Tracing an Adoption: Helen’s Story

Another real life Adoption Story I’d like to share.

There’s nothing I love more than helping people find out where they come from. Adoption tracing and research can be difficult, but it is so rewarding to help uncover family history and reunite people like Helen with their birth families.

I have changed the names to protect the people involved in this particular case… except mine of course.

 This is a bit of a long one so you might want to make yourself a cup of tea!

I came across Helen when I was researching my husband’s family history.  Long story short, I met up with a lovely elderly lady called Catherine who was able to fill me in with lots of stories about the Taylor family history.

Helen is this lady’s daughter-in-law. 

When I first met Catherine, I was amazed at her memory and stories of the Taylor family who were farriers and blacksmiths to the Jameson family, of the whiskey fame, in Portmarnock, Dublin.

When I met her there was just the two of us documenting and researching the family history.  Every so often she would set me a task such as…. I wonder what happened to Rose’s children… and I would go off and track them down and at our next meeting, I would bring a new face to her dining room table. And once that task was completed, she would set me another one. Thankfully I didn’t disappoint her and more and more people came to her table. 

It was at one of these gatherings that her daughter-in-law Helen approached me and asked if I could help with her research.

Helen said she was adopted in 1970/1971 and despite searching on and off for about 10 years she was unable to locate her birth mother.  She reckoned, based on feedback from her mother-in-law Catherine, that I could find anything and that I had an innate private detective streak.  She felt that if anyone could help find her mother, I could.  No pressure then!  I absolutely love a challenge so was delighted that she approached me. Armed with my ‘rottweiler with a bone’ mentality, I set off to help Helen find her mother. 

The only official documentation that Helen could provide was her birth certificate, a copy of her baptismal record and a copy of her birth records from the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. Some information that might have helped in tracing her mother had been redacted by the Rotunda under the Freedom of Information Act.  It turns out it is very difficult to get information un-redacted especially now with GDPR. 

Helen also provided me with some research a genealogist had performed a few years previously.  This research came to the conclusion that there was so little information to go on that it was unlikely that her mother could be found.

One of the issues with research of this nature, is that although Helen was told some stories of her background, it can be hard to differentiate fact from fiction.  For example, Helen was told she was born out of an affair/fling between a married woman and other man.  So, we were unsure whether, in circumstances like that, that the mother would have used her maiden name or married name on the birth certificate and hospital records or whether the address provided was the mother’s home address or the address of a friend.  So, we had to second guess every bit of information we had and every bit of investigation we carried out. 

I had never undertaken a research project like this before… i.e. looking for someone who we guessed was around 70 if she was alive.  To be honest, it’s easier to find someone who died 100 years ago than it is to find someone who has lived / is living in recent times. 

As I wasn’t 100% sure where to start, I operated a scatter-gun approach.  So, I went off in all sorts of directions such as… analysing the birth record from the Rotunda Hospital and trying to figure out what they redacted and trying to read between the lines.  I checked the Dublin Electoral Lists in the period before and after Helen was born to see if they were living at the address on the birth certificate. I spoke with an adoption expert to understand the process and records available.  As it turned out, Helen was never actually adopted so her ‘status’ is somewhat in limbo. Her birth record from the Rotunda Hospital stated at one point ‘in lieu of adoption’ but this must not have been carried through.  It appears that Helen was given by her mother to a ‘friend’ who gave her to another friend who couldn’t have children of her own.  So, no official records exist to understand what actually happened and what timescales were involved.  Coming from a family with 2 biological siblings and 3 adopted, I was bemused by this. My mother has large adoption files for each of my siblings but there is nothing for Helen.  This all happened in 1970..… I would have thought we were passed handing children over without the formal adoption process being carried out.

As you would expect, I did a manual search in the records office in Werburgh Street for birth, marriage and death records for the names of all the people I had and for possible other children of her mother but came up with nothing.  Actually, came up with lots of certificates which proved to be incorrect. 

I checked newspaper archives and did come up with the address been mentioned on a few occasions but nothing in relation to the associated names I had on my list.  Old telephone directories were checked and although I felt I was making progress, it was more a case of process of elimination rather than a process of inclusion.

Helen had also done the Ancestry DNA test a year before we met.  I started messaging people on her list but it can be very difficult to trace your connections with 3rd or 4th cousins… there can be so many of them as 3rd cousins share a great great-grandparent.  I did get some responses from these enquiries and added the surnames to the list of possibilities.

I contacted St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin where Helen was baptised for an exact copy of her baptismal record.  Although it wasn’t a full extract, additional information came on this certificate which I was pleasantly surprised about.  The surname of the sponsor which we didn’t have previously, matched the surname of someone on the DNA list as a 3rd or 4th cousin.

After about 6/7 months of research, and still with the energy I started with, a few common threads began to appear.  I asked to join a Facebook Group which related to the area in which the address on the birth certificate referred to.  I did a posting and just explained that I was trying to track down the family with two possible surnames at the only address I had.  There were lots of comments over the period of a few weeks but I still came up with nothing concrete.  Helen had more or less given up hope of finding her mother but was happy with some of the information about her past that I had managed to ascertain. I’d rather not go into the details of that here out of respect for the people involved but from meeting various people along the way, we were able to piece together some of her early years.

Around the same time, I was fortunate enough to be checking for deaths of some of the names I had.  I came up trumps on this one as one of the surnames and the list of family members matched some information I already had.  I was able to track down one of the family mentioned on  Amazingly, even though he was only a kid himself at the time, he remembered the story of Helen.  He said he often wondered what ever happened to her so he was thrilled to get to talk to her after 47 years.  He was related to the family I was looking for but he had lost track of them and wasn’t sure where they were living or even if they were still alive.

I had been communicating with a lovely man in the Facebook Group on and off over a few months who had moved from the street listed on the birth certificate in Dublin to Birmingham. The communication had waned but I plucked up the courage to try again to see if he knew anyone else from the street that might know the family.  He put me in touch with a friend of his and this lady, over the course of another few weeks, managed to track down the mother who was a friend of her friend.

Roll forward a few weeks, and Helen and myself met her mother, her aunt, her cousin and her half brother in Dublin City Centre.  She has a few half-siblings and apparently years before, they had tried to find her through the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, but they couldn’t find her.  They were absolutely delighted that I managed to track them down.  Helen has met up with her mother and cousin a few more times since and she is beginning to learn more about her past over time.  It’s a sensitive situation for everyone involved so they are taking it easy and not overloading each other.

I received a lovely card from Helen shortly after I found her mother which read;

I cannot thank you enough for all the work you have done to get me this far.  I know that you said you enjoyed taking on my case and that it was difficult and challenging for you due to the lack of information.  Honestly you have done way beyond what I expected and more. Thank you so so much for all the information you have discovered and answering as many questions as you did. It was a very enjoyable journey.  You cannot even imagine how much peace and joy your work has given to me. You have a real passion and dedicated to this work, and it shows…. All the very best, Helen.

3 months later Helen still can’t believe that she can sit beside her mother and have a chat.  She still laughs and is amazed how 2018 has changed her life.  I fully believe that we are meant to meet people for a reason.  I believe I was meant to meet Helen to find her mother. It might have started under the guise of my husband’s family history, but it had a delightful, unexpected outcome. 

Warm wishes


Tracing an Adoption Helens Story
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