Today is a special anniversary. July 17th is the date that my dear Nana was born, it was also the date in 2017 that my cousin, Tina, and I connected through Ancestry.com. I can’t help but think that my Nana was pulling some strings in heaven and connecting me with the answers that I have long been seeking. Tina was a gift from heaven from my Nana. Frankly, as you read through this story, it is apparent that a lot of angels are involved in this journey of mine!
[If this is your first time reading my Adoption Story, it is a fascinating journey told in pieces. For your best experience, start from the beginning at: Adoptee with a Note]
I was content with what I had learned on my Birth Mother’s side. On my Birth Father’s side, my hope was waning, but there was the new clue, the last name Andersen. I revisited the massive family trees of Cathy and Kevin, the people I matched DNA with at a 4th cousin level. I searched for the surname Andersen. Of course, there were many!
A vital lesson I learned in researching Danish surnames is that, up until a few generations ago, surnames changed with each generation. Each child had a different surname than their parents. The children’s surname would reflect their father’s first name and then their gender. For example, if the father’s name was Niels Hansen and he had a son, Anders, and a daughter, Lara, the son’s name would be Anders Nielsen (son of Niels) and the daughter’s name would be Lara Nielsdatter (daughter of Niels). Then when the son, Anders Nielsen, married and had a son, Hans, his name would be Hans Andersen and then his son’s surname would be Hansen. Get it? You can see how challenging it is to trace a Danish family tree. I gave up after a week of fruitless digging and researching.
One fall morning, I was perusing my Facebook feed, and an old photo came up of a Vestal high school’s men’s sport team (I am leaving the specific sport out to protect identities). The team photo had been circulating on Facebook for a while with several shares. The first posting of the photo was in 2016. The photo contained Vestal high school classmates from the class of 1982 (my class) and from the class of 1983. Many of the young men in the photo I was friends with on Facebook. A few I had dated in high school. Many I had crushes on and wanted to date! Lol! It might have been a “Throw Back Thursday” or something but my high school alumni were sharing the photo and making comments about those good old days. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the comments on the photo was from a man named Ben Andersen. He was commenting on the pic, asking a “Does anyone remember…” type question. I looked closer at the picture to see if Ben Andersen was in the pic, which he was, in the back row, tall and looking a little annoyed – or maybe that was his tough look (of course, none of the guys smiled in the photo). He looked vaguely familiar, a member of the class of 1983. I wondered if he might have some ideas on how to find other Andersen’s from Vestal. I sent him a Facebook friend request.
Weeks and months flew by without any new information or leads on my Birth Father. The holidays came and went and as 2018 began, I solidified a trip to Florida to meet my new cousin, Tina. The plan was to fly in on the day after Valentines Day, stay with my Dad and his wife and spend a whole day with Tina! She had taken a day off work and our schedules were devoted completely to each other. I was counting the days.
On the morning of February 2nd, 2018, Facebook notified me that Ben Andersen accepted my friend request. I paced my home trying to figure out how to ask someone I don’t know, who just accepted my friend request, to help me find my Birth Father. I decided that the only way to do it, is to do it. I wrote him a private message through Facebook that started with:
“Hi Ben. Thanks for accepting my friend request. I have a wild story to share with you. Afterwards, I hope you don’t regret accepting. LOL …”
I explained how I was adopted and had been searching for my birth parents for most of my adult life and that I had limited pieces of information. I told him through the DNA test in Ancestry.com I found my Birth Mother, but she was not interested in connecting. I revealed that I learned my Birth Father’s last name was Andersen and that he was from Vestal. I asked Ben if he would be interested in helping me find any information on the Vestal Andersen’s from the 1960s? I shared my contact info and closed with: “I hope I didn’t blow your mind?” 😊
I received a reply from Ben that afternoon. He responded, “Yes, mind blown.” He wanted to connect via phone and sent his contact info to my email. In that email Ben said he would love to help me but wasn’t sure how. I decided to share more about my journey before we spoke and wrote a lengthy summary of what had transpired to that point and shared my Birth Mother’s name, Angela Verde from Binghamton. I concluded that if he had any information that could help me, I’d be grateful.
That same night, as my husband and I were getting ready for bed, I went to turn off my phone and saw that I had a new voice mail and several texts. The voice mail and texts were from Ben. He said he had spoken with his Uncle that evening and he had some important information to share with me.
Ben’s voicemail said, “Call me back this evening, if you can. You are going to want to hear this.” I looked at the time. It was after 11 pm on the East Coast. I texted Ben and asked if he was still up.
“Yes, call me!”
I looked at my husband, Steve, and said, “I think this is big. Should I call tonight?”
Steve looked at me like I had three heads, “YES! I think you should call right now!”
I felt butterflies awaken in my stomach. I took a deep breath, sat down and dialed Ben’s number.