intent of sealing the original birth certificate (and concocting a new one) was never meant to protect birthparents.  The two primary reasons for sealing original birth records back when the practice began (likely sometime before 1940)  were 1) to keep birthparents from interfering with adoptive families, and 2) to protect adopted children from the stigma of “illegitimacy.” Birthparents were never guaranteed anonymity under state law or in any adoption/relinquishment documents they may have signed. (Donaldson, Evan B., www.adoptioninstitute.org)

I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, unlawful, illegal, prohibited, criminal or even irregular. So why did I feel so bad?  Guilty, even. Many adoptees dive into the unknown with their desire to search for their biological family, even if they’ve had a positive experience with their adoptive families. It’s normal.  It’s even expected.  You can’t deny it–even for individuals raised with their biological families, questions about relatives (what’s up with that “crazy” uncle?), ancestors (maybe you’re related to Annie Oakley, or you share a common ancestor with Frank Sinatra) and family history abound.  Genealogy is big business.

As for birthparents, existing studies indicate the overwhelming majority are not opposed to being “found” by their adult children. Some even seek out their children after years of longing and regret. But always lurking in the back of an adoptee’s mind is the question, “What if my birthmother doesn’t want to be found?” Research shows that the likelihood of a birth mother rejecting contact is extremely small (1%-5%) (www.adoptionbirthmothers.org), but of course, there is still that possibility. Hell, I’m living proof!  But, why?  How can facing the truth be that terrible?   I started out by just rationalizing that she may just be the sort of person I wouldn’t want to have contact with, anyway.  Besides, I knew plenty of people who grew up with their biological parents and who were  trying to create serious distance from them for whatever reasons. I just chalked it up to not understanding “people.”

So let’s move on. My birthmother is one of the 1%-5% who didn’t want to be found.  Or maybe she just needed time to get acquainted with the idea of my presence in her world (a girl could still dream, can’t she?).  So the lie continued.  I moved on.  I graduated from college, got a great job, started paying off student loans, met a decent guy, fell in love, and got married.  We had a child.  I was pretty proud of myself, too.  I did it all in the right order.  Like it mattered.

A bouncing baby boy!  I was 27 when Zachary was born.  He looked just like his father.  Aside from the dark brown eyes and dark brown hair, both of which his father also had, we had no similar features.  Everyone commented on how he looked so much like his father, but not me. The question often asked was, “Does he look like anyone on your side of the family?” 

At this point in my life my adoption “story” became more like a punch line.  If adoption ever came up in conversation for any reason, I would laugh it off and almost always make a joke of it.  I could always “one-up” anyone’s tragic family story, whether it be about adoption or something else.  What?  Your dad left your mom and your 12 brothers and sisters when you were just 5 years old?  Well, I was born in prison!  A prison baby!  Right?  Imagine that!  One month premature–born to a drug addicted, beatnik convict mother!  Given up for adoption . . . [snort, snort] . . . and then, guess what?  I found her just a few years ago–rejected again!  Laughter all around. Hilarious.

Rejected again.  So why would I go back for more?  I could not accept that she didn’t want to know me.  I could not accept that she could not (or would not) acknowledge my existence and my value.  I read and re-read her letter–it was all about Margaret–clearly, she felt like she needed to defend herself (and her decision to relinquish) and do her best to let me know it was “the right thing to do.”  Not only was it the right thing to do, but her life was fantastic because of it!  Super fantastic and full of travel and exotic stuff and a dream job and no time to remember my name.  So super wonderful that she doesn’t even think about me.

It was Zachary that made me think about it again.  Did he look like my family?  Surely, she would want to know about a grandson.  Her only child (me) has now given her a grandchild.  Yuck.  Just typing that felt weird.  I didn’t “give” her anything.  Zachary was mine.  Not hers. But there was something that made me want to give her one more chance.  And seriously, I still believed (and still believe to this day!) that I am entitled to know about my origins, my history, my ancestry, medical information, etc.  I’ll assume that if you’re still reading this, you understand the concept of the search from the eyes and mind of an adoptee.  I had to do it.

I wrote another letter.  I was more careful with my words.  I already knew she’d be a bitch about it resistant to any kind of contact or any kind of exchange of information.  I sent a picture of me holding Zach.  I think he was about 6 months old.  This was 1991.  My hair was big. I think I may have suggested to her that she was insecure–not able to deal with her past in a manner that would allow her to recognize other people’s feelings.  Her lie could not make me disappear.  I told her about Zach–I told her I wondered where he got his nose and other features.

I know Margaret didn’t want a relationship.  I didn’t need (or want) one.  I agree that every human being has the right to decline a relationship with another individual.  A birthmother most certainly has the right to say “no thank-you” to her birthdaughter’s request for a meeting or an ongoing relationship.  Likewise, an adoptee has the right to decline a request from a birth parent.  It’s no different for biological families–relatives are “cut off” all the time (well, it’s different because most biological families already have a solid identity “base” and knowledge of family history–family history is usually what causes the riff in the first place). In any event, relationships between family members (biological or not) cannot be legislated.  So just answer the questions.  Meaningful communication is all I ask for.  The more honest and open you can be (I’ll be patient), the sooner I will feel comfortable leaving you alone.

Whoa.  I received another letter from Margaret.  It was the last contact I have had with her.  Her tone was somewhat softer less agitated but her message was the same.  Her opening tore the scab right off.

Dear Laureen,

Each contact from you (or contact from others on your behalf) has so far been such a negative experience that I was made to feel that no good could come from further contact.

What?  She was made to feel that further contact would be bad?  I don’t get it.  It was my fault?  Wow!  About her “lie,” as I called it:

I find no conflict between the fact that I value my privacy and the fact that I very much like who I am.  One thing that I especially like about me is the fact that I had the common sense at a very early age to make the difficult decision to put a child up for adoption.  And I hope that you can accept that valuing privacy is not synonymous with being insecure!

Well, I especially like that about you, too.  Sheesh–I can’t imagine Margaret as a nurturing mother.  And I find it a little weird that she refers to her “common sense” and the fact that she made a “difficult decision” to “put a child up for adoption” (hello–I’m right here!). Did she have a choice?  Unwed mothers who were not even in prison have spoken out about how they felt that they didn’t have a choice about keeping a child.  They were coerced or made to believe that there were no other options.  And she was in federal prison in 1963 (there were no prison nurseries back then) and she believes she actually made a thoughtful choice?

Margaret went on to lecture me again on what I “needed to accept” (accidents happen sometimes) and what I “needed to understand” (what it was like to be pregnant and unmarried in the 1960’s).  How her decision in the middle of this “bad situation” was “exactly the correct action under the circumstances.”

Margaret–please hear me now: Of course you made the right decision to put your daughter up for adoption.  No one is arguing that you did something wrong in that regard.  Not only did it “salvage” your life (your words), but it obviously salvaged mine, too!

Margaret rehashed the whole private investigator incident (callous and without a “shred of human decency”), as well as the communication with the wonderful Mr. Witt (“a man who worked for the county who violated the court order”) (an untrue statement). Basically, she’s still trying to get me to believe that everyone is against her and out to harm her, or disrupt her wonderful  lie life.

She did address my question about Zach’s features.  She wrote about her nose:

My nose is my most distinctive feature, and I’m not fond of it! I’ve enclosed 2 pictures of me so you can see if in fact that is  where your son got his nose.  There [sic] not very good pictures, but you see, I always try to pose for pictures in a manner that does not show my nose very well, with the result that I had to search extensively to find any that shows it at all, and these were the best angles I could come up with.

Dark hair and dark eyes.  Zach doesn’t have her nose.  Neither do I.  Finally, one last hurrah for how fabulous her life is:

Now I have to ask you a favor.  If you really feel you ever have to contact me again, please write to me at work instead of at home.  If you mark the envelope “Personal & Confidential,” no one will open it.  I’ve enclosed a card so you will have the address.  I’ve been there for 22 years, so you’re more likely to find me there in the future than in the same home address.

What in the hell does that mean?  I wasn’t expecting warm and fuzzy.  I wasn’t expecting hearts and flowers.  But maybe a question or two (or, God forbid, a compliment) about Zach?  How about asking me how I have been?  How am I doing?  How do I feel?  What do I want to know?

I never wrote to her again.  I have no need for her language of self-defense and verbal fortification.  I will let her continue to hide and evade and avoid and disguise in her own world.

You Can Lie, But You Can’t Hide

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
― Herman Melville.

Our lives in this world are defined by our relationships with other people.  Connections we have with family, friends, acquaintances, and even people we don’t know (yet), are what makes us who we are. We are known to others by the way we treat other people, our capacity for empathy and compassion, or lack thereof.

Most people will agree that their relationships with family members are the most important bonds of all.  I agree.  I define family to include not only people related to us by marriage and blood, but also those people in our lives who appreciate having us in theirs. Friends who encourage us to pursue what makes us happy, what is healthy, and what makes us feel whole.  Friends who embrace not only who and what we  are, but also what we strive to be.

I remember my Dad telling me that if I paid attention, I could learn something from every single person I met in life. People can and will teach you life lessons–you just need to be open.  You need to be open to the good and the bad.  You need to be open to the unknown. Sometimes it takes extra effort or courage to allow life’s opportunities and adventures to hit you head on without allowing the fear of the unknown or what you think you know about a particular situation shut you down.

It never occurred to me that my bio mom (I’m more comfortable referring to this way, rather than referring to her as “birthmother”) might not be open to contact with me.  Although I did not expect a “happily ever after” type reunion–she had been through a pretty dark time in her life when I was born, after all. I did hope that there had been enough healing in her life that she would be able to accept me. Or at least acknowledge me,  I mistakenly thought that she’d at least want to hear that I turned out okay–that the family that adopted me loved me and provided a home and environment where I could grow and flourish,

So I waited.  I had given the private investigator a copy of my non-identifying story.  It was pretty easy for the investigator to positively identify and find her. With her last name, my date of birth, and the fact that she had given birth while serving a sentence in federal prison, all the investigator had to do was spend some time at the prison going  through the records around the time of my birth.

Margaret Sue Michaels. Born 12 April 1945 in Chicago.  Arrested August 1963.  Inmate number 0738.  In hospital Dec 15 thru 19th–no reason given.  Arrested at the school she was attending, turned in by her step-father.  Sentenced to 10 years.

Wow.  Turned in by her stepfather.  I remembered the details from Mr. Witt’s non-identifying  report. Margaret didn’t remember much about her “real” father.  According to the story I had, Margaret was very happy with her stepfather.  She felt that “he was all things a father should be.”

So what happened to Margaret after she was released from prison?  The investigator hit a lot of dead ends trying to track her down (it will become apparent a little later why ), so the investigator turned to the information I had provided about Margaret’s half-siblings and other family members to try to make some connections. Those individuals were not so hard to find.

The written report I have from the private investigator chronicles the search, her contact with other family members in an attempt to locate Margaret, and finally, her initial contact with Margaret. Some of the other family members that were contacted were helpful, providing information that would lead to Margaret’s whereabouts.  Some of the family members were not helpful, but not because they didn’t want to help, but because they thought the investigator was on the trail of the wrong person.  The Margaret Michaels they knew didn’t have any children.

It was actually Margaret that contacted the investigator, after receiving a message from a family member that she was looking for her.

Report on phone call from Margaret Michaels, natural mother of Laureen Hubachek: Collect call about 10 am, very angry: “Do not tell me about my daughter, l know all that.  I want to tell you how totally insensitive and unethical it was of you to contact so many people–how many have you contacted?  Tell me, how many!”  I told her I had only spoken to 2 individuals.  One was her mother Eve.  She demanded: “Don’t contact anyone else! I had to do something very terrible!  I had to lie to my mother!”

The investigator reminded her that she had only used public information and records and that if she hadn’t kept her whereabouts unlisted and hidden, she could have found her without contacting anyone else.  That didn’t sit well.  Margaret lashed out: “Maybe that should tell you something!  I didn’t want to be found!”

Margaret went on to explain to the investigator that the social worker, the good and great Mr. Witt, had already contacted her.  Wow!  Impressive!  But Mr. Witt  had to seek her out through other family members, as well as, just like the investigator.  Mr Witt had also contacted Eve.  Eve told Mr. Witt the same thing she told the investigator: “Margaret never had a child.”

Margaret went on to tell off the investigator–lots of colorful words were used. In the report I have, the conversation is described by the investigator as “hostile.”  She indicated that she was considering signing the Waiver of Confidentiality (wait, I thought that was against the rules . . .) and if she decided to contact me, she would do it through the social worker.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that Mr. Witt went to the trouble to find Margaret, tell her that I was looking for her and that I had signed the Waiver, and  solicit a signed waiver from her.  Honestly, if I had thought that the county social services would provide me with search services for free, I would have never paid money to an investigator to do the job. Remember, the Waiver I signed even says: “I understand that the law prohibits the Department or licensed adoption agency from soliciting, directly or indirectly the execution of such a waiver.”  In fact, I had read plenty of stories about waivers actually being ignored.  Unfortunately, having a “Waiver of Confidentiality” on file is no guarantee that a social worker or clerk won’t ignore it (or be just too lazy to even look at the file to see whether there is a signed waiver in place)  if a birth relative comes looking. There have even been cases where an agency  has had contact from both parties (adoptee and adoptive parent), where the worker or workers at the agency never let either of the parties know they were being sought! The waivers were just sitting in a file!  That wasn’t going to happen to me. I hired the investigator because I wanted to move forward, not just sit and wait.

Well, the investigator called me on the phone to relay all of this information to me initially.  I remember where I was.  I was at work–in an office at my university.  I cried.  I was so frustrated that she was so angry.  How could she be angry?  It was her lie.  Not mine.  What did I do?  Well, I took a step back and waited for a while.  In the back of my mind I thought for sure she’d make contact through Mr. Witt.  She’d cool off and figure out what to tell her family, then sign the waiver.  We’d get to meet (or at least talk on the phone) and I’d apologize for upsetting her.  It wasn’t my intent to be an intrusion or to burst into her life and claim her as my long lost mother.  I had a mother and a father and a whole family that were perfectly fine–great actually.  She had to want to meet me, right?

Wrong.  I never heard again from Mr. Witt.  Or Margaret.  A few weeks after the phone call from the investigator, I received the complete report on the search in the mail, along with a short letter:

Dear Laureen,

At the request of our Director, I am enclosing your birthmother’s address.  The telephone is not available, but we could get it with some expense.

The investigator provided Margaret’s address and confirmed through public records that she was the owner of the home.  Case closed.

How did I feel?  Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way.  Hurt.  Rejected.  But I also felt compassion.  At first I really wanted to apologize to her, if you can believe that!  I wanted to apologize for disrupting her world.  She was angry.  It was my fault.

After a week or so though, I, too, became angry.  I was obviously still hurt, but I came to realize that I did nothing wrong.  It was Margaret that lied (or hid the truth–however she wants to define it).  I realize with Margaret, there was a double whammy of shame and guilt going on back in 1963–not only was she 18 and pregnant, but she was also serving a prison term.  But it had been over 20 years!  There had to have been some soul-searching and healing going on.  You’d think.  Anyway, whether or not she had healed or buried her guilt and shame, lied, was successful in her life, or whether she was living in a garbage bin behind the grocery store–it wasn’t my fault. I still believed that I had a right to information.  Information about my birth, about my ancestry, my heritage, my birthfather and other family members. Medical information, My needs are real  and valid.  I need to know my story.

My [Non-Identifying] Story

I think Bill Witt went way above and beyond the call of duty in providing the following information to me.  I am grateful that somehow I found him when I did.  I am curious to know about other adoptees (in California or across the country) who have been provided their “non-identifying” information.  Did you receive a story?  Did you receive vivid detail about skin tone, personality, quirks, family members?  Or did you receive some sort of factual outline or listing of non-identifying data? Thank you, Bill Witt, for putting together my story.

Page 1

Page 1

 

Page 2

Page 2

 

Page 3

Page 3

 

 

 

Good read, right? The information in my non-identifying story provided many more pieces to the puzzle that I was putting together. And there was someone else on the job, as well. In addition to contacting the County Social Services after I got home, I had also contacted the private investigator. She had also begun her search.

Family Ties?

I look back on my childhood with fondness.  I was happy.  My brother and I spent loads of time outdoors during the warm summer months and after school running up and down the block with neighborhood friends.  Middle school (“junior high” back then) was without trauma and actually pretty uneventful.  I muddled through with my two besties.  High school was actually a blast.  I kept my grades up (graduated salutatorian), participated in ASB and student council (senior class president!), and found myself in the middle of normal teenage mischief (ditching class to grab breakfast with friends, vandalizing the rival school’s property before the big game, sneaking out my bedroom window in the middle of the night to hang out with friends . . . wait, that’s not normal?).

I hardly ever thought about being adopted.  It was a non-issue.  So what?  I never “felt” anything but normal.  I can look back now and can clearly see the dysfunction of my family, however.  But it had nothing to do with my brother and me being adopted.  We were no different than most other families.

College was a struggle.  I was the first person in my family to go to college.  My parents were unprepared monetarily to pay for an education or to take on any debt on my behalf.  So I lived at home and enrolled at the local state college, working 30 hours a week to put myself through school. My parents helped out with books and gas money on occasion–they were proud of me, but more than a little perplexed by my ambition.   So, my mother’s reaction to my idea of spending my senior year abroad was no surprise: “Why?”

The California State University system had (and still has) an International Program that affords students the opportunity to study abroad. I have to be honest.  I was thinking less about the academic opportunity and cultural experience, and more about the opportunity for me to finally get out of the house and have the “college experience” that my friends that had gone to a four-year college away from home were already having.  I was ready.

Even though I had 4 years of French under my belt (2 in high school and 2 in college), I decided to make it easier on myself by applying for a program in the United Kingdom. No language barrier would make the studying part that much easier. There were several universities in England that offered  programs in political studies (I was majoring in political science), so I filled out the application and crossed my fingers. There was a selection process–you had to have a high GPA and be able to write an essay about why you wanted to study abroad (I’m fairly certain I didn’t disclose my desire to party in a foreign country and meet guys with hot British accents)–and only a few slots to fill from the entire Cal State system, so I waited on pins and needles to hear the news.

Beautiful Yorkshire

Beautiful Yorkshire

Haworth, West Yorkshire

Haworth, West Yorkshire

I was over the moon when I got the news.  I was headed to the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire!  I had no idea where that was, but it didn’t matter, really.  I had never even gotten on a plane until I was 18 years old–now I was barely 20 years old and leaving the country to live in a foreign land (and go to school) for nearly an entire year!  Turns out that Yorkshire is one of the most beautiful places I would ever ever see.  I was unprepared for the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the history surrounding me.  Haworth, the home of the Bronte sisters, is  just north of Bradford–and it’s rich with history and beauty.

A Varley in Bradford

A Varley in Bradford

Imagine my mom’s surprise when I told her the news.  She actually wasn’t at all surprised that I had been chosen; she was surprised that I was headed to Bradford, England.  She couldn’t believe it.  You see, my adoptive mother’s mother’s side of the family is actually from Bradford.  I didn’t know that. Now I did.  That was all my mother could talk about.  She was so excited for me to go over and find some of  “our” family members.  She started pulling out old photos and documents . . . “You must find the Varleys!”

Bell Ringers in Bradford - I assume there's a Varley in there!

Bell Ringers in Bradford – I assume there’s a Varley in there!

I was really quite impressed with the photos, old documents and postcards she had from back in the day in Bradford.  Even a handwritten record of birth for Samuel Varley born in 1859! Impressive! Even though I didn’t know who Samuel Varley was (nor did I care).

Town Hall, Bradford

Town Hall, Bradford

Seriously, I did not care about the Varleys.  Hello . . . I am 20 years old and I’m heading to a new, foreign land to have the adventure of a lifetime!  And besides, the Varleys aren’t my relatives.  They were her relatives.  I think this was the first time in a long time that I had thought about being adopted.  Was it because I was adopted that I just didn’t care about these Varley people?  Or was it because I was a 20-year-old, self-absorbed young woman who couldn’t wait to flaunt her new found independence (and try some well-hopped pale ale in a real British pub)?

Anyway, once situated in Jolly Ol’ England, I got acquainted with the local pubs, met some fine proper Brits, drank tea with milk, ate some formidable curries, and did a little studying and traveling, of course.

I hiked here!

I hiked here!

It took me a while to work up the enthusiasm to do it, but I did at one point venture to the local post office in Bradford and look up the name Varley in the post and phone directory. Bloody hell!  I was overwhelmed to find pages and pages and pages of Varleys!  What in the world was I supposed to do with this information?  There were no computers to search and narrow down results.  I spoke to my mother over the phone and told her the news.  There were literally hundreds of Varleys in Bradford.  Now what?  That was the end of that.  Even when my parents came to Bradford to visit, the Varley situation didn’t come up.  I think she was just as overwhelmed as I was.

As I said, when my mother started pushing the Varley stuff on me in early 1985, it was the first time in a long time that I thought about being adopted.   And I kept thinking about it even when I was in Bradford.  I wrote to my parents at some point expressing my desire to find my birth parents.  They were supportive.  I even wrote to a private investigator that specialized in adoption cases while I was out of the country. They responded.

We would be thrilled to find your birth parents for you when you get back to the U.S.  We WILL find them.

It was going to be a priority when I returned home.  I will find my birth parents.