Feature Story: A 24-Year Search For Birth Parents


Sunday Oregonian, Sept. 21, 1913

Donald T. (09 Apr 1911) was placed in Portland’s Waverly Baby Home (later known as the Waverly Children’s Home), and legally adopted in 1914. Although  he acknowledged growing up adopted into a wonderful family, the question of who his birth parents were persisted throughout his life . . . he simply ‘wanted to know his story’.

As an adult, Donald T. (“Don”) contacted the Waverly Home for his birth parents information, but due to Oregon’s confidentiality adoption law, received no information. He then petitioned the Circuit Court to obtain his sealed birth records, but his petition was denied.

The years passed for Don, though the desire and hope to know about his birth parents never ceased. By 1994 at age 83, Don was married and settled in Woodburn, across the street from SGS member Pat Rongey. He learned of her interest in genealogy, and sought her help to discover something about his birth parents. She agreed to ‘look into it’, without realizing it would become a project that would take 24 years of research to ultimately solve.

From the start, there were numerous brickwalls, mainly because Don’s information was sketchy, at best. According to Don, his birth father was Leo M. from Canada, born in England. In those years, Pat researched the traditional way – viewing original paper records, microfilm, or first generation computer screens. She could find no record of Leo M. (Her earliest sources were the Oregon State Archives Library in Salem).

In 1997, Pat encouraged Don to again petition the Circuit Court in Salem for the release of his birth records, but once more, his petition was denied. Pat continued to pursue the release of Don’s records through research and periodically calling or writing the Court.

In 1998, Oregon voters passed ballot Measure 58*, allowing adult adoptees to order birth certificates listing their biological parent(s). However before the measure could go into effect, it was appealed (11/1998), stayed a number of times, reviewed by the Marion County Court, the Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon Court of Appeals (12/29/1999 – upheld constitutionality of Measure 58), Oregon Supreme Court (1/7/2000 – request for review denied), and an unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (5/31/2000). After 18 months of appeals, stays and extensions, the law finally went into effect on May 31, 2000.  In the first year alone, the Center for Health Statistics issued 5,565 birth certificates. (Source: Annual Report, Oregon Health Authority, Measure 58 History)

Oregon Adoption Search and Registry Program
The “Department of Human Services (DHS), through Oregon’s Adoption Search and Registry Program has a record of all adoptions that have finalized in Oregon since 1920.” Source: Oregon Department of Human Services

While the law applied to the release of records for adoptions from 1920, Don’s adoption occurred in 1914, six years prior to that date.

Following many years of research and advances in digital records, Pat obtained information for both sides of Don’s family, back to 1600. A key part of her research was determining the correct names for his parents.

In 2002 as digital records became more accessible, Pat was able to determine Don’s father was born in 1883 in Queens, Prince Edward Island, Canada. The 1930 U.S. Census lists his occupation as a gas station operator. He died in Portland in 1993. She also learned Don’s birth name was A. W. Donald.
Sources: Ancestry.com; Library of Congress Newspapers, Census records, Search Angels.

Initially, Pat could find no information on Don’s mother. She even researched various forms of the last name ‘Donald’, including MacDonald and McDonald whose spouse was named Mary. According to Don, his mother’s name was Mary W., from Tillamook, Oregon. Pat discovered however, her name to be Matilda (“Tillie”) G., born about 1885 in Minnesota and a year younger than Don’s father. She was one of 13 children. Her father was born in Canada and her mother in Minnesota. They came by train to Portland in 1888.
In 1930 Tillie became a partner in a successful Portland real estate company, working there until 1974. She lived to be 102 in Portland – much of that time less than 30 miles from her birth son Don T.
Sources: 1930 Census – Place: Portland, Multnomah, Oregon; Roll: 1954; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0497; Ancestry.com, Newspapers – Wedding anniversary announcement for parents; Library of Congress digitized newspapers, various State of Oregon websites.

Don passed away in 2002, without knowing the results of Pat’s research. In his final days, he thanked Pat for her research efforts and made a request that when his birth mother was discovered, she place a flower on her grave for him. Recently, Pat discovered Don’s parents are buried in adjoining plots in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portland.
Sources: Ancestry.com, Newspapers – Wedding anniversary announcement for her parents; FindAGrave.

To finalize her 24-year research, Pat contacted Don’s granddaughter (in Beaverton) to arrange a visit to the grave of Don’s parents, and to fulfill Don’s request of placing a flower on his mother’s grave.  Pat intends to print her research (thru Family Tree Maker’s publish feature) and provide Don T.’s daughter with a Gedcom file of her research.

* To view a Timeline of Oregon’s Measure 58 Pre-adoption Birth Record Law, click HERE. Source: Oregon Health Authority


SGS member Pat Rongey is a volunteer Genealogy Researcher at the Siuslaw Public Library.  She is also a Master Recycler and manages the successful fundraising Recycle Project for the Siuslaw Genealogical Society.

About siuslawgenealogy

The Siuslaw Genealogical Society of Florence, Oregon is a member supported, non profit organization. Researching genealogy and family history is our passion.
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2 Responses to Feature Story: A 24-Year Search For Birth Parents

  1. Steven Hollingsworth says:

    I too was adopted from the Waverly baby home and have wanted to find my biological family .,

  2. Steven Hollingsworth says:

    I too was adopted from the Waverly baby home and have wanted to find my biological family .,

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