Friday, August 3, 2012

Surname Saturday - Huffman

Today, I am coming out of the "genealogy closet". This is not easy for me. Today's blog post is the most personal thing I have ever written publicly. After years of working so hard on the Napolitano and Dewey families, I have met so many wonderful cousins and I hope this does not change anything for them. I was adopted. I was raised by a Napolitano and a Dewey and love them with all my heart and soul and they are the only parents I have ever known from the time I was a month old. All I am morally and ethically comes from them. My "adopted" family IS my family. But, I always felt different, because I was very different. My cousins all had dark eyes, dark hair and I was the tallest member of my family since the age of 11. I did not look like anyone with my blue eyes and blonde hair. I never quite fit in. There were always so many questions. But the biggest questions were who was I, where did I come from, why was I given up, what was I (ethnically) and did I have brothers and sisters somewhere. I was raised with such strong Italian roots I always wondered if I really was. Pictured here is The Chicago Foundling Home where I began my life. It is gone now, replaced by a parking lot for The United Center. About 3 years ago, I wrote for my non-identifying information which adoptees are entitled to by law. The information I received told me my birth father was 100% Italian and my birth mother was German and Irish and German and Dutch. She was 22 years old, a waitress and unmarried. Last year I took not one but 2 DNA tests after I learned the surname of my mother, Huffman. What I did not know was her first name. Last Saturday I received my original birth certificate. I now know her name. It did not take me long to find her as well as answers to some of my questions. She died in 2010. Her husband died in 2000. Her sisters also died so it is doubtful I will ever learn the true identity of my bio-father. Someone living may know, perhaps her best friend if she is living. But it is doubtful. Still, I have hope.

She came from a very small town in downstate Illinois called Rossville. My original birth certificate was very blurry but her name, place of birth, and age were very clear. Shirley Huffman, age 22, born in Rossville, Illinois. It was not hard to piece together parts of her life. Within a few hours, I learned some of her story. The birth certificate told me the first part. She had a child before I was born. She left the small town of Rossville and her 4 year old son and went over 100 miles to Chicago, when she was 3 months pregnant with me. She lived the next 6 months of her life in The Chicago Foundling Home (pictured above) until I was born. It must have been so difficult for her to leave the safety and security of her family, home and small town for a treacherous neighborhood in Chicago, all alone and pregnant. No home, just a bed in a room with other beds of other expectant mothers. I cannot imagine how hard it was for her to leave her young 4 year old son for 6 months. I can only assume after I was born she went back to Rossville. Back to her parents William Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Smith) Huffman and her 4 year old son. It took great courage to have and keep a child at the age of 18 back in 1954, and I can only assume that a second child (me) was too much to bear financially and socially. Her parents must have been quite unhappy about me. After reading the birth certificate, the first place I looked was the 1940 census where I found her living with her father, mother, 2 sisters Lorene and Betty and younger brother William. She was the only Shirley Huffman in Rossville in 1940 and her birth date matched perfect. Other searches revealed she married (Robert) Daniel Allison in 1963. What I found after that, I never expected. Shirley had diabetes. This disease caused her to go temporarily blind and destroyed her kidneys. Her grandson (who would have been my nephew) gave up a career in football to donate his kidney to her. This story was made into a movie by Showtime and starred Debbie Reynolds as Shirlee (Huffman) Allison. When I learned this I knew somewhere there would be a picture of her in a newspaper article. At last! I could see what I have wondered my entire life...what she looked like and did I look like her? The only picture I found pictured her wearing sunglasses so I could not see her eyes but what I did see revealed I do look like her. I did not expect the tears that followed. Next I rushed off to the library to rent the DVD of the movie. Watching the movie was so surreal not to mention emotional. I was quite surprised by some of the thoughts going through my head when I watched it. I probably noticed things in that movie that no one else would.

I learned this small town had a Historical and Genealogical Society that was only open a few hours on Tuesday and Saturday. So, a few days after I learned her name, I drove to Rossville. Once I finally arrived there, I found myself quite nervous and it occurred to me I had no idea how to handle this delicate situation. Shirlee was no longer alive but her son is and he still lives there. I did not want him to find out about me through gossip in the small town. I did not want to mention her name. I tried to get what I came for - the yearbooks. I wanted pictures and that was my only way of getting them. I tried but the woman who was working at the historical society had a book I needed that she would not let me look at. She was very nice, but I imagine she had the privacy rights of living people to consider. I had no choice but to reveal her name. After that she was able to pull the appropriate yearbooks and these revealed several pictures and more information. She was quite active in school and was in sports, a cheerleader, in choir and on student council. Each activity meant another picture. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind as I turned the pages of each book. I was told of a town genealogy book that was done and found the entry for her family. I was not able to focus properly. In just a few days, I was overwhelmed with so much information. I could have probably gotten so much more but I had a hard time processing everything. I will have to return for what I missed. I have written my (presumed half) brother and wait to see if he responds. When I was finished at the historical society, I went to the cemetery to pay my respects. Her parents and grandparents are buried there also. It was a very hot, sunny day but as I arrived I noticed a few clouds. I did not have the location of her grave so every time I got out of my car huge raindrops fell then stopped. Finally I saw her grave from my car and when I did it was raining (not hard, just those large rain drops) but the sun never stopped shining. As I got out of my car the rain stopped and as I stood in front of her grave, I saw a small portion of a rainbow in the sky. Overcome with emotion I never knew was there, I cried for a long time. After, I felt a peace I have never known before. This is the beginning of my journey to discover who I am and where I came from.

33 comments:

  1. Fantastic story, Cathy. I'll be there along the entire journey with you!

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  2. Can you feel me hugging you all the way from Seattle?

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  3. What a powerful post, Cathy! I wish you all the best in this journey.

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  4. I am so very happy for you! Thank you so much for sharing this fantastic story!

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  5. Fantastic! Such a happy ending, and what a journey to get there, too!

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  6. Beautiful story Cathy, thank you for sharing it with us.

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  7. Amazing story! It took a lot of courage to share such a personal journey. Thank you... It was an inspiration!

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  8. What a wonderful story, Cathy! You'll process the information soon enough. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  9. What a story, I cannot see why the lady at the library could not make a copy of the pages you needed and red act the living people. I absolutely love Family stories and I'd rank this one at the top. This story reminds me of a Genealogy I conducted for one of my bosses. I can't recall without looking but similar as to an ancestor being given his Daughter in Illinois. He was working for the railroad and traveled through there. I'm not saying it's the same but his name was James. I informed him that we could try DNA but he didn't want to pursue. Great story Cathy, I'll be pulling for you. : }

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    1. Thanks! When I found pictures in the yearbooks she did make copies for me. What she had was a sort of directory of everyone in town that she would not let me see. I perfectly understood her need to keep living people's information private. As it turned out, she knew my birth mother and went to school with her sister. I have done my DNA and cannot tell you how awesome it is to now be able to see the connections.

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  10. I loved your story. Thank you for sharing it. I have several adopted relatives, including my maternal grandfather whose story I uncovered after years of research, so I understand the need to discover your genetic roots. Your mother sounds like an amazing and brave woman and I think she would have been happy that you found her. And so proud of your courage.
    Ellen Jennings

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  11. Good luck. Your story is touching many.

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  12. Your story brings tears to my eyes. I admire you so much for sharing such tender part of your life with us.

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  13. What a moving story!!! Indeed you are to be admired for your courage and you willingness to share your very personal journey with your readers! I look forward to reading more. You have touched us all by telling this amazing story.

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  14. What a healing moment for you. In working on similar cases I know how important this information is for you. I will be praying that you find supportive members of this family to lend you support.

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  15. What a powerful post! I wish you the best in your journey, and hope that it continues to bring you peace, and blessings of love and family. The times were different then, and while many were blessed by being able to adopt, there were many who did not want to give up babies who did. I, too, admire your courage, not only for taking these steps, but for sharing your story in such a moving way!

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  16. How courageous on many fronts, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story. I hope it continues to unfold wonderfully before your very eyes! May you find family and connection~ again Thank you! I have Huffman in Southern Ohio and Kentucky, if you ever get that far let me know :D

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    1. Thanks! I have my Huffman line back to Virginia (before Barren County, Kentucky).

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  17. How wonderful! I wish you continued success in connecting with your brother. This is an amazing journey. I will enjoy reading on.

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  18. Thank you for sharing this amazing story. I am a Huffman also. My great-grandfather was William Huffman, a German in MO. The family also spent time in Indiana and Illinois. I will be following your story.

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    1. Thanks Connie! Your great grandfather was not William J Huffman, born about 1850 in Missouri, was he? If so, he was the brother of my great grandfather.

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    2. My William Huffman ( I don't know the middle name) was born in 1870, probably in MO. He had siblings, Tillman, Thomas, Henry, and Annie (and maybe more).His parents were Pernell and Mary Huffman. I'm not sure where they were born, I've seen MO and IN, but they are both buried in Maple Park Cemetery in Springfield, MO. I was hoping we were cousins!

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    3. We may be, but not as close as this. My great grandfather was also born in Missouri but his family must not have been there long. Shortly after his birth they went back to Barren County, Kentucky before going to Indiana then across the border to Illinois. If you have done your DNA, mine is on 23andme, FTDNA and Gedmatch. This website is awesome for Huffmans: http://huffman.so-ky.com/h2b/

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  19. I am also a Huffman from NY (real country of origin yet TBD), and was curious when I saw the name pop up on a friend's post. What a touching and moving account to solve your mystery. If you ever discover NY relatives, pls contact me! Good luck in your search and may you find continued peace as you move forward!

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  20. Cathy, I've had a lump in my throat as I've read this. This story has so many different characters in it - and it hits very close to home. My daughter lost custody of her children several years ago. We are very close to the family who adopted them, and rejoice each time we see them or talk to them.

    Someday, they may also want to know. Times are more open now than they were when you and I were born.

    But, I am preparing myself for the day when they, too, will ask. Hearing their story from their parents or from us will be so much different than the story they would hear from my daughter.

    Keep us on your journey with you!

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  21. What a beautiful and inspirational story Cathy! I know first hand as an adoptee given up at birth the internal turmoil we experience when deciding to search for our biological family and the fear we have that our adopted parents (our true family) will be hurt if we do search. There is just something missing inside us until we know and that can be hard to deal with growing up, despite the fact that we love the parents who raised us with all our heart. I am here for you in any way I can be throughout your journey going forward. Giant Hug!

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    1. This story would never been possible without you Jim! You know as well as I that without your knowledge of adoption laws and encouragement, I never would have had the courage I needed to go down this road. I am forever grateful for your help, guidance, encouragement and support. You have made me a better and more complete person.

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  22. Wow a Huffman in the mix. Very poignant story, wonder if distantly related. Congratulations on your find and here is hoping the brother will get in touch.

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  23. Cathy ~ An amazing and touching story. No matter how hard it is, it's wonderful finding what we are wishing to know, where we come from and our history and somehow, we are very ready for the truth and the story. I am so happy for you and I will be following your journey with hugs and lots of support.

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  24. I can really relate to your post. I am also adopted. I have always wondered about my birth family (mainly when I was sent to my room for something) and it is a persistant defining question in the lives of those of us who have been adopted. There is such a singularity about being adopted. You are part of a family but always different. Each year around my birthday I search some registry or do a little bit of research but over the years it has gotten perfunctory. This year for my 60th birthday I registered late one night with Archives.com. When I turned on my computer the next day I had all the information including pictures of my birth-mother all laid out. It was truly a life altering moment. Unfortunately both parents are dead but there are many relatives. I have contacted an Uncle and he denied any knowlege of me. But nice man that he is he listened and seemed a little shaken by the end of my call. I hope he will investigate further. I am trying to work up the courage to write my half sisters now. Did you have any luck with your brother? Good luck and may our journeys be rewarding.
    Maggie

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    1. Maggie, if I can do anything to help you, please let me know. My brother and I are very close now and I have a half sister too and I see them often. It has been a life altering experience for me. I was too late for my bio-parents as well but the family has been wonderful.

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