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.
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.