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Woman's search uncovers birth family
Raye Hedden is 62 years old, but in the last year the Shelby woman was introduced to a family she never knew.
Hedden, retired from Cleveland County Schools, was adopted as a baby in 1946 by J.R. and Marie Pittman, who lived in Pitt County. In 2004, she started a search for her birth parents that continues to lead her to more and more relatives.
While she was searching, her brother, Jim, found his birth family as well.
Hedden said many adopted children have a desire to reach out to their birth families, but it doesn't mean they think any less of their adoptive parents.
"We had the most wonderful parents," she said. "It's not to take anything away from them. My adoptive mother told me always that I was adopted. I always wondered what she (her birth mother) looked like."
Early in her search, she found a quote from Alex Haley that sums up her feelings:
"In all of us is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is a most disquieting loneliness."
A law passed in 2007 by the N.C. General Assembly is making it easier for adoptees to satisfy their need to know about their birth parents, said Susan Brannan, post-adoption intermediary specialist with the Children's Home Society of North Carolina in Greensboro.
"We began our intermediary program in January 2008," Brannan said. "More than 265 people have requested the service."
The Cleveland County Department of Social Services does not act as an intermediary, but refers adoptees to the agencies that do, said Lana White, licensing social worker. The department is allowed to give out non-identifying information, such as medical history, to adoptees who request the information in writing.
Brannan said the new law allows birth parents and/or adoptees to search using a confidential intermediary, such as the Children's Home Society.
"If there is mutual consent, then we can share identifying information," she said.
There is a fee for the service, and the process begins with a post adoption counselor contacting the adoptee or birth parent to determine what their goals are. The counselor's job is also to talk about all the things that could happen.
"We've had all kinds of scenarios," she said. "We've had happy reunions and we've had times where the birth parent was elderly and she has tried to forget. She's just not able to handle a reunion. Most of the time they are willing to exchange medical information and pleased to know they have had a wonderful life, which was what they wanted for the child."
Hedden started her search before the law was passed, but by using public records and the Internet she found her birth father's family and they have welcomed her with open arms. She met part of the family a year ago and then on Labor Day this year met all of the family. Her father had three children from his first marriage, then married a woman with six children and he and his second wife had a child together, so that meant that Hedden had three half brothers and a half sister.
"A wonderful relationship is developing not with only my aunts and uncle, but also my siblings, especially Ronnie and Lou Anne," Hedden said. "We visit each other, talk on the phone and e-mail quite often. It's wonderful to have a sister, finally - even though she's 25 years younger than me!"
She wants to encourage adopted children who've been thinking about searching for their parents to take the chance. The birth parents may not want any contact, but an adopted child could discover a family like the one she's found.
"It's an amazing story that all these relatives have opened up to me," she said. "All the members of the family keep saying, ‘We feel like we've always known you,' and I feel the same way! It's such a blessing because this is really one of the true goals of searching for one's birth family."
Raye Hedden's search
The story of Raye Hedden's search for her birth parents is filled with unbelievable events that fell into place to help her find her family.
Birth certificate - Hedden's adopted birth certificate contained a clue. The town of her adopted mother's residence was incorrect. After some more detective work, she ended up in the register of deeds office in Durham looking through the birth certificates. The second book she opened fell right to her own birth certificate. She knew it was hers because the town, time of birth, doctor's name and birth date matched the information on her adopted birth certificate. It also contained the first name her birth mother had given her at birth as well as her birth mother‘s name. "I cried like a baby," she said.
Phone call - She came back home and looked up the name on the Internet and started calling people with the same last name. "The first person I called knew my birth mother," she said. "She gave me all the information I needed."
The letter - She sent a letter to her birth mother by registered mail. The reply came in two days. Her mother sent medical information and wrote a note that said, "I always wanted the best for you, but I do not want any contact."
Inspired by her brother's search - In the meantime, her brother, who lives in Goldsboro, decided he wanted to contact his birth parents. He called the Department of Social Services in the town where he was placed for adoption and the social worker was able to give him his birth parents' names because both of them were deceased. They found relatives by checking obituaries on the Internet. He had no brothers or sisters, but met his cousin and she brought him the flag from his father's grave. He discovered that his mother's brother lived 20 minutes away. His Uncle Joe was happy to meet him and they have formed a close bond. They go fishing and talk and see each other regularly.
Another lead -The same Department of Social Services had handled her adoption, so Hedden called and was given the name of her deceased birth father. She found his obituary and contacted his siblings.
"I sent a letter to his brother and two sisters on the same day," she said. "Two days after I mailed the letter, I got a call from Uncle John Robert. He said, ‘I have known about you since before you were born and I'm 86 years old. He asked if I could come to meet them the next weekend, and said that my ‘new' brother, Ronnie wanted to call me immediately."
The first meeting - Family is important to her birth father's siblings. They have kept up their parents' homeplace and that's where they meet for family reunions. Each child has a room that is filled with pictures and memorabilia. Her Aunt Katie has completed the family tree and asked Hedden to add her name to the chart.
"We had a wonderful afternoon, I couldn't have felt more welcome," she said.
The story - Uncle John Robert told her that her father - his brother - was serving in Europe during the War when he found out about the baby. He asked John Robert to find out what he needed to do. John Robert learned that her mother had been sent away to a home for unwed mothers, and she had already been placed for adoption.