Adoption and the questions it left
My Great Grandmother was placed for adoption and a question of her biological family has lingered for many years. Here is how I solved a 106-year-old mystery using DNA.
The Start Of Our Family Tree
If you have read the About Me page, then you know I was never interested in genealogy. In fact, it was my Grandmother, Marie, who started our family tree back in the 1990s. She began researching our family because her Mother, Helen, was adopted. Helen never knew anything about her biological family and so Marie began researching in hopes to find the answer.
Growing up, Marie would try and tell me stories or talk to me about new discoveries she made in her research and I would half listen to her. At some point, my Grandfather emailed me a GEDCOM file of our family tree. I never opened it and just saved it to a folder in my inbox. Shortly after 2009, Marie’s computer crashed and she lost all of the research she spent years preparing. Ultimately, she gave up and washed her hands of family history forever without any answers to who Helen’s biological family was.
During 2017 my Husband and I took a 23andme DNA test. While waiting on the results, I remembered I still had the GEDCOM file in my email and decided to upload it to ancestry.com. I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at or how my Grandmother came to find all of the names in our tree.
Our results came in and I noticed I had a match named Mike, who was listed as a 2nd cousin. Growing up, my family was very close and I knew I did not have a second cousin named Mike. I sent him a message on 23andme in August 2018, asking him if he would be able to help me figure out our connection. Immediately, he responded and explained that his Father Russ grew up not knowing his own father. Mike’s Grandma never spoke about her family and Russ had never met them. He knew small details about his Grandmother, such as approximate birth date and location and her death date and location. We were no closer to figuring out how we could be related.
DNA Testing For Each Side
Not having any idea how we were connected we decided the next step would be for myself, my Mother, and my Paternal Grandparents to all take an ancestry DNA test to see who Mike matched with. The DNA tests narrowed down that Mike and I were connected through my Grandma Marie. Luckily, Marie had done extensive research on her paternal line and we were able to quickly dismiss a connection on the Jotz side due to no shared matches in common on that line.
Shared DNA Gives Us A Clue
Mike and Marie had a fairly significant amount of shared DNA at 454 cM’s. There was an 89% chance Mike and Marie were either 1st cousins 1x removed, half 1st cousins, 2nd great-grandparent or 2nd great-child or 2nd great Aunt/Uncle or half great Aunt/Uncle. Based off of Marie and Mike’s age, the only likely combination would be 1st cousins 1x removed or half 1st cousins. Looking at the information I had for Helen and the information he had for his Grandmother Ethel, our hypothesis was that Helen and Ethel may have been sisters or Helen was a sister to Russ’s father.
The Basic Information We Had
According to the information my Grandma provided in the family tree I was able to begin my search with the following:
Helen Landtree was born 20 Sept 1911 in either Newark, New Jersey or Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. In October 1913 Helen was surrendered to the Children’s Aid Society and placed into the home of Otto and Barbara Stumpf. In 1926, Helen was adopted by Barbara Stumpf and her name was legally changed to Helen Barbara Stumpf.
With Mike’s information on his Grandmother Ethel we were able to gather the following:
Louise Lambert may also have been known as Louise Cutting or Louise Lamfren born in 1899-1900 in NY.
Armed And Ready Or So We Thought
Somewhere in my brain, I rationalized the idea I could call an orphanage and they would just give me the answers I needed. Let me be the first to tell you I was SO wrong! Being armed with the information that Helen was placed with the Children’s Aid Society I set off to google. I came back with a result for the Children’s Aid Society in NYC and somehow thought that made sense. I fired off an email with all the information I had. A nice gentleman replied that he could find no records and asked if I was sure it was the Children’s Aid Society of NYC. I’m not sure why I never thought to check New Jersey first.
The man recommended an agency that may hold the records, I called and sure enough no record. Another Google search lead me to some more listings and contacted a few more agencies. A wonderful woman sent me a PDF. This PDF had all of the closed orphanages in the state of New Jersey and where their records were currently being held. By law in New Jersey, adoption records must be kept for 99 years and if that agency closes another agency must take the records. This was wonderful news and a great resource if I only knew which orphanage Helen was placed with. I had to dig deeper.
Time To Dig In
The Surrogate Court holds adoption records and I thought maybe it would be best to begin my search there. I headed to Newark, New Jersey to the Essex County Surrogate Court. In their archival room, I found books containing adoption court cases prior to 1940. Reading each book, I found no mention of Helen or Helen’s adopted Mother Barbara Stumpf. Next, I checked with the Monmouth County Surrogate Court in Freehold, New Jersey. BINGO! I found Helen’s adoption paperwork, I paid my copy fee and hurried to my car as fast as I could. Reading all 7 pages I found no mention of Helen’s mother’s name. I was a bit disappointed but expected as much. However, I was able to find the name of the orphanage.
Finding The Adoption Agency
Using the PDF file I had received, I contacted a woman at YCS in Newark. Upon her first search, she was unable to locate a record for Helen using her biological last name Landtree. I asked if she would please search again, but this time use the name of her adoptive mother, Stumpf and sure enough, she found the file. She went on to explain to me that she could not release any identifying information and that the file was very small. It contained the court paperwork I already had, an application to Foster from her Foster parents, a list of references for Barbara and Otto and a surrender form that Helen’s birth mother signed. I wanted the name on the surrender form, but since it was identifying information they could only release it to Helen or the biological mother. Obviously given the fact both parties would be well over 100 years old that wasn’t going to happen. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
The Hunt Continues
Mike and I worked together to gather as much information as possible. He sent off for Louise’s Death Certificate and I obtained Helen’s corrected birth certificate and her death certificate. We both ran searches on ancestry and familysearch.org to see what, if any, information we could find. I would search using Helen’s biological last name Landtree and most of the time I would get zero results or very minimal results. This led me to believe Landtree was either misspelling or a fictitious last name, either way, it was discouraging. Mike’s searches for Louise turned up very little results that provided us with no new information.
In The End It All Pays Off
During the end of April 2019, Mike received Louise’s death certificate and I am so thankful for that piece of paper. Previous information we had on Louise was either incorrect or not complete information. For example, Louise’s name. Louise was her middle name and her first name was Ethel. We also had a new lead on the last name for Louise, which was, Lamphrey. Louise’s birth year was also incorrect according to the death certificate. Using the new information we had, I headed to ancestry.com and plugged it into the search. The very first record it showed me was Baptism record for a child of Ethel Louise Lamphrey. That child was my great grandmother! Charlotte Angela Lamphrey was born 20 Sept 1911. I could not believe my eyes.
Putting The Pieces Together
Since finding out who Helen’s birth Mother was, Mike and I have continued to research and create a clearer picture of Ethel’s life and her tough decision to place Helen for adoption.
During July of 1911, 15-year-old Ethel went to St. Katherine’s home in Jersey City. We believe she committed to living there for a year, where she was taught religious instruction and basic domestic duties. During her stay, she gave birth to Charlotte (Helen) and both were discharged from the home in October of 1912. After being discharged, Ethel and Charlotte went to live in Massachusetts with Ethel’s stepfather, Joseph’s, brother Henry and his wife Clara Kearny. In January 1913, a sister from St. Katherine’s went to visit with Ethel and Charlotte and reported that Ethel was not doing well. A few months after that visit, Ethel returned to New Jersey and placed Charlotte into the care of the Children’s Aid Society with the intent to have her placed for adoption.
Who is Helen’s Father?
Who was Helen’s father? Her adoption paperwork held no clues, except he was illegitimate and not in the picture. I was able to obtain a copy of Helen’s original birth certificate from the New Jersey State Archives. Low and behold it named a father, unfortunately, it was not a name I wanted to see. According to the Birth Certificate, Helen’s father was Joseph Kearny. Joseph, if you remember was Ethel’s stepfather. My heart sunk and I felt so sorry for 15-year-old Ethel. I have not yet been able to conclude Joseph is, in fact, Helen’s father with the use of DNA, but paper records indicate he is.
Using DNA and the paper records Mike and I have found, we can confidently say Ethel Lamphrey is the mother of Helen Stumpf aka Charlotte Lamphrey. Mike’s father Russ was also Ethel’s child, making Helen and Russ half-siblings. Based on the shared DNA, 454 cM’s of Mike and Marie, that places them within the half first cousin range. This relationship, based on the records found, is correct. Building upon the family tree with the new information found on Ethel, including, a birth certificate that lists Ethel’s parents as Elizabeth Cutting and William H Lamphrey we have been able to confirm more DNA matches. Some of the matches shared between Mike and Marie we have been able to successfully confirm to the Cutting family, further confirming Helen and Russ both descend from Ethel.
If you or someone you know would like some help trying to sort DNA matches or trying to find answers to family mysteries, please contact us. We would love to help in any way we can.