Below is a recap of a recently completed project concerning one family’s journey to uncover an adoption mystery that until recently, they were unable to even talk about.
When I first spoke to Jen on the phone, I could hear a combination of excitement and anxiousness in her voice. For years, she and her family had tried to discover why her mother had a different last name than her grandfather. Jen’s mother Donna Mayer was the daughter of Francis Roy and Madelaine Rose. Whenever they asked Madelaine or Roy why Donna and her sister had different last names, they were quickly told not to ask about it again. This continued for years, until Madelaine’s death in 2013. With the increase of ancestry information on the internet, Donna’s daughter Jen began researching, with the hopes of uncovering the mystery.
Jen began her research using Ancestry.com and other online services as well as completing Ancestry.com DNA tests for her mother and herself; however, after a couple of years, she still hadn’t made any progress. She was referred to me and asked for my assistance. After hearing her story, I was excited to help this family uncover this mystery.
I used the free one-hour assessment I provide to conduct a preliminary review of Jen’s research, their DNA results and review my resources for any existing Mayer research that may have already been performed. Unfortunately, there were no immediate discoveries that would help. However; after reviewing her mother and grandmother’s history, including where they lived, the history of those towns, availability of records and the fact that we had two DNA tests completed, I drafted a proposal to Jen, careful to preface that most adoption cases go unsolved.
With Jen’s approval, I began mapping the movement of her family from the time her grandmother was 16 years old to the time her mother was born. This included only two towns. On a map, I pinpointed their addresses. This proved somewhat difficult as her grandmother had married twice during this period. Once this was complete, I researched all Mayer males in approximate age of her grandmother living in those towns, also pinpointing them on the map. There were several, so I began the process of elimination by researching each one, starting with those that lived closest to her grandmother.
Eventually, I narrowed the search down to just two male Mayer candidates. I researched both of their family lines and then turned to Jen and Donna’s DNA results. Through triangulation, I identified individuals that matched both Jen and Donna. I recorded the surnames of the matches and then compared them to the family trees I created for the two Mayer matches. While both had matches, one had twice as many. This is not empirical evidence, but it allowed me to prioritize my next steps.
I began in-depth research into Robert Mayer, the Mayer with the most matches and that’s when I had my first breakthrough. I discovered that the town they resided in had a small-town newspaper during this period. I began the tedious process of searching the most likely period that either a marriage or birth would be announced and I struck gold. I found a marriage license application for Robert Mayer and Madelaine Rose.
Armed with this information, I continued my research into Robert Mayer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any additional information in Clearfield, PA for him. I thought he might have died, but could not find any information supporting this. I studied his parents and siblings and discovered they all moved to Ohio. His father passed in 1949 and his obituary identified that Robert resided in Clearfield, PA. I continued to research both Pennsylvania and Ohio, when I discovered a death record for Robert Mayer in 1980, in Ohio, which I confirmed was the same Robert Mayer I was searching for.
Not wanting to provide Jen with only sad news, I began researching the descendants of Robert’s siblings with the hope of contacting one of them and obtaining a photograph that I could share with Jen and her mother. After identifying several cousins, I turned to social media to find them. I reached out to five of them and three responded, including Robert’s nephew who Robert lived with for the last 10 years of his life.
I spoke to his nephew on the phone, who revealed a heart wrenching story, very different than what Jen and her family had suspected. He revealed that Robert and Madelaine had a falling out and divorced, although Robert never talked about what the falling out was about. Robert spent time with his daughters until one-day Madelaine and the girls disappeared (Madelaine had relocated to Florida at that time). He said that Robert spent his entire life trying to find the girls, but was unable to and died a lonely man.
After revealing this information to Jen and her family, they were heartbroken. The family will probably never know what the falling out was about or why Madelaine relocated the family without telling Robert. I connected Jen with her new-found cousin, who informed her that they have an annual Mayer family reunion and that they would welcome Jen and her mother with open arms. They would provide her with photographs, family heirlooms, plenty of cousins and finally closure on the family mystery that had haunted them for so long.
While I would have preferred a happy ending that introduced Donna to her father face-to-face, I am glad I was able to help this family. This was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on.
P.S. During my research, I also discovered that Jen’s grandmother Madelaine was adopted, which no one new. I was also able to identify her birth father.