When I was 12 years old, I found out about a secret. My father was dropping me off from a weekend visit and somehow the subject of brothers came up. He asked if I knew about my brother and I think I asked him what he was talking about. He suggested that I speak with my mother. As any inquisitive 12 year old would do, I immediately asked her and she confirmed that I indeed had an older brother. Until then, it had only been my sister and me. She was three years younger and we never had a brother.
That was 1979, before we had internet and social media. My family finally started to seriously search for my brother in the 1990s. I posted all of the important information on adoption.com and several websites dedicated to helping birth families and adoptees find each other, especially those involving adoptions in New York State. In 1960, my mother was a student at the Rochester Business Institute (RBI) unaware that she was pregnant. She took a leave of absence from RBI and her friends thought she went home to White Plains. Her parents made arrangements for her to go to a local maternity home called Northaven. It was at the end of a street with the same name and happened to be right next door to Northside Hospital, which is now Rochester General Hospital.
My mother originally named my brother Lee Scott Tate. Lee was my maternal grandfather’s middle name. She liked the name Scott and Tate was the last name of family friends. The social worker at the home told her she was not allowed to use her real name: Tucker. The 1960s were full of shame and embarrassment for pregnant teenage girls, who often dropped out of school without proper guidance or support. My mother took a semester off and her parents’ deceptive plan was successful, according to any upstanding family’s perceptions.
On May 9, 1961 she gave birth and saw Lee Scott Tate just once, before he was taken away. The time at Northaven was difficult, so difficult that my mother tried to turn her feelings off. That worried her social worker, who teared up as a result. This was the only way for many of the young women to deal with the loss of their babies and sometimes the rejection from their families. My mother’s experience was so traumatic that she blocked out the birth date for years. We narrowed down the date by figuring out which semester she missed.
We had a wonderful volunteer search angel named Kathy who regularly scoured online adoption forums. It was on one of those forums where I met Kathy and she offered to help over the years. She found the birth index for every boy born on May 9, 1961 and mailed it to my mother, who then wrote letters to each one, nearly 300, beginning in the Rochester area and making her way around the state. Some of the recipients were kind enough to write back that they were not adopted.
Kathy even warned us, rightly so, about a false email we received a few years later from a person claiming to be helping my birth brother find his family. The person was most likely based overseas, there were numerous spelling and grammatical errors and he posted all of the information that I had posted, which was readily available publicly.
My mother also registered with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR), which reunites birth parents and adoptees if they both register. Years went by, with no new information. Everything changed in the Spring of 2013, when my mother updated her Birthparent form with the New York State Adoption Registry. The registry is similar to ISRR, in that it sends the name and address of registrants, as long as all parties register. After signing consent forms, we received our letters on June 17. Finally, after 52 years, my mother had the name of the son she had been searching for, for so long.
In 2011 and 2012, we went to two Mother’s Day celebrations organized by Hillside Children’s Center, which merged with Northaven in 1976. The celebrations are a time for birth mothers and adoptive mothers to be recognized and tell their stories in a very supportive environment. We had hoped at the time, that my brother would be there looking for us. We had been closer than we ever imagined because he was raised right there in Rochester!
We finally met in October. My mother, stepfather and aunt met up with me in Rochester on my way back from Alumni Weekend at Ithaca College. We all had dinner together. This was the first time I had a chance to get to know the older brother I never knew I had. He was soft-spoken and often talked fast. I had to ask him to repeat himself a few times, but he was very nice and understanding. The dinner was emotional at times. Both my mother and my aunt cried. The night before, they had all celebrated at a jazz club and had a great time. Timothy, who played the drums in high school, was so moved by the music that he went to sit up front by the band. But that first night wasn’t quite as emotional as the second night when it all sunk in. I think I was just amazed that we were all together, like we had dreamed for years. Our search angel was also there to mark the occasion.
Our prayers were finally answered. My mother wanted to find him in time for her 70th birthday, the year he would have turned 50. While it took another two years to reunite, it was worth the wait. Lee Scott Tate now goes by the name Timothy. He loves to work out in the gym and even helped me in the hotel weight room during our weekend visit. After hearing about how he grew up and traveled the world, my mom realized that he had experiences she wouldn’t have been able to give him. What’s most important is that she was finally able to see that he was brought up in a loving home and he was able to forgive her. She also realized that we were very lucky to have found Timothy; not every family reunites. That October weekend, we decided to return for his birthday in May, much like we returned for the Birth Mothers’ Celebrations at Hillside. Only this time, it will be a real celebration of a long search and a long-awaited reunion that ended up in the same city where it all began.