Grand Traverse Woman
F I N D I N G T H E FA M I LY I N E V E R K N E W, D E C A D E S L AT E R BY TAMMY HOLLENBECK
AT 3 MONTHS OLD, I was adopted. I grew up loved and cared for, and the only family I ever knew always felt right. They were mine, and I was theirs. But as I grew older, I began to wonder about my birth parents. It took many years, a few alternate routes, and many phone calls, but in the end, I found my birth mother—and more.
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION Kids sometimes made fun of me: they said I wasn’t wanted so my parents gave me away. I’d come home in tears, and my mother would calm me. She’d say she didn’t know why my parents gave me away, but it certainly wasn’t because they didn’t want me. I was special, she said. I was handpicked. I held on to that thought whenever someone made fun of me. I started asking questions at 13, and my mom told me what little she knew. I learned that I was born in Grand Rapids and my birth mother was single and worked in a grocery store. My mom didn’t know anything about my father. My adoption was closed, and I thought about my birth mom a lot. I made up silly fantasies about her being a country singer, or maybe an actress. I longed to know who my birth parents were and why they gave me up for adoption.
THE FIRST SEARCH I started searching for my mom in my twenties. I’d heard of people on TV who’d found their birth parents, but I didn’t have enough information to find her like they did. I called state representatives and a local judge, who both suggested I contact the adoption agency. I called them and for a fee they filed a request with the Central Adoption Registry in Lansing. They’d find out if my birth parents submitted a consent to release identifying information to me. Then, they’d send me a letter. This letter would either hold the information I’d always wanted, or it would give me non-identifying information. I waited on pins and needles. On May 10, 1997, the day before Mother’s Day, the letter came. I remember holding that letter in my shaking hands and I opened it. There was no consent on file, it said. My request would remain, just in case they decided to file in the future.
STARTING OVER I was heartbroken. My hopes had been so high. I read that letter over and over. Although I didn’t find out who they were, I learned a lot of my
the Ancestry DNA site, and I gave them a short version of my story and asked them for help. One cousin, Lisa, responded, very willing to help. Lisa and I emailed and texted, and together, we slowly pieced together the puzzle of where I came from. There were tears, laughter, and we even video-chatted. She accepted me right away as her family. I could feel her love.
JOY OF DISCOVERY Lisa figured out that my mother’s name: Joyce. But she didn’t know where she was. I searched ancestry documents and found her mother’s obituary. As I read, I couldn’t believe what I learned—I was born on the same day as my grandmother! I sat there and cried. I cried for the grandmother I never knew, for this huge connection I’d never known about, and for this unbelievable reality. This was really happening. I was finding my family! I found Joyce’s married name through her FIRST MEETING WITH JOYCE. husband’s obituary and learned that I had three brothers. I was so happy and so scared, mother’s background and some of my father’s. too. What if they rejected me? I had to reach out. She’d never told anyone his name. To find him, I I sent Joyce a letter with pictures explaining who had to find her. The information I now had was so I was. She called me. It was so surreal—I was talkimportant to me. This was my roots, my blood. I ing to my birth mom. We were both emotional, needed to find this family that I belonged to. and she confirmed that I had three half-brothers: I talked to private detectives, but they were Lee, Russ and Jay. She’d never told them about too expensive and held no guarantees. But, they me… until she got my letter. were always an option. I held fast to the chance They were shocked, but OK with it. She told me that someday, my mother or father would file that my father’s name, too. Bob. She never saw him consent and we’d be connected immediately. That after they spilt up, she said. Our phone call was never happened. I wondered why they hadn’t. one I will never forget. The next day, one of my Were they still alive? half-brothers, Russ, called me, wanting to meet. We met at my house and talked for over eight A NEW APPROACH hours. I wondered for years. In 2017, I saw an ad for Ancestry DNA on TV. I thought about giving it a COINCIDENCES try, but I had so much disappointment, I wasn’t Apparently, Russ had lived four miles from me sure I could handle any more. I talked to my husin 1996-97. He’d even met Marlen at a local bar! band, Marlen, and he was very supportive. But, He told me another one of my half-brothers, Lee, he was apprehensive of what I’d find, and a little lived in Benzonia. They were so close to me and I worried I’d get my hopes up again and be hurt if never knew it! A week later, Lee and I connected. this didn’t pan out. He was very welcoming and curious about me. I I talked to my friends about it, and they were felt so much love for them. supportive, too. In the end, I realized that there Joyce and I began emailing and calling each really was only one choice. I ordered the test and other. We wanted to meet. She lives in Belmont, sent it in. Four weeks later, around Thanksgiving, Mich., along with Jay. my results came. I was so excited. The day before Easter, she came up to meet us. There are no words to explain how I felt. It was A MATCH one of the best days of my life. My results showed my closest matches were second cousins. I sent them a message through