Like many adopted children, a rural Brainerd woman, now 57, had questions about her beginnings.
Looking into her past helped Lois Young Thiery find family ties separated by decades and distance, yet connected by the delicate bonds of shared heritage -- almost six decades after those connections were cut.
Lois Ann Young was 6 months old and in foster care when she was adopted. A future uncle who delivered mail to the foster home told his relatives, rural Brainerd residents Carl and Julia Young, about a remarkable child he saw there.
"He says, 'She's the cutest little girl you ever saw,'" said Lois' sister, Loretta Young Reed. The Young family adopted Lois soon after. "It was the happiest day of her sister's and her parents' life," Reed said.
Born on the Fourth of July in 1942, Lois' life came from a complicated setting. Her biological parents were living together. Her birth mother was married, but separated from her husband at the time.
Lois' birth mother, age 30 when Lois was born, had 11 children during her life -- counting those before and after Lois' birth. Her birth mother later reunited with her husband and they moved to California. Her birth father later married, had five other children and remained in Brainerd. But both people remained strangers to Lois. She went from the hospital to the foster home and then to her new family before half a year had passed.
Reed was then 12. From the beginning, before she even knew what the word meant, Lois was told she was adopted.
"I remember Mom saying she wanted her to grow up knowing (she was adopted) so it wouldn't be a big shock," Reed said.
Their father, who was 44 at the time of the adoption, died just five years later. Reed soon left the nest. And Lois and her mother faced daily life together. Lois said she would not have started looking for her biological heritage while her mother was still alive. Julia Young died 11 years ago at age 83.
"I thought being adopted was great," Lois said. "It was something special."
But as she grew, Lois said there was an empty feeling inside. Something was missing. She wondered why she was given away. There were times when people passed on the street and looked at her, leaving Lois wondering if they knew her. In 1963, Lois married Don Thiery and had two children, Linda and Cavin.
The older Lois got, the more interested she became in looking for her birth family. In 1998, she began looking in earnest and went to the courthouse to start digging for documents about her birth.
"We got very little accomplished there," Lois said. And there were times when she was not sure she should keep looking. "I would stall, because I didn't really know if I wanted to do it."
But then her son-in-law, Dan Murray, started using the Internet to search for names and connections. Tenacious once given a clue, he worked for about a month before finding the missing link -- a cousin in northern Minnesota.
Information on adoption papers and baptismal records proved helpful. Getting the original birth certificate was an eight-month battle with the state. The big breakthrough came with the next name when a cousin in Buckman was located.
"They came to Brainerd three days later and we sat and talked for about four hours," Lois said.
There were a few hurdles to overcome, including the fact that some of the family never knew about Lois and had a hard time believing her mother gave any of her children up for adoption. But in the end it was about making connections.
"They are all glad I found them, but they are a little leery just like I am," Lois said. Doubts were erased as the resemblance between Lois and a half sister is so strong the two have been mistaken for twins.
But for Lois the surprises were just starting. She realized she had known her biological father as he lived in her neighborhood.
"To find out I knew my father was a real mind blower," Lois said. "I lived just six blocks from him when I was growing up, but neither one of us knew anything about it."
He died two years ago before Lois was able to make a connection with him.
But for Lois the benefit of looking for her heritage -- beyond the family that loved and raised her -- has been the connection with additional siblings. Her birth father's oldest daughter stopped to visit last summer. She made contact with many on her biological mother's side. Phone calls and photographs are traded through the mail. Lois found she and a sister, Linda, 52, had similar tastes, use the same soap and even had some of the same decor in each of their homes. Linda, who bears a striking resemblance to Lois, flew to Brainerd from California.
"The minute the plane touched down the tears started," Lois said. "Meeting her was like I've known her all my life. You feel very connected. ... It's hard to know how to put it all into words. ... It's like you are hit with a ton of bricks really."
Lois had seven half brothers and four half sisters on her biological mother's side. Three of those siblings are now deceased. Lois made the trip to California to meet with two more sisters, Lavern and Virginia.
"I used to think it was environment," Reed said of the common question of nature vs. nurture. "But now I see it's so much hereditary."
Reed said she was fine with the family search for connections with other siblings. "She was adopted and always knew she was loved."
Lois said looking and finding the connections helped close a chapter in her life and fill a void. "It's like it's all completed."
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