Adoption can be the single hardest brick wall we may ever come across in genealogy. This is not something that every genealogist has to face; however if we do it often brings our research for a particular family line to an abrupt halt. We won’t always find out if a distant ancestor was adopted; however many people with a parent or grandparent of adoption may never be able to even begin research on this line.
My maternal grandmother was adopted. Before finding her biological family; I never knew their names, what ethnicities I had from that side, or much at all about them. The only things that my grandma knew were guesses of the surnames of both her parents, the name of her biological sister she briefly met in elementary school, and the name of a maternal uncle she spoke with on the phone once. While this might be more than some people have with cases of adoption, it still wasn’t a lot.
Why was it difficult for me to find them? How did I find them? What did I discover once I found them?
- The Problem:
While I had a little bit of information to go off of, it still wasn’t nearly enough. Finding her biological family would be a needle in a haystack. I had no first name for her mother, the first name she thought her father had ended up being wrong, and I had no birthdates for either of them.
- How I Found Them:
Census Records: The one advantage that I had was that my grandmother was born and lived in Freeport, Illinois her whole life. It was possible her biological families lived somewhere else, however odds were they lived in Freeport. I was told her mom’s surname was Stahl, her dad’s surname was Griffin, her sister’s name was Shirley and her uncle’s name was Bill. It took me awhile to find anything on the census records; until I saw a 1940 census record for the family of Joseph and Alice Stahl. They had several children including a son named William and a granddaughter named Shirley Griffin.
Newspapers.com: Newspaper articles are one of the greatest tools for a genealogist; in many cases even better than census and vital records. Obituaries are the most common newspaper articles related to genealogy, however any newspaper article about an ancestor can tell us a lot about them. If you are looking up ancestors in Freeport, Illinois, newspapers.com will be your secret weapon. Newspapers.com honestly isn’t that great in terms of all U.S. locations, however they have a great collection of articles within publications for select cities. Here I found a marriage announcement article for a Mary Stahl and a Glenn Griffin, obituaries for Joseph and Alice Stahl, obituaries for Glenn’s parents William and Eleanor Griffin, many articles on Glenn (That’s a whole other story), and much more.
Birth Certificate: Once I had shared my initial discoveries with my family and my grandmother (who is still alive), she ordered her pre-adoption birth certificate for the first time in her life. This birth certificate confirmed that the names of her parents were Mary Stahl and Glenn Griffin.
- What I Discovered:
Finding my grandmother’s biological family led me to a place of many new discoveries. I will post future articles in further detail regarding this new side of my family, however I will provide brief summary of what I found for now:
- Mary Stahl: My great grandmother was born in Freeport, Illinois. She was the daughter of Joseph Stahl and Alice Campbell. Joseph and Alice had three other children; William, John, and Margaret.
- Glen Griffin: My great grandfather was born in Freeport, Illinois. He was the son of William Griffin and Eleanor Wallace. William and Eleanor had four other children; Francis, Lawrence, Vida, and Betty.
- Joseph Stahl: My 2nd great grandfather was born in Apple River, Illinois. He was the son of John Stahl and Lena Redemer. Joseph Stahl was of German descent. John Stahl’s parents, Nicholas Stahl and Barbara Dittmar, settled in Apple River with John and their other children after immigrating in 1854. Lena’s parents, Jacob Redemer and Margaret Hess, settled in Woodbine, Illinois. John Stahl was also a civil war veteran who fought in many battles.
- Alice Campbell: My 2nd great grandmother was born in Gratiot, Wisconsin. She was the daughter of Robert McGuigan and Margaret Campbell. Joseph and Alice raised their granddaughter Shirley as one of their daughters, and Alice herself was raised as a daughter by her maternal grandparents Peter and Julia Campbell (Both had same surname prior to marriage, no relation). Robert McGuigan was from Kendall, Wisconsin. His parents, Patrick and Margaret McGuigan, were from Ireland. Peter Campbell was from Kilmarnock, Scotland and Julia Campbell was from Donegal, Ireland.
- William Griffin: My 2nd great grandfather was born in Hazel Green, Wisconsin, to John Griffin and Loa Jenkins. John Griffin was from Clare, Ireland, and Loa Jenkins’s family was from somewhere in the United States. Their family moved from Wisconsin to Freeport, and William’s parents and some siblings later moved to Muskegon, Michigan. I have some information on the parents of John and Loa, however of the four sides the Griffin family is the most elusive.
- Eleanor Wallace: My 2nd great grandmother was born in Freeport, Illinois, to Harry Wallace and Etolia Soliday. Harry’s parents, Edwin and Harriet, were born in Ohio and New York, respectively. Etolia’s parents were George Soliday and Elizabeth Markel. George and Elizabeth were both from Pennsylvania, and some ancestors of theirs lived there during pre-Colonial times. George’s great grandfather, Johannes Soliday, is from Basel, Switzerland. It seems that Etolia’s ancestry is mostly German, Swiss, possibly French and/or Dutch. I did not figure out that Etolia was Eleanor’s mother prior to writing this post originally, so I am still learning more about this side of the family!
Finding my grandmother’s biological family opened up a whole new area of family history that I never would have otherwise found. I also found living first cousins of my grandmother and our families have now met once I tracked them down, however that is a story for another day. My piece of advice is that if you have a parent or grandparent who was adopted, don’t give up your research! I have ended up finding more on my maternal grandmother’s family who was adopted then I have with many other family lines.
My biological great grandmother, Mary Stahl
My 2nd great grandfather, Joseph Stahl
My 2nd great grandmother, Alice Campbell
My 3rd great grandfather, John Stahl