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THE SEARCH FOR MY LOST FAMILY

By

Linda Gunn-Russo

AT 5 years old, Linda, a little girl with serious eyes and dark brown curls, didn’t feel she was any different to the other girls on the street. Her mother was a housewife and father a painter and decorator. They had an average terrace house and Linda was a quiet, content child.

At least, that was the case until one June morning when her mother dropped a bombshell that would change Linda’s life forever.

Linda can remember it as if it were yesterday and the memory of it haunts her to this day.

Linda says that she was knelling on the floor, tidying her toy cupboard, when her mother stooped down and said, "I’ve got something to tell you. We’re not your real parents. We adopted you"

Linda had no idea what made her say it then; she had done nothing bad.

She was stunned into silence and just kept putting her toys away.

This was a revelation that set Linda on a lifelong search for the truth about her past, which has now come close to finality as a result of a landmark legal ruling in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, in June 2001. In the Courts, the adoption society which handled Linda’s case was instructed to ‘reconsider’ allowing her access to her own adoption file, which had previously been denied by them.

Through her own detective work, Linda managed to trace her birth mother and able to enjoy a 13-year relationship with the woman who gave birth to her.

So why does Linda need access to her adoption file?

Well, it’s because she wants to know why she was given up for adoption and who took her to the orphanage – Was it her mother, her grandmother or a social worker?

There are so many questions that an adopted child needs to ask about their birth, which they won’t, or can’t, ask their birth parents. Linda’s birth mother was so traumatised and upset about giving her away, that she was never able to answer any of those questions when Linda finally tracked her down. Her eyes would just fill up and she would look away if questioned.

When Linda talks of her childhood, she says there was the one she was told and the one she is still piecing together.

Until she was 5, she believed she was Linda Rogan, the only daughter of Kathleen and Thomas Rogan. In fact, as she was to learn much later, Linda was the result of a passionate and ill-considered affair between a dashing Italian-American serviceman, Mid Russo, who was stationed in the UK during World War 2 and Elizabeth Gunn, a pretty Catholic girl from Liverpool. Her adoptive parents collected her from an orphanage to bring her up in the Liverpool suburb of Bootle.

After the shock of being told she was adopted, it took Linda another 2 years to finally work up the courage to ask her mother more. Linda says that she wasn’t terribly close to her mother, who was strict with her and perhaps she was a little afraid of her mother.

Linda adored her adoptive father and waited for the right moment to tackle her mother, as she didn’t want to upset him by talking about another ‘real dad’. However, she felt different about her mother, as it was she who had started it all in the first place by telling her. Once Linda knew they were alone, she asked, "What does adoption mean?"

Her mother replied "It means we’re not your real parents. It means your real mother gave you away – like a 2lb bag of flour".

The phrase still brings tears to Linda’s eyes, but she went on and asked who her father was, to which the reply came "Your mother would have had you by anybody".

Of course, at 7 years old, Linda didn’t fully understand what she was being told, just remembering that her mother’s voice was harsh and cold and that being compared to a bag of flour made her feel very small and unwanted.

For the following three years, her adoptive mother refused to answer any further questions, but when Linda was 10 years old, she told her that her real name was Julia Gunn. Linda was shattered as suddenly she felt like 2 people – Linda Rogan and Julia Gunn.

Linda didn’t make any further enquiries until after her adoptive father died in 1969, by which time her relationship with her adoptive mother had seriously deteriorated. She was advised by the City Library to begin with the Nugent Care Society – the largest Catholic adoption agency for the area – since that was the religion she had been brought up in. To her joy, she found she was on their files. A meeting was arranged and Linda arrived full of trepidation. She explained to the elderly priest that she wanted to know more about her past, why she had been given up and whether her natural mother ever wonder where Linda was now. She could see the file on his desk and thought the priest would just hand it over to her. Instead, he said there was ‘nothing much’ in it. He went on to say "The best thing for you is to get on with your life and stop living in the past".

At the time, adoption law dictated that an adoptee’s access to files was at the agency’s discretion. The priest advised that as the Society had promised her mother that her identity would be protected, she wasn’t allowed to see the file. Linda went back to the Society repeatedly for two years, begging to be shown the file. Then in 1975, a change in the law brought Linda some hope, when adopted children were given the right to see their birth certificates. Linda went straight into Liverpool Town Hall and there it was: ‘Born Julia Gunn, June 24, 1946. Mother: Elizabeth Gunn. Father: not present for birth’.

Linda now had her birth mother’s name and home address at the time she was born.

After sending a couple of letters, which were unanswered, Linda decided to go to her mother’s house in Mossley Hill, Liverpool. She thought her heart was going to burst when she knocked on the door. Suddenly, it opened and there stood her mother. Linda said: "It’s me – your daughter, Julia". The door was slammed in Linda’s face, who then ran from the house, tears streaming down her face. It took another six months for Linda to build up enough courage to try again. This time, she was greeted with the words: "Do come in", as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Inside, her mother asked her why it had taken Linda so long to find her, as she was sure that her adoptive parents would have told her where she was!

She had thought that Linda hadn’t wanted to see her for all those years, so she hadn’t tried to find her. Linda stayed for 2 hours and found that she didn’t have any siblings. Her mother wanted to know whether she had been treated well, but didn’t want to discuss Linda’s birth father. Linda knew that her mother still loved him as her face lit up when his name was mentioned, but when asked where he was, she shook her head and changed the subject. This was to be the first of many visits and as they grew closer, the relationship with her adoptive mother grew worse. Things became so frosty and unpleasant that Linda didn’t dare tell her that she had found her real mother. In the end it was Linda’s eldest daughter, then 10, who broke the news to her adoptive grandmother.

Over the next ten years, Linda and Elizabeth became friends and Elizabeth even spent one Christmas with her, although in all that time she would never talk about Linda’s father, as though it was too painful for her. She had told him that she would never pursue him and had kept her word. Elizabeth told her daughter that if she found him then that was up to her, but she could not bear to contact him herself – she still loved him.

Linda went back to Nugent Care and asked again for her file, saying her birth mother had no objection to the access. The Society still refused telling Linda that if they changed the rule for her they would have to change it for everyone.

Linda started sending hundreds of letters to associations which helped trace servicemen. In June 1987, 12 years after first discovering the name on the birth certificate that she finally received a reply from the Veteran’s Administration in Arizona. It said that Mid Russo had died on February 10, that year, whilst in the VA Medical Center in Phoenix. Linda collapsed in the hallway, in floods of tears. She had taken all these years to find him, only to miss him by 5 months.

Linda informed her birth mother that Mid had died, but she still wouldn’t talk about him.

She stayed in touch with Elizabeth until her death. With both her birth parents now gone, Linda felt it was even more important to gain access to her adoption file, particularly as she still had so many unanswered questions about the 18 months in care, prior to her adoption. Incredibly, she was still refused access.

Linda started writing more letters, this time to her local MP, the Prime Minister, other adoption societies, the Pope and anyone she could think of asking for help. One of these organisations was Liberty, the human rights group. Liberty believed she had a case against Nugent Care. By law, adoption societies were required to use their discretion when deciding whether to give an adoptee access to records. By making a blanket policy of no access, Nugent were not doing its job.

It took 18 months, but Liberty’s lawyers helped Linda win her day in court and on July 20, she won. The case paves the way for thousands more adoptees to get access to their records. Linda hopes to see her papers within the next few months. Because this is a landmark ruling, no one can say exactly when this will be, as the agency needs to reconsider her right to each page in the file, document by document.

Linda isn’t afraid of what she might find, as she has spent 25 years trying to find out who she is and where she came from. She says she will deal with the truth – whether her father wanted her or not, whether her mother was forced to hand her over or did it gladly. Whatever the facts, it’s not knowing who you are that’s the most frightening!

I’ve got Dad’s name - at last

Jan 31 2009 by Tina Miles, Liverpool Echo

A MERSEYSIDE grandmother has won her battle to get her dad’s name on her birth certificate – at the age of 62.

Linda Gunn-Russo has had Italian-American serviceman, Americo “Mid” Russo, legally recognised as her father.

Ms Gunn-Russo, who was raised in Bootle and Crosby, was adopted, aged two, by Thomas and Kathleen Rogan after time in an orphanage.

Both her birth and adoptive parents have died and relatives supported Ms Gunn-Russo in her struggle to gain access to details about her early life.

In July 2001, she won a landmark high court battle to gain access to confidential information about her adoption.

She had challenged a decision by the Nugent Care Society in Kensington, a Catholic organisation involved in her adoption in 1948, to withhold documents about her parents.

The grandmother-of-two, from Southport, said: “I wanted recognition he was my father. It wasn’t nice to see a dash where your father’s name should be.

“I just had a line there and I wanted his name because it was my right.

“I still can’t believe it, it’s like reading a story about somebody else.

“I’m so pleased, I can’t stop looking at it. I want to make a copy and frame it. This is my pot of gold at the end of the tunnel.”

The retired nurse said: “I had support from my family and the human rights group Liberty.

“My youngest daughter Yvonne died when she was 15, she supported me in all the work I did.”

Ms Gunn-Russo located her natural mother, Elizabeth Gunn, in 1976 and kept in touch with her until she died in 1989.

She discovered her mother, a former nurse with the American Red Cross, had fallen in love with her father, a GI based in England, just after World War II.

He returned to America before she was born and died in 1987 before she could trace him.

Ms Gunn-Russo, said: “I was told I was adopted when I was five.

“At the age of seven I asked what it meant and I’ve never stopped asking questions since.

“My original name was Julia Gunn, then it changed to Linda Rogan when I was adopted, so I felt like I was two people. I had this sudden drive to find out who I was and where I came from.

“It rolled on for 30 years and it has been very emotional.”