In the last year or so, my family has been putting more energy into finding out about my grandmother’s history. My grandma Lulu was born in Missouri in 1918, and she was adopted sometime before her first birthday. She was never supposed to know. Her family never intended to tell her, but everyone else knew. She accidentally found out as a teen when her first cousin blurted out something like “Well, it’s not as if we’re actually related.” It caused quite a stir in the family.
Lulu was never concerned with finding her birth family. She didn’t ask any questions, and she didn’t try to find any records. Later, she told my mother what little information she did have: if she ever wanted answers, she should look for a man named Griffith, who was a senator. Also, her birth name was Carolyn Griffith.
After Lulu passed away, we all regretted not asking more questions. She was 15 years younger than her next oldest sibling, so there is no one left alive who remembers the details of her adoption. I turned to Ancestry.com for answers, but a search of her birth name produced no results. Even her adopted name doesn’t have a paper trail past the 1950s.
Then, one day, my uncle comes to me and says he thinks he has found the connection to “the man named Griffith.” Baseball! Apparently there’s a man named Clark Griffith who managed and owned the Washington Senators baseball team around the time that Lulu was born, and he happens to be from Missouri. Hmmm. That’s a lot of coincidences. However, since we don’t have her birth mother’s name or really any proof of her own birth name, we reached a dead end.
Then just a few weeks ago we found out that you can request copies of adoption records from the court. So we filled out the necessary paperwork, sent in a check and hoped for the best.
My mom got a call from the courts regarding some of the information. They let her know that this has to be done through a confidential intermediary. So that person is allowed to have access to the records first, and then…I’m not sure what the triggering event is, but after a certain point we’re allowed to have the information. Well, we tried to jump through all the right hoops.
After much paperwork and waiting, we got the call we’ve been waiting for from the court: we can have the information! We now have something we’ve never had before…the name of Lulu’s birth mother, Mabel Griffith. It’s such an exhilarating feeling. With one name, you can find out a lot of information. It’s like pulling on the end of a crocheted afghan. It’ll just keep leading to other things.
So I immediately went to Ancestry.com to see what I could find out. I matched Mabel’s age, birthday and date of death to a couple of records, and soon I had her parents’ names. Then THAT lead me to her brothers and sisters…and on and on.
I noticed that one person’s family tree had some pictures attached to the family members. So I got nosy and started clicking around. There’s a picture of Mabel!! I couldn’t believe how much it looks like my mom. Now, as much as I’d like to offer proof of this, my mother hates having her picture taken, and hates other people seeing those pictures even more. So she might just disown me if I post a photo of her here…but trust me. She looks exactly like her biological grandmother.
As I went through some of the other pictures, it occurred to me that this person might have all these pictures because he/she is closely related to that side of the family. Up to this point, I’ve only ever made contact with people who were researching far off branches of their family trees. So the idea that this person might be a 1st cousin to my mom added to the anxiety/anticipation I was feeling.
Should I contact them? What if this is a huge bombshell for the family? I mean, adoptions in 1918 probably weren’t discussed all that much, right? Such a big decision.
Well, I took the plunge and sent an email with as much information as I could find, hopefully providing enough information that he/she could verify my facts. I waited anxiously for the response.
The following morning, I saw that she had responded. Imagine my surprise when the email starts with “I’m so glad you contacted me. I knew Mabel had given a baby up for adoption…” She knew? Wait. Does this mean everyone knew? These people really are our family?? My mind was just spinning with questions and feelings.
We exchanged some information to help put pieces of the puzzle together. I think the fact that makes me the saddest is that Mabel died in 1981 and her youngest sister Marjorie died in 2010. If we had only started looking sooner, my grandmother, who died in 2000, could have been reunited with her birth family.
So here’s what we know. Mabel had my grandmother at the age of 17. It seems as though her father made her give up the baby. She was sent to live at a place called Willows Maternity Sanitarium, which was apparently the Waldorf of places for “unfortunate girls” to live during their pregnancy. The babies were allowed to stay for 6 months. If they were not adopted within 6 months, the birth family would need to make other arrangements. My grandmother was adopted pretty close to that 6 month mark. Mabel married at age 26, but never had any other children. She had two brothers and two sisters most of whom, it seems, had children. So we do have living cousins, and it looks like much of the family stayed in rural Missouri and Kansas where we’re from.
This newfound cousin doesn’t know how Clark Griffith fits into the picture, if at all.
There is a family reunion scheduled soon, but unfortunately we won’t be able to make it. As a fun piece of information for my big-city friends, the reunion is being held in a city with 231 people. Yep. There are more people in my apartment complex than that city. It can’t even process it.
So we’ll keep digging, but it’s so exciting to finally make these discoveries!
From left to right: Ida Griffith (Mabel’s mom), Owen Griffith (back), Sarah Griffith, Daniel Griffith, Mabel Griffith (back), Hugh Griffith, Marjorie Griffith (in Hugh’s lap).
UPDATE: We may actually be going to the reunion now. I will keep you all updated if we do. What an experience it would be!