Monday, September 12, 2011

Finding Nancy Beth

Nancy Beth was my aunt.  I suppose I want you to know this, because up until a few months ago... I didn't even know it.  I didn't know Nancy Beth.  I didn't know my dad had a sister.  My dad didn't know he had a sister.  

Nancy Beth was my aunt and she had down syndrome.  

It's quite unreal how this all came to the surface.  Back in February I started researching my ancestral roots.  I joined a website ( and started rifling through census reports, obituaries, and marriage certificates online.  I felt as if I was combining my interest in history with my love of mystery novels.  I enjoyed it.

Researching my mom's family was easy, even predictable, but I knew my dad's family would yield some interesting finds.  He never knew his biological father, instead he was raised by his biological mom and his adoptive father.  He had a warm and loving childhood, but it was made clear that he shouldn't ask questions about his "real" father.  So he didn't.  

But starting this spring, I did.  I asked all kinds of questions as I unraveled the mess of secrets that had been knotted for decades.  I found that in the center of it all was Nancy Beth.

In 1939 families didn't raise "special needs" children.  Doctors advised new mothers to abandon their imperfect children to the custody of the state.  They convinced parents that the social stigma of raising an abnormal child would be too difficult for other children in the family to bare.  And often parents, still reeling from the wrenching pain and disappointment of dreams dashed,  listened to these professional advisers.  

 My grandparents listened too.  At one month of age, Nancy was entrusted to the state.  She was put into a foster home until she was two and a half.  From there she was sent to a state home and institutionalized for the rest of her life. In 1966 she was baptized, and she died in 1993 at the age of 54.  

 These are the facts as I have learned them, and I hope to discover more about her.  Someday, I hope to see a picture, but even if I never do, I have a strong suspicion that one day I will finally meet Nancy Beth.

Nancy Beth was my aunt and I'd like you to know that.

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