ELWOOD — Karen Simmons Warner has known since she was a small child that she was adopted.
Up until a month ago, the 49-year-old didn’t know she’s a twin.
Senate Enrolled Act 91, passed in 2018, enables Indiana residents adopted before 1993 to request access to their adoption records. Prior to July 1, 2018, those records were sealed.
Laws regarding access to birth records vary by state and by year of adoption, according to the National Council For Adoption. Access to records can also depend on the discretion exercised by birth parents and adoption parents at the time of the adoption.
Warner obtained the paperwork to request her adoption records shortly after the Indiana legislation became law, but she did not follow through for several months. She grew up with a loving and supportive family, she said, and did not need her birth records to find her identity. Her decision to obtain her birth records was motivated by her desire to learn about her natural family’s medical history.
But her interests — and emotions — changed on the day she received her original birth certificate. Warner was listed as the first born in a set of boy-girl twins at 5:47 a.m. on Nov. 18, 1969.
“I seriously started crying, I was so happy,” Warner recalled.
She was born at St. John’s Hickey Memorial (now St. Vincent Anderson Hospital) to Norma Joanne Cunningham Reed. The name of Warner’s father is listed as undetermined or unknown.
Additional records showed Reed had several other children. She died in 1991.
Inquires at the Madison County Health Department show at least five boys were born in Anderson on Nov. 18, 1969. But officials say they did not know whether adopted children were listed in the statistical data, which is maintained at the state level.
Information about the number of twins born that day was unavailable. Warner posted on Facebook about her quest to learn more about her birth mother and twin brother, and she sought help through the Indiana Adoptee Network. Her “search angels” told her to take down the post.
The organization said that revealing the name of her birth mother might create hardship for her birth family and that she should try to locate her family through DNA testing and other research.
Warner removed the post and has tried to reach the children Reed had while married, before Warner’s birth.
She also took DNA tests through three organizations, hoping to find her twin. The testing revealed she had British ancestry.
“I had no clue,” she said with a laugh. “When I grew up, I would always imagine I was part Mexican or Indian or something like that. I had no clue I was British.”
A week ago, Warner finally made contact with one of her older half-siblings.
“He said he has not had any contact with my other two half-siblings in 15 or 20 years,” she said. “Basically, all he could tell me about my biological mother was that she gave him and the other two up for adoption when he was 5.”
The half-brother, who lives about two hours away from Elwood, didn’t have much contact with his birth mother after she signed over his custody rights.
“He didn’t know anything about his own mother, which was sad,” Warner said. “He had no clue about me.”
Reed bore three of Warner’s half-siblings while married and then had a set of twins, according to Warner. Attempts to talk to her other half-siblings have been unsuccessful.
ADOPTION RECORDS ARE IN DISARRAY
Madison County Historian Stephen Jackson has adoption records from the local Calvin Bronnenberg Children’s Home, which closed in 1994.
He’s helped about 113 families in Madison County learn valuable information from the records, but his files don’t go back any farther than December 1969 — falling less than a month short of Warner’s birth.
Warner was three months old when she was adopted, and Jackson couldn’t find her in his files. The orphanage records from 1969 to 1994 are still kept at the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center on Mounds Road where the old orphanage was located, Jackson said. But the documents are in disarray.
“There’s some unbelievable tales,” he said. “Of all of the records I’ve opened to help people, I can’t think of one instance of what I call a true orphan. To me, a true orphan is a child without any parents. ... All of those children whose records I’ve looked at have at least one and sometimes both parents still living at the time they are placed in the home.”
Welfare situations, alcoholism, incarcerated fathers and mothers who took off with the “neighbor man,” Jackson said, are among scenarios listed in adoption records for children entering the orphanage.
Warner hopes someone remembers her mother and can provide her with more information about her birth. Or perhaps her twin brother is still living in Madison County and will reach out to her.
“Now that I know a little more about my birth mother and the situation, I’m OK with being adopted,” Warner explained. “I know my mother loves me and my father loves me. I’m not sure that was the case with my biological mother.”
She still can’t fathom a mother giving up her birth children.
“She gave every one of us up?” Warner asked incredulously. “How could you do that to your children? Especially when you have twins. I can’t do that. It doesn’t seem real to me.”
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