Anita Creamer: Finding the family she never knew she had
By Anita Creamer - Bee ColumnistPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, February 4, 2007
She's always thought of herself as an only child, a singleton in a world of siblings. But now Crystal Weber has learned she's part of a sprawling family of brothers and sisters -- in Germany.
"My adoptive parents were so wonderful," says Weber, 40, a graphic designer who lives in east Sacramento. "When I was little, they told me they wanted a baby so bad, they went all the way across the ocean to Germany, and out of all the babies in the world, they chose me."
The truth was a little less poetic, if no less involved. Her parents, Jim and Wilma Tucker, lived in Germany when her father was in the Army. They adopted Crystal in 1966, and then they returned home to raise her as their American child.
The Tuckers later divorced, and Wilma returned to Fresno, where she had family. Jim remarried and had more children. Ties can fray, and families can grow distant: Crystal says she didn't really know any of her half-siblings for many years.
She felt like an only child, albeit one who knew the name of her German birth mother, Hannelore. She also knew she'd had an identical twin who died just after birth. The Tuckers had planned to adopt them both.
But growing up in Fresno, Crystal was surrounded by a large, loving extended family.
"I didn't think about my German family," she says. "In my 20s, I went through a period of wanting to find my birth mother, but I didn't go full force. I don't speak German, and the language barrier was so intimidating. And I thought it would cost hundreds of dollars."
Even so, she changed her surname to Weber, the name on her German birth certificate. And when she and her partner at the time visited Europe in 1991, they went to the Bavarian town of Ansbach, where Crystal was born. "There were four women listed in the phone book with my birth mother's first and last names," she says. "It freaked me out. I walked around crying."
Life rarely presents us with a clear and linear plot. And so it wasn't until last year that Crystal returned to her search. That's when she learned about an American woman named Angela Shelley, who lives in Germany and searches birth records there for foreign adoptees.
By fall, Crystal learned that she had at least two older siblings, and that another brother had died at age 3. On Dec. 6, Shelley called her from Germany with more news.
"She said my mother's still alive and in a nursing home," says Crystal. "That just floored me. And then she said, 'You have six brothers and sisters, all living within 100 miles of each other in Germany.' She told me their names and ages."
Although their birth mother gave all of them up immediately after birth, the German siblings -- ranging in age from 36 to 49 -- found each other several years ago. And now their American sibling has found them, too.
"I hung up the phone and burst into tears," says Crystal. "It was so overwhelming to realize I'm connected by blood to people who look like me."
Halfway around the world, six German citizens are marveling at the fact that they have a sister in California. Her brothers, says Crystal, sent her Christmas cards telling her she was the best Christmas gift ever.
One of them, 44-year-old Ralf Linder, plans to visit Sacramento in a few weeks, which presented a new question.
"I've been out since I was 16," says Crystal. "It's not an issue. But what if my new family rejected me? It brought up a lot of fears. I wanted to make sure Ralf knew before he comes."
So she conferred with friends, e-mailed another brother, Michael Steiner, and held her breath until he got back to her.
"He said, 'Of course, everything's OK. Of course, it doesn't matter.'"
She's planning a trip to Germany this summer. She's also planning to learn German, at last.
"This feels so special, because we all grew up in other families, and then we found each other," she says. "I'm so excited."