At first the clues were few, and the task seemed nearly insurmountable.
Lois Ferrell knew only a little of her biological background, including a name: Smith.
But the 56-year-old Perrysburg resident, who was adopted when she was 4½ months old, decided she wanted to know more — especially when her daughter began having health problems that doctors believed were hereditary.
So with the help of her daughter, Angela Fillioe, she embarked on a search to find the Toledo-area people who were both strangers and family.
“My mom has told me off and on that she would tell me what she knew if I ever wanted,” Ms. Ferrell said. “I was kind of interested. When Angie started researching it, I didn’t know if I was ever going to find anything.”
Ms. Ferrell is among the thousands of adopted people nationwide who seek out information about their birth parents and biological families each year. Some searches end in happy reunions, others in heartache. Still other searchers keep looking without finding anything.
The search for Ms. Ferrell’s family was going slowly until recently, when Mrs. Fillioe spoke directly to her grandmother. She learned that her mother’s adoptive mother had mistakenly believed Ms. Ferrell’s original family name was Smith, when in fact she was born Gladys Harris.
That information, laughed Mrs. Fillioe, helped a lot.
“I got so much information right off the bat,” said Mrs. Fillioe, 28, who lives in Indianapolis with her own family. “ …I will tell you, it has been hard. I have had problems, such as once you pull up these names, there are so many of them to contact.”
They found obituaries from The Blade for people Mrs. Fillioe believes are her mother’s birth parents: Virgil Harris and Violet Harris. In both notices, the deceased had listed their many children as survivors, including Gladys.
Also found was an Internet posting from someone looking for a sister and who gave details — such as birth date and hospital — that matched Ms. Ferrell’s.
It was then that mother and daughter realized that maybe members of her family had tried to find her before. But because she was raised Lois Marie McCarty and not Gladys Harris, the path would be difficult to trace.
The search for a biological parent or child can be complicated, said renowned genealogist Pamela Slaton, who has been nationally recognized for her work reuniting biological families separated by adoption.
Mrs. Slaton, who has regularly appeared on a program featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network and is to release a book titled Reunited next month, said searchers must use respect when approaching possible family members and must be ready for all types of responses.
Mrs. Slaton said that although the figures aren’t concrete, millions of people have been affected by adoption.
“The majority of people do want to know. There are some who feel that it is what it is, and others think they don’t want to intrude on someone’s life,” she said in a telephone interview. “ … Most adoptees search not out of selfish reasons, but they search because they want to find their birth moms and say, ‘I’m OK, don’t worry.’?”
“You have to prepare for the fact that this person may not be in a place to have a relationship. If a relationship comes from [the reunion], consider that a bonus, but don’t expect that,” she said. “You have to deal with the worst-case scenario.”
Ms. Ferrell doesn’t know everything that led up to her adoption, only that she was hospitalized at 4½ months because of malnutrition.
She believes authorities stepped in and removed her from her family.
Ms. Ferrell grew up in the Toledo area in a family of four; each of her siblings was also adopted.
Her brothers, who were related, found their biological family and have begun a relationship. Her sister, she said, found her biological mother but had a much different experience, with no relationship fostered.
But Ms. Ferrell still has hope, much of which grew from the death notices of Virgil and Violet Harris. There, her onetime name, Gladys Harris, is listed with several of that couple’s other children: Arthur, Donald, James, Harold, Barbara Sammons, and Karen — as well as Virgil, Jr., and Gerald, who have since passed away.
Mrs. Fillioe said that it appeared as if her mother’s biological siblings were aware she was out there but did not know how to contact her.
Now, she hopes to reach out to them instead.
“I will continue to search until I can search no more,” she said. “ … It says in the obit that the father had 22 grandchildren. How many people could we be related to?
“This is a big part of our lives that have a missing link,” Mrs. Fillioe added. “Even if they didn’t want anything to do with us, just to know that part of her life was found and it is a piece of her now, that is the satisfying part to me.”
Mrs. Fillioe encouraged anyone with information about her mother’s family to contact her at email@example.com.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.