A Brief History of Operation
by Barbara Free
did Operation Identity come about? How did it get such a name? Whats
the real purpose of O. I.? And why are we still here after twenty-five years,
when many other adoption support groups have gone out of existence?
In March of 1979, a woman named Pam Bell, who
had searched for birth family, put an ad in the Albuquerque Journal: If
anyone is interested in search for reunion, please come to..., and
gave an address. She expected perhaps 10 or 12, and fixed coffee and cookies
accordingly. In the end, over 60 people showed up. They decided to meet again,
and out of that, O.I. was started. The first official O.I. meeting was held
May 24, 1979. Part of the minutes read as follows:
We had 34 in attendance and 16 joined that
evening. Our memberships are $15 and they are family memberships. The corporation
papers are being prepared, as is the non-profit status. Pam Bell was elected
President Sally File Vice-President, Pat Intermot Secretary-Treasurer. Reaction
from the group was great. We have a search committee, a legislative committee,
and a newsletter committee, as a start. We will meet once a month, with a
board meeting prior to the general meeting. The board will consist of the
officers, chair-people, and interested members. Pam, Sally, and Pat met wit
New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici while in Washington, D.C., for the American
Adoption Congress. We discussed the issue of open records for adult adoptees,
and sent him a follow-up letter. We were unable to meet with Senator Harrison
Schmitt and in place sent him a letter on the issue. Operation Identity wants
to help the movement in any way it can and stands ready to help.
About the name: Sally File made it up after
seeing a notice on television about a group called Operation Identification,
which worked to fingerprint children to prevent kidnaping, and she thought,
Well, were looking for our identities as adults. Unfortunately,
the woman heading the other group was also named File, and there were lots
of mix-ups for quite a while.
O.I. has been part of the American Adoption
Congress since its inception. As those minutes stated, Pam, Pat, and Sally
went to the AAC Conference in Washington, D.C. in 1979, and actively pushed
for open records. Sally can tell the story of going to Pete Domenicis
office, suitcases in hand, between the conference and the airport.
O.I. has always been an advocacy organization
for openness and honesty in all facets of adoption, and remains so. Any
individual member can be as active, or not, as they desire, of course. After
twenty-five years, there is still a great need for that activism and for
legislative changes across the country and in New Mexico.
Sally and others were instrumental in getting
New Mexicos laws changed to put in place the current confidential
intermediary system, whereby adult adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents
can search, through a trained and court-appointed intermediary, for their
family, without having to declare a medical or other just cause,
and in making it legal and relatively simple to search in this state. Yet,
as far back as the minutes of the January 1981 meeting, we read that Les
Houston had phoned Pam Bell and said that he wanted to hear from our
group. As you know, we still dont have open records, and even
those states which have changed their laws in recent years do not have open
records for birth parents.
In those days, of course, there was no Internet,
no easily accessible computer data bases. Searching was done through telephone
directories, city directories, high school yearbooks, MVD records, newspaper
records, microfiche records and libraries, lettersanything searchers
could find, and sometimes they had to be rather surreptitious. Linda Davis
reported that her sons assignments were to bring back a phone book
whenever they traveled to another city. Even now, searchers sometimes hit
a brick wall and have to be very creative to find someone. Sally and others
have completed literally thousands of searches in these twenty-five years,
and theyre still at it. Although some searchers have long since ceased
being active in this endeavor, Sally and Leonie Boehmer continue. Leonie
searches in the German-speaking countries, and could write a whole separate
book about her adventures. (In fact, she has written a brief booklet about
the methodology of searching in Germany and other German-speaking
In that same January 1991 meeting, we read:
Sally reported an ad had been placed in 17 major newspapers across
the country stating that anyone who was interested in search could write
to a Post Office Box in Stillwater, OK. The lady who placed the ad got 63
replies to American in Search, felt overwhelmed at the response, and promptly
mailed them all to Sally to take care of. Sally and several of our members
will get all the inquiries answered before our next meeting. At that
time, the group did a lot of brainstorming and helping each other search.
Now, O.I., as a group, does not conduct searches, but is a support group
for all triad members and their families, and encourages those who are
contemplating search, are searching, or who are reunited.
Members offer suggestions to aid in search
or in building reunion relationships, but do not conduct therapy in any way.
We always emphasize this at our meetings, but still were sometimes
misunderstood as a place to go get your search done, or as group therapy.
Because search and reunion were so controversial
in the early days, O.I. was incorporated in 1981 as a non-profit organization
to protect it from lawsuits and to establish itself as a legitimate organization.
Therefore, unlike many support groups, we have officers and a Board of Directors.
In that same meeting, its reported that Judy Perry, Margaret
Bailey, Linda Davis, and Sally File volunteered to be on the committee for
Nominating Officers, in hopes that they each would keep from being railroaded
into an office that they didnt want. In perusing these old minutes,
letters, and other materials, it becomes clear that O.I. has always advocated
for improvements in state and federal laws. Weve always exchanged
newsletters with other groups across the country and helped other groups
in their efforts.
At the AAC conference in Kansas City this past
spring, photograph albums of all the years of AAC showed many pictures of
Sally, Leonie, and of Bill Gage, as well as other O.I. members who attended
past AAC conferences. For those of you who dont know him, Bill does
the wonderful job of putting our newsletter together, laying out the text
and graphics, and doing such a professional-looking job.
As some of you know, O.I. was represented at
this yearss conference by four peopleAnn Massman, Nancy Parkhill,
Jay Johnson, and myself. In January of 2000, O.I. hosted the Southwest Regional
AAC Conference, the last regional conference held to date. They had previously
hosted it in 1984. Its a huge job for such a small group, and it was
a great success, with many persons who first presented at our 2000 conference
going on to become frequent AAC speakers, authors, and film makers.
Another organization that facilitates reunions
is the International Soundex Reunion Registry in Carson City, NV, which was
started by Emma May Villardi (now deceased). Each year at the AAC Conference,
someone is presented with the Emma Villardi Award for their service to the
cause of openness in adoption. Sally File was one of the first recipients
of the award.
Over the years, O.I. has put together birthday
books, cookbooks, pins, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other items for
fund-raisers, and had only raised the dues once, in 1984, from $15.00 a year
to $20.00. That was 20 years ago! Weve discussed raising them several
times since then, but havent so far. At this time, we are planning
a yard sale fund-raiser September 25th and were open to any and all
suggestions and donations.
O.I. used to have informal rap
sessions in between the monthly meetings. Now, we have a couple of
social events a year, such as the Holiday Potluck, Birth Mothers Day
Potluck, and this picnic. Maybe its time to revive those discussion
groups. Today, many people assume that searches are conducted easily by anyone
with a computerwhich isnt truebut even if it were, there
is no substitute for a live group of people who care, and who can share their
Among the records of O.I., there is a large
folder of poems and essays written by members in the early years. Some are
handwritten, lighthearted verses about Sally File. Heres a sample:
Our good friend is named Sally
Shes traveled many a mile
In search of a parent whos lost or just errant
And she does it with such charm and style.
Sally File is a really good friend
Her services shes willing to lend
If youre a searching adoptee
Its certain shell be a help to you right to the end
This woman is named Sally File
Shes a cookie with lots of great style
The changes shes wrought on the people shes sought
Take a while, Sally File
This woman is named Sally File
Shes a cookie with lot of great style
The changes shes wrought on the people shes sought
Make a list much to long to compile
Les, we all think you really are grand
You always give all that you can
Our group changed your life
Since we took over your wife
But beside every great womans a great man!
Well, it never won a Pulitzer Prize, but it
shows how much people thought of Sally, and it sounds like they had fun writing.
Not everything about O.I. is serious!
Were reviving our Legislative Committee
and trying to get more visibility in newspapers and television. We are
participating in the Annual Registration Day on October 2nd, and well
be sponsoring a one-day conference on November 13th. Our newsletter is published
four times a year and sometimes articles get reprinted in other newsletters.
We still meet every fourth Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in the Sandia Room at Kaseman
Presbyterian Hospital, and we still welcome all interested triad members
and extended family. Wed love to have 60 people show up again at one
meeting! Tell your family and friends who have adoption connections. We hope
to be around another 25 years, because it looks like well still be
Excerpted from the October 2004
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2004 Operation Identity