“Libraries!” I randomly shouted while sitting on the couch watching television.
“What?” Stephanie asked as I jumped up, raced into the guest room and grabbed the Oak Tag that I had stuffed into the closet.
“Libraries!” I said as I came back into the living room and put the Oak Tag on the coffee table. “It’s in a Library!”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” she said as she leaned over my shoulder and stared at the chart I had made. “What’s in the library?”
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it…” I said to myself over and over again as my finger darted from fact to fact on my graph. How could I have missed it?! The answer was simple and it had been staring me in the face for years! It had all came full circle! I had to go back to where I started; the libraries!
“What? What did you find?”
“The answer is hidden in a library somewhere in New York! If I want to find my birth mother, I just have to find the right one!” I exclaimed.
“Are you sure?”
“New York is a big state, Sweetie” Stephanie said. “And you were born in New York City, how can you rule out the fact that she might have come from Connecticut or New Jersey?”
And Stephanie was right. I couldn’t rule out those states. Or any state in America for that matter. But at that particular moment in time, I was following a gut instinct. My heart told me that I had to look in New York, but I am getting ahead of myself. The real revelation came from the fact that I had solved the riddle that had been hounding me for months. As I stared at the graph in front of me, the answer was crystal clear. The information I was looking for was in a public library. The real question was, “which one?”
As I drove to work the following Monday, I thought about my next steps. I had to whittle down my search zone. The Tri-State area was a large region to cover and I was working with a limited supply of financial resources. Therefore, I decided that the first step in the process was to call Amy and ask her a few more questions.
My heart raced with a combination of nerves and excitement as I dialed the number for the adoption agency. I hadn’t been this nervous in years, but the conversation I was about to have would dramatically impact my search.
When Amy picked up the phone, I engaged her in some general small talk. But after a few minutes of niceties, I decided it was time to discuss why I had called. And as much as I tried to be subtle, I was getting nowhere. It was time to go for broke and be blunt. I had nothing left to lose.
“Amy, I know you are paid to protect secrets but today, I am appealing to your sense of humanity. I want you to imagine things on my end of the receiver for the next few minutes. Can you do that?”
And as I waited for a response, there was a deafening silence on the other end of the line. So I took a few seconds to collect my remaining thoughts and continued, “I had no say in the decisions that were made when I was born, Amy, and I am not asking you to break those agreements. But I would love it if you could find it in your heart to give me just a little something that might help me on my end.”
The continued silence on the other end of the line was a telltale sign that I had gone too far and worn out my welcome. I was about to hang up the phone when I heard a very subdued voice ask, “How do I do that, Doug?”
“I know you can’t tell me where my birth mother lived because of the laws and the agreements your agency entered into many years ago. I get that. I really do. But if you were to remain silent, like you were a few minutes ago, when I ask a question about a certain region or a particular State, I will take that silence as an indication as to what geographical area to focus my search.”
It was a bold request and I waited patiently on my end of the telephone while Amy thought about my proposal. “Don’t look in the entire tri-state area; stay in New York.”
I was surprised that she was willing to play along but I wasn’t going to mince words and beat around the bush. I didn’t know how long this window of opportunity would stay open. “Upstate?”
“The weather is nice up there this time of year, Doug, isn’t it?”
“North of the City to Poughkeepsie?”
“I wouldn’t travel in that area of the state until the leaves change colors. I hear it is lovely up there in autumn.”
“Long Island?” I asked.
And then there was an extremely long silence but this time, it was a good silence. Amy was able to find it in her heart to allow a vague reference to a specific region count for something and I knew what that something was. Without another word or any other hints, I knew where to continue my search.
“Thank you, Amy,” I said humbly.
“Good luck, Doug. I hope you find what you are looking for.”
I went home that day and sat down with Stephanie to go over my plan of attack. I was going to develop a plausible cover story and then I was going to call every Public Library on Long Island until I found my birth mother. It was a daring, time consuming plan but I was positive it was the right one to follow.
This is where the plan bogged down and trudged along very slowly. As much as the internet was in its infancy twelve years ago, phone companies charged for every single phone call. The dawn of the “all-inclusive long distance plan” hadn’t been dreamed up. So on top of our regular forty dollar monthly charges, long distance calls were billed at ten cents a minute. The average call to a resource librarian hovered in the twenty to thirty minute range.
The initial call was answered by the front desk. They transferred me to the reference desk, which sometimes rang for a couple of minutes before anyone answered. Then I had to conduct the initial conversation with the resource librarian and once I had convinced them to help me, I was placed on hold while the librarian went to the correct shelf, pulled the proper books and returned to the desk to ask me for the name of the person I was looking for. Then there was the time involved while they flipped through the pages looking for my birth mother.
At two dollars and fifty cents to three dollars per call, the cost added up quickly. But worse than that, I was relegated to making calls on Library schedules! Libraries close between 8:00pm and 9:00pm every night; 5:00pm on Friday. Resource librarians don’t work every night of the week. I personally was able to make calls between 6:30pm and 9:00pm, Monday through Thursday. If I was lucky, I completed five calls per night. Nope. My plan was not going to be a simple one unless I struck Gold early in the process.
But after developing a good cover story, I flipped a coin and decided to work from New York City out to the tip of Long Island. I remember my first call vividly. When I was finally connected to the resource desk, I said, “Hi. How are you doing tonight?”
“Good… And you?
“I’m fine, thank you for asking. Do you have a few minutes?”
“How can I help you?”
“I have a peculiar request.”
“My name is Sean McCarthy. I am a genealogist up here in Boston and I want to know if you keep copies of the local high school yearbooks?”
“Yes, Sean, we do. What do you need?”
“Great. Here’s the thing: I have been working on a genealogy for a family here in Massachusetts. It is a fiftieth anniversary present for the grandparents and in my research, I have found there is family member who left Boston in the 1890s and relocated to Long Island. But my search for her ended when she got to Long Island, she just vanished. I know what town she lived in first, but I am unsure of who she married or where she settled down. But, my latest skip trace gave me the name of someone who might be related to her; a granddaughter. Before contacting the family, though, I want to run down all of the normal leads with the local historical society and genealogical groups. But before doing all of that, I wanted to confirm whether or not the person I am looking for graduated from the local high school?”
“I think we can help with that, Sean… What year?”
“To be on the safe side, I was wondering if you could grab the yearbooks for 1964 through 1967?”
“Not a problem. Hold on a minute while I go find the books.”
And then I waited, for what seemed like an eternity, as the minutes ticked by. I wondered if the reference librarian would cut off my call or refuse to help me any further. All it took was for one skeptical resource librarian to figure out what I was actually doing and they could end telephone communications throughout the entire state with one email. Finally, though, the reference librarian returned to the phone and asked, “What is the name of the person you are looking for?”
And I gave my birth mother’s name. After the librarian looked in all four volumes, I had hit my first dead end. The information didn’t pan out and I spent the next few minutes thanking the reference librarian for their time and help. And then I hung up the phone and dialed the next number.
As the process continued, though, I learned that not all of the public libraries had copies of the high school yearbooks. And when they didn’t, I would have to wait and call the local high school on my lunch break so I could speak to the school librarian. It was the only way to rule out every community on Long Island.
I made calls for months. I called Library after Library in search of my birth mother. But as the months passed by, I found nothing. I was running out of towns to call in early April and I was getting frustrated with my progress. Stephanie could tell that the search was getting to me and wearing on my nerves as I crossed community after community off my list. So Stephanie asked to take a break for a couple of weeks so I could recharge my batteries.
My thirtieth birthday was coming up and Stephanie wanted me to celebrate it without any distractions or frustrations. So I put aside my research for a couple of weeks and spent a little time having some fun with my friends. It was just what the doctor ordered because I started to feel like myself again. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. It was nice to welcome in spring with a clear mind and some quality time without a phone affixed to my ear.
But right after my birthday, I started making calls again. The list kept getting shorter as I crossed off a few more libraries. I came across a local library that didn’t keep copies of the high school yearbooks and as I was writing myself a note to call the school librarian, the phone rang.
A close friend of mine had just lost his grandfather. As I spent the next hour or so talking to him on the phone, I stuck the note to the side of the refrigerator. When I ended the phone with my friend, Stephanie and I made plans to attend the funeral in Connecticut. As I packed for the trip, I threw my folder of libraries into my suitcase.
After the funeral, Stephanie and I went back to her mother’s house. While she and her mom were making lunch, talking about the events of the day and a few other items, I decided to call the final four or five public libraries on my list. As the afternoon wore on, I ran into dead end after dead end.
As I hung up the phone after the final call, Stephanie could tell by the dejected look on my face that the news wasn’t good. I had called every single public library on Long Island and my search had netted zero positive results. My birth mother wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Before I said anything to Stephanie, I picked up the phone and dialed one more number. When the answering machine picked up at the Adoption Connection offices, I left the following message, “Hi Susan, it’s Doug Veeder. I think I have come to the end of my search. I think it’s time to face the real possibility that my birth mother used a fake name when she registered with the adoption agency and at the hospital. Thank you for all of your help but I think this search has gone cold. Talk to you soon. Bye.”
When Stephanie and I drove back to Boston later that night, we talked about my failed plan to find my birth mother. And as we tried to figure out what to do next, we hit a very long stretch of silence along the I-95 corridor somewhere past Old Lyme. As I stared at the empty road in front of me, I had a moment of clarity and said to Stephanie, “It’s ironic, isn’t it?”
“I came back to Connecticut for a funeral and to support a friend. I never thought that it would also turn out to be the death of my search for my biological parents.”
“It’s not over yet, Sweetie,” she said as she tried to muster up the energy to be supportive. But Stephanie knew in her heart that we had reached the end of the road.
“It’s done, Steph. I am done. I have tried everything and I just don’t have the energy to continue. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to look next anyway.”
And with those final words, we drove the rest of the way home in silence.
Author’s Note — In case you have not read the previous articles in this series, click on the links below….
Part II — The Underground; Twelve Years Later!
Part III — Christmas Eve, Twelve Years Later!
Part VI — The Post-It Note, Twelve Years Later!