Doug Millroy: It has been quite a ride

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I imagine all adopted persons, those who have never tried to find their biological parents and those whose search for them came up empty, must wonder at times about the family that may be out there that they will never know.

I know that was the case with me.

But I’m not wondering any more.

Over the past couple of weeks, in a process that began with AncestryDNA and from there took on the characteristics of a runaway train, I actually made contact with the family I thought I would never know and have been in touch with one of them, Joanne McNally, a second cousin who lives in White Rock, B.C.

I have also discovered that while I had always thought my roots were in the west, since my birth mother was from Vancouver and gave birth to me in a home for unwed mothers in Winnipeg, they are actually in Newfoundland.

Yes, I am a Newfie. Well, at least half  Newfie. I know nothing about my father, as his name was not listed when my birth was registered.

My birth mother was May Roberts, full name Edith May Roberts, 36 at the time of my birth in 1932. Unfortunately, since she passed away in 1981, I will only get to know her through pictures and words provided by Joanne, with whom I have been in constant contact, this whole thing so new to both of us.

Where I found a family I thought probably existed, she found a family member whom she had no idea existed.

It has been quite a ride.

Donna Kreutz, who lives near Stony Plain, just west of Edmonton, and who is also high up on my list of DNA matches, and Sharon Swain, my stepdaughter from Ophir, have been extremely helpful in my search, providing me background on several families in which there was an Edith May Roberts who had been born in 1896. If you can believe it, we actually went through four before striking gold.

They forwarded me information from Censuses, passenger lists showing the Roberts family emigrating from Newfoundland to Canada in 1908, vital statistics going back as far as my great grandfather.

But it didn’t come together until Joanne appeared recently at the top of my matches on AncestryDNA, being listed there as a first or second cousin.

With what I knew of the name, age and location of my birth mother matching what she knew, the DNA connection, so strong, was the clincher.

The family of Thomas and Annie Roberts, with children Alex 17, May 12, Eliza (later to be known as Laura and become Joanne’s grandmother) 11, Ralph 10, Fred 5, Thomas 4 and Annie 3, emigrated from Newfoundland to Canada in 1908.

The 1911 and 1921 Censuses show May working as a maid for the William M. O’Neil family in Vancouver.

Joanne, 50 and a divorced mother of one, Demi, said when she was a child her Aunt May also lived in White Rock and would always bake special treats when they visited.
“She loved having us visit her and she was very kind,” she said. “My dad was her favourite nephew and she spoiled him. In her later years she became a Christian scientist, and religion was very important to her.”

She said my birth mother wrote poetry and she kindly copied and forwarded a book of poetry she wrote titled Scattered Seeds.

Joanne is now at work rounding up pictures of my birth mother and other family members from other relatives to forward to me, plus she provides me snippets of information for which I await eagerly each day.

I should say here that, as excited as I am now at finding a member of my birth family in Joanne, I wasn’t always in favour of attempting to find my birth mother.

In 1980, when I was editor of The Sault Star, the paper ran a series of stories on people who were attempting to find a birth parent, mainly the mother, and some who had.

I wrote a full-page story explaining why I wasn’t interested.

My life, I said, had just been too good with my adoptive parents, William and Lillian Millroy of Dryden, ON. And I also said I wouldn’t want to bring any hurt to my birth mother by attempting to walk into the new life she had built for herself.

But a change in my thinking took place in 1993, prompted by my wife, Barbara.
She suggested that since in my story I had expressed gratitude to my birth mother for placing me where she did, and she did indeed place me as she delivered me personally to the Millroys and stayed around for a couple of months to see that things worked out, that she might now need help.

That was enough for me to enlist the aid of the Ontario Ministry of Social Services to try to find her.

All the information I could provide the ministry was the name of my birth mother, May Roberts, which I had gotten from my mother when, at the age of 16, I had discovered through the son of a friend of my sister’s that I was adopted.

I wrote about that day in my story in 1980 and I still can recall the incident as if it had occurred yesterday.

As we argued over a game we were playing, he called me spoiled, saying his mother said it was because I was adopted, that adopted kids were usually spoiled.
Adopted. Now there was a word I wasn’t used to and I guess it showed because my friend sat back, alarm on his face as he asked: “You knew, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” I said quickly, trying to control a tremor in my voice and the sudden flush that I knew must be setting my face ablaze.
But I hadn’t.

Although I was striving to remain calm, inside I was bordering on hysteria. I mumbled an excuse and left the room. Mother was washing clothes and I stood and watched her for a moment before she looked up. She smiled, the warm smile that came so easily. Then I hit her with the question:
“Am I adopted?”
The smile faded and she sighed and brushed a wisp of hair from her forehead.
“Yes.”
No preliminaries on either side. All very quick and clean.

I could feel the blood drain from me and I knew she could see as much pain on my face as I could see on hers. There was so much we should have been saying to each other but the words wouldn’t seem to come. Finally, her mouth trembling, her hands gripping the rim of the tub on the old wringer washer, she began:
“We meant to tell you, but we kept putting it off. Then, as time went by, when it had gone so long without ever being mentioned by anyone, we thought maybe it wouldn’t be necessary. I think we were always afraid that something like this might happen, but we had waited too long. We just couldn’t tell you. And anyway, what does it matter? You are ours. You’ve always been ours. We love you. We always have and always will. Even though I didn’t bear you, you are our son.”

It was the longest and most moving speech of my mother’s life and it would have been nice if, at that moment, we had fallen into each other’s arms, if we had comforted each other. Maybe if she had made the move, I would have followed. Maybe. But I was hurt. Deeply hurt.

She told me the story of how she and my father had come to get me. My mother had been unable to have children after the birth of my sister, Kathleen, which had occurred in 1918, nine months and two days after her marriage to my father who now was on the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium. My father had always wanted a son so when my mother’s sister told them a boy born to a friend of her’s was available, they jumped at the chance, even though my father was 52 at the time and my mother was 40.

It wasn’t a long story but my numb mind grasped it only in bits and pieces as it tumbled from my mother’s mouth. I would like to say everything worked out fine from there, but I entered a period of paranoia as I thought of the mother who had abandoned me and the now seeming strangers who had taken me in.

It was more than a year before all thoughts of adoption left my mind, a year in which I became somewhat of a donkey as I fought to come to grips with what I had learned. But eventually things returned to normal in the Millroy household, which included not only my parents and me but my older sister Kay (Kathleen) and her two children, Susan and Michael Furlong, who, closer in age to me than my sister was, were more like a sister and brother than niece and nephew.

The Ministry of Social Services was able to come up with some information, that I was born in Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, that my birth mother’s full name was Edith May Roberts, that she was 36 and single, and that her care was paid for by a businessman from Vancouver. Her last known address was in Vancouver in 1934.

There the file came to a screeching halt. We had thought the age of my birth mother at the time of my birth would be in the late teens or early 20s. Finding out that she actually was 36 at the time, which would have made her 97 when the search began, Barbara and I knew there was little chance that she would still be alive.

So I was left to wonder whether there were any half brothers or sisters or any other relatives out there.

But now the mystery is no more. There is family out there.

And I have learned that my birth mother eventually did marry and had a stepson. I would like to think this gave her an opportunity to raise a child in the place of the one she gave up but I have a feeling that, considering her age, he would have been grown by the time of her marriage.

In closing, I will quote again from my story in The Star.

Thinking back, I realize I never hated my birth mother, even though for a time I thought I did. Everything I felt really involved the people I had always known as my parents. I was upset at the way I found out, hurt that they hadn’t told me, insecure because I was no longer sure of their love.

“I still really feel nothing toward my biological mother, but if I did, it would be respect and gratitude. After all, she couldn’t care for me and she loved me enough to see that I was placed in the arms of people who could.

“I could never have hurt her and that is what might have happened if I had searched for her and found her. By arriving on her doorstep, I could easily have destroyed the new life she had made for herself.

“Besides the distress caused to my birth mother, however, I think of the hurt that I could have brought to the people who raised and loved me as their own. Our relationship would have survived but it might not have been quite the same. And that would have been the cruelest cut of all.

“Mom died in 1969 and dad followed in 1970. It was hard when they went and each year when I go home to Dryden and visit the graves, I tell myself that it will be easier. It isn’t. The tears still flow. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because when I walk up that hill, to leave them behind for another year, I am one of the happiest people alive. All those memories, all those beautiful memories of loving and being loved by such wonderful people will comfort me forever.”

As I wrote those words 37 years ago I remember choking up, and I find myself in that same situation as I am reading them now to include here.
The unveiling of the family I never knew I had will take nothing away from the family I knew and loved.

I suppose I could view what has just happened as the completion of my life’s circle, since I was born into the Roberts family and have returned to it. But I would rather consider it as a blending of the two families that so long ago became connected, unknowingly I would guess because of the circumstances, through my birth mother placing me with the Millroys.

Joanne and I have began a walk down a path that I don’t think either of us knows where it will lead, but from her correspondence and talk of the feeling of bonding I know she welcomes what is to come as much as I do.

If this platform remains available to me, I may just give you updates as we discover what lies ahead.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am the adoptive mom of two great young adults (adopted at birth.) Adoption is difficult. It is a life-long learning process for all involved. I was involved in an adoptive parents’ group within in a year of my first child’s adoption. I can proudly claim that my children do not ever recall a time when we sat them down and told them that they were adopted. As a result of my adoptive parents’ group, I learned to use the word “adoption” when my kids were infants. “We are so happy we adopted you” and other loving phrases that incorporated the word adoption. As my kids grew, they learned their adoption story with age appropriate information. They both learned that they have bio sibs when they were quite young. As Doug indicates, learning about your adoption at the age of 16 is difficult. I urge all of you adoptive parents not to lay the info on your kids in the teen years. Tell them when they are young and they will process the info as they mature. All that being said, adoption is difficult. My college daughter has a much harder time with her adoption than my college age son. I have since connected with the birth mothers of both of my kids. Let the birth families in your kids’ lives. It is so helpful as they try to navigate their way as an adopted person.
    I often see it in print “well, they knew/know that they were adopted.” I will tell you that it does not necessarily make it any easier. What makes things easier and what will make your child of adoption feel like they belong in your family is openness and honesty. Don’t hide info. Your child will resent you for it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal story with us Doug. Always nice to read what you have say. Hope to have that opportunity again in the future. Ciao for now my friend.

  3. Thank you so much for your reply Mr. Millroy! Really, your parents ‘almost’ did pull it off. Amazing to think it took 16 years for it to slip out randomly like it did. I’m sure your parents thought they were in the clear.

    I agree kids should be told as soon as they can understand it, just to normalize it and make sure they know they were loved and specially chosen or whatever nicety they chose to explain. I went to school with an adopted girl and she always knew, and was proud of it because of how her parents handled it. In the internet age it is much easier to find birth parents or adopted kids.

    In one situation I know someone who simply posted a photo of herself with her daughters name on it to facebook and instagram. Within one week her daughter (now 13) saw it and contacted her! One week!

    To imagine your birth mother, at the age 36, was most likely shamed and shunned to be pregnant and unmarried and shuttled off to a place for ‘unwed’ mothers. My how the times have changed. She clearly made the best choice for you, and even stuck around your parents for a while to make sure things were alright. That must of been so hard for her, but your happiness and a better future was clearly her priority. That’s the love of a mother. She did good by you.
    In the late 60’s my mother had to get her tubes tied, she didn’t ‘want’ to, it was medically needed. Even still, since we were catholic and it was a catholic hospital she had to go in front of a board (all men of course) and I think there was even a rep from clergy there. This ‘board’ could grant or deny her a tubal ligation! She said it was one of the most humiliating experiences of her life sitting there in judgment of men who had control over her body?! The procedure was granted since it was medically needed, which makes me wonder why she had to even present herself considering her doctor had already said it must be done. This ‘board’ could decide her medical fate based on religious scripture? it’s crazy to think of now, and again, my, oh my how the times have changed.
    I SO hope you find a half brother or sister out there. Just so you could ask if your mother mentioned you, maybe she followed your writings in the newspaper, and was proud from afar? Considering she knew who your parents were, she knew your name, she might have kept track of things you did. I’m sure out of respect to your parents she didn’t seek you out later in life, not wanting to derail the better life she chose for you, damn she was a strong woman Doug! You are blessed. Please give us updates as you get them. Know that you have a random viewer out here that is so excited for what you may find out next!

  4. Linda-Lee:
    I should have pointed out that my sister’s friend and her son were visiting from Dryden. My sister moved back home with her two children when she and her husband separated. She had obviously told her friend and as you can see from her son’s comments, she passed the information on to him. In my story in The Sault Star back in 1980 I mentioned I did have a moment of recollection about the word adopted. About the time I entered school it was used about me and a girl. I had forgotten all about it, since I was about six at the time and didn’t know what the word adopted meant, but I did recall the word when he used it. This time it did mean something and as soon as I could disengage I put the question to my mother.
    Except to my first wife, I never spoke to anyone about my adoption until into my mid-30s. At that times friends were adopting and I broke my silence and suggested they tell the child so soon as he was able to understand. Unfortunately, he never did because it turned out he was challenged. But I would tell everyone adopting to tell their children as early as possible My learning at the age of 16, a tough enough age, put me in a bad place for quite a while. As my adoptive mother said, they always meant to tell me but as time went by I guess they thought they had pulled it off. But as she also said, she and my dad were afraid that something like this could happen. Who would have thought it would come from my sister telling someone a thousand miles away. Thanks for writing.

  5. Doug, that was an absolutely fascinating read! I was engrossed in your every word. Thank you for sharing. Please share more in future! If I could ask you questions, they would be this:

    Were you completely blindsided at 16 by the news? You never ever once suspected anything until the boy playing the game said it to you at 16?

    How the heck did the boy you were playing with that day know you were adopted? I find it interesting that your Mom explained it never came up and they pushed it off so long, they ended up not telling you because nobody ever mentioned it. (but some kid u played with knew and did mention it) Did your sister Kay also know and keep the secret intact along with your parents? Not judging anyone, I’m just fascinated that people outside your immediate family knew this information, and they still took that chance in not telling you.

    I ask because my parents did a similar thing to me about my paternal grandmother. They told me she died before I was born, I had no reason not to believe that to be true….Until she phoned one day and I answered- I was 11 years old. I still feel guilt and cringe that I argued with this lady that she must have the wrong number because my Grandma was dead, and finally just hung up on her when she kept on insisting my father was her son. Ugh.

    I didn’t say anything about the call for a while, but it kept swirling in my head, so I went to ask my Mom, and it went something like this:

    Me: Mom does Dad have a mother?
    Mom: Well of course he does, everyone has a mother!
    (I realized in my young 11 year old mind that I clearly needed to rephrase the question)
    Me: Ya I know everyone has a mother, Mom, but I thought Dad’s mom was dead.
    Mom: She is
    Me: Are you sure? Because she just called and I talked to her.
    Mom: Looks up at me with eyes wide…then stomped off to the kitchen muttering “that damn nursing home has been told never to let her have this number again, this is unbelievable….”
    I was stunned!!!! She wasn’t dead? And i vividly remember thinking, oh no, our school class went to the nursing home the week before to sing for the old folks and we gave each of them a present we made during art class. I may have met her in person, I may have given my own grandmother my gift and I didn’t even know it! Was my name on the gift? Thinking back on it now, my Mom knew I was going to the nursing home on a class field trip, did she not worry that something could happen? Obviously not worried enough to tell me the truth I guess.

    After she got off the phone with the nursing home, I told her I was excited for Dad to get home so I could tell him I talked to my Grandma, his Mom. She was horrified, and implored me not to tell my father! She then admitted she didn’t want me to know but since I found out she would now tell me that he did not know the woman, she abandoned him and his siblings during the depression and they had a horrible childhood because of it, she has never been in his life and he doesn’t know her, it would hurt my Dad deeply to bring this up, and to not speak of it to him. Ever.

    When Dad got home, I sat across from him, watching him reading the paper, just dying to tell him, I was so conflicted, what if Mom was maybe wrong about things, and on top of that my Dad had a right to know! What if he did want to get to know her now? What if he had no idea she was close by in a nursing home? But I listened to my Mom and kept my mouth shut, that look in my Moms eyes I got earlier, I’m sure many know that ‘Mom look’, when Mom gave it (she rarely did) she meant business.
    I did feel really sorry for my Dad though, I firmly felt he had the right to know.

    Later that night, still conflicted about the whole thing, I asked Mom if she was sure I couldn’t tell Dad, and I quote “…like really Mom, I think I should tell him, what happens if she dies?”
    My Mom kind of chuckled and deadpanned “They’ll put her in a pine box and bury her”.

    Thinking back now on that line from Mom makes me laugh, but I accepted it and kept the secret. And don’t get the wrong impression of my Mom, she was a saint and I had an awesome childhood, but the whole episode left me wondering what else they lied to me about.

    For instance, I became convinced my parents weren’t really married, that our whole family was a lie, so I demanded proof, I wanted to see a wedding photo, everybody else parents had a wedding photo, I wanted to see my parents photo to prove we were legit. All the photo’s were lost in a fire I was told. Hmmm. Were they really, or is this another lie to ‘protect’ me from something I’m going to find out the hard way in future? I think had I been told the truth about my Grandmother it would of saved me a lot of strange thoughts and doubts in my early teens.

    But I digress…. knowing everything you know now, do you think it would have been better for your parents to have told you, and if so, what age should they have told you?

    Please, please, please continue to update us on this Doug, it is very interesting.

    PS- My Dad’s mother did die over a decade later. I was away at college but home for a visit and my Dad was sitting at the kitchen table when he should have been at work. I asked him what he was doing home, and in an almost childish embarrassed way he said “my mother died today”. Awkward! I asked him what he was going to do? He said “I don’t know, I don’t know her, I have never known her”. He looked pained, and since he was the only son, they were calling him to make arrangements etc. It fell to him to deal with. I didn’t envy him in that moment, he said they were asking him things about her at the funeral home and he didn’t know any of the answers, people were looking at him strange, questioning how he didn’t know basic info about his own mother?

    I knew why he didn’t know, but it went unspoken. When he was driving me to the airport days later to head back to college, he told me usually the family sits up front near the casket but he sat in one of the last rows in the chapel, and slid down to the end because he wanted/needed to leave. He said a big burly usher sat up and took notice in the row behind him as he slid to the aisle and he was worried the usher would stop him if he tried to bolt. So he waited until the usher moved to the front of the room, got up and slipped out the back door half way through the service.

    So in the end my Mom was right, it was too painful for him, he had no connection to her, and even felt out of place and extremely uncomfortable at her funeral. I know he did buy a headstone and payed for the burial.

    Now that my interest in ancestry is piqued thanks to you Doug, I’m going to go and try to find where her grave site is. I’m curious now to see what the headstone says on it.

    Hoping to see more articles about your journey!

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