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...."


Traveler said...

Jan, I am so happy to hear that the anchor you threw so many times has finally stopped your ship from being unmoored. You have found a living, blood relative. A sister! How awesome is that?


Janet Dixon said...

I had goosebumps reading this. I am so happy for you - what a wonderful find.

Jan Crews said...

Lee, thanks for your note and forgive my delaying responding. What a wonder this has been in my life.

Jan Crews said...

Janet, I get goosebumps each time I tell the story. Debbie and I are thrilled to have each other, and relieved this happened while we were both still alive and in good enough health to get together. Now her granddaughter wants her to move to Ohio, where we'd be an hour-and-a-half apart. My fingers are crossed!