© 2017 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
My adoption forced me to become a private detective. I acquired that profession’s skillset out of necessity. I developed informal personal networks, talking to people who had conducted adoption searches in Washington state and Michigan. I learned how to navigate records systems, with people, public agencies, organizations, and libraries. I learned how to make up a story on the phone when I called someone, if I knew telling the truth about who I was and why I was asking for information would trigger fear. I had learned already from strangers and those I knew that people viewed me with both suspicion and fear because I was both an adoptee and, yes, a bastard.
I used detective tricks I had picked up watching the Rockford Files. They really worked. I learned to never to make people who helped you feel nervous or afraid. This was my underlying rule of information acquisition. I also learned early on who likely would be a friend, but not always. Luckily, enough adoptees, some sympathetic women, and a few personal connections paid off.
I possessed two pages of non-identifying information that were drafted on a typewriter and shared by my adoption agency. From them, I had basic information that provided the foundation for my search. Because the information was literally whited out and then photocopied, I could count the typed spaces of each blanked-out section using the lines above and below the redacted spots. This simple counting method proved to be the most critical step in my detective case. They gave me likely answers to key missing facts. I knew the following details that could open doors for more information:
- My birth mother and her twin brother graduated from a high school in Detroit, and because of the way the name was typed out, I could count the exact number of characters of the school name.
- The year of my birth mother’s graduation was likely 1958, because she was born in 1940. That would limit my search to one or two high school yearbooks, if I could find them.
- My birth father was a dentist and had attended a major Midwestern university. This meant he likely could be found using dental registries and university yearbooks.
- My birth father had three sisters, so I might be able to find them using a high school yearbook, but the chances would be slim without my birth father’s name.
- My birth grandfather was a sheet metal worker, which offered little possibility because there was no professional organization for this group.
- My birth mother’s brother studied natural resources, likely at the University of Michigan. There could be professional registries, events, and contacts in the field in Michigan, if he was still there.
Return to Chapter 9: The Paper Chase