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Long search leads to a family united

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In 1973, when Carrie Stephens was 11-years-old, her father Ron had the most serious talk with her of his entire life.  Carrie had known all along that Ron Anderson was more than her adoptive father, but he was her Dad—the only father she had ever known.

That said, with the most selfless act imaginable, Ron sat his daughter down and told her, “Carrie, if you ever want to find your biological parents, I will help you.”  Other than always being told that she was special because she was adopted, she hadn’t ever given much thought to doing anything other than living life as a normal kid with two loving parents.

However, one year later, her adoptive mother Carolyn passed away. Months passed and Carrie began to remember her Dad’s words.  I will help you find your biological parents.  To a 12 year old who was experiencing grief of the deepest magnitude, this became a thought in her young mind.  There was one caveat.  Through the retelling of her adoption story, Carrie had used her intuition to glean just enough information to realize that her biological parents definitely did not ever want to be found.  Out of respect for them, she suppressed her desire for understanding and closure of her biological identity and embraced the grief of her adoptive mother Carolyn’s death, while making a commitment to herself at this young age to overcome it.

Odessa, Texas – September 1962: J.L. Mills knew what he had to do when he met with attorney Bill Kimbrough and assistant Charlene Collins that day.  He had committed to sign away parental rights of the upcoming child his wife Hilda was carrying.  This would have been their sixth baby and another mouth to feed during a time in which his work in the oil field would scarcely pay the bills. 

Like just about everything else in his life, the conditions of the adoption would be on his terms.  This would be a closed adoption.  Not only would all medical and legal expenditures be paid by the adoptive parents, but also, the cost of Hilda’s sterilization procedure to ensure that this never happened again.

Mr. Kimbrough located a couple who was more than eager to meet all of J.L.’s conditions in an attempt to finally have a child of their own.  Everything was set in motion to take place until the instant J.L. Mills inadvertently spotted the names of the adoptive parents on the final legal paperwork on the day of the signing.  He pushed his part of the unsigned paperwork back across the table to Mr. Kimbrough, stood up, and then walked away. 

Finding another couple that would meet J.L.’s terms was no easy task for Mr. Kimbrough.  Finally, he located a couple that had not been able to conceive any children of their own due to the wife’s pre-diabetic condition.  This time he ensured J.L. that he would protect both parties by keeping their names confidential.  Once Mr. Kimbrough confirmed that the deal had been accepted, Ron and Carolyn Anderson were overjoyed that the quest for a child of their own was soon to be satisfactorily put to rest. 

On October 10, 1962 a baby girl was born at Midland Memorial Hospital in Midland, TX.  Three days later, a pediatric nurse who had been on her usual shift, though this shift was anything but routine, swaddled the baby.  The nurse carried the newborn out of the nursery and placed her into the hands of legal assistant Charlene Collins who held the baby tight while, without hesitation, Bill Kimbrough drove to the Anderson home and handed the baby to Carolyn for the first time.  On October 13, the baby received a name, Carrie René Anderson.

Lewisville, Texas – May 2000: It was highly unusual that Carrie ever thought much about her biological parents, but one particular day she knew that the curiosity of her mysterious past had gotten the best of her when she found herself searching an investigatory website for adoption proceedings.  This pursuit for truth had initially been prompted by her 9-year-old daughter Morgan who had encouraged her to do so, simply to find a link to their medical backgrounds.  

She vaguely recalled her maternal Grandmother saying that she thought the names of her biological parents might be J.L. and Hilda Mills, but couldn’t remember if this was just hearsay in a small town or something of true significance.  There were suspicions that the legal assistant Charlene, who was also Carolyn Anderson’s close personal friend, may have allowed the information to leak out to the family in an attempt to leave a trail to the past.

Nevertheless, she created the following post on Ancestry.com:

Sept. 11, 2000 – I am searching for anyone who may know Hilda or J. L. Mills. I was born October 10, 1962, in Midland, Texas. My father (I was told) worked in the Oil fields. Hilda was around 37 years of age when she gave birth to me. I would like to contact either my birth parents or my birth brothers and sisters. I do know that I was the 6th child and the last. I need to fill in the gap where this emptiness lies and find my natural birth family. Thanks to anyone that may help me. Carrie

December 2012 – Atlanta, GA: Barbara Smith was on her lunch hour as a paralegal when she stumbled upon an article at CNN.com that highlighted the internet’s increasing role in reuniting adoptive families.   By then, it was no secret that all of her siblings held the same belief that there might be another someone out there who was likely their own flesh and blood–someone they had never met, though they all believed this someone was a brother. 

It wasn’t until after the death of J.L. Mills that Diann, the oldest of the children revealed that at the age of 14, her father had revealed the family secret that baby #6 whom they all believed to be deceased was actually alive and had been adopted out.  She had carried the burden of knowing this all of her life.  For unknown reasons, J.L. had told her the baby was a boy.  Before passing away, he had also revealed the same family secret to brother Dale in the late 1990s.

After reading the CNN post and considering the possibility of finding the sixth sibling, Barbara decided one last time to search online following the guidelines of the article.  Feeling like if the mystery was ever going to be solved, it was going to be right now, she Googled her parents’ names.  Though there had never been any prior results, a post from the year 2000 showed up in the feed.  It was simply signed “Carrie, from Lewisville, TX”, also known as User 230377.

Though Barbara wanted to embrace her skepticism, she recognized that this “Carrie” knew things about her family that no one else could have known.  After making an attempt on her own to contact Carrie, with no successful response, she sent the following post through OmniTrace Corp on Christmas Day of 2012:

I need to contact User 230377.  I just stumbled across her post on the web a week or so ago and her description of her natural parents are mine, without a doubt.  I believe she must be my full sibling that was adopted out at birth.  She has not responded to my post on your registry, so I am thinking she gave up and is no longer a member of your registry.  Is there a way to get in contact with her to let her know I’m registered?  I tried to contact her 12/14/12, with no reply.

January 11, 2013 – Atlanta, GA: At 2:59 PM as Barbara Smith was immersed in her work, she received the following email:

Dear Barbara: Thank you for selecting OmniTrace for your search requirements.  We are happy to provide you with the results of your search and have posted the information below. 

The email included Carrie’s name, birthday, an address and her possible phone numbers.

Double Oak, Texas – January 12, 2013: It had been one of the most difficult
weeks of Carrie Stephens’ life.  The last of her two long-time pets had been put down due to old age and the grief was overwhelming.  First, there had been Abby, a German Shepherd who passed away last fall, and now Bosco, also a German Shepherd of 13 years.   The tears would not stop coming. 

Carrie was trying to gather herself emotionally and realized that she had received a missed call and voicemail from an Atlanta phone number.  The voice she heard wasn’t necessarily trembling, but seemed to hold a cautious question mark within it. 

Hello Carrie, this is Barbara Mills Smith.  If you are the person who believes your birth parents to be J.L. and Hilda Mills and is currently looking for your birth siblings, I believe I am your sister.

After a few moments to collect herself, Carrie placed the call to Barbara in Atlanta.  Within days, a trip for the reunion was being planned between all of the siblings. 

DNA tests would be ideal, but neither woman was convinced they were necessary any longer.  They connected via social media and emailed pictures of one another prior to the reunion just to get acquainted, the unspoken message of the pictures being joy and the fulfillment of a hope deferred.

The Reunion – Double Oak Texas – February 23, 2013: All four of the living siblings arrived in Dallas on Friday, Feb. 22, and checked into a hotel (Dale had passed away in 1998).  They spoke by phone with Carrie to make final arrangements for the next day’s meeting.  Everyone was equally nervous and elated.  The siblings brought duplicated scrapbooks, picture DVDs, and photos of their childhood and their parents to give to Carrie so she could see into their lives with her own eyes and capture those moments for the first time.

“When we pulled up to her house, we didn’t park in the circular driveway.  We parked near the garage and laughed about it.  That’s what families do,” said Barbara.

When Carrie came out to greet her siblings, everyone hugged and felt like they knew each other instantly.  “Though she had prepared a brunch, very little eating took place as the entire group visited throughout the day,” said Barbara.

“Ron Anderson came over to join us around 4 PM and still expressed tears when he relayed the adoption story from his perspective,” recalled Barbara.  It was a story that had impacted all of their lives and he was the last living link to what had happened in 1962.

Both Carrie and Barbara agreed that the overlying theme to their story is God’s impeccable timing.  “It was God’s will that we lost her and I know now that it is God’s will that we found her.  We have claimed her as our own and she is our sister.”

Carrie and Morgan are scheduled to attend the next family reunion with extended family in Mississippi this July.  Incidentally, the day following the reunion, Carrie adopted a 4-year-old German Shepherd named Otto.

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