“Is this the girl you reared, Betty?” I had just met my Mum from work when we met a lady whose words made my Mum react so sharply, saying to me, “Come on!” walking quickly away. That one word “reared” and my Mum’s reaction started off something which seem unbelievable. I was 23 years old at the time, married with two small children. I had an instinct not to question my parents about my birth but eventually found out my birth was not recorded where it should have been.
Six years later Mum died. On the night of her funeral I felt Dad wanted to tell me. I explained I already knew. He was most upset and told me he had wanted to tell me but my Mum had burnt all the adoption records and had insisted in no uncertain terms both to him and her relatives that I was not to be told!
My Dad explained my birth mother had travelled 25 miles to a private nursing home near my adoptive parents to have me. She asked them to name me Pauline. Dad died 14 months later in 1975.
When the law was changed in 1976 enabling adoptive children the right to obtain their original birth certificates, I applied for it and also to the Courts for copies of my adoption papers.
Eventually I made contact with my birth mother’s sister who was 77 years old. She was understanding of my situation and told me she had thought of me often and was pleased I had had good adoptive parents but told me of the terrible disgrace. She said “I was pleased our parents had died it would have broke their hearts.”
She had been a Nanny/Housekeeper to a wealthy landowner and explained that she had arranged the adoption not telling their other sister and two brothers. She rarely had contact with my birth mother who had moved to America but knew she had died aged 57 in 1970 and had another daughter. (My birth mother was 31 when she had me in 1944)
My Aunt and I exchanged about two letters I got the feeling I wasn’t to ask where in America my birth mother had settled.
I had searches done at the General Registrar Office in the UK to confirm whether or not my birth mother had married before going over to America – no marriage certificate was found.
I contacted the Public Records Office asking for a search to be done from the Lists of Passenger ships going over to America for the period November 1944 to February 1946 (which I was to find out later was a complete waste of money) because until the “G.I. Fiancées Act of June 29th 1946 was passed fiancées were not allowed entry to America.
In the following years after fruitless searching, I rang the American Embassy and they sent me their fact sheet with various organizations that might be able to help but when I read IMPORTANT NOTICE – Not possible to trace the whereabouts of persons through Immigration channels” etc; I thought I had reached another dead end.
I also gained the address of TRACE from the American Embassy and initially made contact with Pamela Winfield.
It was agreed by TRACE I had a difficult task. What facts did I have – birth mother’s name (unmarried) where she had lived in England: her occupation?
A member of TRACE Joan Peterson found me the address of a lady named Hilary Hunt who had connections with the Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association over in America Hilary very kindly said she would keep the little information I had in mind when she attended TBPA meetings.Joan also supplied me with other help including giving me a kick start to write to the local papers in the area my birth mother had lived. This led to a lovely friendship with a lady who although couldn’t tell me where in America my birth mother had moved to, provided me with the very first photograph of my birth mother taken with this ladies’ sister. Truly amazing for me.
At this time I was using my daughter’s computer to keep in contact with Trace.
Although the American Embassy quoted that no information could be given through Immigration Channels, I decided to write anyway to Washington, DC. They replied saying that I would have to prove either by death certificate etc: that my birth mother had died before releasing information, again I thought I had hit a dead end, but decided to send all the documentation I had including the letter from my birth mother’s sister which stated she had died. To my utter surprise shortly after I was sent the Immigration documents “Under the Freedom of Information Act”. Without this breakthrough, it would not have been possible to bring my search to a conclusion.
I now had my birth mother’s fiancé’s name, where she settled, when she married.
My birth mother, father and sister had settled in Columbus, Ohio.
This new information I passed on to Hilary Hunt from the Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association who subsequently put a request in their magazine asking if any of their members had known my birth mother now we knew she had settled in Columbus, Ohio.
My birth mother I knew had died: but then I found out her husband had also died aged 45 five years after their marriage. I applied and received copies of their death certificates and obituary notices. From the obituary I learned my birth mother had actually been Vice President of the Columbus branch of the TBPA.
I knew I had a sister out there. (She would have been about 24 at the time of our mother’s death) I spent many long hours thinking, “If I did succeed in finding my sister, what a shock for her, how would she react?” This was a decision I was never tested with. I had no address for her, but the American Embassy suggested I contact the Social Security Administration. Writing to them I would have to enclose an unsealed letter to my sister. They would then decide whether or not to try to pass it on to her. I decided to ring the SSA first to ask if they could tell me if they would consider my request because of the content – I was, after all, disclosing quite a surprise! They asked me to hold for a few minutes and came back with the news; my sister had died in 1980 aged 34. I decided I had to try and find out more about her. After applying for her death certificate and details from the funeral home, I found out the name of the church she had attended and also that she had been a nurse. This subsequently led me to receive a letter from a lady who had known her and was able to give me some information. We still keep in touch.
I had been feeding my money box in case one day I might go over and meet my sister.
In January 2004 I spent that money on a computer of my own instead of using my daughter’s to contact the website.
After I put details of my search on the web Margrit kindly emailed with help and suggestions and found me loads of address’s to try and found one very promising address, Sally kindly confirmed that this was a current address. I eventually made contact with a wonderful loving lady aged 82 (who is the sister-in-law of my birth father) and her daughter (my Aunt and Cousin) who lived in Bristol, Tennessee who gave me information and photographs together with lovely letters.
In the meantime Hilary from the TBPA emailed me saying a lady living in Columbushad contacted her saying she had been very good friends with my birth mother and would be so pleased to hear from me! I rang her and a valuable relationship was formed, indeed she asked me to go over and visit her.
One day thinking out loud I asked on the message board how far Tennessee was from Columbus, Ohio
Trace member Amy Dodd replied straight back to me and said if I could get over to America I could stay with her and she would drive me to Tennessee - I was absolutely overwhelmed by her kindness.
Sixty years old and everything was coming together all at once.
18 months ago I made my first visit – one week in Columbus to stay with my birth mother’s friend- her son drove me to Amy’s and we then went to Tennessee to visit my Aunt and Cousin and to visit my birth families graves.
On 10th April, 2007 I repeated the above visit. There are no words to express my feelings.
I feel so very very fortunate to have had the break I needed as I know there are other members who have spent many years searching but keep battling on.
I thank members of Trace for their help and encouragement including Neils and Bob Dye and for the valuable friendships of “like minds” I have gained.
Last but by no means least my conclusion would definitely not have been possible if it were not for John creating the website. Thank you John.
Pauline Rowley, biological daughter of Charles and Frances Bray and sister of Josephine.
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