Adoption Reunion Stories > Tennessee Children's Home Society Case

11 Dec 2006

We were contacted a year ago by Shari who was looking for her birth-grandmother, Vesta. Shari’s mother, Mary Lou, was adopted out of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in the late 1930’s. Shari, who lives in New Mexico, had given us the information that her mother Mary Lou had been given, which was that Vesta was a 19 year old college student from Michigan. We went to work, but were coming up with dead ends. Nothing! We told Shari that we would have to enlist the help of Mary Lou, who lives in Florida, as she was the adoptee and she would be able to get more information. Shari spoke with her mother and told her about Research Etc., Inc. Shari asked us to call Mary Lou and talk with her. The phone call was uneasy. Mary Lou was reluctant to hire a search company. We didn’t hear from her again until about five months later when we received an envelope in the mail that contained nothing but the original adoption decree from Mary Lou’s adoption and a copy of a hospital record.

We again began to comb through Michigan records, always running into dead ends. Although our motto is “never give up,” we were beginning to lose hope when Mary Lou called to tell us she had obtained some new information. She had finally received the non-identifying information from her adoption record, which gave the real facts, far different than the information that was told to Mary Lou’s adoptive parents and completely fabricated by the social worker from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society! Vesta (the only part that was not fabricated was her name, though it was not actually her first name, but her middle name), was not from Michigan, but was from a tiny town in Kentucky. She was a waitress and 20 years old at the time (they even had her birthdate — a real bonus!) and she came from a large family.

Within the day we had located Vesta’s brother, Mike, who now lives in Wyoming, and found him to be just the nicest man. Sadly, Vesta had died 15 years ago, but he told us she did have a daughter, Eva, that was living in New York. He was curious about why we were looking for his sister, but helpful with information. We called Mary Lou with the news and she was completely speechless; just couldn’t believe that we had actually found the family that she belonged to! We discussed the best way to handle the situation and decided that telling her Uncle Mike that she was Vesta’s daughter would be best, as we didn’t want to upset Eva if she didn’t know that her mother had relinquished a child.

We called Mike back and he was very happy to know that Mary Lou had found them. The whole family knew about Mary Lou. It seems that Vesta’ s older sister, Shirley, who was somewhat of a high society playgirl, and mingled with the film and theatre society of the 1930’s , had influenced Vesta to relinquish Mary Lou, so as not to cause shame for the family. Vesta regretted all of her life that she gave up her child and never forgave Shirley. They never spoke again and Vesta would not allow Shirley’s name to be spoken in her presence. Mike called Eva and told her that someone was looking for Vesta. Eva was excited, she said, “Maybe it’s my sister!” That night and the next day, Mary Lou spent hours talking with her birthfamily. She sent packages of photos to each of them and is currently awaiting packages from Mike and Eva. The best news it that in May, Eva is turning 50 and having a big family reunion at Mike’s house. Guess who will be making the family reunion complete!!

Although Mary Lou was devastated at finding her birthmother deceased, she feels fortunate to have found a sister, uncles, aunts and cousins who she can know and who can help her learn more about her birthmother. Mary Lou also tells us that just knowing that they all knew about her, never forgot her and were thrilled to be found by her, helps ease the pain of not getting to know her birthmother.

NOTE: Tennessee Home Society Director Georgia Tann mass kidnapped over 5,000 children sold to adopters nationwide, primarily in Hollywood/Southern California, New York, Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Although this did not happen in Mary Lou’s case, many young and poor women were declared “unfit” and had their babies taken from them or were told their babies had died, only to be sold and adopted out by TCHS. Several years back, a Made-For-TV movie, starring Mary Tyler Moore, told the story of TCHS and of the many destroyed lives that Georgia Tan and TCHS left in their wake.

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