internet indiscretions

Adoption and Ancestry: Waiting (on Ancestral DNA Testing) is the Hardest Part

by Angelica Leicht Posted: 09-04-15 | 2 years ago

Ed. note: Thanks to some family secrets and an adoption or two, I have spent my entire life wondering who I am — until now. In this series, I’m going to pull up the rug and dig. Maybe I’ll get lucky. 

You can find the first entry here, where I talk about why I’m searching for these answers.

The second entry is here — it’s pretty interesting — and the third installation right here.

And, last but not least, the fourth and fifth entries about the guilt that comes along with searching for birth families are here and here if you’re interested in catching up.


This ad reminds me of Oliver Twist.
This ad reminds me of Oliver Twist.

As I wait for the results of my little sister’s ancestral DNA test — she took one for the team and ordered one from 23&Me — I have continued digging around for information on people who were involved in my father’s adoption.

Side note: She apparently had to spit in a tube for a full five minutes — a task her husband wasn’t too thrilled about, since she proceeded to do it at breakfast — and the sheer idea makes me laugh. Why in the world does 23&Me need THAT much DNA?

As usual, I haven’t had much luck on the adoption message boards. It’s tough out there, guys. There are so many “what if’s” — not only in my head, but in posts, too. I don’t know if my dad was actually born in Sioux City; he could have been brought to Sioux City for the adoption. That certainly was the case a lot of times in 1955 — because people were still actively trying to cover up pregnancies. Or his birth mom could have been sent to Sioux City from another state.

There are so many posts out there that would mirror mine, should I actually force one into coming to fruition. Things like:

“A Tulsa attorney did handle the adoption. He took over his dad’s practice, I was ward of the state for a few months and supposedly born in St. Johns Hospital.”

“Would like to find out if  birth date is real, also name of hospital and time of  birth. Would like to find birth parents only to gain medical history. Don’t desire to meet these people.”

“I am searching for my birth brother. My mother gave him up at birth and we have never seen him. I pray that we can find him because my grandmother is 94 and still living and that was her desire before she left this earth was to see him. My mother has died of cancer almost 5 years ago and its 6 other birth siblings that would love to know him.  I am an adopted mother of 3 and I really respect the wishes of anyone. If he doesn’t want to meet us I will respect that but I also would love to have the chance to meet him and especially do this for my grandmother.”

It sucks, plain and simple. I’m not sure how anyone comes to find answers — not when they’re not even sure if their birth date or even their place of birth is real. I can’t imagine going through life wondering if I am celebrating my birthday on the right day. What a surreal feeling that must be.

So given the lack of help the message boards have, been, I’ve been digging around for the stories behind the people who facilitated my father’s adoption instead.

So many indictments, but not one damn record of my father.
So many indictments, but not one damn record of my father.

More on Attorney Edward F. O’Brien

Remember Edward F. O’Brien — the attorney who facilitated my father’s adoption (I’ve mentioned him before)? He wasn’t just an adoption attorney for my grandparents. He was the Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County, which is pretty much the equivalent of being the Woodbury County Assistant District Attorney.

In fact, most counties — especially ones as small as Woodbury — don’t have both a County Attorney and a District Attorney. So while O’Brien wasn’t assisting my grandparents with their adoption of my father, he was defending Woodbury County in lawsuits and prosecuting crimes. Weird, right?

Right. But while I may find it odd, the fact that he had private clients on the side maybe not that weird. I asked my adoptive mom (I’m calling her that just for the purpose of clarity), who is a licensed attorney, if this crossover was shady. Her response:

“I’m pretty sure it’s okay in small towns like that for the county attorney to do civil stuff on the side.”

So it may not be that unusual. Still, I can’t find where O’Brien facilitated any other adoptions. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any, mind you. It just means that finding the facts about adoptions is pretty much the hardest task in the universe.

Still Curious About Carolyn Sollis’ Connection

As I’ve stated before, I believe Carolyn Sollis, who at the time of my father’s adoption worked for the State Board of Control in Des Moines, Iowa. Carolyn is the lady Mother Joseph mentioned was her “last hope” for finding a baby in the letter about my grandparents to Earl Ward, which was postmarked in late March 1955.

My father was supposedly born April 19, 1955 — which means the visit from Carolyn to Mother Joseph at the Covenant of the Good Shepherd must have been a fruitful one. Where else would my father have come from, other than Ms. Sollis? They’d exhausted options like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, presumably because of the religious constraints, but yet there my father was, three weeks later.

What’s interesting about the State Board of Control is this, which was found on a list of historical adoption agencies in Iowa:

1948/1947 – State Board of Social Welfare. No Address; coexists with the State Board of Control of State Institutions, Children’s Division State Capitol, which is the largest adoption agency in Iowa.

1965 – (Note the name change) State Department of Social Welfare, Division of Child Welfare, State Office Building: participates in intercountry adoptions, apparently coexists with the State Board of Control of State Institutions, Children’s Division.

Chicago is definitely a step up from Des Moines.
Chicago is definitely a step up from Des Moines.

So we know that the State Board of Control was the largest adoption agency in Iowa, and was facilitating intercountry adoptions — precisely what my grandparents would have had, considering they were from Fort Worth, Texas. That’s who Ms. Sollis worked for, and that’s probably where my dad came from.

But I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. While the State Board certainly facilitated private adoptions such as my father’s, so did the Florence Crittenton Home in Sioux City (you may have heard of that name; they were all over the nation), and Carolyn Sollis went to work for Crittenton shortly after 1955 in Chicago. Perhaps she had some sort of relationship with Crittenton at that time. After all, she transitioned into a pretty high-ranking position when she became the national field consultant for Crittenton.

It’s pretty impossible to tell which avenue is correct, though. My father may have been passed through the state, which would make Edward O’Brien’s involvement more interesting to me, or he may have been from Crittenton, which would make finding more information an easier process.

Crittenton has records — albeit not great ones, from what I hear — and adoptees are able to access them with, of course, a few hoops being jumped through. My father is supposed to be digging through boxes for me, so we’ll see if anything comes up.

Mother Mary Joseph is still interesting, too

Perhaps there isn’t anything to the whole state adoption thing, and my father came from Mother Joseph instead. After all, what I’ve found out over the last few days is that the Convent of the Good Shepherd also ran an orphanage and home for wayward and delinquent girls (man, I hate that term) in Iowa.

1944 – House of the Good Shepherd. Asbury Road, Dubuque, IA; A Catholic reformatory and protectory for 94 wayward girls, conducted by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.

Believe it or not, this is the tamest of the "Indian" propaganda.
Believe it or not, this is the tamest of the “Indian” propaganda.

The Catholic church being involved by way of Mother Joseph is also interesting because of the church’s involvement in the placement of Native American babies and children under the “Indian Adoption Project.” I’m putting that in quotations so there is no question as to whether I’m intentionally using the term Indian; it was just what the program was called back then.

To be fair to the Catholic Church, plenty of churches were involved in placing Native American children up for adoption from the late 1800’s on.

In the Southwest, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints took thousands of Navajo children to live in Mormon homes and work on Mormon farms, says the Indian Country Today Media Network, and the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations swept many more Indian youngsters into residential institutions they ran nationwide, from which some children were then fostered or adopted out.

So, really…take your pick. Crittenton, the state of Iowa, or the Catholic Church. Who knows, really. I mean, my dad obviously came from somewhere, but where is still a mystery.

I’ll continue to look into the others who were involved with my father’s adoption over the next week, mainly because there doesn’t seem like I have much of a choice otherwise, but I’ve resigned to banking on my sister’s genealogy report as the answer to this puzzle. Luck does not seem to be on my side.


Angelica Leicht

“As a former alt-weekly writer and editor, Angelica has plenty of experience in listicles and fighting the man. She now spends most of her time side-eying and listening to terrible pop music while plotting how to raise a little Texas-bred hell.”

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