Between 1945 and 1973, about 350,000 unmarried Canadian mothers were persuaded, coerced or forced into giving their babies up for adoption. (Andrews, Valerie: White Unwed Mother: The Adoption Mandate in Postwar Canada, Demeter Press, Toronto 2018.)
Many babies were illegally given away, like a puppy at the pound, for a nominal donation to the church. On Christmas Eve, 1952 I became one of those babies. From the moment my grandmother shared the story of my adoption, my birthday wish every year was to find my mother. I started the search in 1973 when I was 20.
In 2008, the Province of Ontario changed its law, enabling legally adopted persons access to their birth registration records. That document usually contained the birth mother’s name at the time of the child’s birth, her home address, age, religion, nationality, and professional occupation. Armed with that information, the adoptee could then search Ontario databases, telephone directories and in time locate their birth parent. Birth father names were seldom placed on this document as it was not a requirement.
After many communication exchanges, with the provincial government, the hospital where I was born, and the Children’s Aid Society, we discovered that an adoption had never taken place. I was simply given away by Mother Superior at the hospital. This resulted in denial of my access to any birth records.
In 2013, I increased my search efforts with an intense focus on DNA. DNA became my only source of hope. In December 2013, I tested with 23 and Me but didn’t know how to proceed with a search. DNA indicated that I was Eastern European, with a Croatian parent. A DNA genetic genealogist, Olivia, found my post on a Canadian adoption website in February 2017 and offered to assist. She had me test on Ancestry to ensure we covered all possibilities and Olivia downloaded my DNA info to Gedmatch, a website designed to assist adoptees. And off we went! Olivia provided a quick primer on centimorgans, DNA, SNP’s, Haplogroups, how to review and understand the connections with my new 3rd and 4th “cousins.”
We divided our responsibilities. I sent messages through both Ancestry and 23 and Me portals to all my new cousins asking them to share their DNA, family surnames, residences in Europe, the US and Canada, family trees. We explained the mission to find my birth mother. I messaged more than 150 cousins at numerous times during the journey.
As the months progressed, many of the “cousins” became invested in my search. We exchanged personal email addresses and telephone numbers, creating a “Village of Cousins” desperate to help “the baby find its mother.”
Ancestry DNA found my birth father’s family in June 2017 when his daughter tested. He had passed in 2000. Vinko Tatarevic was a Croatian fighter pilot during WW2, a Croatian Ace who was featured in a book called Croatian Aces of WW2 by Dragan Savic and Boris Ciglic. Vinko is considered to be a hero in his home town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In finding Vinko, we zeroed in on the remote town he immigrated to in Canada in the early 1950’s. My husband and I traveled there in August 2017, set up in the town’s library and texted addresses and names of possible family members from 1951, 1952 and 1953 telephone directories to Olivia who compared them to her DNA spreadsheets. We found my birth mother in August 2017 utilizing detective skills.
When my birth mother and I met for the first time in September 2017, after DNA confirmed our relationship, she shared the story of her time with my father Vinko. She said she could not remember his face and that she would like to see a photo of him. I committed to her then, that I would find a photo of Vinko as a young man for both of us.
On August 23, 2020 I reached out once again to my DNA “Village of Croatian Cousins” in numerous Facebook groups asking for assistance in finding a photo of my father.
On Friday September 18, my mother received a card, a bouquet of flowers and a fruit basket from me. I called her on Saturday morning, September 19 to wish her happy birthday. She was going off later that day to celebrate with my sisters and their families. Covid had kept me and my husband in the US.
While she was enjoying her birthday, I composed the following email to her.
“Dearest Mum, When we met for the first time in September 2017 and you shared the story of your time with Vinko, you said that you could not remember his face and that you would like to see a photo of him. I committed to you at that time that I would find a photo of Vinko as a young man for both of us.
On August 23rd, I reached out to the Croatian community in Croatia asking for assistance in finding a photo of Vinko.
With the help of a Croatian aviation historian, who rummaged through extensive archives, we were able to find 7 photos of Vinko from 1943 through 1945.
Vinko at one time was an important person in your journey, the result of which was me. You went on to live a full life with your husband, your beautiful daughters and their families.
I am so happy to share that I have been able to fulfill my promise to you on this your special day, your 89th birthday. Photos of our Vinko!
Thank you, my lovely mother, my beautiful sisters and their families for so kindly welcoming me and Bill into your lives. I am now complete and at peace with my life! Open attachments. Lots of love, Nadean”
The photo of me was taken in 1973, when I was 20 at my graduation from Windsor university in Ontario Canada. The one of Vinko was when he was 23 or 24.
In July 2018, I filed a petition with the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child illuminating numerous Articles of the UN Convention that the Province of Ontario has violated in its treatment of illegally adopted children.
I started a memoir in 2017 as my life was already replete with unbelievably daunting life challenges, including a harrowing escape from a Caribbean island. My goal in writing the memoir is to use it as a platform for change. To bring attention to the issue and to petition the Province of Ontario to amend the law enabling non-adoptees equal rights to our records. I have consulted with a leading civil rights attorney in Toronto who is interested in this precedent setting case.
Cinema buffs who like the movies Lion and Philomena will enjoy my story.
My memoir, No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey To Identity is available at the following retailers, both in print and electronic formats:
I also created a Birth Search Directory on my website to assist Canadian adoptees in their search.
In sharing my journey, my goal is to inspire readers to find faith, hope and the courage to persevere, despite the odds. To continue to pursue their dream. To never, ever give up! Finding my birth father on Ancestry, then my mother enabled me to come full circle and to be at peace with my life!