Jennifer had a very happy childhood and always felt special because she was an adoptee; she knew her parents really wanted her. Their family was heavily involved with the Children’s Home Society in Los Angeles where her mother did fund-raising work. Jennifer so appreciated her loving parents for their lifetime of love and support, but as she got older, she had a feeling that she would be close to her birth mother and that she was likely more like her than her adopted mother. After her own son had a positive reunion experience with a daughter he fathered years ago, Jennifer decided she would make an an attempt at reunion herself. On pure luck she was given year’s worth of microfiche data that had her family tree’s information. Jennifer’s mother had always hoped for their reunion, and even welcomed Jennifer’s adopted brother into their family too.
I personally feel like my contract with her as a soul was to get her out of that situation and her to give me a healthy body, which she has done.
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
This is, Who Am I, Really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. Hey, I’m Damon Davis and on the show today is Jennifer. She says she grew up perfectly happy as an adoptee and never really had a desire to search for her biological family. Jennifer says that her own children kind of pushed her to search because they were interested in their own biological heritage, but it wasn’t quite enough to propel her forward. Then their family experienced the separate reunification that had been such a positive experience. Jennifer began to think perhaps she should seek out her own biological family too. She didn’t think she’d have much success in her search because she had a closed adoption in California, but going online proved to be a highly efficient way to find way more than she bargained for. And very quickly too. Jennifer starts us off in the beginning of her journey. She always knew she was adopted and her family was heavily involved with the children’s home society. So adoption was a comfortable topic in their home.
I always felt like, Oh, I’m adopted, I’m special. I felt very positive about it, you know, I know a lot of people don’t, my brother didn’t feel that way, but for me I was always, always fine with it.
So what happened for you that made you decide to search. I mean you sound like you had a great upbringing. You are perfectly comfortable in adoption. So it wasn’t as though there were some ringing alarms that were saying, Hey, you need to go look for somebody. What, what changed your mind or, or how did your mind develop into wanting to search?
Well, initially, um, my kids wanted to know their biological background and any medical things that, that, that might go on that they just didn’t know about. And I said, Oh, well, all right, I guess I’ll kind of make an effort. So I wrote a letter to the children’s home society and said, if my mother ever wants to get in touch with me, please put her in touch with me. And of course, come to find out much later, my mother had written a similar letter, but they never put us in touch with each other.
That was before the time of internet. So you know, time went by. That was in my thirties, late twenties, early thirties, that I did that. But really I didn’t have a big inclination to do that. But for some reason I had to call LA County records or something. And I called and this woman says, you have a sister that’s looking for you. And I said, what? I just didn’t really believe her because they can’t tell you that stuff. So, um, I wrote down her name on a little scrap of paper and lost it. So I didn’t, it just wasn’t the right time in my life. I didn’t really want to have to deal with all that, but it actually was my sister that did try to get in touch with me and she died before I met her. So it was unfortunate. But she was the next youngest sister and she did think she saw me once in San Diego cause she, I guess cause I look like the family.
Is that right?
Its entirely possible cause that’s where I lived and she lived at that same time. Anyway. Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s an aside story.
The next time Jennifer really thought about reunion involved her son and his own reunion. He had fathered a child when he was a teenager and now the idea that a reunion could be a positive experience had motivated her a little more.
I wasn’t told for two years. And after that happens and um, you know, we all wrote letters to this child, this girl child, and put them in her attorney’s office in case she ever wanted to find out more about our family. Well, the attorney’s office burned down, so she never got any letters, but one of the people in her family knew the mother and she said, would you like to get in touch with your parents? And she said, when she was 19, 18, she said, yeah, I would. She got in touch with my son and I met her and I met my baby granddaughter that my son had just gotten married. I met them at the same time and it was such a positive experience. I thought, Oh my God, that’s really great to know that I should maybe look for my mom again. Now the Internet’s you know, functioning. So it was in, I don’t know, maybe, Hmm. I can’t remember. I’m bad on years.
In the later two thousands but it was about nine years ago that decided I’d sit down at the computer and inquire and in about 36 hours I had this whole family tree that was huge. Huge.
How did you do that? I mean, you know, like you said, the internet is kind of immature not too long ago. How did you go about your search for them online?
I went on a site called Cousin Connect and whoever I got connected with, she happened to have one year of LA County birth records on microfiche. So she said, this is your mother, these are the other people you might be related to, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, you can’t know that I have a closed California adoption. You know, you have to search for years or whatever. And just that was my idea. And she said, no, no, really, here’s the microfiche. And she showed it to me, I was like oh my God!
Wow, your heart must’ve just been soaring. That must have been amazing for you.
It was amazing. I mean, it was shocking, especially cause it wasn’t just a mother. But you know, I’m the oldest of 10 children. So you can imagine this is a, an overwhelming experience to find out you have nine siblings and you know, cousins, like all of the family had like nine kids, ten kids. So, and my mother was from kids that had 10 kids. So it was really, really a huge, huge family. I’d been married a few times, so I have all these other families, you know, family that adopted me. So it was just a little, little bit frightening actually to think, Oh my God, well of course you’re not going to hesitate to try to get ahold of them to some extent, you know. But it was kind of frightening.
So Jennifer looked up her mother online then called her. She left a general message in her voicemail that sounded more like a business solicitation, not leaving any clue that she was her biological daughter. Of course her mother probably thought it was a telemarketing call. So Jennifer never heard back from her.
So probably two months later I thought, well, I’ll write her a letter. So I wrote her a letter and I enclosed a poem that I had written to her in 1979 and that was published in a little book. So I, you know, I copied that and sent it to her and I’ll read you the poem. It’s called “To Mom: Woman who cared. I thank you woman who cared. I dream of you. I feel us alike. You and I are more alike than I ever dreamed. I reached to tell you that I am and that you would be proud. I reached to show you my life, but not to grab yours. I think I know the pain you felt. I think I feel the love you gave. You made the right choice woman. Who cares? I thank you.
Wow, that’s amazing.
So she got that and my sister got the letter out of the mailbox and she said, mom, I think you might want to sit down.
So I, you know, I introduced, I said, you know, I figure if you don’t want to get in touch with me, that’s fine. I just want you to know that you know this, I’m here and this, I really appreciate you, what you did and here’s this poem I wrote, but if you do want to get in touch with me, you know, here’s my phone number and my address. So I guess my mom’s knees buckled at the letter and sat down outside. And you know, she was just so, so grateful and so happy and she prayed every day for all of her babies to come home to her. And of course I was one of those babies and she, I was the only one she gave up for adoption. But we had other sisters that were estranged for different reasons.
Fascinating. So you were one of 10, you were the only one that was given up for adoption, but still she had this need to connect with others because they had been sort of separated from her, from her for a variety of reasons. So she had experienced a lot of loss with her children.
yes, she did.
But it’s a very close family overall. I mean, obviously the family had tragedies and things that separated them and you know, just the traumas of growing up and the way they were raised and you know, being a nine kids and trying to make ends meet and feed everybody and supervise everybody. It was a difficult situation.
After receiving the heartfelt letter, Jennifer’s mother called her, they spoke for more than an hour and a lot in that first month and then they decided to meet one another.
And so we set up a six day visits and I took off with a suitcase full of my childhood pictures and she had three boxes of pictures from all the kids. My son says, mom, you know what, if you don’t like her?
6 days is a long commitment!
I said, it’ll be fine. So by that time she’d given me some history on my sisters who always knew about me, my sisters, and my one brother. And uh,
How is it that they always knew about you? What was the circumstance that allowed that to happen?
Um, she told them about me and of course she told them I was adopted by a movie star.
That’s so funny.
So, uh, that was kind of interesting. We both had myths on our sides of how, where I was and where they were. We were, we were actually didn’t really grow up that far from each other. They were in Chatsworth and I was La Canada.
Wow. Close to each other?
In LA basin. Yeah. It wasn’t that far away.
Oh, that’s amazing. Did she tell them that you were adopted by a movie star to help them to feel okay with the fact that their sibling was out there somewhere, do you think?
I don’t know if she actually believed that. I think she probably actually believed that.
Oh that’s so funny.
Yeah, it was really funny.
So you embark on this six day visit and what happened? How did it go?
Oh, it went great. It was great. I mean, the first night I was there after she and I had some, some time I got a little lost and called her and you know, pulled in late and she’s like, Oh, you’re just like me getting lost. And she opened the door and she said, should we cry? And I said, nah, nah, let’s just laugh.
It was amazing the coincidences because at the time I owned a business called Seven Sisters Auto and I had seven sisters. That was freaky. And then my subsequent business is called Angel’s Rest. And one of my sister’s name is Angel and my brother Greg lives two minutes from where I used to live in San Diego and my maiden name was Collins and my sister’s married name was Collins. So there was just all these little coincidences oh and my mother, my mother that adopted me, she went by Eleanor, but her name was Florence, Eleanor Collins. And my birth mother is Florence.
Is that right?
Yeah, so that was the wierd. And they’re both five foot two. Yeah. They both had a similar physique and name was the same. It was just like, I think the children’s home society had a funny idea, they were playing a joke on us.
That is so crazy. It’s amazing how the universe puts these coincidences together. You know? Some people think it’s like these divine interventions. Other people just think that it’s, you know, coincidence is of the universe. But it’s amazing how this stuff just aligns to amaze us when we reunite with our families. It’s unbelievable.
Yeah. Well that first night looking at, I think four of my sisters were there and just seeing them, all our eyes are all exactly the same. My mother’s blue eyes, it was like, wow, these are, these are my people. I look like they do.
So the first visit was a spectacular event. Jennifer had found her people and over the years she’s gotten very close to the family. So I wondered how her adopted family took the news of this incredible reunion.
I think I wouldn’t have searched had my mother been alive. I, she’s had died in 1999 so I felt free from that point. And my dad had dementia, pretty severe dementia, but he lived 90 miles from my mother. Yeah. Wow. So when I go back to visit him, I, you know, at first I kind of just didn’t tell him. I just say I’m going to go visit friends for a couple of days and I would take off and go up to Chico where they lived and visit with them. And after maybe a year or two I thought, you know, I probably could tell dad about this and he might be okay, but with dementia he was not okay.
He just like, well, you could get mad at us and then you have a whole new family. You wouldn’t love us anymore.
Is that part of why you didn’t search while your mom was alive? Did you feel that she had a similar sentiment?
No. No I didn’t. I just didn’t feel the need to, and I also, you know, just didn’t want to give her the message that, you know, something wasn’t adequate with having my family who I was, who adopted me and loved me and gave me a good upbringing and that we never talked about it. I just didn’t feel like that would be a good thing to do for her.
Yeah. You didn’t want to rock a boat that didn’t need rocking at all.
Yeah. I just really didn’t.
Yeah. You had a good upbringing, there was no need to sort of infuse uncertainty into your relationship with them. I get it. Totally understand.
Yeah. And I never mentioned it to my dad again, but unfortunately he had a lady friend that had dementia and she kept bringing it up and she kept telling me, Oh, it’s hurts your dad so much. Oh, ah. You know, it’s like leave it alone.
That’s a whole other story.
You’re thinking if you’d just let it go, wouldn’t keep talking about it.
Yeah, exactly. It wouldn’t be hurt cause he wouldn’t really remember.
Yeah. Yeah. What was your mother’s reason for putting you into adoption? Did she reveal that to you? Oh yeah. Yeah, she um, she was I think 18 when I was born, maybe 17 when she got pregnant anyway. And she was in high school and she never finished high school. They sent her to a convent to be pregnant. But you know, in 1950 being a single mother was not okay. Number two. But I think that the main reason was she had a pretty abusive stepfather and home wasn’t a good situation. And I personally feel like my contract with her as a soul was to get her out of that situation and her to give me a healthy body. So in which she has done so you know, I think we, we’ve been up at peace with each other for, for years and years.
There were no, no feelings of resentment and only love and inclusion and I was just always on the phone just say how much she loved me and how glad she was I was in the family and you know all that good stuff.
That’s really amazing. So she went off to the convent to have you.
And she named me after her two favorite nuns.
Is that right?
That’s so cute.
Then after that she never moved back home, so I think her brother helped her get set up and they did some traveling and, but I think part of having nine more kids was just to always, always that sense of needing to replace me.
Yeah. That’s fascinating. Wow. Nine more. Did she tell you much about your biological father and did you try to look for him?
She told me his name because one reason I didn’t get adopted for five months was because they said that she had refused to tell them anything about my father. So they wanted to keep me in foster care to see if there was any mixed race or any health problems or I don’t quite understand their thinking on that in the fifties but she finally told me his name and a little bit about him, but she said, you know, I just don’t really remember. You know, he wanted to marry me and I didn’t want to get married to him. So, and he came and visited her with when my sister Linda was born and he thought that was his child, which of course it wasn’t. Yeah, that was the only time I think they saw each other after I was born.
And you didn’t try to seek him out at all.
I went online to see if that person with that name that was still may be in the area and I knew a little bit about the history of his family from what she said, if she remembered correctly. But I did find a man that had died at when he was 74 with that name in that area. So I have no idea if that was actually him or not and I, you know, that’s fine. I have so many families and now I have this huge family. I just don’t think I want another one. Although my, my granddaughter, the one that was adopted, not raised in our family, she and I have a good relationship, but she went on, um, that adoption site where you, they test you genetically and say you might be related to all these people. Right.
Is it ancestry DNA or 23 and me?
Ancestry DNA. Yeah. She went on that and she got connected with my first cousin who I didn’t know about. So he and I are corresponding now. So I, I, if I did that, I might actually find my dad’s family since I know the name, his name. So that’s an idea. I’m not in any rush to do that.
Yeah. You sound like you’ve done, made a lot of connections back to people. That one you didn’t even know existed, but two, you got probably literally 10 times more people connected to you than you even anticipated.
Exactly, yeah. At my mother’s funeral, I met one of the cousins, one of the, of their family of nine kids. I met four or five of them. That was the first time I could actually allow myself to go down a level into cousins. I barely know my sisters and now their kids, I’ve gotten down to that level. But cousins, no.
Yeah, that’s really deep.
Jennifer has nine siblings now and her mother has since passed away. I asked her how things are in her biological family these days and how her own brother had been impacted by her happy reunion.
My sister Linda passed away. So I have eight siblings out there and I’m, I’m very close to my brother who is two years or two and a half years older than my son. And he and my son get along really well and, and uh, my niece Laila, his daughter came and worked for me for three different summers. So that was an interesting thing cause I didn’t have any nieces or nephews in my family. I was raised, uh, you know, so all of a sudden I had actually nieces and nephews. So my mother had, uh, had children with four different men. So all the children with the last, there were six children with the last husband and I, all of those I’d say I’m close to.
I can’t help but wonder as I, as I think about you and your adopted family and your comfort there, but you are adopted brothers discomfort there. And then fast forwarding to where we are now, you’ve reunited with your biological family. Do you, did your brother decide to embark on a search at all?
Yes, he did. He decided with my positive experience that he’d go on cousin connect I think, and he found out who his mother was and that she had died because she was a lot older than my mother. And she had three children with her husband who she eventually married. So he has half brothers and sisters out there as do I, he has, I think two brothers and a sister. But finding that his mother died and then he lost in the fire in San Diego. The woman that was helping him, I don’t know if her computer died or I don’t know what happened, but, um, he was never able to get ahold of her again. So he just let it go. He had enough to be satisfied and he’s kind of a loner anyway, but, um, he decided that he wouldn’t, wouldn’t search further since his mother had already died.
You know, my, my mother was so warm hearted, she said, you know, please feed your brother, he’s in our family, so invite him to everything. So yeah, it was great. So he started coming. So he and his wife come up sometimes when I go out there and have a family event. So it was nice. He, they’ve come twice. Well they came to my mother’s funeral and the, the party afterwards with my, with my, uh, sisters and brothers and cousins and all that. And they also came to a Thanksgiving dinner that my mom was at and you know, they really enjoyed meeting mom and, and the brothers and sisters. So I think they feel a little part of the family when I invite them when I’m going out there.
That’s really cool. That’s great that you’re able to include him in that way. And he was receptive to it.
I know. I was actually kind of shocked and I didn’t think he would necessarily want to go to my mom’s service, but he did. They really came through and it meant a lot to me that, uh, that he and his wife would be there.
Yeah, I bet it did. That’s really spectacular. Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your story. This has been really amazing. I got to say, I love your daughter Christine. She is so awesome in what she told me online that I had to talk to you. I was really excited to hear your story. So thanks for taking time to share this morning. I appreciate it.
Oh, sure. Well, thank you for being interested in it. It is a good story and with a very happy ending. I think that, uh, you open that can of worms and you get what you get and it takes a lot of years to adjust. It’s been a very enriching experience. And of course, having this closure with my mother and knowing who my people are and knowing my biology and knowing, you know, just things that you can’t ever completely close the loop, I think if you don’t make that connection. So I’m very, very grateful.
It opens a whole new world if it goes well. So you’re very fortunate for how it went for you. Congratulations.
Take care, Jennifer. All the best to you.
Alright. You too, Damon.
Hey, it’s me. What a fascinating journey Jennifer had. I was excited to hear that right when she began her search, she learned a sister of hers was out there looking for her too. It was really too bad that she lost the little note, but that sister’s information and they weren’t able to connect. Still, Jennifer was able to find her biological mother quickly online thanks to some old schoolmicrofiche technology that had the whole family tree documented. Can you imagine going from a small family growing up to learning you’re the oldest of 10 children? Wow. And how cool was it that Jennifer’s mother welcomed her brother into their family too? She sounds like she was an amazing lady. I’m Damon Davis, and I hope you’ll find something in Jennifer’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn. Who am I really? This episode was edited by Sarah Fernandez. If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, whoamIreallypodcast.com/share. You can also find the show on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @waireally.