#BookReview ‘The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon’ by Sarah Steele #identity #familysecrets

If you’re looking for a little escapism, a trip to the Riviera of the Sixties, then The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon by Sarah Steele is for you. A family mystery spanning two generations is unravelled by Flo, Nancy Moon’s great-niece, who treads in her aunt’s footsteps across Europe following the clues. It all starts with a photograph. Sarah Steele

Told in two timelines, it is Nancy’s story that came alive for me and I would have been happy if the book had focussed solely on Nancy. Brimming with nostalgia for life in the 1960s, the Riviera, Paris, Nice, Venice, Capri, Steele tells of Nancy’s trip as companion to Pea, a teenage girl sidelined by her distracted artist father and disinterested step-mother. It is clear Nancy is running from something and, though this is billed as a historical romance, it is essentially a tale of grief and moving on.

Clearing her grandmother’s house after her death, Flo finds a photograph of her grandma Peggy and three friends. One is a complete stranger. The next discovery is a cache of dressmaking envelopes. Each is dated and inside are cut-out dress pieces and other momentoes left by Great-Aunt Nancy, photographs, postcards and oddments. Flo has never heard of Nancy Moon. Why was she never spoken of? Flo, grieving not only for the death of Peggy but for the break-up of her marriage and the loss of a baby, decides to follow Nancy’s trail across Europe.

The motif of dressmaking patterns is underlined by Steele’s beautiful descriptions of Sixties dresses, swimsuits and fabrics. We see Nancy wearing the original version of the home-made garment, and then Flo following in her footsteps wearing a contemporary version of the same outfit. At the beginning there are so many characters introduced that it’s disorientating. It took me a while to unravel them until halfway through when I realised I simply wanted to read Nancy’s story.

So, an intriguing story idea weakened by the sudden switching of narrator and timeline intended to introduce mystery. The simple addition of chapter headings with the year and location would help. In truth I figured out the mystery very early on. How much stronger this would be as a single viewpoint, traditional historical narrative without the coincidences and neat solutions of Flo’s storyline.

I was pleased I stuck with the story, despite the slow beginning. There is plenty to admire in the writing and the locations are beautiful, a real piece of escapism for armchair travellers.
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If you like this, try:-
The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach 
The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger

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#BookReview ‘While Paris Slept’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is World War Two story with a difference. It focusses on the lives of two couples and how one incident, a decision made in seconds, challenges the four people involved to define their own perception of true, selfless love and the heart-wrenching sacrifices this may mean.

This is a dual-timeline story. It starts in 1953, California. One morning the police call at the home of Jean-Luc Beauchamp and take him in for questioning. He is unsurprised. His wife Charlotte and son Sam do not know what is happening.

Interleaved with the story unfolding in 1953, we see Jean-Luc as a young man in occupied Paris, 1944. He is conscripted as a rail maintenance worker based at the Drancy station from where French Jews were transported to Auschwitz. At weekends he travels home to see his mother in Paris but does not admit the things he sees and suspects. Ashamed that people may think he is a collaborator, he determines to do his part. He is injured in an attempt to damage the rail track and is taken to the German hospital where he is nursed by a young French girl, Charlotte. Charlotte, who took the job at the urging of her mother to do something useful, also wants to fight back against the occupiers. Then one day at Drancy a young woman on her way to Auschwitz, suspecting the fate awaiting her and her husband, thrusts her newborn baby into Jean-Luc’s arms. She says his name is Samuel. What follows is an exploration of the lengths people will go to for the true love of defenceless child. And at the heart of it all, subjected to the decisions made by adults, is Samuel.

It is a detailed story, slow to build, as the early pages add to the definition of the later events. At times I wanted to stay in one timeline for longer, rather than swapping between 1953 and 1944, but this is a powerful emotional story that is worth sticking with.

A strong story that doesn’t turn away from difficult issues; the rights, the wrongs and the hazy bits in between.

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If you like this, try:-

‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach

‘Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh

‘File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall

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Was your relative a nurse #researching #familyhistory

If you are searching for a nurse who worked between 1898 and 1968, over 1.6 million historic nursing records for the UK and Ireland are available online at Ancestry.

Nurses

Nursing-records [photo: rcn.org.uk]

There are three new collections:-
UK & Ireland, Nursing Registers, 1898-1968 from the Royal College of Nursing: the largest of the three archives. It includes scans of the original documents and details about individual people including home address, education and previous employment history. Among the nurses listed is Dame Sarah Swift, founder of the RCN.

UK & Ireland, Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, 1891-1931: these records were supplied by the Wellcome Institute, and further records will be released this autumn. Many of these nurses were trained as midwives and health visitors, treating patients in their own homes before the beginning of the NHS.

Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945: these records date from the beginning of state registration of nurses in 1921.

Most fascinating is the additional information provided about individuals, which may fill in essential gaps in family history research.

If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, you can view the RCN records at the RCN Library.

For help on how to search for information on patients, doctors and nurses, read this Help Guide by The National Archives.

If you want to read more about family history research, try this:-
Was your relative a #gardener at a country house
Using photographic archives
Finding your nonconformist relative 

Sandra Danby

In Ignoring Gravity, Rose Haldane must track down a friend of her birth mother. All she knows is her name, Susan, and that she was a nurse in the Sixties. These online records would have made Rose’s search for Susan much easier.

★★★★★ “I devoured the book in one go, unable to put it down despite the tirade of emotions it brought to the surface” #secrets #mystery #family #KU
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True #adoption story… June Horbury #adoptionstories

When June Horbury’s adoptive father died in December 2001, amongst his things she found a shabby old box which contained his legal documents. Inside was her adoption certificate issued by a court in Woodlands, Doncaster, Yorkshire. June was adopted when she was three weeks old. This is June’s story of how she found her birth family.

“I always knew I was adopted but as soon as I saw my birth mother’s name, Eileen Morris, on this old piece of paper, something stirred inside me and I knew I had to try and find her. My husband told me to leave well alone and, in some respects, I wish I had. A warning here, if you have been adopted and try to find your long lost family be prepared for failure or rejection.

“How could I find her? Questions were going round and round in my head. How do I start my search? How old was she when I was born?  Was I to presume she had married? How many years after my birth was this marriage? I attended the General Registry Office in London and after many visits I found her birth and marriage certificates. I now had her married surname. Anyone who is a family historian knows how time consuming it is to find one little piece of information. Eighteen years ago there wasn’t very much information on the internet. The My Family.com web site was only launched in December 1998.

“Once we had the surname my daughter and I wrote letters to all the people in the telephone book, in the Yorkshire region, with the surname Tyas. We said we were looking for family tree information and included contact telephone numbers. We received many phone calls but no information about Eileen Tyas. We had given up hope of trying to find her. Then I was at my daughter’s house and the phone rang. The caller said she had information about Eileen Tyas and that she was Eileen’s daughter, Carol. I was speechless. An invitation was given to my daughter and I to visit Carol at her home. We were made very welcome. She told us that Eileen was still alive and living in her own home in Doncaster. I was going to arrange another visit but my daughter said we should tell them why we were there.  It wasn’t just to gain information to produce a family tree. They were shocked as they didn’t know of my existence.

“At first, Eileen denied she had given birth to me but eventually said it was true. I sent her photographs of myself and my family and told her I had had a wonderful life. She replied giving information about herself but said she did not want to meet me, and returned my photographs. The most upsetting part of the letter was when she told me about my conception and that she would not give me my birth father’s name. I was devastated by this news.

“However, I did appreciate the circumstances she found herself in following my birth. The year was 1938. She was an 18-year-old unmarried mother, living with an uncaring foster mother and a father working away. Her own childhood had been tragic and that was why she was living with a foster mother. Was she to have a termination considering the way I had been conceived?  Would I be a reminder of the conception and what effect would this have on her seeing me every day of her life? If she kept me how could she possibly look after me and bring me up? The only thing she could do was to have me adopted.

“I still wanted to find my birth father. However, the law states that people adopted before 12th November, 1975 are required to receive counselling before being given access to adoption information. This is required because some natural parents and adopters may have been led to believe that their children would never be able to trace their original names or identity of their parents. People adopted after that date are not legally required to have counselling. I was 62 but had to see a counsellor, which I did.”

June contacted the Doncaster Magistrates and Family Court and, after completing application forms, attended the court. “It was very official. I was told I must only address any questions to the Clerk of the Court. I believe the other two people in attendance were Magistrates or JP’s and they would decide if any official documents could be released to me. There was very little information in my file. Just a letter from my adoptive mother’s doctor who instigated the adoption. Sadly my birth father’s name was not on any of the documents. The Clerk told me that in 1938 adoptions were dealt with very differently.

“I was still not giving up trying to find him. My half-sister gave me information about a very elderly lady, Dorothy May Parry, who was the daughter of Eileen’s foster mum and lived in the same house as Eileen in 1938. However, she would not meet me although she did tell me my mother had a long-term boyfriend of 21 months, but said she couldn’t remember the name. I looked at the electoral roles to see if a male lived in the house at the time my mother lived there. I found the name Edward Lyford and checked this out. Had I exhausted all avenues to find my father? When my birth mother died another opportunity presented itself. Amongst her belongings was a photograph of a young man on a motor bike. Scribbled on the back of the photograph was the name Cliff Dawson. Was this another lead? This photograph wasn’t the only secret which was revealed. Something which happened at my mother’s funeral shocked the family, once again producing yet another family member.”

June is keen to make clear she never felt abandoned or unwanted by her birth mother. “I was three weeks old when I was handed over to my adoptive parents but it wasn’t until over 60 years later that I discovered a shocking secret. I was devastated.”

June’s Bio
June was born in a home for unmarried mothers in Hyde Park, Doncaster. She was adopted by a miner and his wife and spent her childhood years in the York Road area of the town. On leaving school she got a job as a Junior Typist at the NCB and was eventually promoted to PA for the Chief Radiologist for the Yorkshire Coal Field. Upon marriage she moved to the Barnsley and Sheffield areas but along with her husband Mike, and their two children, moved back to live in Hatfield in 1970. Mike was the local policeman and was nicknamed the Sheriff of Hatfield by his colleagues.

Once the children were at school she began studying for a Cert (Ed) at Huddersfield Technical College, now Huddersfield University, and two years later for a BA (Ed) at Hull University. Throughout her teaching career June taught at several schools in the Doncaster area including Hatfield, Don Valley and her final position as Head of Department at Thorne Grammar School.

Her early attempts at writing began as a 12-year-old when she wrote an article which was published in the Doncaster Gazette, and many years later a story about adoption for My Heritage which was awarded a prize.

When she discovered her birth family, they encouraged her to produce a family tree and obviously this took many years of research. However, this wasn’t enough for them or her so after collecting old photographs, family letters and listening to stories she decided to write her autobiography Life after Adoption which was produced during lockdown and published in September 2020.

June’s Book June Horbury“When my adoptive father died, I was looking through his things and came across a shabby, old box which contained his legal documents, and there it was, my adoption certificate. I always knew I was adopted but as soon as I saw my birth mother’s name on this old piece of paper, something stirred inside me and I  knew at that moment, I had to try and find her. My husband told me to ‘leave well alone’ and in some respects he was right, as when I did find her I discovered a dreadful secret.  I was devastated.  But it didn’t end there, as following her death some years later, another secret was revealed which shocked my family. Had my husband been right when he said, ‘Leave well alone’? This story is told over eight decades from just before the start of World War Two and depicts life and times from then until the present day.”
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If you like this true story, read:-
Sheila Mercier
Joy Lieberthal Rho
Julie Wassmer

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#BookReview ‘Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by @jane_eales #familyhistory #mystery

This is the true story of one woman’s search for her birth family which crosses continents from South Africa and Rhodesia, to Australia, the UK, and Holland. Jane Eales discovered she was adopted when she was 19. Her adoptive parents made her swear never to tell anyone else about her adoption and never to search for her birth parents. Jane Eales

She lived with the uncertainty of not knowing for 40 years until, when both her adoptive parents were dead, she started to search. The journey crosses continents as she uncovers a family’s pre-World War Two flight as Hitler threatens, the politics of Southern Africa, and spying during WW2. The ‘Spotted Dogs’ in the title is a reference to Dalmatian dogs; the author’s birth mother, Phyllis, was a renowned UK dog breeder.

For Jane Eales, the promise she made to her adoptive parents was a difficult one to break. They were the only parents she had known, they cared for her, she loved them though she found it difficult to accept and understand their need for secrecy when it made her own life so ill-defined. What prompted her to search? With a learning-disabled son, she was advised to check her own genetic history.

The story is told slowly and carefully, starting with her own childhood and her adopted father’s Jewish family, leading first to a half-brother, cousins, before identifying her birth mother Phyllis. Although this is fascinating, and adds to the final picture, I wanted to get to the bit about spying promised in the book’s title. For that I had to be patient. At times, the book has the feeling of ‘my family’s story’, but the author’s honesty about coming to terms with the decisions taken in the 1940s when times were very different, make this book a worthy read for anyone interested in autobiographies about adoption or family history.
BUY THIS BOOK

If you like this, try:-
‘Blue Eyed Son’ by Nicky Campbell
Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day
Relative Strangers’ by Hunter Davies

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True #adoption story… Tamela Dunn & Jo-Ann Gerow #adoptionstories

In 1976, Jo-Ann Gerow was 19 when she gave birth to a baby girl and gave her up for adoption. ‘I had just graduated high school, and wasn’t too sure what I was going to be doing with my life, or in my life, and I had thought about giving the baby up to a member of my family, but then I thought I would get jealous over time.’

Tamela Dunn

Jo-Ann Gerow and Tamela Dunn reunion [photo: CBC]

Gerow was kept in hospital to care for the baby for ten days. ‘When I walked out, the sun was shining. I felt that on my face and I looked across the city of Kitimat and I started praying to God that he would bless and protect her and that we would be reunited one day,’ Gerow remembers. And she always wondered what happened to her baby.

Gerow went on to have two further daughters but she never married, and never forgot her first child. When the British Columbia government opened up adoption records in the early 1990s, Gerow says, ‘I sent my affidavit requesting information in regards to the adoption, so I’ve been searching for quite a while.’

Jo-Ann Gerow

Jo-Ann Gerow had two other daughters after Tamela Dunn’s birth but never married [photo – Terri Trembath/CBC]

Meanwhile her daughter, Tamela Dunn, had started searching too. ‘I walked around my entire life with a missing piece and I never understood it,’ says 39-year-old Tamela Dunn. ‘Because of the fact of the old-style hospital, a lot of the records got deteriorated, there was a lot of information that was unreadable and so there was a lot that happened, and it was just an uphill battle.’ Though cautious, Dunn continued to search.’ There’s a lot of horror stories out there about people reuniting and sometimes it not working out so well.’ With the help of non-profit reconnection group Spirit of the Children, the two women were reunited in 2015.

Dunn said afterwards, ‘I was expecting a name, I wasn’t expecting a mom.’
Read Tamela’s story at CBC News Canada [2015]
Watch the tearful reunion on CBC News.

If you like this true story, read:-
Alice Collins Plebuch
Jenna Cook
Sheila Mercier

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#Family #Mystery ‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach

At first I didn’t know what to make of The Carer by Deborah Moggach. She travels a fine comic line nudging towards simplistic or tasteless stereotypes. But then, as she did in These Foolish Things, the novel finds its stride. In two parts, Moggach takes her original portrayal of this family, shows it through different eyes, and turns it upside down. Deborah Moggach

In Part One we meet widower James Wentworth, OBE, 85, retired particle physicist, living downstairs in his home after breaking a hip; and his live-in carer Mandy, 50, from Solihull. ‘Mandy hummed show tunes as the kettle boiled. Blood Brothers was her favourite, about two boys separated at birth. She said she had seen it three times and blubbed like a baby.’ Mandy is fat, jolly, is a chatterer, and says it as she finds it.

Part One is told from the alternating viewpoints of James’ children. Unfulfilled artist Phoebe, 60, lives in a Welsh village in the area where she had many happy childhood holidays. Robert, 62, former City trader, is now writing a novel in his garden shed in Wimbledon, while married to a television newsreader. Our first impressions of their father, and of Mandy, are filtered through their middle class worries and prejudices. Both harbour resentments about their father’s absences when they were children when he travelled the world for work; resentments that straight-talker Mandy tells them they should have got over years ago.

Mandy is truly a catalyst of change, not just for James but for Robert and Phoebe too.

The situation is a believable one faced in today’s society as we all live longer. James in his eighties needs full-time care, his children are already retired. A succession of carers has come and gone, each unsatisfactory in one way or another. When Mandy arrives she seems an angel. Initially, Phoebe and Robert put aside the class differences as Mandy cares for their father so well. The daily walk to the nearby donkey sanctuary or trip to Lidl for pots of flavoured mousse, soon become day trips to Bicester Village and eating at Nando’s. Initially thriving under Mandy’s care with daily scratchcards and a chirping kitchen clock, James seems more forgetful so when Robert’s daughter sees the papers from James’ desk upstairs in a mess, they fear the worst. Why is Mandy looking in their father’s private documents. Can she be trusted. And what has prompted James’ sudden mental and physical decline. The twist which comes halfway through is masterful.

Part Two is James’ story, starting from his life as a young father and married to Anna. One day he attends a conference in Cardiff. What happens there affects the rest of his life, but in ways even he cannot have predicted. At the end there is one more twist, unexpected, that once again casts Robert and Phoebe’s understanding of their lives into a whirlwind.

At the heart of this novel is the question, can you ever really know someone. Whether with a stranger or a long-loved family member, don’t we all sub-consciously present different faces to different people. It is easy to assume we know someone because of the public face they present to the world, but the inner thoughts of other people, even our closest relatives – and often their marriages – are always a mystery.

Littered with throwaway quotes from Shakespeare, this is on the surface a quick, contemporary read (only 272 pages) which also casts a light on the prejudices, snobberies and problems of modern society. It is billed as a comic novel but it did not make me laugh. I was left feeling vaguely disappointed.
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If you like this, try:-
The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux
‘The Shadow Sister’ by Lucinda Riley
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 

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True #adoption story… @ZekeAnders #adoptionstories

Korean American filmmaker Zeke Anders stepped in front of the camera to document his own adoptee experience and challenge some of the stigmas of the adoption experience.

Zeke Anders

Zeke [legal name Andrew Erickson] was three when he was adopted in 1978 from a South Korean by an American couple from Detroit. ‘Anything before that point it’s really sketchy. The authorities found me on the street and they took me to an orphanage and that’s basically it. That’s all I know, that’s all my parents knew and it’s kind of crazy that way.’

The idea for his vlog American Seoul came to him when he acknowledged the curiosity of friends and acquaintances about adoption. ‘They would always say ‘real.’ As if the parents I have aren’t my real parents.’ He is keen to portray adoption as ‘normal, it’s great.’

Zeke Anders

Zeke held by his adoptive mother, Joyce Erickson, at Chicago O’Hare airport as he arrives from South Korea in 1978 [photo: Zeke Anders]

In one episode, he asks viewers to share the comments they find the most annoying when people ask about their adoptive experiences. For him, the most annoying thing is when someone says ‘I’m sorry’ after hearing he is adopted.

Read Zeke’s story in this NBC News article.
Watch a television interview with Zeke on Halo Halo about his adoption vlog American Seoul.
Listen to Zeke interviewed on Michigan Radio.
Zeke’s website

Zeke Anders

Zeke as a child in the early 1980s [photo: Zeke Anders]

If you like this true story, read:-
George Dennehy
Ray Victor Lewis
Brian Moore

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Was your relative a #gardener at a country house #familyhistory

We are all familiar with the life upstairs downstairs at a great house thanks to Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. What is less familiar is the outside job of gardener to a wealthy family. The life is governed by the seasons and has evolved from a menial task to a highly skilled and qualified position. Gardeners have been employed to grow fruit, vegetables and to manage sometimes huge formal gardens, since Tudor times. And many more intrepid men and women changed gardening into what it is we recognise today. For example, father and son gardeners John and John Tradescant [below] travelled the world collecting plant specimens. John the father sailed to the Arctic Circle and fought Barbary pirates on the coast of Algeria. His son John sailed to America. Father and son were both, in turn, appointed Royal Gardener. So, having a gardener in your family tree could be very interesting! John Tradescant

Where to search for your relative
Gardeners employed at large houses should be found in the wages books, garden accounts or the  records of estate management. Start first at the National Archives Discovery catalogue. Also try regional trade directories, the autobiographies of landowners and histories of stately homes.

Try local newspapers for horticultural news, at the British Newspaper Archive. This might include job vacancies, appointments, horticultural prizes won, local flower shows etc. Trade directories including lists of gardeners who worked at large country homes and suburban residences can be found at the University of Leicester’s Special Collections website.

Places to visit

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall gardeners 1900

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall gardeners 1900 [photo: heligan.com]

Start at the Royal Horticultural Society to get an idea about gardening, the seasons, and to find some gardens to visit. Also try the National Trust for more great houses with gardens in your local area. The Lost Gardens of Heligan at St Austell in Cornwall were abandoned in 1914 and restored in the 1990s [above: Heligan gardeners in 1900]. Read Tim Smit’s story of restoring the Heligan gardens, The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Gardener's notebook 1890

Gardener’s notebook 1890 [photo: gardenmuseum.org.uk]

The Garden Museum in London explores and celebrates British gardens and gardening through its collection, temporary exhibitions, events and garden. Find out more about the Tradescants and see a gardener’s notebook [below] dating from 1890 including tips about propagating vines.

Further reading
For inspiring stories about women gardeners, read Gardening Women: their Stories from 1600 to the Present by Catherine Horwood BUY THE BOOK

For the life of a female garden designer, read about Gertrude Jekyll. She wrote more than 1000 gardening articles for Country Life and The Garden magazines. Read Penelope Hobhouse’s book Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening BUY THE BOOK

To learn about the 18thcentury gardeners who collected plants and seeds from overseas and changed our gardens forever, read The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf BUY THE BOOK

If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.

This post is inspired by an article in the May 2018 issue of Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

If you want to read more about family history research, try this:-
Commonwealth War #Graves Commission
Did your relative train as an apprentice
How History Pin puts your #familytree research on a map 

WDYTYA the Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell

Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell BUY THE BOOK

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True #adoption story… Betty Morrell #adoptionstories

The headline sounds like something from a film: ‘Woman, 82, finds birth mother, 96’. After 50 years of searching Betty Morrell finally met her birth mother, Lena Pierce.

Betty Morrel

Betty Morrell meets birth mother Lena Pierce with Kimberly Miccio, holding her own daughter [photo: Kimberly Miccio]

Eighty-two years after she was born to a teenage mother and put up for adoption, Betty Morrell finally met her birth mother thanks to the dogged research by her grand-daughter, Kimberly Miccio, over twenty years. Betty started searching once her adoptive parents had died but, as her adoption had been closed, it was ‘like hitting a brick wall.’

Born in Utica, New York State, in 1993, Betty’s mother Lena named her daughter Eva May. But Lena was a ward of the state and so social welfare officers took away her baby for adoption. Betty, as she was later named, grew up as an only child with her adoptive family on Long Island. Her childhood was happy. In her thirties she started to search. The first shock was finding that her birth mother had not died during childbirth as she had been told.

Betty’s grand-daughter Kimberly started to help her grandmother with the research when she was 12. ‘My grandmother had been looking for a long time. She had never tried through the internet, so we started going through different sites.’ Eventually, using Ancestry, Kimberly located one of Lena Pierce’s daughters. Betty then learned she had four sisters, two brothers, and that her mother was alive and well and living in Pennsylvania.
Read the full story of Betty’s reunion at US News.

If you like this true story, read:-
Kate & Tom Jameson
Eileen Heron
Dave Lowe

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