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.


  1. Oh wow..... Goosebumps just from reading!

  2. What a moment that must have been. I've enjoyed reading about your journey so far. Hoping that as the future of this story unfolds it helps fill the voids for your mother and you.

  3. What a day this was, but a miracle happened at the end.

  4. When researching we live for those Eureka moments. Congratulations about 30 years late. :)

  5. Hallelujia...I took a break from my work today to read more. I wouldn't have believed that story except for the fact similar things have happened during my research. Someone at a family research center once told me I must have an angel by my side that assists me in finding lost ancestors. I share in the joy you must have experienced that moment. It's times like this that keep us pursuing more. Perhaps it's an addiction the adrenalin and endorphins that keeps us going?
    Doug Daniels

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