Finding Bonnie’s birth father was one of our most difficult birth parent searches.
Bonnie and her brother Michael knew they were born in Germany in the 1950s, but they did not know they were adopted until 2002. Although Bonnie had a copy of her birth cerificate, she had not questioned why her parents names did not appear on it, and why it was issued two years after she was born.
When Bonnie’s mother passed away, a chance remark by a neighbor revealed the truth. Bonnie explains:
We only found out [we were adopted] because of a neighbor woman, who knew my mother through Bingo. I was walking my dogs when she approached me and offered her condolences. She casually mentioned to me that after reading my mother’s obituary in 2002, ‘I thought your mother said you and your brother were adopted’, because the obituary stated she left a son and daughter.
If this woman had never mentioned anything, this whole experience would never have unfolded. That’s what makes our story different from other adoptees. Most adoptees knew from the get go that they were adopted or at least told by the time they were 18. Not so with us. We never knew.
As Bonnie found out when she retrieved her German birth cerificate and her court records, Bonnie and her brother Michael had been adopted in 1957, and brought to the US by their adoptive parents, Alvie and Hildegard Montgomery, a GI and his German wife. The children were naturalized and grew up in California. Bonnie discovered that her birth name was Hannelore; her brother’s was Hans Georg. The court papers gave the name of their mother as Martha G___.
Bonnie eventually located Martha living in Tennessee. Her birth mother had married another American GI, Vern H___, and moved to the United States in the late 1950s, where she had become a naturalized citizen. Bonnie’s reunion with Martha was friendly. Martha told Bonnie that after her adoptive mother Hildegard had made arrangements to adopt Bonnie, she found out about Michael. Hildegard was disraught at separating the sister and brother and begged Martha to allow them to adopt Michael, too. At first Martha said no- she thought she could raise Michael as a single mom. But Hildegard persisted and Martha relented. The two children were adopted together and soon on their way to a new life in America.
When Bonnie questioned Martha about their birth father, she was not forthcoming. She gave them few details: their father was an enlisted man named Snake Oliver from West Virginia. This would later prove completely untrue.
Bonnie contacted me in April 2009 in response to an article about the amnesiac Benjaman Kyle that appeared in the Indianapolis newspaper the Indy Star. The article gave my contact information for anyone who might recognize him.
I knew Bonnie’s case would be difficult. I began by believing everything Martha told Bonnie although I realized that “Oliver” could be either Bonnie’s dad’s first or last name. I searched all the miliary records I could access, and contacted the military base in Stuttgart where Bonnie and Michael had been adopted, as well as the VA and American Legion Headquarters in West Virginia. Yet I found no trace of Snake Oliver.
Even speaking with Martha’s close friends did not turn up anything. Martha never mentioned her children; the first time some of her inner circle knew about them was after she died and Bonnie sent a sympathy card. One of these friends gave me the name of Martha’s niece in Germany with an old address for her. The niece had since moved. It took much time to find her current address, but the niece had no further information. I contacted family members and friends in the US, Germany, and France. Nearly eveyone who had been close to Martha had passed away; those who were left could offer no help.
In the meantime, Michael took a Y-DNA test, hoping to discover their father’s last name through a match among the hundreds of thousands of entries in the genetic genealogy databases. But he found no matches that were even close.
Yet I did not give up. There was still one thing missing from the story.
Bonnie had been adopted when she was two years old, but she told me she could not recall where she had been during those two years. She said she assumed she had been with Martha. On a hunch one night, I called the Marienpflege, the largest orphanage in Germany. They could not help me directly, but the person I spoke with gave me the phone number of the Jugensamt (Youth Office) in Stuttgart, where Bonnie and Michael had been adopted. The Jugenamt in turn gave me the phone number of the Adoptionsvermittlung (Adoption Bureau).
This was right before the Christmas holidays, so I did not get much further until a few weeks later. When the government offices opened again in January, I spoke to Sybille Breit at the Adoptionsvermittlung who thankfully spoke perfect English. Sybille informed me that there are three kinds of adoptions in Germany – Catholic, Protestant, and civil, and that she was in touch with the three agencies handling them. She said she would call them and enquire about Bonnie and Michael’s adoption records.
Like magic, within days, the records appeared in my email box. Bonnie and Michael were stunned to learn that they had different fathers. They had assumed their whole lives that they were full siblings, the biological children of the parents who raised them. It was surprisng enough for them to learn they had been adopted- learning they had different fathers was overwhelming.
Both fathers had unusual names, yet they were not easy to locate. I sent countless messages to people with those family names on Facebook. I searched LinkedIn and Googled their names. I contacted the military again with the more accurate information I had. Bonnie’s father David S___ had been stationed at the Funkerkaserne in Esslingen, but it was closed a long time ago and is now in ruins. Since neither father appeared in the Social Security Death Index, I knew they were both still alive.
Finally I decided to try the good old fashioned way of finding people and looked in the telephone book. There were five David S____’s in the United States who fell within the age bracket of her biological father. On Memorial day I planned to contact them one by one, but did not get very far. The first David S___ I called was Bonnie’s dad.
The next few days were exciting. David S___ was surprised to hear about his new daughter. Martha had not told him about Bonnie. Yet he was as excited about meeting her as Bonnie was about meeting him. They were in touch at first through email and then over the phone. A paternity test came back positive making it official – I had found Bonnie’s dad.
Bonnie, her father, David, and her new sister Susan were reunited on Bonnie’s 55th birthday-a nice day for a happy ending.
As Bonnie told me: Thankfully your article about Benjamin Kyle in the INDY Star brought us to you and you were the final tool in getting this whole story unraveled! Thanks again Colleen for every effort that you’ve made in locating my birth father.
We are still searching for Michael’s birth father, and hope to have a second happy ending in the near future.