My Patient Search Rewarded
ALL the information about myself and my family, as far as I knew, was contained in a set of court papers. My adoptive parents first showed these to me when I was about seven or eight years of age. They had received them when they legally adopted me as an infant. Later, when I was an adult, they gave me these papers. My family legacy was two names on a piece of paper, my mother’s and mine.
Although from an early age I desired to know more about my origins, it was not until I was in my 30’s that I was moved to do something about that desire. In the meantime, my life took on a whole new direction as a result of a study of the Bible.
By 1967, I had adjusted my affairs so that I could share more fully with others what I had been learning. Eventually I served for nearly four years as a missionary in the Pacific Islands of Truk, Kosrae and Ponape. Then, in 1973, I was invited to join the headquarters staff of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
This was a time of retrospect for me—questions about my background began nagging me. Who are my mother and father? Do I have brothers and sisters? Am I of Spanish, French or of some other background? I also had a more important reason for finding my biological family—to share with them the “good news of the kingdom.”—Matt. 24:14.
But where could I start looking?
Beginning the Search
From the papers that I was given, I knew this much: My mother’s full name, the name given me at birth, the name of the adoption agency, the date of my birth, and the hospital where I was born. I began my search by writing a letter to the adoption agency in the state of my birth, California.
That proved to be my first frustrating encounter with the wall of intense secrecy. Being bound by the law, the agency could neither confirm nor deny by name who my mother was. However, they did tell me the state from which the woman about whom I was inquiring had come—Oregon. They also provided a few other facts about her, including that she was of German-French extraction, had average grades in school, and had played an instrument in the high-school band.
Next, I wrote to the Department of Vital Statistics in Portland, Oregon. Enclosed I sent a fee, plus what little information I had about my mother. In a few days I had an answer. A person with the same name had indeed been born in that state 24 years prior to my birth. However, I was told that it would be impossible for me to obtain a copy of her birth certificate—it was against the law for them to provide this.
After a few days of head scratching and research, I decided to write again and request a copy of the law that prohibited my obtaining her birth certificate. In due time a copy was sent. The law said that the birth certificate would be issued only to a blood relative, the individual himself, or a court attorney. Happily, I was sent a copy of the entire page on which that particular law was printed. Looking the page over, I found another law that said a person could petition the county court for any vital record that was denied him.
Seizing on this provision, I made a copy of my adoption papers, had them notarized, and forwarded them to the court with a request for the birth certificate. The result? In a few weeks I received the birth certificate that I wanted. The person named—Grace Faulman—was the same person listed on my adoption papers as my mother! Also, the names of her parents were given.
I had every reason to believe that Grace Faulman was my mother, for it was unlikely that another person with that name gave birth to a baby with the same name as mine on that same day, May 23, 1939. Yet, how could I be positive? And how could I locate Grace Faulman or her parents, assuming that they were still alive? After all, about 60 years had passed since that birth certificate was issued. I determined to continue my search.
I wrote the school superintendent in Astoria, Oregon, the place where Grace was born. Also, I inquired of the postmaster there regarding information on the Faulman family. But all efforts to trace my mother in this way were fruitless. Apparently the family had left the area soon after Grace’s birth. So I needed to find another way to trace her.
A Breakthrough Comes
Significantly, the settlement of the United States came through westward expansion. From the year 1790, when the first Federal Census was taken, families, singly and in groups, migrated westward. Thus, although Grace Faulman was born in the far western state of Oregon, her birth certificate revealed that her father and mother had been born in Michigan.
I tried without success to obtain the birth certificate of Grace Faulman’s father—apparently it doesn’t exist. However, I did succeed in obtaining her mother’s birth certificate. This provided me with the name of Grace’s grandparents, since their names, of course, appear on their daughter’s birth certificate.
Next, I sent another fee and requested the marriage certificate of Grace’s grandparents. I provided their names, taking them from the birth certificate of Grace’s mother. In time the marriage certificate, dated February 3, 1894, was sent to me. Now I was able to take advantage of a peculiarity of the 1880 Federal Census. An index was made of that 1880 Federal Census. Thus all family heads who had children 10 years of age and under in 1880 have their names, along with other information about them, indexed.
I submitted a request to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where such census copies are preserved. I provided the name of Grace’s grandfather, Henry Monroe (he was born in 1871 and so was under 10 in 1880), asking for a search of the index. Shortly, I was rewarded with a copy of the census page on which the names of him and his family were enumerated. Importantly, that page also had the name of the town in which Henry was then living, East Jordan, Michigan.
Later, this single document and a single act of kindness proved to be the keys that unlocked my past. However, at the time, I didn’t see how this information would be of help to me. So I began to trace other branches of what I believed to be my family, writing scores of letters in the process.
Living in Brooklyn, quite close to the Long Island Historical Society, I began to spend some time each Saturday afternoon checking old census records and other historical documents. Eventually, by tracing relatives of Henry Monroe, I discovered a woman, whom I believed to be one of my great-grandmothers. She had lived in Cobleskill, a small town in upstate New York. Curious to know whether any of her family might still live there, I wrote a letter to the small weekly newspaper. To my surprise, a week later I received a letter. The woman who wrote was the niece of this supposed great-grandmother of mine!
I was welcomed by this woman to come up on a visit to Cobleskill. There I spent a most enjoyable weekend learning about the family and the history of their previous 200 years in the area. Further evidence that I was indeed on the right track was forthcoming—the ladies of the family all remarked that I had inherited the family nose! Another warming fact was that three of the lady’s grandchildren and I shared the same faith.
Unfortunately, the family in upstate New York had not been in contact with Grace Faulman’s side of the family for more than 50 years, and had no idea where they were. So, while I had made some progress, the prospects of finding my mother were still not very bright. But then an idea came to me.
The Lead That Opened My Past
I recalled the information filed away in my drawer from the 1880 Federal Census about Henry Monroe, Grace Faulman’s grandfather. I thought: ‘If I could get results by writing to the newspaper about the family in Cobleskill, New York, why not write the postmaster in that small Michigan town of East Jordan where Henry and his family lived?’
This is what I did. I told the postmaster that I was trying to locate distant relatives. I asked if he knew of anyone by the name of Monroe in the town, and if he did would he please pass my letter on to that person. Having mailed the letter, I promptly forgot all about it.
Checking the mail at noontime one day a couple of weeks later, I found a self-addressed envelope waiting for me. (I always sent queries with an enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope.) Opening it, to my amazement I found that the writer was none other than the first cousin of Grace’s mother. That postmaster had kindly forwarded it to her. I could hardly keep my mind on my work the rest of the day, so elated was I.
Striking up a friendship by mail with this woman whom I was almost certain was my relative, I gradually made cautious inquiries as to Grace’s mother. Yes, I was told, she was still alive. And she had a grandson living in Alaska. Here was real news! I had a brother! But, through this correspondence, I learned that Grace had died. Now what?
I felt the need to be discreet, since I didn’t know the circumstances surrounding my birth. I finally decided to tell my grandmother’s cousin everything. I enclosed a copy of my adoption papers and asked her to serve as a go-between for me. ‘Would she reveal my identity to my grandmother?’ I asked.
The days passed slowly. Finally, a letter came from my grandmother. She was overjoyed. Yes, there was a “missing grandson”—but she thought he was dead, having been told by her daughter that he died in infancy. Yes, her daughter was the person listed on the court records. I must call my brother in Alaska immediately, she urged. The phone number was listed. ‘And when, oh, when, could I come to California so that she could see me?’ she wanted to know.
The phone call to my brother was made. My first word to him was: “Brother!” His first words: “I can’t believe it!”
He, too, had been told by our mother that I died in infancy, but then, about 15 years ago, our father had told him that I had been adopted. He tried to find me, but all his efforts were thwarted by the legal wall of secrecy.
The trip to California and the meeting with my family was no doubt one of the most satisfying times of my life! True, I was disappointed to learn that my mother and father (who I learned was named John Rapoza-Vierra) had both been dead for some years. But my grandmother, brother and I spent hours together, along with my adoptive parents, who, from the beginning, had supported all my efforts. In fact, they had gone to great lengths themselves to learn what they could. Interestingly, I was also able to meet my natural father’s family and learn of their Azores Islands-to-Hawaii-to-California migrations. He was Portuguese.
I had done it! My patient search was rewarded. ‘And what was the cost in effort?’ you may ask. Over 400 replies alone to letters that I sent, plus the cost of postage, fees, and Saturday afternoons at the library.
Hope for the Future
I was particularly happy that I was able to share with these family members the comforting hope that the Bible provides for the future. I told them that there is good reason to believe that Grace and John will be favored by Jehovah God with a resurrection to life again on earth. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) How fine, then, it will be to become acquainted with them! I realize that they made bad mistakes, even living immoral lives. But for those who are resurrected, there will be opportunity to learn of God’s requirements and to conform to the righteous Kingdom administration that will then be in control.
To me, learning about my physical roots has been well worth the effort. Interestingly, the Bible contains extensive information about the genealogies of various people. Evidently it is natural for humans to be concerned about their physical origins. But I realize that this is not of principal importance, and that there is danger of placing an overemphasis on such matters.—1 Tim. 1:3, 4; Titus 3:9.
Jesus Christ forcefully showed the relationships that are even more important than physical ones. Once, when spoken to about his relatives, he said: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And extending his hand toward his disciples, he said: ‘Look! My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”—Matt. 12:48-50.
I’ve found this to be so true. Sharing the same faith in God and having the same hope in his promises bring persons closer together in bonds of love than do even blood ties. My wife and I have just attended the 65th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. We now have the grand privilege of going to another land to share with people there the Christian faith that can enable them to enjoy such a fine relationship with fellow humans, and especially a good relationship with Jehovah God.—Contributed.