My Personal Search

by Kathie Forward

Part I
Never Give Up Hope! Dreams Can Come True.

     Let me introduce myself. I came into this world September 4, 1944, as Laura Joyce Brandenburg. At least that’s who I was for the first three weeks of my life. Then I became Kathryon Moyer Capron for the next 26 years. At that time my name changed to Kathryn Forward when I married.
     I really never thought about being adopted. It was never an issue with me or my family. I have always known I was adopted, since I was four years old when Mom brought my brother, Charlie, home. She told me this was also how they got me. No one ever treated us differently from anyone else. I never really thought much about where I came from or what my biological parents were like. It just never was an issue.
     I am not really sure when I started thinking about my birth origins. I got tired of telling doctors that I had no medical history because I was adopted. Then, in 1985, I was divorced in June and my father passed away in July. Once again, my thoughts turned to my birth family. I tried looking on the computer, but I had no idea where to go. My mother always seemed okay with talking about my being adopted, but in all fairness, she really had no information, either.
     In 1992, on my way to Rockford, IL, to attend my 30th year class reunion, I stopped in Springfield, IL. I went to Vital Statistics and signed up with the Illinois Adoption Registry. That was all they said they could do. I was always told I was adopted through Children’s Home and Aid Society. They had a chapter in Rockford. I called and they said they would call back with any information. They never called. I tried several more times over the next few years, with the same results—“no information available.”
     Then in 1995, I took a girlfriend with me to Chicago for the purpose of searching. We went to the Daley Center to see if I could get a birth certificate. They had no record. Then I asked for my adoptive father’s, because I could, and got it. Back at the hotel, I called Children’s Home and Aid Society’s home office and spoke to the director. She had no listing of me, my brother, or my two adopted cousins.
     Back to Atlanta, where I lived then, back on the computer. This time I found the White Oak Foundation, a support group in Illinois. I also was told at this point that in order to get the records open, one had to petition the judge of Family Court. This would be Judge Mor. One also had to have a “good cause.” I was turned down.
     In 1998, I moved to Albuquerque. About a year later, I discovered Operation Identity. I really felt at home there, because all these people were part of the adoption triad, adoptees, birth parents, and a few adoptive parents, all with a variety of stories to tell. Everyone was in a different stage of search or reunion. I have heard some pretty remarkable stories, and learned valuable information about the dos and don’ts and ups and down of all aspects of the journey. During this time, every time I tried anything, I seemed to hit a brick wall.
     In 2004, Illinois passed a law that an adoptee could obtain non-identifying information about the birth mother. I called Vicki at Vital Statistics. She said she could give me some—my mother was white, 19, and a factory worker, born in Illinois. By having that information, at least I knew there were records somewhere. All it really told me was the age of my birth mother now. Later, the information proved to be incorrect, but I didn’t know that then. Still, it was impossible to find anything else. It was really hard to hear stories of success when I was unable to find anything new. I even asked the searcher and founder of O.I., Sally File, to help. Again, without a name there wasn’t much that could be done.
     Again I was frustrated and depressed. I thought maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. So I would stop thinking about ever finding anything. Like many others, I took one step froward and ten steps back. There are many reasons for that—we are afraid of what we will find, or not ready to face the truth, or we really don’t want to know. We say it doesn’t matter.
     It does matter. I have heard the reunited birth mothers; Barbara, Connie, and Jenna, to name a few, all have different stories, but a very positive attitude about their relationships with their now adult children. We also have several adoptee search stories over the years, such as Ann, Stacie, Kathie Q, Mark, Lee, and Stephanie, Linda, and me. Some searches have turned out better than others.
     The next big break came in May 2010. At that time, Gov. Pat Quinn of IL passed into law that adoptees born before 1946 could obtain their original birth certificates (OBC). I found out about this the first week in June. Needless to say, I sent for it the next day. I also called Midwest Agency and requested an intermediary packet. I had to send a request for a Confidential Intermediary (CI) to the county of birth, which in my case was Cook County.
     Hallelujah! I received my OBC in early October. Both my name and my mother’s name were listed. I now knew I was originally Laura Joyce Brandenburg. My mother was LaRue. I jumped on the computer and googled LaRue. Up came her father, Grover, and a list of their whole family, Lydia and seven children. LaRue was in the middle. However, that was as far as I got then. I looked up a genealogical society in Rockford and came across Winnebago-Boone Genealogical Society. I was able to reach Kathy Burfield, who in turn put me in touch with Shirl Reed. This man was my miracle worker. He found mountains of information. He found family census records, births and deaths, obituaries with and without pictures, but most important of all, married names and home towns of all my mother’s sisters. It was through this that I now knew my mother was LaRue Krull of Waverly, Iowa. I had her address and phone number. However, I decided to do the search properly, through the CI system. About this time, I received papers appointing my caseworker, Paula. By this time, I gave her all the information, but she couldn’t act on it yet, because she had to get the adoption decree from Winnebago County. This was the last chance for the birth mother to decline any form of contact or any listing of a father. Luckily, neither refusal was on the decree. We had the go-ahead signal.

Part II
First Contact

     I had already found out my birth mother’s name but had not yet written or called directly. It was now January 2011, and I had mixed emotions. On January 5, my intermediary, Paula, called and said she had set up a call for Thursday, January 6, with my birth mother. She would call me right after the call and tell me the results.
     On Thursdays I volunteer at a thrift store sponsored by a church where my friend and neighbor, Brenda, is a member. I was so thrilled when Paula called and said she had actually talked to my birth mother. When Paula called, I put the phone on speaker and Brenda and I were both jumping up and down with tears in our eyes. Paula said she sounded good and strong, and that she was so excited to make a connection. Paula said that in all her years, she had never had both parties so enthusiastic. Then I asked when I could talk to my birth mother myself. Paula explained that LaRue (my birth mother) had to register with the Illinois State Adoption Registry and send a picture ID. Now I had to wait again before we could move forward.
     After about 10 days, January 17, to be exact, I called Paula to see what was going on, as I had not heard anything. Paula called LaRue. Aurae, her caregiver, said it was partly her fault, as she had been so busy she had not got around to it, plus they had to get a picture ID as she had no driver’s license. She had not driven for several years.
     I guess that spurred her into action, because she told Paula she would send the packet back in the next few days. Then Springfield (capital) has to match it to my own information and declare us an official match. I received the packet from Springfield with all the information and a picture on January 28.
     When I saw the picture of my mother for the first time, I was stunned! I dropped everything and started crying. It was like looking in a mirror. I couldn’t believe it—she looked exactly like me! I always wondered what she would look like, but an exact carbon copy was a bit much! I rushed across the street to show Brenda. “Oh! Wow!” was all she could say.
     Now the question was who was going to call who first. I read and reread all the information many times over. By Monday, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. I called Aurae’s number, which was on the contact form. Paula had said my mother was hard of hearing and that her eyesight was not too good. Aurae answered the phone and I explained who I was. She immediately handed the phone to LaRue. “Mama, this is your daughter, Laura Joyce.”
     “Oh, my, oh, my! Aurae, it’s Laura! I didn’t think this would ever come! Oh, my, how are you?” We talked for an hour that first day.
     We both had so many questions for each other. She told me I had two brothers and a sister. Now, I had done a good amount of research on my own, so I thought I knew who my siblings were. Don’t trust the Internet—I was wrong! I thought they were Albert, 65; Delbert, 61, and Gail, 58. Mom said my sister was Lydia, 50, and that Gail was Albert’s second wife.
     I gave her a short version of my first 66 years of life. Her favorite line was, “I wish you were here so I could see you and give you a great big hug.” This was repeated at least half a dozen times during the first conversation.
     She explained that she had lived in the same mobile home park for over 30 years. She had been married to Aylet (Bob) Krull for 46 years. He passed away some 20 years ago. She said she had always hoped we would find each other some day. She never forgot about me. On my birthday, September 4, LaRue would call her mother every year and say, “You know what day this is?” Her mother, Lydia Phelps Brandenburg, would reply, “You won’t stop rubbing it in, will you?” LaRue was adamant. “No, I won’t.”
     She wanted very much to keep me, but it was financially impossible. After several more “I can’t believe we are actually talking to each other”s and “I wish you were here so I could give you a big hug”s, we ended our first contact. We both promised to keep in touch. I was so overwhelmed with all of this, I could hardly function so some time. I was always wondering when our next contact would be.
     Now, I had learned from O.I. that sometimes after the first contact, one or both parties back away. The emotions are too deep. Maybe one or the other is really not ready to learn more. Then there is the big one—I was scared of rejection. She gave me up once, why not again?
     All these thoughts kept recycling through my mind. Now the waiting had begun. I wanted to give LaRue the chance to think things over. This was just as new and as exciting for her. For a birth mother, it could bring closure to what happened to her baby girl. On the other hand, that child, now a part of the family, suddenly reappears. Both of us had to readjust our thinking. Our wishful thinking had become a reality.
     I waited a week and a half. As time passed, I was afraid; maybe LaRue didn’t want to connect with me. On February 9, I picked up the phone and called LaRue’s number, She was thrilled to hear my voice again! I was able to put my fears to rest. This time, we discussed more exact information. LaRue had been a waitress in Sycamore, IL, when she met my father. When she found out she was pregnant, she turned to her parents. They in turn sent her to an aunt in Chicago, and then she went to an unwed mothers’ home until my arrival on Labor Day, 9-4-44. She wanted so much to keep me. In fact, she did keep me with her for three weeks in the home. Then reality set in. She had no means of support and she didn’t want me exposed to the way her parents had treated her. She said she was beaten and abused as a child. She named me Laura Joyce Brandenburg after her grandmother, Laura Laffingwell.
     After our first conversation, LaRue was so excited, she was ready to jump on a plane to come see me. Brother Delbert said, “No way. You know nothing about this person. For all you know, she could be a con or a fraud.” However, LaRue and I had known instantly that we were meant to be together. LaRue’s brother Leighton (Lee) had tried to search for me, but didn’t really know how.
     About a week later, I received my first letter from LaRue. She told me what she did every week and that Lydia came over on Saturdays. They would go shopping and have lunch. I figured that if I timed it right, I could call when Lydia was there. This was February 19. I placed the call at 4:00 p.m. my time. LaRue answered. Yes, Lydia was still there. Mom passed the phone to Lydia, who asked her, “Who is it?” Mom said “Kathie.” Lydia was sure Mom had lost her mind. Her daughter, Kathy Sue, had died of leukemia at eight years old, in the late ’50s, before Lydia was born. As Lydia took the phone, I explained who I was. It was awkward, because neither of us had ever had a sister. It was really good to talk to her, the first of the siblings to talk with me.
     The next time we talked, Mom called me. She could hear me just fine. We talked for two hours about everything and nothing. We found out that, not only do we look alike, we are the same size and shop the same catalogue stores. When she was able to see, she crocheted and read a lot. I love to read, knit and crochet. And we both love bingo. About a week later, Lydia called. It was very strained; neither of us knew what to say, and both were still adjusting to the sister part. I asked how the “boys” felt about all this. She really didn’t know, and didn’t say much.
     Every time Mom and I talked, we always prayed that God would some day make it possible for us to meet, since neither one of us had any money. God answers prayers—on Sunday, March 6, my girlfriend Kathleen called. She said she had been thinking and wanted to may my way, by bus, to go to see my birth mother. Because of her age, we need to not put it off any longer. I just cried! I couldn’t believe this. “Are you sure?” I asked over and over. “Yes, yes, yes,” she kept saying. Now, I knew Mom’s birthday was coming up on March 24. I wanted to surprise her. Later that day, I called Aurae, the caregiver, and told her about Kathleen’s offer and told her I wanted to surprise Mom on her 85th birthday. She was as excited as I was! Thus began two weeks of calls back and forth to plan it. All the kids knew of The Visit, but no one told Mom. Albert called on Saturday the 19th. I was thrilled. It meant the boys knew and were looking forward to the visit, too.

Part III
First Impressions, Lasting Memories

     This part will be written a little differently from Parts I and II, which were printed in the O.I. Newsletter in 2011. These are my reflections now from the time I spent in Waverly, Iowa, between March 22 and April 5 of 2011, when I met my birth mother in person for the first time. Before I go any further, I’d like to thank God for all that it seems he did to orchestrate this reunion on both ends. My birth mother, LaRue Krull, prayed every day since I was born on September 4, 1944, that some day she would be able to meet the child she relinquished for adoption, reluctantly, so many years ago.
     After so many years of searching for her; after I finally found out who she was and where she lived, and that she wanted to meet me; after all my previous hesitation, I threw caution to the winds and barged ahead without really thinking of possible consequences. When a friend offered to pay my bus fare to Waverly, she said, “You need to go now and not put it off any longer because of her age.” How generous of her to pay my fare!
     LaRue Krull is the most amazing woman I have ever met and by some incredible luck she is my birth mother, and still alive! She is 86 years old. She lives is a mobile home in Waverly, Iowa. She is 5’ 2” tall and loves to give hugs. She was so excited when she heard from someone born on September 4, 1944, she was jumping up and down, saying, “That’s my daughter! When can I meet her?” That was January 6, 2011. Because we were afraid of possible pitfalls of reunions, which we’d heard about, we went through the Illinois intermediary system, the state in which I was born.
     I first talked to Mom on the telephone on January 31, 2011. After several conversations, and my friend’s offer, on March 21, 2011, I boarded a bus headed to Iowa. I had set up the reunion with LaRue’s caregiver, Aurae. I was going to surprise Mom for her 85th birthday on March 24. Aurae had told Mom that she had a package coming on the bus that she needed to sign for. As the bus pulled up at Wartburg College (the bus stop), I got off with my luggage. Aurae and Mom came out of the building, walking toward me. My first impression was, “She looks just like the picture she sent me back in January!” We walked toward each other, then stopped, about four feet apart. Finally, I broke the silence. “I am your package, Mama!” She just stared. Then, all of a sudden, she cried out, “Oh, my! Oh, my! It’s my Laura!” There were big hugs all around. We clung to each other as if there might be no tomorrow! It felt so natural, not like hugging a stranger. This was my birth mother! It was an instant connection, not as if was the first time, 66 years in the making! Of course, we were not alone. All the people on the bus were witnesses, as was a reporter, Chelsey Luhring, from the Waverly newspaper. She recorded the whole reunion, asked a lot of really in-depth questions about how it all came about, and wrote a big article with pictures. She really did a fantastic job. If anyone reading this would like a copy of the article, I can make a copy and send it.
     Albert, my oldest half-brother, had said on the phone prior to my coming, “Hey! I am no longer the oldest; you are! Now you get to have all the answers!” I had said, “Yeah, right!” On Mom’s birthday, March 24, I called Albert and told him, “This is your new, bossy, big sister. I am taking Mom to her favorite restaurant, Red Lobster, at 1 p.m.” I asked him if he had any plans. He kept hemming and hawing, so finally I just said, “If you want to come, be there at one. Also, if you talk to Delbert [other brother], then he and Barb [his wife] are also invited.” Lydia, my youngest sister, was working that day.
     We arrived at the restaurant first and were already seated when Albert and his wife, Gail, arrived. It was really weird to see this 63-year-old man for the first time and know that he was my brother! However, he looked just like I had pictured him by hearing his voice on the phone. He looked like an old farmer, beard and all! However, he informed me, “I never farmed.”
     Next to arrive was a giant dressed in black. Wow, he was huge! This was Delbert, with his wife, Barb. I just looked across the table and thought, “These men are my brothers!” It was mind-boggling, to go from one brother (my adopted brother) to a mother and two brothers and a sister.
     I didn’t meet my sister until the next afternoon. We all met at the Hy Vee Grocery Store, which had a restaurant/coffee bar inside. The only two coffee drinkers were Albert and Delbert, but everyone was there. When I asked Delbert if they did this every day, he replied, “No, just while you are here so we can check out our new big sister.” I was now the oldest child in the family. There had been another sister who had died in childhood.
     They were skeptical at first about this stranger coming into the family, although they all knew that Mom had had another child before she married their father. When Mom had showed them my picture, they all agreed I looked like one of them. When Mom had sent me her picture, I was flabbergasted! It was like looking in a mirror. I just dropped everything and cried. I had always wondered if anyone looked like me, but what seemed an exact duplicate was mind-boggling. I hadn’t seen much resemblance to the rest of them. Maybe, as time goes by, I will see more of that. However, Delbert and I seem more alike in many ways. In my heart he is my “Little big man,” little because he is the youngest of my brothers, big because he looks huge to me. He is like a gentle giant; he’s soft-spoken and loves to joke around.
     The last day of my visit, as we were leaving the Hy Vee, Delbert pulled me aside and said, “It took a lot of guts to come all the way here to meet a bunch of strangers, not knowing how they would react.” I told him I had talked to Mom on the phone several times prior to coming and knew she was a sweet and loveable person. She had been waiting a long time for this day. I am so glad I was able to meet my new family! The youngest of the siblings is Lydia. The first time I talked to her on the phone I didn’t know what to say. I had never had a sister before. Her response was, “Neither have I!” The other sister had died before Lydia was born. The other day, an Elvis Presley song came to mind, “Little Sister, Little Sister, don’t do what your big sister done.” Well, in 1971, I married a man whose first name was Scott, and in 1988, Lydia also married a man named Scott! We have talked a couple times since the reunion, but it has bee hard to communicate. I hope that will change as time goes on.
     Since that initial reunion with my birth mother and family, more has happened, as written below.
     Wait! We’re not finished! There’s More to Come! We’re coming full circle! It takes two people to create a child. Finding my birth mother and her family was only half the picture. She married Bob Krull on December 5, 1944, just three months after my birth. When I asked he is Bob was my birth father, she said, “No. Your birth father was Lawrence Newberry of Sycamore, Illinois.” I contacted my friend, Mr. Reed, in Rockford, Illinois, who found information on the Newberrys. Both Lawrence and his wife were deceased. His obituary listed five daughters, with their last names and the towns they lived in. This time, instead of going through the intermediary system, I contacted the White Oak Foundation, who had directed me to some search help before. Melisha Mitchell, of the White Oak Foundation, did the search for these sisters. She had me write a card asking to be contacted because I had reason to believe we had the same father. It was about three months before I heard anything from these sisters.
     On March 17, 2012, I received a call from West Virginia. I immediately called Melisha, who googled the number and said it was listed to a Beverly Forbes. Oh my God! I knew that she was the oldest of the sisters. I called her back and we talked for an hour! Beverly said she and Shorty (the second sister) had always known there was another sibling out there, but didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl. When my letter came, Beverly gathered all the sisters together and read my letter. They all seemed to be okay with the news. I had even received an e-mail from Shorty’s daughter, Donna, saying they were all so excited with the news! Beverly said she would send pictures of my father and the sisters. As of April 6, when I’m writing this, I have not received anything, but I was able to go to Facebook and found pictures of the three oldest sisters. They look like they were all cut from the same cookie cutter! I hope that we will get to know each other better. Only time can tell!

Originally published in the April 2011, July 2011, & July 2012 editions of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter.
© 2011 and 2012 Operation Identity