Family History Research Solves Family Mystery

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For 60 years, Mary Ann Rossi searched for her biological parents. She would run into a research road block and stop. Then something would happen, so she’d try again.

The Aurora, Colorado, woman petitioned the courts twice to release information from her closed adoption and was turned down. She contacted Catholic Charities, which had placed her for adoption. The organization gave her scant information. Her biological mother was a 23-year-old nurse when she gave birth. Her father was of Dutch descent.

Mary Ann’s adoptive parents, Jim and Kate Ruddy, had told her about the adoption at age seven. She came home from school one day and asked her mother what adoption meant.

“She came and got in bed with me that night and told me, ‘You are special. We picked you out,’” Mary Ann reported.

Her mother also said that she was a preemie, that she had been baptized as a Catholic at a Denver hospital, and that her parents had been killed in a head-on auto accident.

When she was 19, she went to the Denver Public Library and searched for the story of her parents’ accident. She found nothing. It turned out Kate Ruddy had made up the story about the accident. That didn’t bother Mary Ann.

“I am sure my mother was just trying to protect me. I had a good life. I had good parents. We didn’t have much, but they raised me right,” Mary Ann said.

Her one disappointment was that she had no siblings. “I always wanted a brother and sister,” she said.

When she continued the search for her biological parents, Jim and Kate didn’t object. She married Donald Rossi, and her search moved to the back burner as her family grew with the addition of five biological and adopted children.

“It wasn’t my number one priority,” she said of the adoption search.

As the decades passed, the search continued on and off. She tried to uncover more information in 1994, but again she found nothing. “I got no place because I didn’t have a name,” Mary Ann said.

In 2003 she encountered hassles when applying for a passport. Her adoption papers had been filed several months after her 1935 birth, and the dates didn’t match.

Then, in 2014, Colorado passed an open adoption law that was effective January 2016. Mary Ann read about the new law in the newspaper. At age 80, she began her search anew. She filed the necessary forms, and six weeks later, on March 9, she received her original birth certificate. She finally had a name for her mother, Anita, who had died more than 20 years ago.

“Now what?” Mary Ann thought. She wanted to know more about Anita. A friend took her to the Littleton, Colorado, family history center, where she met Gordon Taylor, the center’s assistant director, who has been a family history researcher for 50 years. He immediately brought up Anita’s name on his laptop.

He discovered that Anita was from Utah and had married later. Gordon suggested they look at who made the latest changes on FamilySearch.org to see if they could glean information from that source. The changes revealed three names. Gordon turned to Family Search.org’s email feature.

“We typed in the three names at about 3:30 p.m., and the center closes at 4:00. When I got home and opened up my laptop, there was message waiting from Charmaigne [Harsch],” Gordon said.

Charmaigne Harsch, a member of the Fort Lupton Ward in Brighton, Colorado, had been working on her family’s lines after hearing a Relief Society lesson about family history. It prompted her to remember a sack of letters that her mother had kept. They were written to her great-grandfather and great-grandmother from different family members. So she imported the letters into Family Search and tagged them with each family member who was mentioned. One was Anita, sister of Charmaigne’s grandfather Walter.

Mary Ann first contacted Charmaigne via email. Charmagine reported she had only met Anita a few times.

“I told her [Mary Ann] that I didn’t know enough to tell her anything. I also didn’t think it was my place to tell,” Charmaigne said.

But she knew that Anita had three daughters living in Utah, so she contacted the youngest sister, Cheryl. She did so with some trepidation because she didn’t know if the family knew of Mary Ann’s existence. They didn’t. After questioning the information to ensure its accuracy, Cheryl agreed to call Mary Ann.

Cheryl and Mary Ann talked for a while, and Cheryl decided to travel to Denver to meet face to face.

“I just couldn’t believe it. I am 80 years old, and I now have three sisters,” Mary said.

Mary Ann and her newly found sister met for lunch at a restaurant. Cheryl brought pictures of Anita and the family. Mary Ann was accompanied by a daughter. Mary Ann learned that she resembles her biological mother.

“I didn’t eat anything,” Mary Ann said of that first meeting. “I was so nervous and excited, and it was a little awkward at first.”

The group left the restaurant and went to Mary Ann’s home, where they talked for hours.

Screenshot of FamilySearch Home Page

Since then, they have called, emailed, and met again on Memorial Day weekend, where Mary Ann introduced Cheryl to her children, Mark, Jim, Lisa, Karen, and Sharon. This summer she will travel to Utah to become acquainted with the rest of her biological family.

“I’m so fortunate that I’ve been accepted right away. I start crying when I think about it,” Mary Ann said, adding that it’s so wonderful that Cheryl says, “This is your sister, Cheryl” when she calls.

Charmaigne, who was present at the first meeting, calls this new family connection “one of the more special things that I’ve been a part of in a long time. It was neat to see their hearts opened.”

 

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