An Extreme Genealogy Search

This is a very lengthy closing report on what we call a “genealogy search” – meaning the adoption was from so long ago that we are looking only for information, not reunion. Sometimes people come to us with a mystery to solve instead of people to find. I am sharing this on the website to show just how complicated our cases can be, and to give insight into what we do at WARM to see a case resolved.  

Note: This is NOT a typical case and we usually would NOT go to such extremes. 

Client Joyce and main “found person” Jolee have given me permission to share. I am using only first names and last initials for those who signed a consent form or who are deceased. Anyone contacted who did not sign a consent form or give permission will remain anonymous. 

 – Valerie, office staff, sometimes CI 

_____________________________________________________________________________ 

Joyce called the WARM office in 2018 with one seemingly simple request: Find her father’s original birth certificate. She discovered late in life that he was adopted and had very little to go on – just his birth date, birth place, and the names of his adoptive parents. Fortunately this is usually enough information to get started.  

The one “official” document in Joyce’s possession was her dad’s baptismal certificate, which still seemed vague. No church or denomination was mentioned, only that her father (Robert) was born in Seattle on his stated birthdate in 1915 to his parents Carl and Olga E, and baptized three months later.   

I started as we always do, by asking for a certified statement of adoption from the Department of Health. They keep track of every birth in Washington state and if an adoption takes place anywhere after that, the original birth record is sealed and a new one is issued, amended to show the adoptive parents as the birth parents. That becomes the legal document. We only receive verification of the adoption, not the original birth certificate itself. That comes later with a court order.  

So, a “court search” goes: 

  1. Verify county and cause (pleading) number of adoption. 
  1. Petition the stated county for the sealed records to be released to WARM with a court order. 
  1. A WARM CI (confidential intermediary) searches for the people named in the records. 
  1. Consent is sought from the named person(s) or a family member if they are deceased.  
  1. If needed, get the original birth certificate from the Dept. of Health.  
  1. If needed and available, get the agency records.  
  1. If desired and helpful, confirm with DNA. 

But my inquiry came back: No record found. I spoke with Joyce again. Although her father was born in Seattle, he was raised in Chicago. Maybe the adoption was finalized there and somehow word never got back to Olympia? I tried contacting Illinois Vital Statistics but got nowhere. On a trip to the King county clerk’s office I carefully went through “the books” – the adoption index, which is on muddy microfilm for that time period. There was nothing relating to that birthdate, baptismal date, or anything close to the adoptive parents’ names all the way to 1920.  

Then I recalled that the Washington state birth index for 1907-1919 could be found online. The CI I had given the case to came up with a short list of all the baby boys born in Seattle on the date specified. This gives the full names of both parents, so it did not take long to rule out five of the six couples. I just looked them up in the 1920 census. There was only one couple no longer married or showing a five year old son living with either parent: George, born to Eric B and Helen T. By 1920 Eric was married to someone else and had another son, younger than Robert. I also found this younger son in the birth index listed to Eric and his second wife. But I could not find Helen T anywhere. This, unfortunately, would become a theme. 

The CI researched Eric B and discovered he was a chauffeur in Seattle. He and Helen had married very young in British Columbia. We never found a divorce, but he was married again by 1917 and she married again in Los Angeles in 1923.  

Because they were so young we surmised they married only long enough to have the baby, relinquish, and went their separate ways. But why wasn’t the adoption recorded?  

The CI asked that I take the case back and regroup since there was no court order or records to work with. Because I cannot resist a mystery, I took the case myself and started building a family tree for the adoptive and birth families on ancestry.com. The main mystery was how adoptive parents Carl and Olga in Chicago came across baby Robert in Seattle in the first place. In my investigation I discovered they married seven months after Robert was born. So how old was he when he came to live with them and where was Robert living until then? And with who?  

The 1920 census shows Carl, Olga, and 1-1/2 year old Robert living in Chicago. Wait, I thought. That must be a mistakeRobert was five by the time this census was taken. Then I looked at the 1930 and 1940 census for the E family and they all showed the same thing – that Robert was estimated to have been born in 1918, not 1915. Was this part of a cover-up because the adoption wasn’t finalized? How far would they take this?  

I looked deeper into the adoptive family. On Carl’s WWI draft card was written: Moving from <address> in Chicago to <address> in Seattle, September 10, 1918. I pondered that. If they got Robert from Seattle and brought him home to Chicago in time for the 1920 census, how long were they in Washington? Did they only “move” here to collect a child then leave again? Was Robert actually three years old when he went to live with them? Is that why his age is wrong on the census – because that’s how long they had him, not his actual age? Is this also the reason why there was no adoption – because the birth mother Helen could not be located to sign the relinquishment papers? Then who had the child? Where was he living? Who informed Carl and Olga he even existed?  

Carl E was a house painter and a child of Swedish immigrants, married to another child of Swedish immigrants. Back then, when a woman in Sweden had a child out of wedlock she simply kept and raised the child herself. But an infertile couple had little chance of adopting because that was simply not done there as it is here. There were few adoptable children available. They might raise a relative if need be, but adoption as we know it was “American” and foreign to them. This mindset spilled over to Swedish immigrants as well. The extended E family was small and had no orphans. So if Carl and Olga wanted a child they would have to find one the American way.  

To make sense of this, I tried to find Carl E in the Seattle city directory between 1915 and 1920, but to no avail. So if he did move to Seattle as stated on the WWI draft card he didn’t stay long. I wanted to look up the address in the Crown Heights neighborhood he was supposedly moving to, but the city directories did not have that feature then. I googled the address instead, having no idea if or how that would help. I found the house was built in 1916, had been sold a few years ago, and was previously owned by one Arthur S, who was now deceased.  

On a hunch, I looked up the S family in the 1918 Seattle city directory. And there they were, at the same house. The name was Swedish. And Mr. S (Arthur’s father) was <drum roll> a house painter! So he must have been friends with Carl E and that’s how Carl and Olga came to Seattle – not to live here permanently, but to pick up a child to take home with them.  

(If that sounds cold, application forms for Children’s Home Society at that time had the option of having a child delivered via boat or train and asked the prospective adoptive parent which method they preferred. I saw the records for one where the would-be father wrote he wanted to surprise his wife with a baby for Christmas, and that “it” wouldn’t need to be delivered – he would pick it up himself when he came through town. And he did.) 

I reasoned the S family fostered Robert in the interim, between when he lived with his birth parents and his adoptive parents. But why did they have him? How long did he live there? How did the S family know Helen or Eric? 

I located a granddaughter of Mr. S living in Florida. Although she was fascinated by the story, she could offer no insight. Her parents had divorced when she was small and although she had been named for her grandmother, she barely knew her grandparents. So that was a dead end. 

Eric B was born in England and came to Seattle as an adult. He was a chauffeur. There was no connection I could see to the S family. Helen T was one of eight children, all born in Iowa, who came to Seattle in 1907. They were mainly Irish. The E and S families were Swedish. 

And then I found it: Helen’s father was a house painter. For a time, so were her brothers and even her brothers-in-law. That had to be it. Helen gave her son to the S family after she divorced Eric because she knew them through her father, but – possibly because they already had three young sons in a small house – the S family gave Robert to their childless friends Carl and Olga E, who then took him back to their home in Chicago. Maybe the S family gave Robert to their friends without Helen’s consent or knowledge. Or perhaps she just couldn’t be found at that point – she seemed to travel between Seattle, British Columbia, and Los Angeles often.  

I ordered Robert’s birth certificate since we knew his original name (George) and the names of his birth parents (Helen and Eric). No court order was needed because he wasn’t adopted.  

I figured we were done. I just wanted our client Joyce to do one more thing: A DNA test. This would be the final confirmation of everything we had found.  

That’s when the case blew up for the second time.  

PART 2

Joyce’s DNA matches made no sense. They were connecting to people I never heard of. I started building yet another tree based on Joyce’s closest DNA matches. There was a strong link to the C family in Seattle and, to a lesser degree, the F family in Missouri. It had nothing to do with the B or T families. I started over again from scratch. It led me back to the exact same place. 

Joyce should show as a biological relative of Eric B’s younger son. So to prove or disprove this, I found one of Eric’s granddaughters. When I explained I was a professional genealogist who worked for WARM, she asked if I was calling about her brother. I said no, I didn’t know anything about her brother. She said she had been looking for her brother for years. I said if she wanted WARM’s help, to contact the office anytime. She did not know her grandfather had been married before or had another son and, although she was intrigued, she was not ready to do a DNA test.  

Because Eric B was from England and “George” was supposedly baptized as a baby before being adopted, I figured where the closest Episcopal churches were to Pioneer Square in Seattle in 1915. (Episcopal is the US equivalent to England’s Anglican church.) The oldest and closest was St. Paul’s. The pastor there was sympathetic but regretfully informed me the church records were lost in a fire in 1930.  

I went back to where I first found Helen T’s family, in the 1900 census in Iowa. Helen wasn’t on it. I had decided at the time it was just a mistake – that the census taker asked the neighbors about the T children and missed one – but now looking at it critically, I realized that made no sense. The 1900 and 1910 censuses were extremely detailed. They listed the month and year of birth instead of just the age, the number of years the parents were married, the number of children the mother birthed, and the number of children who survived. Comparing the 1900 and 1910 census, I knew one could not be factual. In 1900, five children are accounted for. In 1910, there were eight. Helen should have been listed in both. Her mother reported in 1900 to have had five children in total, both living and dead. In 1910 she reportedly had eight, but only two children were born after 1900, so one census could not be correct.  

I then contacted someone who had a lot of information on the T family at ancestry.com. Jolee is a great-niece of Helen T. But she had no DNA match with Joyce, who should have been her 2nd cousin. I asked her about her family. “Is it possible there was an adoption, either coming or going?” Jolee said no, none that she was aware of. Her great-grandmother Mary (Helen’s mother) loved children, that’s why she had one every two years. I pointed out the gap where Helen should have been on the 1900 census. Jolee had no explanation. Thankfully, although she did not believe Helen was adopted, she was willing to keep an open mind. She also shared some wonderful old photos of the family. 

I searched further out and discovered Helen’s mother’s closest brother and sister both either formally or informally adopted children just after the turn of the century, the same time period I figured Helen was brought into the T family. I even found proof of one of the adoptions in the Pierce county (Tacoma) adoption index. This brother and sister (Helen’s uncle and aunt) also moved to Washington state around the same time as their sister, Mary. So there was definitely adoption known in the family.  

There was nothing about the C family in Seattle that had the same a-ha! moment like the T family did. But the C’s were the closest DNA matches to Joyce, and they were in Seattle, so at least that part made sense. They did not live anywhere near the T, B, or even the S families, and they were not house painters or chauffeurs. I finally stopped checking on ancestry.com and instead turned back to the old city directories, which is a sort of glorified phone book that also lists professions. 

That’s where I discovered Joe C. Although he did not show up in any family tree on ancestry and his people were not listed as DNA matches to Joyce, he had the same last name, lived in Pioneer Square where Eric and Helen also lived during their brief marriage, and – he was a chauffeur.  

PART 3

I asked our DNA consultant (John) his opinion on the C family: Was it possible one of the three C brothers (whose descendants DNA match to Joyce) was her grandfather? John said no, the number of centimorgans between Joyce and her closest C matches ruled that out. She was a possible 2nd cousin at best. If one of the C brothers was her grandfather, she would be a 1st cousin. But he agreed that Joe C was a strong possibility even though we did not have DNA proof. 

I suggested to Jolee that Eric married Helen to save her honor, knowing she was pregnant with Joe’s baby. Jolee pointed out Helen had the baby exactly nine months after her wedding so it was not probable. I hate it when Jolee’s right. 

Still, I built a satellite branch for Joe C in the family tree I created. His immediate family was smaller than the C family in Joyce’s DNA matches, but the origin of the name was the same: Austria. I learned Joe C was a driver, then a soldier in WWI, but the dates didn’t line up as I expected. He wasn’t listed in the Seattle city directory until 1917. He married in early 1918. If he fathered Robert why couldn’t I find him in Seattle in 1914 or 1915? And why didn’t he marry Helen? Did Helen and Eric think “George” was Eric’s child and figured out he was Joe’s when it was too late? But if that was true, why didn’t Helen and Joe marry later? Joe would go on to wed and divorce twice and had no other children I could find. Helen married and divorced two more times but had no more children and did not raise her son George/Robert. There had to be more to the story. 

I located Joe C’s niece, his closest living relative. She was very pleasant when I explained why I was calling, but insisted her uncle never married and had no children. (I did not tell her what I had found.) She said he died before she was born, from complications of mustard gas poisoning during WWI. Although she found my theory interesting, she just didn’t care enough to do a DNA test. I can only hope someday either she or one of her adult children will.  

I bit the bullet and purchased a year’s subscription to Genealogy Bank. (Similar to newspapers.com.) The previous CI found a good newspaper article on Eric B using it and I hoped for more of the same. And did I ever get it. Let’s just say the C and T families were “colorful,” in both comedic and tragic ways. Numerous local newspaper articles mentioned them for one reason or another, and there were also marriage and divorce notices I couldn’t find using ancestry. For example, I found that Mr. and Mrs. T divorced in 1912. Then there were tragic stories: Helen and her closest sister Iris died within one day of each other when they were only in their thirties, from some “prolonged illness.” The article did not list any children for either.  

One more intriguing tidbit was finding both Joe C and Iris T being arrested for bootlegging, in the same week, at the same hotel, in 1922. This supported my theory that Joe C did know the T family, specifically Helen. But it also compelled me look more closely at Iris. To my surprise I also found her in the birth index as the mother of a daughter born in 1916. She was not married to the listed father. She did marry several years later to someone else. As far as I could tell, none of these three ever had another child and the single marriage between two of them didn’t last.  

PART 4

The next time I was at the King county courthouse, I checked the adoption index for the T surname between 1910 and 1930. I found only one: For Iris’s daughter, Margaret. Hoping to glean information on Robert, I requested the adoption records for Margaret. They would have been just a year apart in age. Helen and Iris appeared to be very close. Maybe they relinquished for the same reason.  

Meanwhile, DNA consultant John determined the most probable maternal grandfather to Joyce was William from the F family in Missouri. Now I really dove into the vortex, connecting with Joyce’s closest DNA matches on that side. They willingly shared what information they had, for which I am grateful, but they had no idea who Helen T’s biological mother could have been, or – if there was a child born out of wedlock – how she came to be born in Iowa instead of Missouri. 

The T family moved quite a bit but according to everything I could find, all eight children were born in Iowa, including Helen. I wrote to Johnson county Iowa, where the births took place, asking if they could verify that Helen was adopted. And if so, tell me how to proceed getting the records released to us. A clerk there went above and beyond. He checked their version of the adoption index but found nothing showing the T’s being adoptive parents, ever. He then suggested trying neighboring Benton county Iowa, since the T’s had lived there as well, and adoptions are usually finalized where the adoptive parents live, not where the adoptee is born. Feeling hopeful, I wrote to Benton county the same way I wrote to Johnson, but instead of answering my questions I got word back by letter and email saying, “The judge won’t touch this with a ten-foot pole.” (paraphrased) I emailed in reply, asking why can’t they just tell me if there was an adoption without revealing any identifying details? (They just don’t.) Then how does anyone request records to be opened? (With a court order.) A court order? Fine. I can do that.  

I sent a “blind petition”, meaning the court staff fills in the cause/pleading number after locating the records. It was sent back untouched, saying they did not recognize WARM as having the authority to make such a request. It had to come from a family member.  

I did it over, taking out all reference to WARM and asked Jolee (a bona fide relative of the T family) to send it in. The entire packet was sent back to her as well, saying only the adoptee or birth parent could request sealed records. The adoptee in this case died in 1935. The powers that be didn’t care. 

The court order in Seattle for the adoption of Iris T’s daughter was, on the other hand, signed and the sealed file released to us. Margaret appeared to have had an open adoption, before there was even a term for it. Iris relinquished her daughter to an older couple she knew when Margaret was still an infant. I researched this new adopted surname and soon found the adoptee’s daughter, Marjorie.  

PART 5

Marjorie was lovely and very happy to take my call. She said her mother knew her birth mother Iris. The story was that Iris had a promising career as a dancer but when she fell pregnant by the son of a prominent Seattle family, they looked down on her and would not allow marriage. So Iris’s own mother (Mary T) encouraged her to relinquish the child.  

I thought that sounded a little too “nice” to be accurate but did not disagree. Marjorie said she was told Iris died when Margaret was a teen – from pleurisy. Marjorie always wanted to get the death certificate but didn’t have Iris’s married surname. I provided her with that now with the promise she would scan the death certificate to me.  

Marjorie signed a consent form and she and Jolee reunited by phone. They had seen one another in their DNA matches but did not know who the other was or how they were related until now. 

A few weeks later, Marjorie scanned a copy of her grandmother’s death certificate to the WARM office. Cause of death: Tuberculosis. Date of onset: 1916. Secondary cause of death: Addiction to laudanum, a tincture of opium often given to sufferers of TB at that time.  

Pleurisy. A cover story for tuberculosis? TB was considered “dirty” then and there was no cure, only various treatments, mainly fresh air and sunshine in sanitariums. I thought about the date – 1916, the same year Margaret was born and the same year Helen and Iris’s younger sister and Margaret’s namesake died in Los Angeles. That had been the first mention of Los Angeles for the T family. This sister was only a teen when she died. Was it from TB? Was she taken to sunny California for her health? Was she “patient zero” for the T family? I asked Jolee to look into it but the records are so old it remains a mystery.  

While researching Iris (to hopefully know more about Helen and thus get answers about Robert)(I occasionally reminded myself the point was to find proof of Robert’s birth and adoption) I broadened my search to include all eight of the T siblings. Going back and forth between ancestry.com, digital archives, city directories, and Genealogy Bank, I found that at one point in the early 1920s, two of the adult siblings lived on the same street in Seattle. And their mother Mary with her new husband did as well. Pulling up the 1920 census with the correct surname for the former Mrs. T, I learned she and her husband had living with them a grandchild – George B – who was five. I read that again. I zoomed in on the image, looking for the evidence to show this was a mistake, that it was his grandson, not hers. The more I looked, the clearer it became.  

“How can George be in Seattle in 1920 when he’s already Robert in Chicago?!” I raged at my computer screen. I could not believe I was back at the beginning again. How could there be two of them? Was one a replacement child? Was Robert really George and when he disappeared, was another child brought in? And once again: Where was Helen?  

PART 6

Resentfully, I began to look for more proof of George B. Previously when I did a cursory search just to rule him out, I found another man with the same name but different age living in Seattle, and a death notice of someone by that name and correct age in Los Angeles in 1923. I figured both were wrong because George = Robert. Now I looked into the young George who died in 1923.  

If you recall, Helen T married again in Los Angeles in 1923. And her sister Margaret died there in 1916. Also, Helen’s mother and one brother and sister lived there off and on for years. So they did have a strong connection to the area. But as much as I tried to find an obituary, I came up empty.  

After discovering George was living with his grandmother in 1920 in Seattle, I used Genealogy Bank to check for more possible hits using the correct surnames. I found in 1922 that the small cottage he and his grandparents lived in burned to the ground. George was at school and his step-grandfather was at work. No mention was made about how the fire started, but Mary suffered burns trying to retrieve a trunk full of personal belongings, even running back into the flames after escaping a first time.  

It is possible that after losing their home and she had recovered well enough, Mary moved to Los Angeles where she had lived before and several of her grown children currently resided. A few months later, Helen (who was apparently living there as well) married a local man. Two months after that, Helen’s eight-year-old son George died. I lost track of Helen again until 1927 that showed her married to someone else. 

I asked Jolee to get the California death certificate for George B. When it came back we learned George died by falling from a tree. There were misspellings and the birthdate was one day off (probably because one of Helen’s brothers was the informant) but it was definitely the son of Eric B and Helen T.  

How sure was Joyce of her dad’s birthdate? The sketchy baptismal certificate was all she had to go on. The same date was used for his military records and his death certificate, but those were also based on the baptismal certificate that stood in for a proper birth certificate. Determined to see this through, I researched the certificate itself. First, the form was printed in Chicago, not Seattle. I already mentioned the inconsistencies between Robert’s date of birth and when his adopted parents were married. No church or denomination was mentioned. I looked up the officiant: Rev. N, a well-known pastor of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church (in America), which Carl and Olga E lived near in 1940. Reverend N never lived in Seattle and this particular protestant denomination did not perform child baptisms.  

New theory: Robert wanted to join the military as a youth, but that required documentation of birth. This may have been either when Robert discovered he was adopted, or discovered that there was no legal adoption. Either way, he could not enlist. Many young men came to the draft board with their mothers and a delayed birth certificate in the early 1940s. But to get a delayed birth certificate, they needed some kind of proof, and if not written proof, then witnesses. Since Olga did not give birth to Robert, there was no way to get a delayed birth certificate. And since there was no legal adoption, there was no adoption decree. They must have gone to Reverend N in desperation and somehow convinced him to fill out a bogus baptismal certificate in lieu of a delayed birth certificate, or convinced him all this was true but they couldn’t prove it. Either way he took mercy on them and did it. With this, Robert E entered the military and served his county. But George’s birthdate became his.  

New mystery: If Robert did not know he was adopted, how did he know his half-brother’s birthdate? That just didn’t hold up. New theory: As with Iris’s child Margaret, the entire T family knew about Robert, the son of Helen T and Joe C. But unlike Margaret, there was no legal adoption.   

PART 7

Another hint supporting this theory was something else I found in the 1920 census: Helen’s eldest sister and her husband lived in Chicago, just one mile from Carl, Olga, and Robert. They appear to have lived there for just one or two years before moving permanently to California. Was that part of the deal, that they would keep an eye on Helen’s little boy for a trial period?  

I looked into Joe C further. I tried to request his military record to check the veracity of his niece’s claim he was poisoned by mustard gas, but received a reply that those records had been lost/destroyed. I tried to research the two women he briefly married and came up with nothing. Finally I requested his death certificate. And Helen’s. They died within a year of each other when they were only in their thirties. I wanted to know why. 

I also attempted to trace Robert through school records/photos in Chicago. That ended up fruitless. Neither the church school nor the larger public school yielded any records on him. Except for the census records, I still can find no proof of him anywhere prior to his entering the military in 1942.  

In my last possible effort to find Robert’s true birthday, I had Joyce send an inquiry to the British Columbia Vital Statistics, just in case Robert was born while Helen was on one of her trips. That would explain why we couldn’t find a birth record for him anywhere in Washington or California. It would also explain why they couldn’t easily get a new birth certificate for him, because it would mean crossing the border. But alas, after two attempts, they called to say they looked extensively and found no record.  

When I looked Robert up as an adult, I discovered that although he used the wrong birthdate officially, when he married for a second time, he gave his age as forty-four instead of forty-eight, which would have him born in 1918, not 1915. This was the one and only time he passively admitted his official birthdate was faked. 

Both Joe C and Helen T’s death certificates arrived. Helen died of tuberculosis, like her sister Iris. Joe died one year later of “alcoholic psychosis” in a veteran’s hospital. TB is connected to and made worse by alcoholism. The doctor who treated Joe has seen him for all of seven days. No underlying causes of death were included. This makes me wonder if he did have TB as well – they just didn’t bother reporting it or they didn’t know. And “mustard gas poisoning” sounds a lot better than alcoholism exacerbated by tuberculosis, so I understand why Joe’s niece was told that by her family. 

I created a timeline, combining all major events for the T, C, B, E, S, and F families from 1900 to 1942. What struck me was how chaotic things were between 1910 and 1920. Another case I was working on at the same time was also from that time period. The adoptive parents in that case divorced when the adoptee was only two. There was a record-breaking number of divorces that day in Seattle – so unusual it made the paper. This unfortunate adoptee had been abandoned by her birth mother (but kept her son, the adoptee’s brother), then abandoned again by her adoptive mother, who, I believe, took the toddler to California, posed as the birth mother, and gave her up for adoption all over again. It seemed there was a form of contagious insanity taking over: Multiple marriages with or without divorce, baby swapping, early death, transient lifestyles, crimes both petty and serious, suicide pacts, drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness all seemed to run rampant.  

After considerable digging and putting all of Joyce’s DNA matches (up through 4th cousins) into groups, I found for Helen T’s maternal side a faint trace to the M family, which William F was related to through marriage. Helen was born a few years into William F’s marriage but was not a child of his young wife. Since our DNA consultant John is certain William was Helen’s father, it is most likely the mother was from the same area in Missouri. I can only surmise that Helen’s birth mother was related to the M family somehow, became pregnant by this married man, and was either forced to or ran away to Iowa to give birth. When the child (Helen) was between four and nine years old she was adopted into the T family. She may have been in an orphanage. The mother may have somehow known Mary T. Mary loved children and took in two grandchildren besides raising eight of her own. Her closest sister and brother adopted children between 1900 and 1905. Maybe she just wanted to fill that gap where there “should have been” another child, so requested one of that age who ended up being Helen. It was possible to make such requests then.  

It is also possible Mary was desperate and determined to save that trunk from the fire at her house because it held irreplaceable photos and documents. As the family matriarch, she would have kept such things in her possession. Maybe it even held a birth certificate for Robert that was never filed. Unfortunately we’ll never know. 

I researched mother-baby homes and orphanages in both Johnson and Benton, Iowa counties that were in operation at the beginning of the twentieth century. One in particular looked promising, but although several people at the historical library that housed the records were sympathetic, they found nothing that tied Helen’s birth date or her adoptive parents to them. 

FINAL

My final hypothesis: George was born to Eric B and Helen T in Seattle in 1915. In 1916, Iris and Helen’s sister Margaret died of TB in Los Angeles. Both Helen and Iris contracted the disease at that time. Helen and Eric divorced, either for that reason or for another. Mary T took in her grandson George since Eric married someone else and Helen couldn’t keep him. Iris had a baby in 1916 and relinquished her to friends. Helen had a baby in 1918 with Joe C and sent him to live with the S family. Either Helen or Mr. and Mrs. S decided to give the child to Carl and Olga E. They came for him in September of 1918 intending to stay, but instead took him back to Chicago. Around that same time, Helen’s eldest sister and her husband moved to Chicago for a short time to temporarily watch over their nephew.  

Fast forward to 1942. Robert wants to join the military but has no birth certificate. Carl and Olga, possibly with the blessing and help of the surviving T family, have Robert take his deceased half-brother’s date and place of birth as his own because it was documented. Robert lost his biological brother in 1923, his mother in 1935, and his father in 1936 – all by the time he was eighteen. Without his natural mother there was no one to prove where or when he was born. And possibly because of the fire, there was no documentation. Even the church where George (and possibly also Robert) were baptized lost their records in a fire. So this bizarre case of identity theft was created out of desperation and a desire to serve one’s country. 

I believe the adoption itself was done out of love. Both Helen and Iris would eventually die from tuberculosis. They saw their younger sister die of it. Helen gave her son George to her mother so keep him safe. Then when she had Robert she followed her favorite sister’s lead and gave the baby to trusted family friends.  

In 1923, Helen took a chance on love again and remarried, only to lose her little boy in an accident two months later. (This husband and the next never had children, either. I think it was a deliberate decision.) I can find no evidence that Helen ever saw Robert again, at least not in person, which is tragic enough.  

I found one more thing using Genealogy Bank: Helen was married four times, not three. She married for the first time when she was only fifteen and was divorced when she married Eric. It made the paper when she asked for a divorce from her final husband. The newspaper had a field day with the fact that this young woman – in court for her fourth divorce – could not remember the name of her third husband. 

“It doesn’t make much difference. He was a Scotsman I met during the war and I only lived with him a short time.”  

It must have seemed hilarious to readers that this woman could so glibly forget the name of a spouse –casting on or off husbands as if she was changing clothes. When I found the article I could scarcely believe Helen had been married and divorced twice as a teenager. Not recalling her third spouse’s name paled in comparison. But then I put it into context:  

She had tuberculosis. She watched her younger sister die from it. She knew she would eventually die from it unless something else got her first. She had to relinquish her two children because of it. When she married that third husband she must have been happy her older son was now at least within reach. Then two months later he was dead. She restlessly travelled back and forth between California, Washington, and British Columbia, possibly in and out of sanitariums – never really settling anywhere. Unable to work because of the disease she carried. Unable or unwilling to marry anyone who may have wanted children. When she filed for divorce for the last time it was nine months after losing her youngest sister to suicide. Taking all of that into consideration, it is understandable if the name of a man who was her husband for a few short months while she was grieving her child “slipped her mind.” 

One last thought: Besides the constant specter of tuberculosis, the year Robert was born (1918) the US was in the midst of WWI and at the onset of the Spanish Flu pandemic. When Carl and Olga arrived in Seattle, the flu was just starting to be recognized as sudden and deadly. Both Chicago and Seattle ramped up restrictions on what we now call social distancing. But because Chicago was hit with the virus before Seattle, the disease waned earlier there also. When WWI ended on November 11th, 1918, mass celebrations erupted in major cities all over America. The pandemic was temporarily forgotten. This caused the virus to spread yet again. But because the peak had reached Chicago already in October (and possibly not until December in Seattle) I have to wonder if this is what made Carl and Olga decide it was safer to go home rather than remain in Seattle as stated on his WWI draft card. If they left without warning, it could be Helen never had the chance to properly sign relinquishment papers before they disappeared. Or perhaps she was out of the state again, seeking relief from her condition. All of this is speculation and I’m sure there are even more possible scenarios, but this makes the most sense to me considering the trail left by both families.  

I never found Robert’s birth records or even his true birthdate. The closest I can come to a guess (if the census records are taken as accurate) is that he was born in mid-April 1918. And there is no trace of any record to prove this or his adoption. But I believe I did uncover the reason why Robert was adopted in the first place.  

I also uncovered five more adoptions and resolved two. 

Three 2nd cousins have been reunited. 

And our client Joyce has answers to questions she didn’t know she had. 

— Valerie

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