Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Unintended Gifts from Beyond

Note: This was first written as a Facebook Note on March 20, 2017

I spent last weekend in Orlando for my 50th high school reunion, packing every empty minute with visits to old friends in my hometown. I’ve been trying to figure out how to memorialize one very special meeting, and have decided to put it in a Facebook note.

The backstory:

I am adopted. I grew up feeling I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was always curious about my birthmother. With the help of a search organization in Dallas, I found her when I was 33. I called her home number. When she answered the phone, I ask, “Is this Gertrude Hodgkins Verburg?” When she said yes, I said I had been born June 22, 1950, had been doing genealogical research, and that my birth records indicated she might be my mother. (One always offers an out.) On the other end of the phone line there was a long pause, then she said, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and hung up the phone. There was another exchange several months later, with her acquiescence, at the end of which she requested that I never contact her again. I didn’t.

I was certain I was the only child she had ever had. She was almost 38 when I was born, late for pregnancy in 1950. She had spent the last few months of her pregnancy in Orlando, returning to her native Gloucester, Massachusetts, after my birth. A few years later, she and her brother moved permanently to Orlando. She married for the first and only time in 1956. And it was pretty clear from her actions and words that she had never told her husband about her pregnancy. Much later I was to learn that she had spent every Sunday morning of her life in Orlando in the nursery at her church, holding, rocking, caring for the babies.

In March, 2016, through the courtesy of the Ancestry genealogical website, I found a half-sister. My mother had not only had a baby girl and given her up for adoption in 1950, she had also had a baby girl and given her up for adoption in 1935! We were both shocked to find each other and thrilled out of our minds to find someone we were really related to. The icing on the cake was our similarities and shared interests.

My sister, Debbie, had searched for her mother much later than I did. Gertrude had died in April of 1998, and Debbie found her three weeks after her passing. Debbie had engaged a search agency to find her, and learned that Gertrude was a member of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando. She contacted the minister there and learned more about Gertrude’s life. Shortly thereafter, Debbie and her elder daughter flew to Orlando to meet Pastor Bob Eckard. He spoke warmly of our mother, told Debbie of her work in the church nursery, and introduced Debbie to a Mr. and Mrs. Nordman, with whom Gertrude had been close friends. The Nordmans were completely surprised by Debbie’s existence. Not only had Gertrude kept her secret from her husband for 40+ years, she had kept it from her closest friend.

Now to today:

I am on the Ancestry site several days a week as I search for my elusive birth father. I have taken the Ancestry DNA test (as has Debbie) and frequently correspond with distant cousins who are connected to me by our DNA. A couple of weeks ago I received a note from a “cousin” mentioning Gertrude and her husband, Gerrit. I started sorting through possibilities in my mind and decided to see if I could contact Mrs. Nordman. While searching, I learned that Mr. Nordman had died in 2011 and Mrs. Nordman in late 2016, just a few months ago. From her obituary, I learned they had five children, and through further searching, learned that the youngest, Nancy, still lived in the family home.

I contacted her and she shared with me some memories of Debbie’s and my mother. She told me that a few days before her death, her mother had said she wanted to get in touch with Gertrude’s daughter, but couldn’t remember her name. When she said that to me, I immediately teared up, assuming Gertrude had shared my existence with Mrs. Nordman. But when I called Debbie to tell her of this conversation, she reminded me that she had met the Nordmans, and that they had not known of her before meeting her, nor of me.

Mrs. Nordman wanted to get in touch with Debbie, but couldn’t remember her name.

I assumed it was just a desire to again tell Debbie how special Gertrude had been to her.

During our conversation, I told Nancy I’d like to see the church and visit the nursery where my mother had spent so much time and that had been named for and dedicated to her upon her death. She suggested I come attend church with her on the Sunday I would be in Orlando, and I quickly agreed.

We met in the church vestibule at 10:30 Sunday morning. She was holding a sign that said, “Welcome, Jan.” Then she introduced me to her eldest sister. We sat down and I noticed the quilts all arranged along the railings at the front of the church. They have a quilt guild that makes bright child-size quilts to donate to the children’s hospitals in Orlando, and Sunday was “quilt blessing day.” What a treat! As we were waiting for the service to begin, Nancy leaned over and pointed out a gentleman sitting on the back row of the choir. “That’s Pastor Eckard. I’ve arranged for us to have lunch together.” I had to stifle a sob. I had known he was no longer at the church, but assumed he had moved on to another church. I was wrong. He retired and he and his wife still live in Orlando and attend Grace Covenant. He knew my mother for over 30 years!
I enjoyed the service very much. The Presbyterian hymns are similar to the Adventist hymns on which I grew up. Same tunes, same words. The version of the Lord’s Prayer they say has the words “debts” rather than “trespasses.” All familiar. All comfortable. When the service was over, Nancy and I walked up to the front to get a closer look at the quilts. After Pastor Eckard took off his choir robe and put his music away, he joined us and we walked to the other building to see the nursery. Next to the door, a brass plaque was affixed to the wall, engraved with the words, “Gertrude Verburg Nursery.” We walked into the bright and cheery room, and talked about Gertrude’s Sundays there. The woman who had been working there that day had also known Gertrude. She talked about how, later in life when she couldn’t get around very well, they bought a comfortable rocker for her to sit in. Upon arrival, she’d settle in and they’d bring a baby to her to rock.

She gave away two daughters because she was unable to care for them, then spent several hours every week for the rest of her life holding and talking to babies. My eyes fill with tears of regret and tears of respect every time I remember that fact.
After visiting the nursery, Pastor and Mrs. Eckard, Nancy Nordman, and I left to drive to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch. After we sat down, Nancy said, “I have something for you in the car.” She ran out and came back in carrying two recyclable grocery bags. Nancy said that Gertrude had left some things with Mrs. Nordman when she and Gerrit moved into a retirement home and then, ultimately, to a nursing home.

The first bag contained a large and very heavy silver chest, loaded with sterling silver flatware. Nancy’s mother’s handwritten note inside stated that if Gerrit ever needed money, these were to be sold and the money used for his support.
In the other bag was a plastic shoe storage box filled with various plastic bags, envelopes, and bank envelopes. One envelope contained an exquisite antique necklace and matching earrings. Another held about 20 bills from various foreign countries. I assume her husband collected these during his career in the United States Navy. A couple more envelopes held coins. A small leather box held a large pocket watch. There were several more pocket watches and two beautiful gold bangle bracelets. Plastic bags held two lockets, one with a curl of very fine hair. (My sister's? Mine? Our mother's?) Then Nancy pulled out one last envelope and had me hold my hands together, palms up, as she poured about twenty rings into my hands!!!!!

I slipped several onto my fingers, and they fit my large piano hands perfectly. Several are engraved. One plain wedding band has a 1909 date in it. Unbelievable!!!

Nancy told me she had been praying for me that morning before church, and had felt that these items that had been passed down in Gertrude’s family would help Debbie and me assuage our grief at having grown up without our mother and without each other.

I expressed my overwhelming gratitude to Nancy (and ultimately, her mother, as this was - of course - why she wanted to find Debbie before her death) for having thought of us and given us this very kind and generous gift.
We left the restaurant, I retrieved my car, and before setting out on the next leg of my afternoon journey, I pulled over in a parking lot to call Debbie and tell her this incredible story.

After arriving back at my hotel, I pulled the rings out on the bed, looking through them, touching them, touching my mother whom I had never known. I found one delicate ring and slipped it onto my finger. Now I carry her with me every day.

Monday, April 17, 2017

It All Comes Around

I had the most incredible full-circle dream last night and woke feeling all was right with the world.

I've written many times about how wonderful my adoptive father was, how valued he made me feel. I've written a little less often about my adoptive mother. She was a wonderful person, she was just very frequently and very regularly not wonderful to me. My brothers don't see or understand that. No one who knew her as a friend or acquaintance saw that about her. One of Mother's sisters understood what was happening to me at home, how my little adopted self was be turned outside-in, converted into a lost child, but she felt powerless to stop the conversion. And Daddy, as wonderful as he was, worked so many hours establishing and then maintaining his thriving medical practice that he wasn't home enough to realize what was happening to me and to possibly put a stop to it.

I loved and identified with my father. And the cousin I liked the most was one of Daddy's younger brothers' sons, who was closest in age to me. We didn't see each other often, but I felt we "clicked" whenever we were together. I identified with him as I did with Daddy.

In last night's dream, I got a new job. I didn't really understand what my function, my role, was in this company. I worked in an office, a large open space with about fifteen desks and workers placed erratically in a willy-nilly maze within this large space. Our tasks were involved with computers and editing, the two fields in which I was immersed for most of my career. But I felt out of place, as I just couldn't understand what I was supposed to be doing or why I had been hired—out of the blue with no interview. (For many years, I would be contacted by people who had heard of me to come work with them. I was frequently "in the right place at the right time" when it came to jobs. And yet I never was able to escape the feeling of not fitting in.)

So at this new job, I continued to feel I didn't fit in. And then one day, when I was closest to feeling I needed to quit this job because of not fitting in, I realized who the head of the company was. It was my cousin Ronnie. Ron. Suddenly I realized that Ron had somehow heard what my most recent boss had said—that I was the best editor he had worked with in his long academic career. I recognized that this company was not quite thriving and Ron had been looking for someone to help him pull the company back from its doldrums to reach its former glory and potential greatness.

I was wanted. I mattered. I fit in.

Rather than feeling defeated and wanting to quit, I felt valued and motivated. I picked up the company's catalog of publications and started to read about all the books at its core. And my eyes latched onto one book with a nautical title. When I picked it up, I realized it was a history of Gloucester, Massachusetts. My soul's home. The town where all my DNA had come into being. I had the most stunning "aha" moment.

And woke up.

And felt centered. A sense of belonging. A sense that I mattered. That ever-elusive sense of fitting in.

Whatever it is that is not quite working out in my life is going to work out.

Ah, inner peace.

Photo of two Common Terns on the beach in Gloucester, MA. © Kim Smith.

Photo credit: Kim Smith, Gloucester, MA. See more of Kim's stunning work at Kim Smith Designs and on the Good Morning Gloucester website.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Define: Non-Binary

I'm an old programmer. I know from binary. I taught my sons how to count in binary, and they still know and use that theory thirty years later. But a year ago I had never heard the term "non-binary."

In case you are also unfamiliar with the term, here's what wikipedia says: "Those with non-binary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or non-existant gender identity, such as agender or neutrois."

My eldest grandchild identifies as female. When she was born (identified as male), we bonded fast and strong. I always said [he] held my heart in [his] hands. Now he is a she, and it has been very difficult for me to switch to saying she instead of he, and to see her experiment with makeup and finding dresses that make her feel pretty has made me sad. I wake up at two o'clock in the morning and lie in bed for two hours worrying about her future. Will she ever find someone with whom to share her life? Will she be able to get a good enough job to be able to support herself—and her family, should she have one?

But it is just not about me. It's about her. The very, very, very worst thing that could happen in my life would be for her to feel not-accepted and to become so depressed that she would feel the need or desire to kill herself. Without her in my life, whether in pants or a dress, I could not live.

So I am determined to be supportive. And she notices.

Just as her father thanked me for all the sacrifices I made for him when he was in the boarding school where he wanted to be, my granddaughter thanks me for all I do for her. She notices.

It helps when I read articles that indicate the world wasn't always binary. And because this reading has helped me, I'm sharing a couple of articles here with you today. If you're confused or skeptical, I hope you can find a little understanding in these pieces.

I have spent much of my life desiring to (and feeling like I didn't) "fit in" to the world around me. I didn't want my children or grandchildren to have to have those same feelings as they were growing up. But isn't it far more important for someone to feel they fit in inside themselves than to feel they fit in with judgmental, unloving, unkind people around them?

I could learn a lesson here.

Still so much to learn. My grandchild tells me, "I'm not non binary. Binary genders are male and female and I identify as female, so technically I'm still binary." I thought I understood correctly that it meant not traditionally male or female. Must study some more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two peas in a pod.

Two strawberries in a bowl. Two hearts, shared.

Two weeks have passed since Debbie and I got to spend the first two days of our life together, together. Nothing has changed. Nothing except, after many years as "only children", related to no one of our generation or preceding, we now have each other. We laugh, we joke, we share our hopes, dreams and fears. Honestly, if I had gone to the Sister Store and placed my order for a sister who understood me and loved me despite my foibles, I couldn't have gotten anyone as nice as she, as perfectly suited for the task as she.

And our lives go on. We talk about planning another trip to get together. And we go on with our daily routines. We text several times each day, sharing the goings-on of our lives. We occasionally talk on the phone. But we're both busy with activities—and life. So texting works the best.

I continue my research on Ancestry. My current objective is to find a cousin or two of our mother's generation or our own. But I'm not finding much success. I'm finding VERY interesting people. Our Sayward ancestors, about whom I was reading yesterday in "North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000," produced, I read, many teachers who migrated westward and were highly regarded in their cities. How cool! I read about many, many babies who died within days or months of birth and I think about the sadness that permeated those families. I read about my male ancestors who were deep sea fishermen by trade and lost their lives trying to provide for their families. My heart aches trying to imagine the anguish of waiting and hoping for someone to come home.

So my research is no different than it was before I found Debbie. The difference now is I have someone with whom to share my amazement. I have someone who cares about me and about my life, as I care about her and hers.

In a word, I am rich. My life is richer for having this person with whom I share genes and traits. With whom I share life.

I am rich.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Face to Face, Finally

SistersI did Match .com dating for years. Interminable years. I can't tell you the number of awful first, and even second, dates. Just awful.

How different was the promise of Debbie's and my meeting from the promise of those dates? Not much!

But we had the knowledge of a pre-established relationship. I had seen her original birth certificate. She had seen our mother's signature relinquishing me for adoption. Even though our DNA tests suggested we might be first cousins, we knew we were sisters.

We found each other on April 5, 2016. We texted frequently and within two weeks I offered to fly out to Arizona from Northeast Ohio to meet her. We met face-to-face on May 6, 2016. We motherless daughters spent Mother's Day weekend.

[Ironically, my adoptive mother chose May 3, 2016, four weeks before her 103rd birthday, to die. Doors close, doors open.]

This visit could have gone oh-so-poorly. As I was flying out on Friday, I remembered a Match date where I drove from Tucson to El Paso to spend time with a man I had met in person once before. When I walked into his home, I saw a thick coating of dust on every surface, and an unscooped litterbox still on the floor in the dining room, even though his cat had died a year earlier. A wise woman would have turned around and walked out. I was not wise; I was lonely.

While I tried to imagine what awaited me in Kingman, I visited every dark corner of my mind. But reality trumped fear.

Debbie and her oldest child, Cindy, share a home. They live a very quiet life. They both have health issues and serve as each other's devoted caretakers. The home is immaculate. There's not a speck of dust, a clutter of anything. A harsh word is not spoken. A raised voice is never heard. Their living room sliding glass door looks out on a patio and desert-landscaped backyard with flowering plants in pots, a porch swing, and mourning doves and Gambrell's quails vying for the food and water which she supplies for them. The walls of each room are adorned with framed family photos. This is the home of a mother who has raised her children to respect and love each other.

In a word: peace.

Here I will share with you the nutshell report I posted on Facebook while waiting for my early morning flight home from Vegas:

I know many of you are wondering, so I'll give you a brief report here: My lovely new sister, Debbie Davis, and I had a wonderful weekend together. We had lots of quiet time in her home in Kingman, AZ, trading stories and filling in the holes of 65 lost years. Her daughter, Cindy, lives with her, and younger daughter, Cathy, drive up from OC to join us for the Mother's Day weekend. We had lunch out on Saturday, with thanks to the nice young (I think) Australian man who looked at us like we were crazy but complied when we asked him to come over and take our picture. Later on, an enjoyable and educational visit to the Keepers of the Wild wildlife refuge, which required a drive along historic Route 66. Sunday morning Debbie and I drove up into the mountains south of Kingman to the Hualapi Lodge for brunch. There was not a moment of discord or disagreement. We both have dealt with the adoption syndrome of "who am I" our whole lives. Now we look at each other and shake our heads as we realize we're finally related to someone.

It was a wonderful weekend, and we're already looking forward to the next visit.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments and for following our life-changing story.

Debbie's daughters are kind, thoughtful, and generous-of-spirit fifty-something women. Their love for and tenderness toward their mother is touching.

(Debbie's son, Bill, lives south of Boston and called on Saturday to arrange to pick up the tab for his sisters' lunch and Debbie's and my brunch on Sunday.)

This is clearly a family that loves each other.

And Debbie and I count ourselves among the truly lucky to have met each other, to have so much in common, and to find such a seamless merging of our lives.

I've been rejected, multiple times–by my birthmother at my birth; by my adoptive mother by her insistence to prove to me how unloveable and unacceptable I was; by my first husband by his (I believe) insecurity-fueled need to show me how far superior he was to me in every facet of my life; and by my birthmother again when I found her and she chose not to rock the boat of her life.

I know rejection. What I experienced from Debbie last weekend was not rejection. It was total and complete and loving acceptance. Someone was finally thrilled to know me.

I am the luckiest.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Where Did It Come From?

I began playing piano by ear when I was 3½ years old. Next came accordian lessons at age 5, piano lessons at 6, organ lessons at 7 or 8. At 8 the church choir director realized I had perfect pitch. In fourth grade I started playing clarinet. Then from fifth grade through high school, I was first chair oboe. As an adult, I sang alto with The Washington (DC) Chorus, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. Now I accompany the opera program at Youngstown State University.

I always wondered where my musical ability came from.

While I wait for the results of my DNA test, I'm doing more digging into my family tree, seeing how many more branches I can hang leaves on. Mainly I'm looking at the twentieth century nodes, trying to find cousins.

In the 1940 census, I found the listing for my first cousin, once removed (i.e. my mother's first cousin). At 34, Eleanor L. Griffin was listed as single and living at the Taunton State Mental Hospital. Her job was Musical Director. In 1930, at age 24, she was living at home with her parents, Harvey and Amy, in the home so beautifully memorialized by Edward Hopper. Her occupation was listed as Music Teacher.

Posts I've written about Hodgkins House - during a trip to Massachusetts, and on a trip to Chicago to see the painting in person.

The first musical person I found in my digging was our grandfather's great-uncle (our 3rd great-uncle), Charles [Stearns or Stevens] Hicks, who was born in Gloucester in 1812. The 1860 census shows him living in Boston and lists his occupation as a piano maker!

And of course I must reiterate here that my sister, Debbie, started piano lessons when she was six. Within a few years of my employment at Walt Disney World in Florida as staff accompanist and later as a Dickens Caroler, Debbie was living in Anaheim and singing for fun with a choir at Disneyland. She told me when she sings in choirs, other singers want to stand close to her so they can get the right pitch.

I will continue to be delighted each time I find a musical connection.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Basics

Gertrude was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts in July of 1912. Her ancestors had first settled in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1622. She had a long history there.

Gertrude had two brothers, Roger and Raymond, who were thirteen and eleven years older than she. She was tightly bonded to her father, John, who died in the summer of 1929, shortly before her seventeenth birthday. She never felt her mother loved her. Her mother, Helen, died in the summer of 1934 when Gertrude was twenty-two.

Her oldest brother, Roger, was married and moved to Pennsylvania, to the Pittsburgh area, in 1924, when Gertrude was twelve. He died on Leap Day in 1932. He was thirty-three years old. His little sister was nineteen. Look at those numbers. She could hardly have known him.

At age twenty-two, Gertrude was left with one brother. He was thirty, she was nineteen. They continued to live in their family home for a few years before moving to an apartment near Green Marsh.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1934, at age twenty-two, Gertrude would have discovered that she was pregnant. Her mother had died only three months earlier. She and her brother were probably still reeling from that loss. I try to imagine her relationship with her brother. She had aunts and uncles and some cousins on her mother's side, but we know there had not been a close relationship with her mother, so would she have also felt distant from those relatives? Her father was an only child. Her maternal grandparents had evidently died in 1917 and 1915. Her paternal grandmother had died in 1909. Her paternal grandfather was 75.

To whom could she turn? I hope she had friends. Maybe she had a church family. I hope there were people in her life she trusted and could talk to about her fears. She was unmarried and pregnant in 1935.

Ultimately she traveled down the Massachusetts coastline to a home for unwed mothers near Plymouth, Massachusetts. In early July, she gave birth to a little girl whom she named Geraldine Rae. That little girl was six weeks premature and weighed only two pounds.

Had Gertrude planned to keep the baby? Why would she have named her if she didn't plan to keep her? Or did she expect such a small baby with a genetic heart problem to die quickly, so she gave her a name to carry to her grave? We don't know the answers to those questions. We can never know the answers to those questions.

What we do know is that baby Geraldine did not die, was given up for adoption, and ultimately became Deborah.

Fifteen years later, sometime in October of 1949, Gertrude again discovered she was pregnant. Her brother Raymond, her closest relative, had moved to Orlando, Florida. She was alone in Gloucester. Sometime during the next eight months, she moved to Orlando to stay with Raymond until she gave birth. She made no plans. She spoke with no adoption agencies, no lawyers.

On a late June evening, she went into labor. When Gertrude arrived at the hospital with no plans, her doctor called a colleague who had mentioned that he and his wife wished to adopt a baby girl. Reportedly, he said, "We have a woman here in labor who has made no plans for giving up her baby. If it's a girl, you have a daughter." The next morning, around dawn, the doctor and his wife received a second call. "You have a daughter."

Gertrude gave me no name. My original birth certificate listed me as "Baby Girl Hodgkins." My replacement birth certificate, issued six months later, after the adoption was finalized, named me Janet Gail Crews.

I always knew I was adopted. My beloved daddy called me his "Special Delivery Baby." I always knew my birthmother's name. I always wanted to know about her. Years later, after marrying and having two children, after growing up feeling out of place, feeling that I didn't fit in any place, I decided to search. I was living in suburban Dallas at the time, and I enlisted the aid of a Dallas search agency.

Within only a few days, they found her. She was living in Orlando! She had moved to Orlando in 1954 (according to her obituary). I had lived in the Orlando area almost continuously from my birth until I was about 28, when I moved to Sarasota for two years, and then to Dallas/Ft. Worth for my husband to attend graduate school. I had been geographically close to her for most of my life. We might have shopped in the same stores, attended the same concerts. I never knew her.

When the search agency called me to tell me her [now married] name and phone number, I hesitated only a few moments before closing my office door and picking up the telephone handset to call her.

She answered.
"Is this Gertrude Hodgkins Verburg?"
"My name is Janet Clark and my genealogical research indicates you may be my birthmother."
Long pause.
"I can't talk to you right now."
And she hung up the phone.

She had married six years after my birth and evidently had never told her husband that she had ever been pregnant, much less pregnant and had given up the baby for adoption. Much less twice!

I never dreamed she had been pregnant twice! It never occurred to me that she would have had a baby fifteen years before she had me.

Throughout the years I kept tabs on her, checking city and county records to see if she and her husband were still listed at the same address. At one point in the mid 90s, I lost track of her. I asked a high school friend who was a private investigator to see if he could find anything. He told me she was in a retirement home.

About ten years later, after the popularization of the Internet and the beginning of electronic records (with thanks to the loyal Latter Day Saints who travel the world taking pictures of graves and visiting dusty archives to take notes), I again searched for her and learned she had died.

Three months before my beloved fourth husband had died of prostate cancer, while I was spending every day worrying about him and tending to his needs and his pain, my birthmother died.

I had never been allowed to know her. In our one written communication–my typewritten letter to her, her handwritten response in the ½-inch margins around my letter–she told me she had blocked me and my father from her mind and asked that I never contact her again. I complied.

We adoptees. Always compliant. Always afraid of being given away again.

Years later, out of curiosity, I continued doing research into her family tree on I was certain there were no siblings. Then one day Ancestry tacked a little leaf on the corner of Gertrude's node on my Hodgkins family tree. I clicked it and it suggested I look at another member's family tree. I saw just a 17-node tree. At the center was Gertrude. Suspended from Gertrude's node was the pink node of a living female. A female child of Gertrude. I sat there stunned. Had someone copied my tree? I stared at the tree, then saw there were three children–two girls and a boy–suspended from the second node. What did this mean? What could this mean? First off, it meant it wasn't me, as I only have two children and whoever created this tree had three children. A sister? I had a sister?

(Every time I say that, I hear the "Into the Woods" soundtrack with The Baker asking "I had a brother?" and The Witch replying, "No. ... But you had a sister.")

Here, staring me in the face, is the possibility that I have a sister. The date was March 29, 2016. I jumped over to Ancestry's mail service and sent the following note to the member who owned this new-to-me tree.


I'm curious about your research on Gertrude Ida Hodgkins Verburg. Do you mind telling me how you're related to her?

Thank you,
Jan Crews
Youngstown, OH

And then I waited. Every day I would check Ancestry several times a day to see if there was a response. Finally, on April 5, Ancestry sent a notification into my Gmail inbox. I dropped everything and clicked on my Ancestry inbox to see the life-changing one-line response.

Gertrude is my birthmother.

As fast as I could type, I replied.

Oh My God. Gertrude is my birthmother. I have a sister?!!!!!!

I spent most of that day texting with Debbie, my new sister. We exchanged data and information. We're both musical. We both type 120 words a minute. We both suffer from migraines (as do her three children and one of my sons).

My life will never be the same. I now have a real relative, and she wants to be part of my life and for me to be part of hers.

(Debbie told me later she didn't click on the Ancestry notifications and read all the notes from me sooner because she thought I was just an Ancestry sales representative trying to get her to spend more money. I laughed.)

And on May 6 I will fly to Vegas and drive the two hours to her home in Arizona to meet her and her two daughters.

My mother didn't want anything to do with me. My sister is making up for it!

Photo © Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
I love this story person from Brian Andreas:
"When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things children need...."