My second-cousin Chris told me that I just needed to call the adoption secretary at the family court, and that would start me on my way to getting my original birth certificate. This was interesting. I knew I had a birth certificate with my adopted name, but there was a birth certificate with my original name? The document was the key to everything it seemed, because it also had my mother’s name and birthplace.
I would have thought that the records would be with the court in Boston, where I was born, but they’re kept in the family court that is closest to the adoptive family. In my case this was the Family and Probate Court in Canton Massachusetts. Each court has a person who handles adoption records, and in my case the woman in Canton was extremely sympathetic and helpful. She explained that I just needed to write a short letter asking the court for the records, along with a reason for the request. So I wrote the letter citing family health information as the reason for wanting the records, and within a week a bulky envelope arrived at my PO box. I quickly walked to my car and sealed myself inside.
My hands trembled a bit as I crudely tore open the envelope. Inside was my mother’s name, something I had long wondered about. Her name may be the key to finding her, but it could also give me a hint at my ethnic heritage. This is kind of a guessing game with adopted children, maybe even more so once we have children of our own. My kids always ask me, “What are we? Are we German, or Irish, or Polish or what”. The document in the envelope might hold a clue.
There was a heavy official looking paper that looked just like my other birth certificate. My stomach roiled when I saw my mother’s name. I felt like a kid from Nebraska on his first whale-watching trip and was thankful that I was sitting down. Her surname was immediately recognizable as Irish, so a big question was answered right there. The weirdest part though, was that I had a new name.
That infant that held so tightly onto the edge of the mattress was never “William”, he was “Michael”. Did the sisters at the Catholic Charities know me as Michael, or did they even know my name? In some ways this was good. It distanced me from that dark and scary time. I messily plopped the envelope and it’s contents down on the passenger seat and started the car. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying.
Now that I had my mother’s name and the city of her birth it should be a breeze to find her. Or so I thought. I searched Google and got a lot of people over in Ireland and lot’s of dead-ends. Facebook had nothing, even though most married women there use their maiden names too. Classmates.com? Nope, nothing current and nothing from a search of high-school yearbooks in her hometown or even the state where she was born. I tried Peoplesearch and a number of other sites and still came up empty. It seemed like she was trying not to be found. Maybe I would have to hire a detective? It would probably be expensive. So I just put my search on hold for a while and game myself time to process everything.
Processing things was sometimes a bummer. I wondered if my bio-mom had just given a fake name to the hospital when she delivered, it certainly seemed possible. The feelings of abandonment that sometimes come from being given away at birth were amplified when I considered that she may have changed her name or otherwise tried to stay hidden from me.
Then came Ancestry.com. My wife saw a piece on some news show about a guy who was stolen at birth and how he used Ancestry.com to find out some of his heritage. So I signed up for an account and started searching all of the public records for my mother’s name. There were tons of records about people who may have been family members back in my bio-mom’s hometown, but only one record with her entire name on it. Hundreds of old street directories from all over the country have been scanned and now reside somewhere on the internet. I was able to look at an image of the Boston street directory from 1966. There was my mother’s name, and address, and even her occupation and workplace! This was amazing news for me. It confirmed that there actually was a person living in Boston at the time of my birth and that the name on the birth certificate was probably real. It also gave life to a whole narrative of how I came into this world.
In 1966 my mother lived in Boston’s Back Bay and worked as a secretary for a law firm. This firm was just a little partnership back in the 60’s but it still exists today. My wife suggested that bio-mom might have had an affair with one of the partners in the firm, who was a married man. After she became pregnant, she may have tried to hide out for a while (with the assistance of her lover) and even kept her condition from her family. I don’t know how available abortions were back in 1966, but my bio-mom was obviously Catholic and so adoption would have been the only option for her. With help from a lawyer, she may have changed her name and tried to have other records erased, or maybe I’m just paranoid. However, it may be that even to this day my existence is a great big secret to a lot of people, and if they’re still alive, my bio-parents are probably hoping it will stay that way. Ooops, so sorry, while you were waiting they invented the internet!