About a month ago I got a call from a gentleman living in Chicago who is very ill. He was looking for his biological daughter who was put up for adoption under duress in 1964-1965. His goal was to locate her before his death so he could tell her the circumstances of her adoption and assure her that she was not given up because she was unwanted.
Jack Decker and Joyce Kotler of Chicago were high school sweethearts. When they were 17, in 1964, Joyce got pregnant. Her parents refused to allow them to get married and insisted that the baby be given up for adoption. She was sent away, to Phoenix, Arizona for several months where she was basically under house arrest – very closely supervised and not permitted to make calls or send letters back home to Jack.
When her daughter was born, she was quickly adopted through arrangements that had been made by attorney Syd Wolfe during the pregnancy. Unlike today’s world, the adoptive parents and the biological mother did not meet.
Unbeknownst to Jack and Joyce, the information on their daughter’s birth certificate was falsified – the birth mother’s name and birth date were fake. About 7 months later, after high school graduation, Jack and Joyce got married. Their plan was not to disturb their daughter’s life, but to try to get in touch with her after her eighteenth birthday. Jack and Joyce unfortunately did not have a happily ever after. Just a few short years later, Joyce died, just before her 25th birthday, a month after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Joyce herself had been adopted, and data on her birth certificate too had been falsified, so while during her illness her oncologist attempted to find her biological family to find out whether or not others had a similar disease and how it was treated, he was unable to do so.
Similarly, Jack’s daughter, located a month after he asked for my help, has had health problems – she had no medical history from her biological family. Because of the falsified information on her birth certificate she was unable to locate them. The daughter had no idea that the information she thought identified her biological mother was not true.
This is an amazing story and one which has a happy ending – Jack and his daughter have been reunited. Most of the time we struggle with ascertaining the truth of data on documents, the consequences are not dire. Documents of our ancestors often have birth dates and years covering a wide range of time, names are changed, spellings were not standardized, and it’s frustrating. It is not a matter of life or death. In this case it could have been.