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Steven's Story: One International Adoptee

March 26, 2019

 

It has taken 30 years to put this together, and now with the advent of DNA matching I am happy to say I will be able to add more information. 

I am a White on my birthmother’s side.  The Whites have lived in Colyton, Devon, England since the 1600s.  My mother was born in Liverpool but her parents were actually living in Colyton, Devon, England. My grandfather was a leather merchant and tax collector.  Lilian Sheila White was born 1/13/1920.  Her brother, John White, was born 11/25/1921.

Sheila went to work in Germany after WW II.  She became pregnant with me around August of 1946.  I was born 5/23/1947 in the US Army General Hospital, Frankfurt, Germany. My birth certificate, Steven White, was registered on 9/20/1949. My mother had a German friend named Sophie Herdt. Sophie’s parents cared for me from 1947-1956. They lived in the Fechenheim area of Frankfurt. I thought I was German.  I spoke no English.  Sophie’s son, Rainer, was like a brother to me.  I attended German schools.  There are pictures of me with my mother when I was an infant.  I do not remember her.

Ruth Swanson taught at the Americkanische Schule in Frankfurt for the 1955-56 school year.  She put an ad in the newspaper asking to adopt a child of school age.  Sheila answered the ad.  Ruth decided to take me.  She could not speak a word of German and I spoke no English.  Rainer was told I had left with my mother.  I was told I was going for a summer vacation to America.  I fell out of a tree and broke my arm to get out of going with this stranger, but it did not work.  It broke Oma’s heart, my heart, and Rainer’s heart.  Secrets and lies build on each other and take a lot of time to unravel.

No country would give Ruth a passport for me.  The Germans said no.  The Americans said no.  The English said no.  So Ruth marched me up the ramp of an Army Transport plane on 8/16/1956 with a destination of the U.S.A..  I landed in NY, had my lederhosen taken away, and was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt.  We then flew to San Francisco.  It was a very rough transition, to say the least.  Running away did no good.  I was stuck.  She sent me to speech therapy. I soon lost my accent and my ability to speak German.  Ruth hired a powerful attorney to straighten out the passport situation. The adoption paper work was signed on 5/15/1957.  I was naturalized on 12/18/1958.  I thought I was German, but now I had no way to return to Oma, Opa, and Rainer.

In the meantime Sheila, my birth mother, married Captain Frederick Adin Hills and moved to the U.S.A.  She lived in Ohio, was naturalized, moved to California, eventually divorced Captain Hills, and died in Albuquerque alone on 2/5/2001.

My adopted mother, Ruth, taught Junior High in the Mountain View School District.  I graduated from Awalt High School in 1966 and went on to graduate from Central Washington State University with a degree in sociology.  Gretchen & I met at Central, were married, and moved to the Portland area for jobs in 1972. 

When Ruth Swanson died in 1988 I finally felt free to begin my search.  I found photos and paperwork which were extremely helpful.  Through an adoptive rights organization, I eventually found out about my mother’s history and her family.  I tried communicating with her but she refused to talk to me.  Being denied a second time is devastating. But something good came of that because her family in Colyton, England welcomed me.
My mother was estranged from them.  We visited my mother’s brother John and his wife Betty in Colyton, England in early 2003.  It was an amazing experience. They provided me with photos and helped fill in the missing pieces of my past. I had many characteristics in common with John.  We corresponded and talked on the phone until his death in late 2004.  After John’s death I talked often with his wife Betty until she died in 2016.  They explained so many things to me and I felt connected for the first time.  They had no children.  I am the last White male, but Betty’s side of the family continues to consider us family. The lovely Cottage (really a big house with 2 foot thick walls) in Colyton no longer has Whites living in it.

In 2012 Rainer, my “German brother”, found me. We began writing and Skyping like crazy.  We realized we had both been deceived. Rainer found documents & photos confirming my existence.  I then was able to visit him in Frankfurt.  Rainer is two years older than me, so he remembered many details that I had totally forgotten.  

I have spent the last twenty years searching for my father, but thought it was all hopeless.  After doing DNA testing I knew I had a Thornton connection.  I joined the Genealogical Forum of Oregon just a few months ago.  I took a couple of classes and met people who were willing to help me.  Their immediate recommendation was to do an Ancestry test.  When my first cousin Ron’s match came along we connected the cousin dots and within a matter of six weeks I was part of the Thornton family with one half-brother and four half-sisters.   

The first part of my search took me about twelve years.  With the advent of DNA testing I was able to find my father in half that time.


 

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