Quest for a mother brings new family

Adoption: A woman's four- decade search for her biological roots is rewarded with the discovery of long-lost relatives.

October 20, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Dolores Farley's laughter punches through the low buzz of the upstairs party room at Chiapparelli's. She's the tall, gregarious redhead sparkling in a beaded, sleeveless top. She's in Little Italy to celebrate her 62nd birthday, and she's reveling in the presence of family.

She smiles and chats with a couple of cousins who share her brilliant blue eyes.

"It's like seeing a double of Aunt Ruth," says one of the cousins, Bill Farley. His sister, Janet Farley Hardesty, adds, "It's like seeing Ruth all over again."

These are blood relatives Dolores never knew she had, talking about the Carroll County woman's resemblance to the mother she never really knew.

Born in Philadelphia and placed in foster care in Baltimore before her second birthday, Dolores Farley was adopted by her foster parents. Forty years ago - when she suffered a stroke and felt the need to know of any congenital disorders that might affect her or her children - she began to search for her roots.

Her quest would span decades, with promising leads that dissolved. She suspended her efforts for years at a time.

What she didn't know was that for much of that time, a sprawling family on her mother's side had been living only a county away. She and some of those family members traveled in similar circles in the Baltimore area and may have bumped into each other without knowing they were relatives.

The events that would eventually bring everyone together began to unfold a few years ago. The closest Dolores would come to a reunion with her mother would be a visit to her grave. But a death notice provided a lead to other relatives.

Dolores learned she had a half-sister, and she had her name. But she still needed a little luck. That's where the crab feast came in.

Up for adoption

She remembers finding out accidentally that she was adopted. She was 7 or 8 years old, in a corner store in the Waverly area of Baltimore, when she heard a neighbor say, "Oh, this is Mrs. Haubert's little adopted daughter."

When Dolores Haubert was 16, she requested a copy of her birth certificate so that she could get her driver's license. She found out she was born in September 1941 in Philadelphia. For the first time, she saw the surname she was born with: Farley. Under the father's name it read, "Unknown/Illegitimate."

She realized that the "Aunt Ruth" in the framed photograph in her bedroom was really her biological mother.

At 18, her last name became Pizza when she married a Little Italy man. Beginning in 1961, the couple had five children in five years.

After her third child was born in 1963, Dolores Pizza suffered a stroke and realized that she had no idea what medical problems she might have inherited. She also felt, more than ever, a "need to know" about her mother.

For five years, she wrote and called Catholic Charities, the organization that had overseen her adoption, and St. Vincent's Hospital in Philadelphia, where she was born. She also wrote to Farleys in the Philadelphia phone book and called all the Farleys in the Baltimore phone book - 50 all together - with no results.

Then in 1968, she received a four-page letter from Catholic Charities.

Her mother, Ruth Farley, had dropped her off at Catholic Charities in Baltimore at the age of 18 months and had "said she had no place for you and could not care for you," the letter stated. The letter explained why her birth mother had never contacted her: "Mrs. Haubert never kept your mother from you and encouraged her to visit you. However, within a year of the time you were placed in the Haubert foster home, she began separating herself from you, and did not visit although she always knew where you were living."

At that point, she suspended the search for her mother, considering it hopeless. After she and her husband split up in 1972, she struggled as a single working mother, juggling waitress and management jobs in restaurants and living in Randallstown. After the divorce, she began using Farley as her last name.

In 1995, she bought a personal computer and found an online genealogy community. But when she located several Farleys, she got cold feet.

"I had their phone numbers, but I was afraid to call. I was afraid of the rejection," she says.

Three years ago, she signed up on the Catholic Charities Web site for a service that tries to connect adopted children with their birth mothers. That's when she found out her mother, who had taken the married name Ruth Reed, had died in July 1972.

Farley obtained the death certificate. "The flood of information," she recalls, "came from here."

She visited her mother's grave at Bel Air Memorial Gardens in May last year. A funeral home in the Edgewood area of Harford County provided a copy of her mother's death notice - and she learned that she had a sister.

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