Delaware native Mary Tyson is hoping this Christmas to get something she’s wanted as long as she can remember: her birth family.
“I’ve had a hole in my heart for 52 years,” she said.
Tyson always knew that she was adopted as an infant, but she largely kept quiet about her desires to find her birth family. “When I was 12 or 13, I asked my mother, and there was that look on her face. I never wanted to hurt her again” by bringing it up.
Her mother, Angela, passed on 20 years ago. A week before his death earlier this year, her father, Vincent, gave her what they nicknamed her “ownership papers.”
The records surrounding her adoption filled a lot of pages but left no clear path to finding her birth parents. The adoption agency had closed. The lawyer had died.
So she copied what she had seen another adoptee do: Post on Facebook.
She took a picture holding this sign: “I was born Jerri Lee Williams on January 24, 1967. I was adopted from Children’s Bureau of Delaware in Wilmington. Also born in Wilmington. I am searching for my birth family. Please share. Trying to make it to Delaware. I need help. Thank you.”
Above that, she made her plea, just before midnight Nov. 23 from her Tennessee home, with all-caps emphasizing how important the message was: PLEASE PLEASE SHARE. I HAD 2 HALF-BROTHERS THAT WERE 5 AND 6 WHEN I WAS BORN. PLEASE GET THIS TO WILMINGTON DELAWARE.”
Ronda Bacu was the first to reply, sharing the request in Kent County. Jeanie Bocchino-Hall followed in Newark, Mindy Moore in Bear. Eventually, there were more than 200 comments, more than 6,000 shares and lots of advice about DNA tests, genealogists and other resources. Tyson thanked them all.
She also ordered a DNA test, which led her to first cousin Tania Dubb of New Jersey, who had compiled a genealogy of thousands of family members, a family with room for one more.
“We narrowed it to one family, with three boys,” Tyson said.
Tyson reached out on Facebook to one of the three, Millsboro resident Freeman Dordell Jr. He first thought it was a scam. It was easy to find out that his mother – her mother, too – was named Naomi. Her mother was named Naomi Williams; his wasn’t.
But yet …
Naomi had passed on in 2013, and the Uncle Steven who said he had an adopted sister was gone, too. So Dordell looked in a box of his mother’s papers and discovered that, unknown to him until then, one of her marriages had been to a man named Williams, and that was her name in 1967, when Tyson had been born.
He reached out to his brother, Kevin Dordell, of New Jersey, and his much-older half-brother Robert Lapp, of California. “I was waiting for her to find us,” Lapp told Dordell.
Her mother was 5-foot-3, with green eyes and premature gray hair. So was theirs.
“They believe I’m their sister. I do, too,” Tyson said.
And so Tyson, Dubb and Freeman Dordell, strangers united by blood, met recently at Galuccio’s in Wilmington. It was a convenient geographic midpoint for travelers from three states, and Dordell’s wife, Gerry, knows the owners.
They talked. They bonde. “There are no words to express how I felt when we met,” Tyson said. “When, I looked at him, I just knew.”
“We have everything in common,” Dordell said. “Everything.”
“I look just like these people,” Tyson said of Dordell family photos. “We’re so much alike.”
In separate interviews, Tyson and Dordell described themselves with the same phrase: “big hearts.” Added Tyson: “We both have bleeding hearts.”
Tyson said they both love country music and pets. She’s a dog transporter at Diane’s Discount Pet Supplies & Adoption Center in Tennessee, and she was on the highway traveling north with 41 dogs when she did her interview, with a stop that night to visit Dordell.
Dordell, a tile mechanic, said he and his wife, Gerry, hope to visit Tyson and her husband in Tennessee next year.
“It feels like we were never apart,” Tyson said. “It’s a strange feeling but a good feeling.”
Any day she expects to get the final DNA confirmation, but she already knows in her big, once-broken and now-repaired heart that she has found them.
There are a few loose ends.
She is still searching for her birth father.
She wants to thank, again, “all the people in the world” who gave their time to forward her online request and offer other help.
Three miles from her daughter’s home in Pennsylvania is an unmarked grave. It’s of her newly discovered grandfather. And she has to visit it.