Friday, February 28, 2014

The Search, Part II

Elkhart Public Library, Elkhart, Indiana

After our interview with my grandparents, my mother and I picked a cool autumn day in mid-November 1982 to return to the Elkhart Public Library in Elkhart, Indiana, to resume our search. My notebook was filled with current addresses of all Kruegers and Millers in Elkhart, along with addresses and phone numbers for the Goshen Public Library, various Elkhart County governmental offices, every grade and high school in Goshen and Elkhart, as well as every hospital and Catholic Church. I do not recall that there was a specific plan of attack. We just decided to start where we left off: at the library in Elkhart, Indiana.

My mother's birthmother had used the pseudonym "Dorothy Turner" in her October 1946 advertisement in the South Bend Tribune, and upon questioning my grandmother, she waffled a bit on remembering the birthmother's name. She had always told my mother it was Marie Miller. Now after asking several question, she thought perhaps Dorothy had more significance. On hindsight, it was probably just my grandmother's overwrought mind playing tricks on her in response to a barrage of questions for which she had no answers.

Nonetheless, I had decided to reevaluate the Kruegers in Elkhart and Goshen. Although no Frank Krueger had ever existed in the past city directories of either place, none of the city directories of the day covered rural Elkhart County, Indiana. Perhaps searching out Krueger obituaries might yield a brother or a son, Frank, living close by outside the city limits. Additionally, I wanted to go back and look at every Marie Miller entry and see if I could find her fate. My grandmother seemed to have recalled that the birth mother was recently divorced or actively divorcing her first husband. Maybe they hadn't divorced after all. And what if her name was Dorothy Miller? I needed to check those too.

The "easy" stuff was covered at our first visit to no avail. Now it was time to sift through the minutiae and look for clues. We had already looked through all the area newspapers for a birth announcement for my mother on 31 December 1946. Nothing. The only hope we had was in my grandmother's recollection that my mother's birthparents were planning on marrying soon after my mother's birth. There is one thing about me that has not changed since 1982. I do not trust other people to do my research. And so I had decided to sift through mounds of Millers, while I sat my mother down at a microfilm reader to read every marriage announcement in every issue of The Elkhart Truth every day after her birth.

A few hours had passed, and I felt nowhere closer to a "Eureka!" moment than when we had first walked through the library doors. I went to see what my mother had uncovered thus far. My mother looked up from the microfilm reader wordlessly, her lip started to tremble, and her eyes began to glisten with tears. She too sensed the same frustration I did, but it had a far more emotional impact upon her. Her composure completely shattered, she ran to the women's bathroom for a private moment of tearful release.

I sat at the microfilm reader waiting for my mother to pull herself together. I was crestfallen. Nothing I seemed to dig up panned out, and my mother was sobbing hysterically in a library restroom. This was not good. I wanted to find these people as much for my own personal satisfaction as for my mother's happiness. What was I to do now? My bag of tricks was running empty, and short of random, vague requests to schools and churches, I knew of no targeted approach left to this dilemma.

And so I sat. And I waited. And as my mind wandered over what our next step could possibly be, I glanced down at the newspaper image exactly where my mother had left it. There was no searching, no scanning, no cranking, no taking over where my mother had left off. Just right there. In black and white. In front of my eyes.

Marriage Licenses: Frank L. Strukel to Helen Marie Miller, 18 January 1947

For a moment, I just stared in disbelief. I hadn't even begun to take my grandfather seriously regarding his "Strukel" comment, and Helen Marie Miller made it obvious why I was spinning my wheels there.

But mostly I just wanted to soil myself and vomit simultaneously in response to the adrenaline rush I was experiencing.

And where the hell was my mother? It seemed like an eternity since she had left to have her breakdown. Jesus Christ, can she just stop crying and GET HER ASS OUT HERE??? I went to the women's restroom, and fifteen years of enforced decorum and manners allowed me only to pace in front of the door. Do I knock? Do I open the door a crack and beckon my mother out? Do I find a female employee to go in and get her? I paced. And I paced. And I paced some more. My heart was nearly beating out of my chest, and I could hear it throbbing in my ears. My breath was rapid and shallow. I was shocked and euphoric and impatient and excited and nervous and .... WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOTHER?!?!?

When she finally emerged from the bathroom tidied and composed, I yanked her arm from the socket, dragged her to the microfilm machine, threw her in her seat, and just pointed. LOOK! THERE!!!

My mother looked up from the microfilm reader wordlessly, her lip started to tremble, and her eyes began to glisten with tears. This time the hysteria proceeded in full public display.

We had found them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Interview

The DePrato Home, 11620 Lincoln Way West, Osceola, IN

After my initial unsuccessful attempt at finding my mother's birthparents, I had decided that it was best to go back to the only people I knew that had actually met them: my grandparents. Over the last few days the readers have been able to glimpse a little bit of who my grandparents were and what events shaped their lives up until their marriage in 1939, and their adoption of daughter (and my mother) Carol Sue in 1947.

At the time my mother was born on 31 December 1946, my grandparents had only recently begun living in their new home on Lincoln Way West in Osceola, Indiana, having moved there from my grandfather's paternal home in Mishawaka. According to the social worker's report of 1947, "the home was a newly constructed story and a half dwelling which at present was covered with tar paper, but would eventually be faced with brick. It had been constructed within the last year and Mr. DePrato had done a lot of the work himself. There were four rooms and bath downstairs and space for two bedrooms upstairs. A gas furnace was used for heating and there was gas for cooking. The living room was large and had three windows, two on the west and one on the north. The kitchen, which was immediately behind the living room, was large enough to accommodate dining space for the family. Furnishings in the home were attractive and in good condition. There were pretty drapes at the windows and a number of attractive pictures. In one corner of the living room was a large cabinet radio. The living room floor was hard wood and throw rugs were used instead of a full sized rug. The home had a comfortable cheerful appearance and reflected an unusually good standard of housekeeping."

The area in which the house was built was at the time semi-rural, about five miles east of Mishawaka but on the major east-west highway that connected South Bend, Mishawaka, Osceola and Elkhart. The bus line from Elkhart to South Bend, which has long since ceased to exist, passed in front of the house. Synder's Grocery was just a quarter-mile to the west. At the time my grandparents purchased the land, many families headed by factory workers had been purchasing property and building modest homes upon them. One of the other home builders were John and Carolyn (Jennings) Michele who were my grandparents neighbors immediately to the east. Like my grandparents, John was the son of Italian immigrants, while Carolyn was a Kentucky-born girl who grew up in Mishawaka and worked at Ball-Band.  Carolyn's father and Arreda's aunt had married siblings, and although they were not acquainted as children, they knew many of the same people. The Micheles and the DePratos had become good friends in Mishawaka in the 1930s, and continued as such in Osceola. The couples had spent New Year's Eve, 1946, together when my grandparent's received the phone call telling them that their daughter had been born. 

Raymond E. DePrato, 1981

But of course, I did not know these people in 1947. My conscious recollection of my grandparents are of two people whose lives intersected with mine when they were entering into their 60s. I have fond memories of my grandparents, but they were not "active" in any sense of physicality or sportsmanship. They attended every school event, and they were part of every holiday. Every Independence Day I would celebrate my birthday along with my brother and grandmother with a cook-out, cake and presents at my grandparents' home. Every Christmas Eve my grandparents would come to our house to open gifts, while every Christmas Day was spent at my grandparents' home where the big Christmas dinner was served. Every Sunday, my grandparents would come to see us after they had gone to church. They were an integral part of my growing up, but without any better word that comes to mind, they were "quietly" so. By the time I began my search for my mother's birth parents, my grandfather was seventy years old. He was slower, quieter, perhaps a little crabbier. I still loved him as much as I ever did, and I never went through any teenage angst where I was "too cool" to spend time with family, but the majority of my visits to my grandparents would usually find my grandfather napping on the couch. He would be gone barely seven years after this visit.

Michael D. Lacopo, 1982

In 1982, as mentioned in earlier posts, I was well-ensconced into my "nerd-dom." Of course I look back at the fifteen-year-old me, and beyond an enormous amount of hair, I cannot add much to my personae then. I mean really, who has a personae at fifteen? But the very fact that I was intent on discovering the identities of my mother's birth parents probably indicates I was not really into the average fifteen-year-old things. I had only recently been relieved of a leg brace I had worn for the previous eighteen months, but at least my eyes were aligned, having been surgically repaired in 1980. I no longer had to wear the impossibly thick (and heavy) lenses to bring my eyes into focus, and I was still not near-sighted enough to require glasses again. But it is obvious that I was no teenage heartthrob. I can identify my classification as an introvert today and revel in it, but human interaction was painful and awkward then. I was far more content reading the census.

Dean W. Jr. and Carol S. (DePrato) Lacopo, Christmas 1980

In 1982, my mother was desperately clinging to an unraveling marriage of sixteen years. Unraveling is probably an ideal descriptor to use. To unravel is to undo, but to ravel still means to untangle, unknot, confuse or complicate. And when my parents' marriage wasn't unraveling, it was usually raveling. My desire to find my mother's birth parents was borne out of a number of desires. I wanted to test my skills as a budding genealogist. I loved a challenge that required intellectual pursuits (yes, I even loved those crazy logic word puzzles). And I wanted my mother to be happy. 

I do not recall any conversation that started the search for her birth parents. It was probably something I initiated with my recent genealogical obsession. And I know she had always held a desire to know who they were. As I stated earlier in this blog, I cannot speak for my mother as to her motivations for finding her parents or as her feelings as an adoptee, but I can probably safely say that it involved a much deeper, emotional and psychological component that did not drive me. In a time period where one relationship was coming to an end, I think it was almost tantamount that another relationship take its place. Many adoptees have told me that there is a sense of loss with adoption. Even though the story behind every adoption is different, and many adoptees experience wonderful childhoods, there is always the nagging question: "why would someone give me away?" Perhaps my mother was tired of being given away and needed to be found. My parents' marriage would end the following year.

So with my pen and notebook in hand, my mother and I visited my grandparents in Osceola to go over the details of the events of 1946. My mother had been told about her adoption since she was able to comprehend it, and the story she had been told for thirty-five years was always the same. I believe she thought the visit to be a bit futile, and perhaps a little uncomfortable. After all, she was trying to ask one set of parents questions that would help her find another. Although my grandparents were never obviously or visibly disturbed by this, I am sure there might have been a simmering sense of anxiety, perhaps even resentment. But I was a good genealogist, and I was ready to solve this mystery.

My grandparents' home was not so much different than what the social worker described in 1947, although the cabinet radio had long since been replaced by a television. I believe the hard wood floors in part of the house had been carpeted by this time, but I recall distinctly the clomp-clomp of my feet on wood floors as a child. No additions or remodeling had been done to the house and from the outside it looked much like it had in 1947. The trees in front had grown incredibly large and obscured a lot of natural light from entering the north windows, but this was the only house my mother and I would ever associate with my grandparents. My grandmother sat in her chair by the north window of the living room that faced the street. My grandfather was napping, as was usual. He was lying on his side, body facing the back of the couch and to the wall. It was not a means of ignoring us. If I recall, that was always the side he slept on. I doubt that he napped at all during the interview, but he was silent throughout most of it. Silent, but listening.

And so the story of my mother's adoption that I had heard countless times was repeated. Her mother had been married before, and she had a four-year-old daughter named Sandy. She was unable to keep my mother because she was not yet married to the father, although my grandmother believed they had intended to get married sometime soon. My mother was born in Goshen General Hospital in Goshen, Indiana, although I think they believed that one of the parents was from nearby Elkhart, Indiana. My mother's birth father was Catholic, and that was the primary reason they chose my grandparents to adopt their child, as they wanted her raised in a Catholic home. My grandmother remembered that the birth father was skinny, and that he was in the service. She thought that they were all roughly of the same age at the time, around thirty, perhaps younger. They had answered an advertisement in the South Bend Tribune regarding adopting my mother, and they had agreed to pay for all the birth mother's hospital bills. They took my mother home when she was ten days old.

"And the mother's name was Marie Miller, right?" "Yes," replied my grandmother.

"And the father was Frank Krueger?" Again another yes.


The meaningless word came booming out of my up-to-then quiet grandfather, although he had not bothered to change his position and was still motionless on the couch. It startled us all because by this point we were all somewhat lulled by the rote repetition of the same story that had been recited for years.

"His name was Frank Strukel!"

Since my grandfather's back was still to us, my mother silently looked at me with this quizzically irritated expression that was equal parts "where the hell did THAT come from?" and "the old man is losing his mind!" You can picture it best as a cocked head much like an inquisitive cocker spaniel would have whilst rolling her eyes in agitated disbelief, accompanied by a slight shrug of the shoulders. As I started scribbling down this new piece of information, my mother's expression changed as if to wordlessly say, "why are you even writing that down?" At no time in over three decades had she ever heard the name Strukel, so it was likely the result of the creaky cogs of an aging man's mind.

But as a good genealogist, I wrote down the name. And I even checked the Elkhart phone book before leaving my grandparents' house. It was a surname found in Elkhart, although no Franks existed. I jotted down the listings into my notes, but we left on that early autumn afternoon in 1982 thinking we knew about as much as we did when we had arrived.

We were wrong.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Grandma and Grandpa, Addendum

Raymond and Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato with daughter Carol, 1959

The story of my grandmother's background took two parts, because she obviously had the more complex history to relay to the reader. But does that make her the more complex person? I do not know how to answer that question. Whereas my grandfather probably experienced more cultural obstacles being one of an Italian immigrant family assimilating to a new environment, my grandmother survived more personal traumas such as the death of her mother and the abandonment by her father. I started my grandmother's post rambling about the forces that shape our psyche, and the often abnormal behaviors we grow up with that are perceived as "normal". How do the behaviors of our parents translate into our own behaviors in the same role? There are many articles written on this subject by psychiatrists, psychologists and behaviorists. How did they affect my grandparents? I will never know that. I never asked them, and as far as I know, they never thought too deeply about it. Any analysis I make now is purely conjecture.

The social worker that reported on the DePrato home in 1947 spoke well of both my grandparents. The unnamed writer of the home study noted how easy both were to speak to, how well maintained the home was, how congenial they were with each other, and what good care they had given to Annette, the child presently in their care. The worker noted that both my grandparents had little outside forms of socialization and entertainment other than an occasional movie or a game of cards with friends, and that they devoted their time primarily to each other, their home and their family. But the worker noted sometimes subtly, and sometimes not, that Raymond was the more affable and affectionate one, and that Arreda was more stoic and reserved. It was never anything that was considered negative in the home assessment, but the worker stated on one visit that Arreda "had a nice manner with the four year old child in the home and handled her with ease. While Mrs. DePrato was not an especially demonstrative person, she seemed able to give the two children a feeling of security and being wanted." 

This social worker's opinion was mirrored by my grandparents' friends. When interviewed, Bertha Meribela stated that "it was her opinion that Mr. DePrato was much more demonstrative than his wife although they were both very good with children." Many of those interviewed commented on how much the couple had wanted children, how well they had taken care of Arreda's cousin Annette, and how glad they were that they were adopting Carol, my mother. All of the family friends interviewed in 1947 were family friends of my grandparents that I knew in the 1970s and 1980s. These were couples who formed lifelong connections and took care of each other.

But if you really read between the lines, Raymond was the fun and friendly parent, while Arreda was the dutiful and functional parent. Whereas family friends would note that Raymond liked taking their children on outings and picnics, Arreda was lauded for her skills as a seamstress, a housekeeper and for toilet-training and providing for then four-year-old Annette so that she "was as attractive and mannerly a child as one would want to see." How different is this from Raymond's upbringing as the spoiled and fussed-over only son, or Arreda's upbringing by an unhappy, duty-bound mother dedicated only to her home? Does the past revisit us as adults, and do we really carry the burdens of our parents into adulthood?

Raymond and Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, 1960s

The daughter they adopted, Carol, my mother, would certainly not argue the assessments above. She was a daddy's girl, while her mother was rigid about appearances and decorum. Perhaps this is the natural combativeness that comes with many mother-daughter relationships, or perhaps my grandmother craved the orderliness of a family life of which she was deprived. Or perhaps I think too much.

Nonetheless, the story I tell of my grandparents is based on the things told to me by other members of the family, by my observations and by my persistent questioning while they were alive. But as a teenage genealogist, I was obsessed with the facts: the names, the dates, the places. I never asked them how they felt or what fires burned within them or what they regretted or what caused them the most sadness and joy. I can only guess at those things now. But the grandparents I knew were fiercely, but silently, devoted to each other. I do not recall any public displays of affection or any sort of demonstration of love between the two, but I never saw them argue either. Sure, I saw them bicker like any aging couple does, and I always enjoyed watching my grandfather subtly tease her until she would wave him away with a forever ubiquitous, "Oh, Raymond!" Even now as I write that, I can hear it echo in my head, and it brings tears to my eyes.

The grandparents I knew were forever patient, and forever kind. We kissed and hugged them hello; and we kissed and hugged them goodbye. On the occasion where we three boys spent the night at our grandparents, or my grandmother stayed with us, I am sure we tried her patience. Three boys less than three years apart in age would probably do that to most grandparents. I remember both of them being stern simply by their vocal tone, but I do not recall either of them ever losing their temper with us.

In my memory, my grandmother was the affectionate one of my grandparents, but perhaps that goes back again to the father-daughter, mother-son bond. Perhaps it extends to grandmother-grandson. Or maybe as a grandparent, you no longer are tasked with raising them and shaping children. You can just enjoy them.

Raymond and Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, 1970s

But it was my grandmother that I remember for making the lamb-shaped cakes at Easter, complete with coconut hair, jellybean eyes, and surrounded by green-dyed coconut for grass. I long for her sugar cookies and date cookies at Christmas. Only my grandmother would fix me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on toast, which for some reason I thought was tremendously more decadent than regular bread. Tea (with milk) and of all things, Pringles, bring back memories of visits to my grandmother. These were things we did not have at home.

My grandmother was the one that would sit on the back swing with us and sing:

"I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The old baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey he got drunk
And fell on the elephant's trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
And that was the end of the monk, monk, monk!"

And then we would swing so high as to kick the leaves on the trees! At least we though we were that close, but probably no more so than any conventional swing can get you to the treetops. My grandparents lived on a half-acre, with Lincoln Way West, a highway, in the front, and railroad tracks in the back. And my grandparents would never refuse to accompany us to the back when a train was coming to count every train car, or to sit on the front porch and endure a never-ending game of "my car, your car" as the traffic whizzed by. 

My grandmother would sit for hours, and often instigate, several rounds of "Mariddle, Mariddle, Marie, I see something that you don't see....." Or being the artistic and creative one, I would scavenge all her used Redbook, Woman's Day and Lady's Home Journal magazines and cut and paste images out of them for cards and murals for my parents and grandparents. 

And although I do not recall my grandmother sewing much or making clothes like she did for my mother, I know she made her own dresses. A combination of my grandmother's age and the availability of cheap, commercially made clothes probably made sewing less of a pastime and necessity. But when this little boy's teddy bear became so used and tattered that the music box within him wore through, it was my grandmother that took him for surgery, removed the long over wound and broken music box and patched him with fabric chosen to match his "skin" color. And to avoid any further embarrassment from showing his surgical scars, she made Teddy a pair of blue polyester overalls to wear forever-more to hide his wounds. I still have that teddy bear, and I still have those memories. 

These were the grandparents that raised my mother, and these were the grandparents I visited to interview in 1982 in search of my mother's birth parents. These are the grandparents that gave me memories to cherish, and although their DNA is not my own, and their ancestor did not "beget" me, these are the grandparents I miss the most. 

And these are the grandparents that would shed new light on my quest in a single afternoon of interviewing. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Grandma, Part II

Rosie Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, c1939

Just shortly after her eighth birthday, Arreda was left motherless. Certainly her birthday must have been a somber one, sharing a bedroom with her three older siblings while her mother lie dying in the adjacent room. Like most children of her era, she had gone through her share of childhood diseases. As a little girl, she contracted scarlet fever and ran a temperature so high her hair fell out. Her sister Eunice suffered from polio as a child, and as a consequence suffered from severe muscle wasting in her torso, arms and face; commenting as an old woman how glad she was she finally looked like everyone else her age. There was certainly sadness in this family.

But there were good times too. Eunice remembered the last Christmas before her mother died. There were no Christmas decorations, but there were presents waiting for the children on the dining room table on Christmas morning. The girls all got baby dolls made even more special by their mother's sewing talents. They all had lace-trimmed dresses and capes with lace-trimmed blankets. Brother Thomas got a BB gun, which of course is the dream of every young boy. 

Although Volney proved to be a terrible husband and a stern disciplinarian, he was not always a terrible father. He bought all the family's monthly supplies from the coal mine's company store, and on pay day he would bring the children candy and soda pop. If the weather were nice, they would all sit on the back porch and have a picnic. The children enjoyed taking their father's dinner pail to him and took great joy in stopping at the corner saloon to buy his root beer to accompany his meal. They enjoyed singing while he played his violin. And Eunice - the tomboy - especially loved playing ball and partaking of sports with her father.

It would be pure conjecture at this point to know what exactly transpired after mother Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyn's death in 1923. The oldest child, Belle, was only thirteen years old. Arreda, the youngest, was eight. Father Volney Dobyns was working in the coal mines every day, and he could not care for four children. Many relatives and acquaintances tried to convince him to send them to an orphanage, but they were instead taken in by their grandparents, John Price and Isabelle (Jones) Hanks, to grow up together. When Gracie Mae's body was returned to White Plains, Kentucky, for burial, so were her children returned to live with her parents. 

Whether Volney agreed to this arrangement happily and welcomed the freedom that came with it, or did so with a heavy heart, it is impossible to say. But he maintained little to no contact with his daughters. In 1930, forty-seven-year-old Volney impregnated a seventeen-year-old Ruby Faye Acuff in Arkansas. He had learned the consequences from his first encounter with an unplanned pregnancy with Gracie, and this time he did not marry the mother of his child. A son, Volney Faye "Buster" Dobyns, was born in 1931, and it is likely that his children in Kentucky never knew they had a half-brother. Although Volney spent the remainder of his life working in the coal mines of southern Illinois, he did maintain contact with Ruby in Arkansas, and he was likely aware that his namesake son with the handsome good looks and jet-black hair of his father died as a prisoner of war in Korea in 1950. Volney never married again, and he died in 1961. Although his daughters were notified of his death, none of them attended his funeral. He was ironically buried next to his wife, Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyns, in Concord Cemetery in White Plains, Kentucky. The wife he reluctantly married now lies at his side for all eternity.

When the four Dobyns grandchildren moved into the Hanks household in White Plains, Kentucky, they moved into a home just recently vacated by the youngest Hanks son who was just nine years older than Belle. Whereas religion played no role in their early upbringing in southern Illinois, their grandmother Isabelle was very religious and a devout Baptist. She was active in her Eastern Star lodge and often asked Eunice and Arreda to entertain her lodge sisters with their singing. Their grandfather, J.P., was in his earlier years a bit of a local politician, but at the time he took over raising his grandchildren, he was just "a poor farmer."

John Price Hanks (1862-1949) and Isabelle (Jones) Hanks (1864-1949)

The children had all settled in life on the farm with their grandparents, when yet another tragedy befell their young lives. While they were teenagers, their home burned to the ground. The Hanks lived in a modest farm home, large enough to accommodate a family of eight children at the turn of the century. To listen to granddaughter Belle describe it, it was a mansion. It may have not been quite that grandiose, but it was a nice fourteen-room home with a fireplace in most every room. While Eunice was out milking cows in the barn, she heard her grandmother shout "Fire!" Nobody was injured, but the fire, which started in the upper floors where Eunice and Arreda slept, destroyed the house entirely. Neighbors volunteered to pull some of the furnishings from the lower floor before the house was engulfed in flames. The children lost everything. One wonders if the dolls they received from their mother on their last Christmas were amongst their lost belongings. Nothing tangible remained of their parents in their lives. Children and grandparents moved next door into Uncle Charlie Hanks's home until a small four room bungalow was built in place of the destroyed farm house. The unfinished two rooms upstairs served as two bedrooms for the remaining grandchildren at home: one for Eunice and Arreda, and one for Thomas.

The J.P. Hanks home in White Plains, Kentucky, around 1916. The couple on the porch to the left is Volney John Dobyns holding his daughter, Arreda. His wife, Gracie Mae, is to his right. Daughters Eunice and Clara Belle are directly in front of them.

The children all attended White Plains High School in White Plains, Kentucky. The eldest Dobyns child, Belle, was the first to leave home. As described previously, there was word of good work to be had up in the factories in Mishawaka, Indiana. The Depression was in its early years, and having a secure job meant a great deal. A move northward in search of work was not a petty decision to make. Nearly 400 miles away, there was no running back home easily if things did not work out, or if you became homesick. Belle came to Mishawaka and secured work at the Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Manufacturing Company, locally known as Ball-Band, in 1929. She would send a portion of her pay back home to ensure that her sisters, Eunice and Arreda, finished high school. When Eunice graduated in 1932, recently-married Belle came down to Kentucky to visit and brought her sister back to Mishawaka with her, where she too went to work for Ball-Band. When Arreda graduated high school in 1934, she followed, and gained employment in the same factory.

Although their brother, Thomas Gilbert Dobyns, also went to Mishawaka for short while in the early 1930s, he moved to Taylorville, Illinois, where he too became a coal miner like his father. He reunited with his father Volney who lived nearby, and they maintained civil contact. Thomas raised a family of nine children in Taylorville, where he died in 1992. The Dobyns sisters were fond of their brother, but they did not have the bond with him that they had with each other. And as for their father, in 1947 Arreda said "that even to this day she knew nothing about her father and would not know him if she met him on the street as he had never returned to see the family or find out what had become of them." There was no love lost there.

Clockwise from left: Rosie Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, Clara Belle (Dobyns) Clark,
Eunice Adele (Dobyns) Barnard and Thomas Gilbert Dobyns, 1960s.

Belle took after her father in her love for fine things, and she was labeled the "prissy" sister. She unfortunately replicated her mother's role in marriage, entering into an unhappy marriage with a divorced man in 1931 who openly cheated on her throughout their marriage. He left her a widow in her fifties, after which she never remarried. Eunice took after her father in her love of sports and her love for life, and perhaps her drawn appearance left from childhood polio allowed her to invest more time and energy into her boisterous personality than into maintaining her beauty. She did not marry until she was in her thirties, and when she did it was to a man who was a hopeless alcoholic. Unlike her mother, she chose not to stay in a relationship in which she gained little happiness, and she divorced him. She was nearly fifty when she married the love of her life, Glenn Barnard, in 1962. Arreda, my grandmother, met and married Raymond Ezio DePrato as has been discussed previously, in 1939.

Raymond and Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, 1939

Arreda's personality was more like the mother she lost at such a young age, although unlike her mother she was blessed with a husband that adored her. And although she worked for a short time at Ball-Band after her marriage, and briefly at Robertson's Department Store in South Bend, her life revolved around being a wife, and hopefully a mother. As her sister Eunice said, "Arreda inherited [our mother's] aptitude for cooking, house keeping and sewing, all of which she could do with expertise." The grandmother I remembered was loving and affectionate, but in 1947 a social worker described her as having "a quiet manner and seemed a little serious although [it was] felt that she could be jolly with her friends." The same social worker made exceptional notice that "she never saw Mr. DePrato but what she was neatly dressed and well-groomed even though she did not know the worker was coming. She was a good housekeeper and enjoyed all the duties that went with caring for a home and family. She did practically all of her own sewing. She had made slip covers, drapes and curtains for the house which were almost professional in appearance." When the social worker questioned many friends of the family at the same time, everyone of them commented that she was "an exceptionally good housekeeper." Yes, Arreda was very much like her mother.

None of the sisters could have children. And this was the way it was always worded to me. It was never that they chose not to, or just did not have any, but they could not have any. There was never a satisfactory reason given for this, and it was certainly a question I felt completely ill at ease to ask, although I always questioned it in my head. I am not sure to this day if anyone knows the answer. Perhaps it was genetic. Or maybe it was just bad timing. After all, Belle was married to man whom I would suspect was not eager to have children with her, and Eunice did not marry her first husband until nearly forty. There have even been sinister whispering about abuse at the hands of their father. But no concrete answers will likely be forthcoming.

Arreda, married at twenty-three, with her husband Raymond, enjoyed a happy marriage, and they desperately wanted children. But after three years of marriage no children had graced their home. Ray and Arreda sought the help of Dr. David Condit, an obstetrician in South Bend, Indiana, in 1942. He supposedly could find nothing wrong with either of them, but despite two years of treatments, the conception of a child was not destined to happen. Ray and Arreda made an application for an adoptive child with the St. Joseph County (Indiana) Department of Public Welfare in 1944, but they never completed the foster home study, because at this time a child would enter their household.

In July 1944, Annette, the sixteen-month-old daughter of Arreda's first cousin was placed in their care. Although the "cover story" was that Annette's mother was a struggling widow, it appears that the father of the child abandoned the both of them. The plight of a single mother in 1944 was just too much for Annette's 26-year-old mother, and she agreed to have Ray and Arreda care for her daughter in their home until she could provide a more stable environment for her. Although she remained a part of the DePrato household for several more years, there was the inevitable knowledge that she would return home to her mother. It just made my young grandparents yearn more for a child of their very own.

On 22 October 1946, they happened upon this advertisement in the South Bend Tribune which would  finally lead them to their own child: 

WANTED any couple interested in adopting baby, please write Mrs. Dorothy Turner, ℅ General Delivery, Elkhart, immediately. Replies strictly confidential.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Grandma, Part I

Rosie Arreda Dobyns, c1923

I think life as a genealogist, a scientist, and a veterinarian has given me somewhat of an informal degree as an armchair psychologist. Treating people's beloved pets is more than just medicine. It is daily dealing with grief and anxiety and confusion and fear. Just as being a genealogist is - and should always be - more than just names, dates, and places. When I lecture to fellow researchers, I make a point of telling them that we are story-tellers as well as fact-finders. For many, walking through a cemetery is "creepy" or "scary." Quite to the contrary, I am often overwhelmed when I walk through the rows of monuments. Here are the last physical traces of lives lived, loves lost, dreams fulfilled or shattered. Under every stone lies a story begging to be told, and it saddens me that most will not.

The biggest hurdle in telling those stories is that there is nobody to tell us first-hand of the lives of those who have gone before us. We can only reconstruct them from the tiniest fragments of old letters, or perhaps the diary entry of a neighbor or cousin who interacted with them. Very few of us will be lucky enough to stumble upon our ancestor's musings in their own hand. Sometimes the best we can achieve is to reconstruct the life of someone based on the historical era in which they lived, or the ethnic, religious, cultural, geographical, and societal norms that dictated how they lived their lives.

As a genealogist I see behavior patterns that repeat from generation to generation. In some cases children mature to make the same mistakes of their parents and grandparents, and societal "no-nos" such as divorce, illegitimacy, alcoholism, abandonment, abuse seem to follow certain lines of descent. It is not difficult to fathom that we learn from what we experience, especially as children, and that breaking molds takes knowledge, patience and understanding. As a scientist I am enthralled by findings indicating that the memories of our ancestors may actually be passed genetically by the changes in the expression of our genes due to environmental and emotional factors. The study of epigenetics may indicate why certain behaviors persist that have no direct genetic influence.

My grandmother possesses one of these stories that she herself did not tell. And I often think there was more depth to the woman than I had ever imagined. She was a wife and mother, and likely every day involved the typical routines that defined such a role in the 1940s and later. But I wonder if a childhood marked by tragedy and sadness influenced a lot of who she was that I never saw, nor understood.

Rosie Arreda Dobyns was born in Johnston City, Williamson County, Illinois, on 7 July 1915, to Volney John and Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyns. She was the fourth and final child born to this couple. Although both parents hailed from Hopkins County, Kentucky, Volney's job as a coal miner took him wherever he could find work. They "moved from town to town keeping up with his jobs" and the young family had recently settled in southern Illinois before Arreda's birth.*

The marriage between Volney and Gracie Mae was apparently a monumental mismatch. Married just three months before the birth of their first daughter, Clara Belle, in 1909, it was probably a union that neither entered into with great joy. He was twenty-six years old, an athlete, a musician and a notorious ladies man. She was nineteen years old and pregnant. Volney had an eye for the young girls, and "he had a horse which he rode all over the country courting several girls at the same time." Granted, when Volney met eighteen-year-old Gracie she shared her home with six sisters, but she was the one who caught his eye, because after all "she was considered to be the smartest and prettiest of the Hanks girls." Unfortunately, marriage and family did nothing to change Volney's ways, and everything to change Gracie's.

Volney John Dobyns

Volney John Dobyns was the youngest child and only son of Thomas G. and Louisa (Farmer) Dobyns. Two of his sisters died of tuberculosis in their teens, and the mother succumbed to the same disease when Volney was just twenty years old. Being the baby and the only boy, he likely got what he wanted. He was a vain man, and although he was a coal miner and "came home after a day in the mines looking more black than white," he loved fine clothes and preferred to be immaculately clean. He was very proud of his appearance, wore nice suits when he was not working, and dyed his coal black hair when it started turning gray in his 30s. He was fastidious with his dental hygiene and insisted that his children take care of their teeth as meticulously as he did, inspecting them often and providing tooth brushes and toothpaste for the children in their Christmas stockings.

Volney loved sports and played in a couple of traveling baseball teams in his youth. He taught his children to play ball, swim, and roller skate. He loved all the latest music and taught himself how to play the violin. Though he never had any formal training, there was nothing he could not play. He would eagerly come home daily with a new song to play, and although only his eldest daughter learned to play the violin, the other girls, Eunice and Arreda, and son, Thomas, were taught to sing along. The last song Eunice remembers him teaching them was "My Little Margie" popularized by Eddie Cantor in 1921. Their father would not remain a part of their lives much longer after this.

Volney wasn't all fine clothes, handsome looks and physical and musical talents. He had a darker side and had a nasty temper. He doled out punishment to his children using his leather razor-sharpening strap. "It always seemed to me that he enjoyed doing it, and he was exceptionally rough." He was a notorious gambler and was happiest "when he could get into a big poker game and come home bragging about his good luck." But it was rarely luck that earned him his winnings. He played with marked cards, and his life was often in danger due to his cheating. And cheating at cards wasn't the only thing he was doing.

Gracie Mae Hanks, 1906

The photos that exist of Gracie Mae Hanks in her youth show a handsome girl, almost pretty, but even in informal photos with family and friends smiling around her, she seems dour and serious. Certainly fun-loving, flirtatious Volney saw another side of her in her youth, but according to her daughter Eunice, "My mother was a quiet person. She seldom laughed and was very serious. She seldom sang, and now, I think of her as being an unhappy person." There was little for her to be happy about. She was living apart from the sisters she loved and was married to a man who was openly unfaithful to her. She had left him at least on one occasion and had taken her four children back home to Kentucky, but she always returned to her husband. She aged poorly. By the time she had reached the age of thirty, she had the appearance of a woman far more aged, and for a husband that had a roving eye for the young girls, she had nothing to offer to keep him at home.

Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyns, 1922.
Behind her from left to right are her daughters
Eunice (b. 1913), Belle (b. 1909) and Arreda (b. 1915).
The child in her lap is unknown.

Gracie Mae's pride and joy came in her duties as a mother and a housewife. She had no hobbies and interests outside the home, but she was an exceptional seamstress. This probably pleased her husband's penchant for fine clothes, and "her daughters were always the best dressed girls in their classes at school." She made clothes for friends and neighbors, rarely accepting payment, and she only needed to see a picture in a magazine to make an identical item of clothing. Patterns were unnecessary. Whereas her husband partook fully of worldly pleasures, Gracie Mae's happiness revolved around her sewing machine. She had equal aptitude for cooking and house-keeping, and despite the never-ending supply of coal dust her husband brought home, her house was spotless.

In the spring of 1923, Gracie Mae was doing what she did best: housework. A small windstorm was brewing and she rushed outside to retrieve her laundry. The clothes line stretched from the house to the outhouse and as the wind picked up, it tore the outhouse from its foundation and entangled Gracie within its collapse. She was taken to the hospital in West Frankfort, Illinois, and diagnosed with a broken back. She stayed in the hospital for about three weeks, but there was little that could be done other than to maintain her comfort. When the inevitable approached, she was sent home to die.

The bedroom Eunice and Arreda shared was used as Gracie's sick room, and all four children were crowded into a single room. Although admittance into the bedroom to see their mother was forbidden, they would quietly sneak in to see her. "My most painful memory was the day we were all taken into her room to say good bye. She was already comatose but had been dressed in a pretty night gown and bed jacket, and I thought she was beautiful."

Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyns died 15 July 1923, at the age of thirty-three years. She was taken home to White Plains, Hopkins County, Kentucky, for burial. Arreda had celebrated her eighth birthday the week before. Volney was free of a burdensome marriage. And the children were left with no home.

* Passages in quotations were written by Eunice (Dobyns) Cates in 1998 in personal memoirs of her life.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Raymond Ezio DePrato, c1939

The man I knew as my grandfather was born in Ovaro in the Province of Udine, in northern Italy, just south of the Austrian border. Born Ezio DePrato on 25 August 1912, he was the second child of Luigi DePrato and his wife, Maria Bidoli. He would have no memory of his European birthplace, as his parents boarded the S.S. LaLorraine in the port of Le Havre, France, on 5 July 1913, while he was still an infant. They arrived in New York just a week later on 12 July 1913. Luigi was already an accomplished stonemason, and he and his wife were bound for Madison, Wisconsin, to join her sister and husband, Silvio and Oliva (Bidoli) Garlat, who had arrived in 1905 and 1907.

Luigi and Maria (Bidoli) DePrato
The child is supposedly Ezio, born in 1912,
but it is more likely their first born, Elisa, born in 1910.

Although my grandfather could speak Italian to his parents, or as I was told scream Italian to his parents (remember that Italians are passionate!), he bore no traces whatsoever of an Italian accent. This is in stark contrast to my father's side of the family. My paternal great-grandfather had lived in this country for over sixty years, and as a child I was always mesmerized by the gibberish that came out of his mouth that was supposed to pass for the English language. It was a language I never heard my maternal grandfather speak. Any relative who spoke it was long gone before I arrived. Only Aunt Liz remained: an odd woman who wore a bizarre assortment of men's t-shirts and pants, knee high stockings and dozens of copper anklets and bracelets to ward off arthritis. She would get defiantly angry if she did not promptly receive a thank you card for the five dollars she sent for birthdays and holidays, and I half expect that her desire to give us money was not as a gift, but as a timed event to see when she would be appropriately thanked. And all you need to do is say, "Aye yai yai yai yai!" loudly while shaking your head and waving your hands, and anyone in this family will giggle knowing you are referring to Aunt Liz. The woman was barely comprehensible in English; Italian was something that was a thing of the past.

Maria, Ezio and Elisa, c1913

The DePrato family's stay in Wisconsin was brief, as by 1917 they had removed to South Bend, Indiana, and in 1919 to Mishawaka, Indiana, where they would remain throughout their lifetimes. Another daughter, Inez, was born to the family in 1919, and Luigi worked for a short time at the Mishawaka Rubber & Woolen Manufacturing Company (Ball-Band) to supplement his income as a mason.

South Bend and Mishawaka, Indiana, had a large Italian population, most arriving between 1910 and 1920 during the period of rapid industrialization that occurred between Gary and South Bend, Indiana. Local industries such as Singer, Dodge, Bendix, Studebaker and Ball-Band (which became a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S. Rubber in 1922) offered Italian immigrants steady work and good wages. Several "Little Italy" neighborhoods formed in the area, and the Italian community on the south side of Mishawaka centered around the DeAmicis club on Spring Street. This is where the Garlat and DePrato families settled. Luigi and his family remained in the 1100-block of Spring Street through 1930, then lived a variety of places on the south side of Mishawaka before settling in a modest home at 219 West 12th Street by 1938.

Although ethnically and culturally the families were surrounded by people sharing their heritage, like many immigrants they also desired to assimilate into their American environment. Luigi became a naturalized citizen in 1926. Luigi, Maria and Elisa became Louis, Mary and Elizabeth (or Liz), and they never deviated from those monikers until their deaths. Surprisingly, Ezio continued using his given name - at least in public records - until at least 1937. Perhaps this was because there was no English equivalent for Ezio. Nonetheless by the time he met his future wife, he was calling himself Raymond. No adequate explanation has ever been given for this chosen name, even by my grandfather himself. "He just liked it." That was probably good enough.

Ezio and his family made one trip back home to Italy in 1930, but most of his time was spent in France, as his father worried that his eighteen-year-old son would be drafted into mandatory military service if his presence in Italy were known. The family returned via Le Havre to New York on the S.S. Ile de France on 21 April 1931. He would never again return to Europe. I know little of my grandfather's return trip as a teenager, but it must have made a lasting impression on him. He was a man of few words and curt answers when I was annoyingly asking dozens of genealogically-related questions, but he knew exactly the names, dates and details surrounding this trip. I was too young, and perhaps too shy, to probe further. My grandparents were loving people and they joked and hugged and kissed and played with their three grandsons. I did not fear them, nor was I hesitant to ask them questions. But asking how they felt about something, or how it might have more deeply affected them emotionally was just something you did not do. Perhaps it was a generational thing. They were not secretive about the past, but they were certainly not effusive about it either. I guess one can only imagine that a teenager with limited parental control in France would have experienced a trip that would be remembered for a lifetime.

Ezio DePrato, 1930

My grandfather was sent to St. Bavo Catholic School in Mishawaka until the sixth grade, and then to Mishawaka Junior High School where he stayed until the ninth grade. His parents maintained a modest existence, and as a skilled stonemason, Louis was rarely out of work during the Depression. They would have liked to have seen their son finish high school, but my grandfather wanted his own money, and he quit school to go to work. His first job was in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana, where he worked only six months. Being the only son in an Italian family he was a bit fussed over, and his mother could not stand him being away from home and persuaded him to come back to Mishawaka. He secured a job with the Mishawaka Rubber & Woolen Manufacturing Company, better known as Ball-Band, which was the major employer in Mishawaka. The name was changed to Uniroyal, Inc., in 1967, and my grandfather worked there until his retirement.

Readily available employment at Ball-Band not only attracted European immigrants to Mishawaka, it also attracted migrants from all over the country. There was a large contingent of Kentucky-borne workers at Ball-Band, having formed a sort of chain migration to Mishawaka, Indiana, through the 1930s and 1940s. There were so many of them, that they had a yearly summer event called the "Kentucky Picnic" that has long since disappeared. One of these Kentuckians was Rosie Arreda  "Rita" Dobyns. She came to Mishawaka in 1934 following her sister Eunice and secured a job at Ball-Band. Ray and Rita met at work, dated, and once marriage was a foregone conclusion, my grandmother converted to Catholicism. They were married on 11 February 1939 in St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mishawaka. They spent their wedding evening seeing a movie at the Tivoli Theater before going home.

Ray and Rita began housekeeping in a number of small apartments in Mishawaka; first on Ann Street in 1940, and on East 8th Street in 1941, but eventually they moved into their own separate living quarters in the West 12th Street home of his parents. They would live in the parental home until 1946, when they purchased property on Lincolnway West in Osceola. My grandfather did the bulk of the construction of a seven-room brick home on a half-acre lot. This would be the house I would always know as my grandparent's home.

During the early part of World War II, Raymond's service was deferred due to his employment in an essential industry. When he was called up for examination later, he was rejected for service because of a "nervous stomach." He was shocked at the findings, as he never complained of stomach problems, nor had he ever experienced any. It was his belief that the doctors rejected him based on his status as a primary caretaker for not only a new wife, but for aging parents, and that his induction into the army would cause hardship and distress for all of them.

Ray and Rita (Dobyns) DePrato, 1953

I remember my grandfather in his 60s and 70s. I have no recollection of his working years, as his retirement occurred when I was too young to pay much heed to such things. He was playful and fun, and he was quick with a joke. I remember some of them were a little racy for young ears, but he was good at keeping them fairly clean for us. He was devoted to my grandmother, and like men of his generation, he took care of her. As was evident by his single-handed construction of their home in Osceola, he was handy with tools. He made a huge cedar toy box for me and my brothers with a hinged lid that served as a seat when it was closed. I used to like to empty all the toys out of it and hide inside it to smell the wood. He built floor-to-ceiling shelving in my bedroom in the 1970s, which of course was a dream come true for a budding bibliophile (read: nerd).

After his retirement from Uniroyal, my grandfather often volunteered to work at his nephew's restaurant in Mishawaka, The Covey. He enjoyed the interaction with the patrons, and he would bring us grandsons a whole variety of odds and ends that people would leave behind at the restaurant. This could be an assortment of toys, gadgets, sunglasses, hats or bangles. It was actually more fun than store-bought gifts, as it had a sort of scavenger hunt feel about it. I learned to hate banana cream pie through my grandfather, as he would bring home any uneaten pie from the restaurant that was too old to sell. The sliced banana garnish was brown and mushy, and although the pie was perfectly good, I could not stomach the look of those aging bananas. I developed my significantly unhealthy obsession with candy corn (Brach's ONLY) from the candy he would also bring home for us.

Raymond and Rita (Dobyns) DePrato, 1980

For some reason I detested Thanksgiving stuffing as a child. Perhaps it was the unappetizing look of brownness, or the strong smell of sage my grandmother used when making it, or the turkey organs and juices mixed within. Nonetheless I refused to eat it. My grandfather, unbeknownst to me, took the stuffing, squashed it into an aluminum pie plate until it was dense and flat and cut me a piece, calling it "sausage pie." I loved it. And I miss my grandmother's sage dressing to this day.

My grandfather chewed tobacco, and we were always required to find him a proper receptacle to spit in when he came to visit, which was every weekend. When we were very young, when asked what his can of chewing tobacco was, we were told, "You don't want that. It's yucky!" We were told it was yucky, so therefore we always thought that is what it was called. Simply, my grandfather chewed yucky. So from then on when we were to fetch him a coffee can designated for him to spit in, it was called a "yucky can." I cannot recall how old I was until I finally realized "yucky" wasn't a noun.

The Covey in Mishawaka burned down in 1985, and grandfather stopped going "into town." He was getting too old to tend to his beautiful vegetable garden he maintained on his property. I went to college. When he was ill during my Christmas break in 1989, I was home, but I never went to see him. I couldn't stand to see my grandfather dying, so I found reasons not to visit. I drove back to school for classes to resume on 8 January 1990, only to receive a phone call once I got to West Lafayette, Indiana, telling me to turn around and come back. He had died. I never got to say good-bye because I was coward. And I regret that to this day.

When I began my search for my mother's birthparents in 1982, this was the man I went to question regarding the events of 1946. This was my grandfather. He was seventy years old, and he was entering his "curmudgeon years." He would often nap on the living room couch, and he had constructed a cushioned board that fit perfectly to the furniture frame to give him more support. I unfortunately scheduled my "interview" after my first unrewarding research trip during his nap time. He spent the bulk of it lying on his side, face to the cushions, back toward me. My grandmother, sitting in her chair, did most of the talking. He would just shout out his two-cents' worth if and when he found it necessary.

But it was a single, annoyed, nap-deprived word that would break open the research floodgates to the identity of my mother's birthparents.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Search, Part I

1945 Elkhart City Directory... Millers, Millers, and more Millers...

My mother had things easier than most adoptees looking for their birthparents. Since she was initially an advertisement in the newspaper, her birthparents and adoptive parents had met each other. Information was traded. Names were taken. So even in a world, this should have been easy, right?


The name used in the South Bend Tribune advertisement - Dorothy Turner - was obviously fictitious. Finding the ad was one of my first research goals, and I was shocked at how many parents were seeking homes - temporary and permanent - for children of all ages in post-World War II northern Indiana. There were so many that I had to copy several entries before I found the correct one. I think this made my mother feel less like a used car. She was not alone. There were others.

Finding the advertisement was largely an exercise in being thorough. I had not expected to glean much information from it, nor did I need it. My mother had been told the names of her parents her entire life. They were Frank Krueger and Marie Miller. Marie had been married previously, and she had a four-year-old daughter, Sandy, at the time my mother was born. This would be cake.

Our first trip to the Elkhart Public Library was a complete dud. Krueger was not a name readily found in Elkhart County, Indiana, and of the few people bearing this surname, none of them were named Frank. And keep in mind that the Elkhart-LaGrange County area of Indiana is home to the Amish, the Mennonites and all their descendants. Finding a singular Miller in such a place is as laughable as finding a Yoder, Bontrager or Stutzman with nothing else to go on. Nonetheless, like a good genealogist I made note of every Marie Miller in the pre-1946 city directories of Elkhart and Goshen in attempts of finding a Miller husband with a Marie wife that was dissolved or nonexistent after 1946. No candidates stepped forward.

The other obvious research avenues yielded nothing as well. There was no birth announcement for my mother in any of the local newspapers. Goshen General Hospital had destroyed their records many, many years before. Even a desperate plea to the Elkhart County Health Department looking for the birth certificate for a Sandy Miller born around 1942 was met with the expected response. We were not privy to that sort of information.

I went home crestfallen that my research skills were not honed enough to find two people whose names I knew in a place that was given. My mother was just defeated. This should have been like snatching candy from a baby. Something was wrong with the information we were working with. There had to be flaws in our basic premise. I realized I had made a huge mistake. I had not questioned two of the people that were present during these events in 1946; the two people who had met and talked to Frank Krueger and Marie Miller. I had not talked to my grandparents. They were still living and they were cognizant of our search, but I had not asked them a single question. The information I was working with was the information my mother had known all her life. I had no initial reason to doubt any of it.

And as good genealogists, we all know that we are not reliable sources for own dates of birth. We are not coherent beings as newborns. We know only what we are told by the participants of that event. If I were to know more about these elusive birthparents, I had to ask the other set of parents that met with them.

So off we went to Osceola, Indiana, to talk to my grandparents, my mother accompanying me mostly to appease me (and because I couldn't drive). She had been told the same story over and over and over again for the last thirty-five years. What could we possibly learn differently now?

A lot.

How I Started Yanking Skeletons Out of Closets

The author with his grandparents, Raymond and Rita (Dobyns) DePrato, 1980

You might say I was not like most teenagers. People ask me when I started my genealogical research. I usually tell them 1980, primarily because that is when I found out there was a name for what I was already doing. I have always been a genealogist. My mother was adopted because the mother that raised her could have no children, and they adopted no more. So I was not raised with aunts and uncles and cousins to play with. I was raised with a bunch of great-aunts and great-great-aunts from Kentucky with wonderful names like Aunt (pronounced "Ain't") Zelma, Aunt Willie, Aunt Eunice and Aunt Clara Belle. The oldest of the bunch, Aunt Zelma, was born in 1895, and her sister, Willie, in 1897. I was fascinated by stories of growing up in Kentucky, and even more so by the fact that since they were born Hanks girls I was a relative of Abraham Lincoln.

I have never been happy with just accepting information at face value. I knew they were my aunts, but I wanted to know HOW. When I learned that Zelma and Willie were the sisters of my great-grandmother, Gracie May (Hanks) Dobyns, who died in 1923 from injuries sustained after an outhouse blew over on her in a storm, I was even more fascinated with the people and stories of long ago. So I started making charts and family trees to understand the connections between all these Kentucky kin long before I knew what genealogy was. That revelation came after a visit to the Mishawaka (Indiana) Public Library. It was there that I stumbled upon Gilbert H. Doane's Searching For Your Ancestors. I now had a name for my hobby, and I eagerly gobbled up the information within the book. This was 1980. My hobby officially became an obsession, and I was the only thirteen-year-old begging his mother to drive him to the courthouse after school ("Please Mom, I just need ONE death certificate!!!") or sitting in the library reading the United States census on microfilm. I remember feeling waves of humiliation and embarrassment if I was approached by a classmate who happened to be in the library (usually by force, not by desire). They would look at the century-old script of the census and then look at me quizzically: "What are you doing???" You see, I was not like most teenagers.

Some of my early finds were on my dad's family. I remembered being so tickled to find out that the women I knew as my paternal grandfather's sisters - Aunts Kate, Cookie, Dolly and Fran - were actually Katherine, Josephine, Anna Marie and Frances. On my mother's side, I delved into the Hanks family to find that elusive connection to Abraham Lincoln, but as much as I loved my grandparents and those wacky Kentucky aunts, there was that nagging thought that the blood in my veins and the traits I might have inherited were not from them. They were from my mother's birthparents. And so I set out to use my newly acquired genealogical skills to find them.

I cannot speak for adoptees - not for my mother nor for anyone else who has been adopted. I do not know if all of them have a deeper desire to know where they come from, of if they crave the knowledge of why they were given away. I know many adoptees do. I also know adoptees that do not care. They were raised in a loving, nurturing home, and the story that came before their birth is not of interest to them. Perhaps I am just too inquisitive. Even one generation removed, I wanted to know the story. And I knew my mother did. I will not try to read her mind or speak for her, but I know that even though her parents never hid the fact she was adopted, she still wondered why. She had attempted a search unsuccessfully many years before. She knew she was adopted as a result of an advertisement in the classified ads of the local newspaper, and in a way, that gave her the sense of feeling more objectified like a used car, a piece of furniture or an unwanted puppy that needed a home. And at this time, my parents were going through a divorce, so perhaps my mother's need for a deeper sense of self was more acute at this time. I do not recall a discussion about beginning the search for her birthparents or a designated "Go" moment, but I was ready to undertake the huge genealogical challenge of finding them. And so the search began.

It was 1982 - long before the Internet age, and a search of this nature took ingenuity, perseverance, travel and costs. And I was looking for a Miller in Goshen, Indiana. Good God.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In the beginning...

Carol Sue DePrato, 4½ months old

This is a complex story of family dynamics and interpersonal relationships that has become a thing of the past. I will never know the full story. Nobody will. The players are mostly deceased. Those who may have second-hand knowledge of the people or events I discuss too are slipping away quickly. I can only use the puzzle pieces I find to make a more-or-less incomplete picture, but hopefully it will be of an image more sharply seen than the one I have at the present.

If there can be a beginning to this story, it would likely be the birth of Carol Sue Miller at 7:52 p.m. on 31 December 1946 at Goshen General Hospital in Goshen, Indiana. There was nothing remarkable about the mother's pregnancy nor the chid's birth. Her mother had entered the hospital merely three hours earlier, and the delivery was of a healthy girl resulting from a typical nine-month pregnancy.

What was not typical of this child was her fate. She was not destined to go home with her mother and father. Barely two months before on Tuesday, 22 October 1946, she was the subject of this advertisement placed in the Personals column of the Classified Section of the South Bend Tribune:

WANTED any couple interested in adopting baby, please write Mrs. Dorothy Turner, ℅ General Delivery, Elkhart, immediately. Replies strictly confidential.

On 10 January 1947, Carol Sue Miller went home with Raymond Ezio and Rosie Arreda "Rita" (Dobyns) DePrato to be cared for and raised as their own child in Osceola, Indiana. After going through the normal adoption process dictated by the state of Indiana, Carol Sue Miller officially became Carol Sue DePrato on 30 January 1948.

Although always aware that she was adopted, these would be the only parents she would know, and the only grandparents I knew.

Until 1982.