I woke up early the next morning. I was exhausted. It had been a long weekend and the drive back from Connecticut was slower than usual due to the traffic. But most of all, I think I was just worn out from three and a half years of searching. Realizing that I had spent all that time and energy for naught had finally caught up with me.
I quietly slipped out of the house while Stephanie was still asleep and headed for the office. I stopped by the local Dunkin’ Donuts for an extra large cup of coffee on my way into work. And finally, I sat down at my desk at 7:15am and basked for an hour or so in the silence as I worked on the agency budget. I had a week to finalize it before presenting it to my Board of Directors but mostly, I just needed something else to do in order clear my head.
The phone rang around 8:30am and since no one else had arrived yet, I picked up the receiver. After making the usual company greeting, Stephanie said, “Good morning, Sweetie, how are you today?”
“Fine,” I grumbled because the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet. “Getting work done before the craziness begins.”
“Mind if I add to your craziness?”
“Suuuure, why not? That sounds like a tremendous idea,” I sarcastically replied. “What’s up?”
“There is a strange post-it note stuck to the side of the refrigerator. It says to call a certain high school in Long Island and I am wondering; did you ever call them?”
I thought for a moment. What note? Ah, yes! That was the note that I stuck to the side of the refrigerator when Pat called to tell me that his grandfather had passed away. And no, I hadn’t called them. My heart raced for a moment as I thought about the note Stephanie had found and then in a moment of clarity, I let the idea of calling just disappear. I didn’t have the energy to do it anymore. I was done.
“No, I didn’t. I forgot all about that note.”
“You should call them,” Stephanie said with a glint of excitement in her voice.
“Stephanie, it’s over. It’s just going to be another dead end. It’s time to move on, Sweetie.”
“Doug, write down the number and think about it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You hit another dead end but know for sure that you did everything you could to find your birth mother… Or you could forget about it and always wonder what you might have found if you had just called the damn number.”
“Fine,” I begrudgingly said as I wrote the number down on my desk calendar. We talked for a few more minutes, then I hung up the phone and went back to work on my agency budget. After a couple more hours of crunching numbers, taking phone calls and handling the morning interactions and issues with my staff, I decided I needed to take a break.
I walked outside and took a stroll around the block as the sun enveloped me in a moment of tranquility. I just let my mind wander as I took in the sites and sounds of a beautiful spring morning. And after my ten minute stroll, I walked back into my office refreshed. I sat back down at my desk, let out a loud sigh, picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello, xxxx High School, how may I help you?”
“Is the school Librarian available?”
“Let me connect you to the library, please hold?”
The phone rang and after a few seconds, a woman answered the line, “Good morning, this is Liz.”
“Hi, Liz, my name is Sean McCarthy. I am a genealogist up here in Boston and I want to know if you keep old copies of your high school yearbooks?” The story had become so ingrained into my head that I actually started to believe I was Sean when I was talking to people. I had actually started to live the role.
“Yes, Sean, we do, how can I help you?”
“I am having the strangest week. You see, 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?”
“Well, let me see if she went here. What years are you looking for?”
“1964 to 1967.”
“I’ll be right back, please hold,” she said as she set the phone down on the desk. I could here the background noise. When Liz got back to the desk, the books hit the table with a loud thud and then she picked up the phone, “Who is the person you are looking for?”
“JoAnn,” I said as I heard her start to thumb through the books.
“Not in that one,” she said as she closed it shut and grabbed another one. “Not in this one either.”
“Thanks for your help,” I said as I knew what was coming next.
“Here is something, here is a JoAnn…”
“Is there a picture?”
“Yes…” And then Liz described her to me.
“Any items written near her name?”
“Yeah, she speaks Spanish and she wants to be a teacher.”
BINGO! I said inside my head as I tried to contain my excitement. “Liz, I think you might have helped me immensely. I think that’s the person I am looking for. Would it be possible for you to make a copy of that page and to fax it to me for my files?”
“Sure, what’s your fax number?”
I gave Liz my number, thanked her for her time, hung up the phone and did a jubilant fist punch in the air. I called Stephanie and told her the news. She was as excited as I was. We had the location. We had found the needle in the haystack! The search was back on!
I called Susan Darke’s office and as luck would have it, she answered the phone, “Good morning, The Adoption Connection!”
“Susan, it’s Doug Veeder,” I said enthusiastically. “I found her!”
“You what? You found her? How?”
“I haven’t found her just yet but I found out where she was living.”
“Wait a minute, last night you called and said you had hit a dead end. What changed?”
For the next few minutes, I told Susan everything. I told her the whole story and by the end of our conversation, it was nearly impossible for me to get back to work. I was impatiently waiting for the high school librarian to fax over my birth mother’s high school yearbook page. But as distracted as I was, I opened up the budget and drowned myself in numbers to pass the time.
Later that afternoon, I got up from my desk and checked the fax machine. There was nothing from the school, so I decided to call the librarian once again. And on the second call, Liz wasn’t as pleasant. She was more restrained and subdued. She told me that when she hung up the phone earlier that something in my story just didn’t add up. She didn’t know what it was, so she called it intuition. But for that reason, she decided not to send me confidential student information.
I wanted to remind her that High School Yearbooks were a public record but considering the trepidation in her voice, I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere. So I thanked her again for her time and hung up the telephone.
I told my administrative team what was going on and they were excited for me. I told them that I was going to stay late and finish the budget so that I could work from home the following day. I called Steph and told her the same thing. And finally, I called Susan at the Adoption Connection and we started to put together a game plan.
I worked until 11:30pm. I came home and reviewed my notes until 2:00am. I was extremely groggy, yet excited when the alarm clock rang at 7:30am. I drank a large cup of coffee, ate something, and reviewed my notes once again. Then I picked up the phone and placed a call to the town hall on Long Island where my birth mother had graduated from high school.
The town clerk answered the phone and we made the same old customary small talk before I went into the explanation for my inquiry. When I finished my spiel, the woman in the town clerk’s office asked me, “So how can I help?”
“I was wondering if you could tell me if there was a JoAnn born in June or July of said year?”
“Let me check our files,” and with that I was placed on hold. After a few minutes, she returned and said, “Yes we do. I have her birth certificate right here at my desk.”
“For my genealogical research, could you please tell me the exact date?” And without batting an eyelash, she read the exact date of birth from my birth mother’s original birth certificate.
“So I can connect the dots between 1890 and now, can you please tell me the names of the parents as they are listed on the birth certificate?” And she told me their names as well as their occupations. I spoke with the woman in the town clerk’s office for a little while longer and gathered as many details as I could about my birth family before I thanked her for her time.
Upon hanging up the phone, I contacted a friend and asked them to run a background search on my birth grandparents. And within the hour, she had confirmed what I immediately suspected. Both of my birth mother’s parents had passed away. And all my friend knew is that they had both passed away in 1973.
I spent the rest of the day running down leads. I spent the rest of the week chasing down every lead I could find that would help me pinpoint where my birth mother was living. The most important thing was to track down the funeral home and find someone who could help me with information about the next of kin on either of my birth mothers parent’s funeral documents.
It took me a couple of days to find the right funeral home and the right person to speak with about the information I was requesting, but on Friday night, April 23, 1999, I finally spoke with a man who worked for the local funeral home who could answer my questions. He told me the exact dates of when both of my birth mothers parents had passed away, where they were buried, minute details as to how they had passed and finally, the name of the person who executed the paperwork with the funeral home; my birth mother’s brother.
Saturday morning brought a flurry of phone calls. I contacted everyone I knew in the adoption underground and put them to work with every piece of information I had. We ran down every lead that we could and took farfetched educated guesses at other leads that seemed to materialize. Our goal was to find my birth mother’s brother and hopefully, in the process, track down my birth mother.
It was one of the longest weekends of my life. The hours ticked by slowly. As I have mentioned many times before, the internet was still in its infancy in the late nineties. Information was not a Google search away. And the public government records that we were trying to access hadn’t been added to computer databases. We were at the whim of the business world, which meant that we had to wait until Monday morning.
As early as I could, I contacted the Suffolk Times on Monday morning and asked for copies of the obituaries. The files were being maintained on microfiche and I was told it would take a couple of days to find, so I placed the order and waited for it to be finalized.
I hung up the phone and immediately called the local Library on Long Island and asked the reference Librarian if she could track down the obituaries for me. She told me she had a few things to do but that if I gave her a few hours, she could find them. When I spoke to her later that afternoon, she read me both obituaries over the telephone. I had my birth mother’s married name and found out that she was no longer living on Long Island, but had moved to Western New York.
I sent out an email to every contact I had in the adoption underground and we shifted our search to the Western New York area. But by the end of the day, every lead we had chased turned up a dead end. Once again, my birth mother had just vanished without a trace. Our search had gone cold.
I was tired when I sat down at my desk on Tuesday morning. And as hopeful as I was that we were on the right track in the search for my birth mother, I had to change my focus to the budget meeting with my Board of Directors. I had Tuesday and Wednesday to put the finishing touches on the budget. I had a hard time staying focused as my mind would wander toward potential new lead’s that kept creeping into my head, but work had to come first.
I was late for work on Wednesday morning when my telephone started to ring. I ignored the call as I gathered up my materials for the office but as I was heading for the front door, I heard the voice on the answering machine and I quickly ran to pick up the call. It was Susan Darke.
She had called to tell me about an interesting coincidence she had come across while she was chasing down leads. When she entered the data into the computer to find the Social Security Death Index information for my birth mother’s father, two dates came up for the same name in the same town; one in 1973 and one in 1985.
My birth mothers father and brother shared the same name.
When I got to my office, I called the Suffolk Times and requested a third obituary; the one from 1985. The Clerk told me that she had found and printed my previous order but it would take a little longer to find, print out the third obituary and send all of the documents to me in one fax. I added my request to the order, sat down at my desk to do some work and impatiently waited.
It was agony. Every time I heard the fax machine, I went to check it. The obituaries never came. Finally, I stepped out of the office for a few minutes to grab some lunch. When I came back, sitting on my desk was a fax from the Suffolk Times. I read the obituary for my maternal grandfather, followed by the obituary for my maternal grandmother and in the final obituary; the final clue was staring back at me from the printed page. In the obituary for my birth mother’s brother, I discovered that she had moved from Western New York to Northern Virginia.
I sent another email to all of my contacts with the latest revelation. Two hours later, Susan Darke called me to tell me the exact address of my birth mother. She had found her! I was on cloud nine and when I hung up the phone, I called Stephanie and told her the news. She couldn’t believe it. The search was finally completed!
My Board meeting at work went until 10:30pm that night and when I got home, Stephanie and I sat down in our dining room and wrote out the letter that we had been working on for years. With the help of a template the Adoption Connection had created and our own personal writing style, I crafted a hand-written letter to my birth mother, signed it and sealed it up.
It was a warm, sunny morning when I drove to work on Thursday, April 29, 1999. As I pulled the corner and parked my car at work, “I Can See Clearly Now” was playing on the radio. When the song finished, I turned off the engine, walked across the street to the Wollaston Post office, opened the drawer of the blue box on the sidewalk and I mailed the letter to my birth mother.
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 V — The Libraries, Twelve Years Later!
Part VII — The Letter, Twelve Years Later