This is an extremely busy birthday week. Not in the conventional sense of a Sunday – Saturday week but beginning on Thursday the 18th we celebrated my Aunt Rochelle’s birthday, the 22nd was her sister, my Aunt Brenda’s birthday and the 23rd marks my birth mother Marlene’s birthday.
With these days upon upon us, I have been thinking about my birth family and thought I would like to post a little about my search and finding them.
My birth mother was Marlene Haimowitz, born January 23, 1934 to Irving Isidore Haimowitz (1904 – 1951) and Myra Lipschitz (1914 – 1998) I do not have many pictures of Marlene but this is one of my favorites. We met once in 2003 and again one more time before she passed away in 2005.
Below, her two beautiful sisters Rochelle and Brenda on Rochelle’s wedding day (1966) to Gil Steinman
Both wedding pictures courtesy of Lisa Gassman
This picture below is of Brenda with their brother Sheldon at Rochelle’s wedding. I only met Sheldon once before he passed away in Feb. 2003. My beautiful Aunt Brenda passed away last June, 2017.
It was because of Brenda that I connected with my birth family. After a lengthy letter writing campaign that lasted many years she received my letter, called her sister Rochelle and said something like “I just got this letter from some lady who know’s a lot about our family…..” Brenda was only 3 when I was born and new very little about me, especially since I was not coffee table conversation. Rochelle however was 8 years old and remembered quite well Marlene getting pregnant with me and the events that followed. In fact Rochelle has shared that she remembers going to visit Marlene at the unwed mothers home. Rochelle knew instantly I had found my family. She wasted no time in calling me that November of 2002.
This is LakeView Unwed Mother’s Home on Staten Island where Marlene lived and I was born.
I started my search in earnest back in the 1980’s. I actually had been operating on the assumption that my last name was Horowitz. My adopting parents believed either my birth mother or myself had been named Donna. One of the first things I did was to write to the Surrogate court where I was born and requested all the records I was entitled to. I wrote that I wanted to replace all records that had been stolen in a theft of my parents home. (actually that was the truth but I would have used that excuse if I had needed to) I can remember finding the documents as a teenager and actually seeing the last name. In that brief look at the documents in my parents safe, I remembered the name as being Horowitz and my parents confirmed that. To my delight and surprise the court sent my full adoption decree. There, bold as my life itself, my birth name was not Horowitz but Haimowitz. It read “in the adoption of said child Donna Haimowitz”. Horowitz had been wrong. From this point I went to our local family history research center and ordered the NY birth index for 1953. In N.Y. state when they amend the original birth certificate they use the same certificate number as the original, it is not replaced. There I was in the index, I was truly Donna Haimowitz. My next step was to write to the adoption agency and ask for all my non identifying information. I had been placed with the Louise Wise Agency, a very popular Jewish Adoption service at the time.
From this 1st letter in 1987 I actually got a lot of information to identify the family and it was with this information that Brenda said I knew all about their family. I learned Marlene was the 1 of 4 children. 1 was 3 in 1953 when I was born (Brenda) 1 was 13 when I was born (Sheldon) 1 was in between and she was Rochelle, 8. Marlene’s father died 2 years prior to my birth so I knew my grandfather had passed in 1951 and that Marlene didn’t finish high school but left when she was 16 to work and help support the family. My next step I decided was to compile a list of all the Haimowitz families in the U.S.. It was with this list that I began a letter writing campaign that would last for years. I sent out letters in batches of 12, then waited for the replies.
The binder above holds all my research starting in 1986 – 2002. I had pages of lists like the above, pages with ages then pages with addresses. * I should add here that DNA testing was not an option yet. The steno pad was sectioned off with the 4 main states I was searching. Looking at my notes and binders now I can see how rudimentary and scattered my research was. I also enclosed a self addressed and stamped post card with my letters asking that it be returned if they knew anything or if they were not the right family. I added my phone number as well and often I would receive a call form someone wanting so much to help. More people than not responded. I had a list for those who did not respond. That list became my possibilities and I would eventually contact them by mail a second and even a third time as a follow up.
I tried again in 1997 to get more information from Louise Wise. The letter below was in response to mine asking for more information. I specifically asked if my birth father was Puerto Rican. I knew he wasn’t since I had been told he was Italian and I believed that, but, my thought was to ask with mis information which would require them to look again at the records and perhaps some other identifying information would be shared by mistake. Sadly, not.
All the years prior to finding my birth family I had been very guarded in talking with my adopting parents about my search. They were well aware I was searching. As the years went by and their memories were beginning to fail, my hope of locating my birth family was fading too. I felt I had to press a little more. I was feeling desperate and in a last attempt I pumped them for anything that might help me in my search. That is when they suddenly remembered something they had never shared. They told me they remembered being told that there might have been deafness in the family. First of all I was shocked and blown away by this revelation. I couldn’t believe they had never mentioned this. Didn’t they think this might be important to my health or to the health of my children? Was this something genetic? So again I wrote a letter to Louise Wise asking about this.
In fact there was deafness in the family. Both of Myra’s parents had been deaf. But not from birth, but from childhood illness.
During this time in the beginning of the 2000’s I was using the internet predominently for my search. It was during this time that I was beginning to believe I could not do this on my own. Adoption reunion stories were popular on Oprah and she had a number of shows using the International Locator Service. Yes, I hired them and no they did not find my birth family.
Then there was the World Wide Tracers and I have no idea what I paid them and no they did not find my birth family either.
Next was the Jenkins Detective Agency which was a total internet scam. I even tried to file a federal claim against them but was told there was not enough evidence.
The search continued with the help of wonderful people on the internet involved in adoption search groups and search angels with suggestions and additional help in research and locating addresses and phone numbers. With their help I had narrowed the search down to these 10 woman. Notice that Marlene was #1 on the list.
In June of 2002, as I was fast approaching my self imposed deadline of my 50th birthday, I was truly doubting that finding my birth family would happen. That June I contacted Mr. Raphael Jr. Attorney, who was the attorney at the time of my adoption. He was so surprised to get my letter he actually called me to talk and tell me that he no longer had any of his records nor did he remember anything. Through this whole process that engulfed and occupied many years of my life I met and spoke with many wonderful people. At one point a woman by the name of Barbara from MA, actually thought her sister might have been my birth mother. With her mom in Florida too, we arranged to meet and compare notes. Her sister was not my mother but we created quite a stir within the family as well as cementing a friendship through this.
Florida was in fact the key to all of this. My adopting parents lived in Del Rey Beach, and just minutes from their home, in Boca Raton, lived my 2 aunts, Rochelle and Brenda. Florida is a wonderful state for records. It was in Florida, in those last few months, with a list of only about 12/15 people left to contacted, I found Brenda’s marriage information listed on line. I was able to locate her mailing address and off went that letter.
On December 25, 2002, instead of a movie and Chinese food, my daughter Marissa and I flew from California to Florida to meet with my two Aunts and their families along with my Uncle Sheldon, a Christmas Day reunion.
Seated is my adopting mother, Grace Judith Brown, myself behind her, Rochelle, daughter Marissa (7 months pregnant) and Brenda.
Marlene did not join us that day. In fact I would not meet her for another year. She too was in Florida but up in the Orlando area. Due to her health, the long trip down as well as the shock of simply being found was to much for her. Over the course of that first year before we met, we exchanged many letters. I have a binder full of her most secret thoughts and feelings which I never would have had if we had met right away. In fact over the course of that letter writing exchange she revealed who my birth father was, someone no one knew the name of and she had at first refused to tell me as well. I had opened up a very painful past and I had a great responsibility to help heal that for her.
The day finally arrived
Today I write and celebrate the birthdays of three beautiful woman plus one more. The women who gave me life, Marlene, my two incredible aunts, Rochelle and Brenda. They opened their hearts, homes and families to mine. A big thank you and lots of love to you Aunt Rochelle for embracing and including my mother Grace (1926 – 2005) for making her feel loved and welcomed along with myself and Marissa. (Grace celebrated a Feb. 1st birthday)
But before I close I must make one last mention on this post and that is to remember my adopting father, Howard Joseph Brown. He shares this day of January 23rd with my birth mother Marlene. Howard passed away on Jan. 23, 2004