Kansas City Woman Finds
Birth Family & Irish Connection
by Barbara Free, M.A.
attended my first Regional Conference of the American Adoption Congress, in Kansas
City, MO, in 1999, I met a woman named Carolyn Pooler, who was living in Minnesota
but who had been born in Kansas City, on the Missouri side. The state line is very
significant in this case, because Kansas has always been an open-records state, and
Missouri has been a closed records state and a difficult state in which to search
for birth family.
Carolyns birth mother had been at The Willows,
a well-known maternity home in Kansas City. By the time Carolyn was able to search,
her birth mother was deceased, but she did find an aunt and some cousins.
Carolyn was born in 1943, just a few months after my
own birth, and she and I hit it off right away. She had obtained a letter which was
written by The Willows to her prospective adoptive parents when she was several months
old, in which they stated they were enclosing a sample of her hair so that you
can see that, although it is red, it is not too bright a shade of red. Apparently,
she had been told, the prospective adoptive grandfather said he did not want a
red-headed grandchild, particularly an adopted bastard one. The letter
also stated that she has a well-shaped head and appears normal. This
was code for she is of normal intelligence. They kept babies for eight
or nine months, so as to give them what purported to be I.Q. tests, before placing
them. The letter also contained a poem about how much more important nurture was
than nature, that it could change the wild Apache into a respectable
civilized child. Appalled as she was by all this, she had kept the letter and
gladly gave me a photocopy. I have referred to it in numerous articles and
presentations, and we have always laughed about her being the red-headed woman
with the well-shaped head. Over the years, weve kept up, as she has
remained active in AAC and moved back to Kansas City.
Shortly before Christmas, I received a telephone call
from Carolyn, who said, This is the red-headed woman with the well-shaped head,
and have I got news for you! She had never been able to find out her birth
fathers name nor anything about him. She had her DNA tested and through that,
found out she is mostly Irish, with some English and Scots. Through a website called
DNA Detectives, she also found a nephew on her birth fathers side, born and
adopted in St. Louis, MO. That means the young mans birth father is/was
Carolyns half-brother on her birth fathers side! This nephew does not
yet have his birth fathers name, but has found his birth mother, who has not
divulged the birth fathers name. Carolyn is very excited, as she had given up
hope of finding any connections on her birth fathers side.
This nephew lives in Chicago. In the first part of
December, 2015, Carolyn went to St. Louis, where she met the nephew and other
relatives, including his birth mother and her twin sister. She still does not have
the names of either her half-brother or her birth father, but expects to find that
information soon. She said, I am absolutely giddy with this new information.
She also mentioned that there is a Philomena connection, about which she
has written on her Facebook page.
Rosecrea, the same home in Ireland where
Philomena Lee gave birth to her son and where he was taken from her, was the same
place where Carolyns nephews birth mother and her twin sister were as
infants, and then adopted by a family in St. Louis in 1952. In their case, the parents
were married and had three other children, were very poor, and the mother of the twins
died in childbirth, so the father placed them at Rosecrea because he could not raise
them. The nuns there, including the same Sister Hildegarde, with whom Philomena had
such difficulty, played a similar role in Mary and Ann OMearas placement
and in her efforts to keep Mary from learning her true identity in later life.
The Dublin newspaper reported on the twins
departure for New York and St. Louis, which angered the nuns at Sean Ross Abbey,
Rosecrea, because they wanted no publicity, lest it interfere with the flow of
children to the U.S. and of money (donations) to the Abbey. The Dublin
Evening Mail reported, The Rosecrea nine months old twins, Ann and
Mary Maher, have left for the U.S. after being cared for at Rosecrea District
Hospital for the past nine months. They are the first girls to be adopted by
American citizens living in the U.S. [This was not true there had already
been others.] Following their 3,000 mile air trip from Shannon to New York, they
will be flown to St. Louis, Missouri, their new exile home, an address that has
been kept a secret from the parent of the children or the immediate
relatives. A week later, the final adoption papers arrived in the mail,
along with a letter from Sister Hildegarde complaining that pictures had been
taken in New York and published, So I want you to pray that it will not
stand in the light of the other children who are promised. And she added
a P.S.: In case you have not paid Rev. Mother, your expenses will be nearly
£30. After the movie Philomena was released, they knew it was the
same Mother and Baby Home in Ireland.
The twins were adopted by Walter and Elaine George,
who had two girls, aged 13 and 10, at the time. They had a good childhood with parents
who were proud that the twins were from Ireland. Mary says her father also kept
meticulous records of the correspondence between himself, the Archdiocese of St.
Louis, and Sean Ross Abbey. The very characters that are in
PhilomenaSisters Barbara and Hildegardethese are the people who
were writing back and forth with my father. The only difference for us was that my
parents were married. My mother didnt have her children there at the abbey.
A few days after the twins arrived in St. Louis, the
adoptive father wrote to the nuns that they believed the girls would, when they
came of age, want to get in touch with their family, and therefore they would like
to have the names and ages of their siblings, addresses, etc., and pictures of the
parents and a background story of the family. He sent generous checks over the years
to help support the family as well as the clergy, particularly the two priests who
had made several trips to St. Louis to visit the George family.
Apparently, the family never got any of that money.
The nuns would not divulge any information about the birth family, except that they
were poor and that the George family wouldnt want to meet them! They did
send the girls Irish birth and baptismal certificates. When Mary was grown,
she decided to go back to Ireland to find her birth family, which, she says, her
father supported. Ann did not display any interest in finding family. Ironically,
she is the one who became the birth mother of Carolyn Poolers nephew!
Although the priests tried to discourage Mary from
coming or trying to meet her birth family, she finally told them she was coming
anyway, and she did, with two of her own children. Her older birth sisters met
her at the airport in Shannon. It is a memory that still brings her to tears.
In 1997, nearly two decades before Philomenas
Oscar nomination, a reporter named Mike Milotte published Banished Babies: The
Secret History of Irelands Baby Export Business. His interest had been
piqued when he was talking with a former Aer Lingus flight attendant who described
seeing Irish babies and toddlers bundled onto flights headed for the U.S. She also
told him shed overheard an American couple, who had dropped by the
airlines headquarters, thanking the staff for the babies they bought.
They said they were there to buy another. Yes, buy is the word they used!
What Milotte learned was that there was collusion between
the Irish Catholic Church, the Irish government, and U.S. Catholic Charities. At least
2,200 Irish babies born out of wedlock between 1949 and 1973 were forcibly
adopted into American families. The second largest source for these adoptions was the
Sean Ross Abbey, Rosecrea. The church felt it was the right thing to
rehabilitate fallen women and send the children far away so the women
could re-enter Irish society. The homes received support from the Irish government
and the mothers, of course, worked for no pay, which is slavery. The nuns, said
Milotte, would write letters to adoptive families, dropping hints about financial
struggle, received a great deal of money in this way.
In 2002, the United Nations investigated the Magdalene
Laundries, where 30,000 women, some of them mothers, but not all, also worked for no
pay. In 2013, the Irish Prime Minister formally apologized to the Magdalenes, and
outlined a plan to financially compensate them, calling what happened the
nations shame. Many of the women are now elderly, if they are still
alive at all.
Since the movie Philomena and the attendant
publicity, Philomena herself and her daughter, Jane Libberton, have started The
Philomena Project, to work for adoption rights in Ireland and take a case to Geneva
(U.N.) if needed, to fight a court case. Mari Steed, a member of the Adoption Rights
Alliance, who was born in Ireland and adopted by a family in Philadelphia, reached
out to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskills office. Sen. McCaskill is a stepparent
to several adopted children, and she discovered that at least 200 of the adoptions
from Ireland had occurred in St. Louis, and others in Kansas City, MO. After meeting
with Philomena Lee, McCaskill sent a letter to Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson, voicing
support for legislation that would open adoption records.
As for Mary OMeara George, she visited her
mothers grave in Ireland, saw the house where she and her sister were born,
met family and her parents friends, spent time with her sisters, and also
went to Shinrone in County Offaly and confronted one of the priests with whom her
father had corresponded. She asked him what happened to the money her adoptive
father sent. She says that, had she known about Philomena at the time, she would
have found Michael Hesss (Philomenas son) headstone at Sean Ross and
paid her respects. She still has not found her birth father (her sisters were also
farmed out). One of the sisters says, Back in 1952, with the Catholic Church
being so dominant in Ireland, they would not allow a father to raise four daughters,
and so our father left. I think he felt there was no use for him. And we dont
even know what happened to him. He lost his wife and five children, because Pat, my
older sister, was also a twin, and her twin died at three months.
Mary says she knows not every adoptee will want to
connect, as her own twin has not, but that many more do want to, and that although
the Irish government says birth mothers may not desire contact, she knows many more,
like Philomena Lee and her son, are desperately trying to find each other, and these
are all adults.
Visit adoptionrightsalliance.com for more
information on the Philomena Project, or for assistance in tracing birth parents
Carolyn Pooler was so kind to pass on this article
to us, and also to tell her own continuing story. She continues to search for her
birth fathers and half-brothers names and to get to know her nephew
better. She says she will never give up hope of learning more. She no longer has
red hair, but she still has a well-shaped head, and she will use the
brain in that Irish head to do all she can for adoption rights for everyone.
Excerpted from the
January 2016 edition of the Operation Identity Newsletter
© 2016 Operation Identity