Law change allowed adoptee, siblings to connect
CAMPTON HILLS – The family tree created by Laura Machin’s research into her adoption records resembles a made-for-TV movie.
Details were revealed to her this past year, after Illinois changed the law in 2011, allowing adoptees age 21 or older to receive copies of their original birth certificates. Before, adoptees would get birth certificates with their adoptive parents names, not their actual certificate with names of their biological parents.
Machin, 61, of Campton Hills, was adopted in 1951 and never knew anything about her birth parents.
“I can never remember being angry about it [being given up for adoption]. I wanted to know the circumstances real bad, but I always assumed that whoever birthed me did the best for me,” Machin said. “I didn’t think the worst. I thought the best.”
Not long after the law changed, Machin sent in the paperwork and began a journey to find out where she came from.
She said she never would have thought she was the seventh child of a woman who gave her up and that she one day would find two siblings and a bunch of half-siblings and a whole slew of nieces and nephews.
“My mother’s life reads like a novel,” Machin said.
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Machin learned she was adopted at 13, after overhearing her mother speaking to their dentist about his process of adopting a child. Her mother said she would tell her something important.
“She did not tell me much, only that she had some stillbirths and some miscarriages and that my father and her did not think they would be able to have children, so they adopted me because I needed a home,” Machin said.
“I was in shock. ... It was very short and sweet, and I was left stunned and that was about the end of the information I had gotten from her.”
Machin’s adoptive parents went on to have two children naturally after her adoption.
Machin said she does not know whether her birth mother ever tried to find her, as her adoptive mother would have intercepted any communication.
“When I was in my early 30s, my mother passed away,” Machin said. “My dad came up and gave me this little envelope, which is actually the legal document for my adoption and said my mother didn’t want me to have it. It was like ‘Over her dead body would I find anybody’ and my dad’s words were that he didn’t agree with it. He decided this was mine and I would have it.”
Papers dated May 10, 1951, finalizing the adoption, bear the signature of Richard J. Daley, when the former mayor was still the city clerk. It shows the names of her adoptive parents and that her name had been Elizabeth Ann with two last names, Gitchell and Watson.
And with the adoption papers was a certificate of her birth – naming her
adoptive parents as her parents.
It was not enough information to find out who her real birth parents were until Illinois changed the law and Machin sent in her application and $15 check to get a copy of her actual, original birth certificate.
A copy came in the mail the Friday before Mother’s Day. And there were the names: Mary Violet Watson and Leonard Fredrick Gitchell.
The last names were switched, possibly because an adoption was involved.
Machin got to work and, with the help of two genealogists, began collecting pieces of her ancestral puzzle.
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Machin’s birth mother, Mary Violet Watson, had her first child at 17, and was pregnant with her fourth when her husband was killed in France during World War II.
She had lived in both New York and in Chicago.
A few years later, the war widow with four children married a handsome war vet named Leonard Gitchell, and lived where his family was from in Michigan.
They had two more children, but then the marriage went on the rocks.
“They got divorced, but they were still co-habitating – they could not quite get away from each other,” Machin said. “She got pregnant with me and ran back to Chicago to stay with relatives ... she did not want my father to know. That is what we are surmising.”
After her first husband died, Mary Watson received help from his parents with the first four children and the other set of grandparents were chipping in for the other two, Machin said. Apparently, Mary’s parents did not like her father and did not want him in their daughter’s life, she said.
“He was supposed to be good looking and maybe a little bit of a cad,” Machin said. “When I was born, we believe there was pressure from the grandparents who were already helping out with six kids, ‘OK, you’re pregnant again; this one you have to give up for adoption.’”
The older children were being cared for by grandparents, and the two youngest children were 2 and 5 years old, too young to realize their mother was pregnant. And her mother apparently was able to hide her pregnancy, Machin said.
This scenario, she said, comes from piecing the story together with help from her older brother and sister.
“They say she was an absolutely lovely woman and a great mom and that they can’t even fathom the idea that she would give up a child,” Machin said. “That was the story we surmised since we found each other. There are no written records. If there was any written contact, knowing my adoptive mother, she would have seen to it that it was burned.”
So at 28, Machin’s mother gave birth to her seventh child at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago on Feb. 13, 1951 and named her Elizabeth Ann. Three days later, the baby became the daughter of a childless couple from Arlington Heights in a private adoption. They renamed her Laurel Eileen – though Machin prefers to be called Laura.
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Machin did not spend her life searching for birth parents. It was just the fitting-in part that was missing, she said.
“It really came to light when I had my first child,” she said. “As I looked at him, I realized that this is the first person I’ve ever known who is blood-related to me. ... It feels different than anything else.”
It took the two genealogists all of two days to find her older siblings were Mary Closson of Michigan and Gregory Gitchell of Virginia and a half-sister Deedee from her mother’s first husband who also lived in Michigan. Both her birth parents were dead.
She contacted the three of them by letter, explained her search and sent a photo montage of her family, including her current husband and two sons by a previous marriage.
Her brother sent an email saying he would talk to his sisters and get in touch. And then her sister sent an email. She wanted to see the document with her mother’s name on it. Machin sent it – and she recognized the signature of Mary Watson.
“She was shocked,” Machin said. “But she was like, ‘This is the real thing. Welcome to the family.’ “
At a reunion last year, Machin put a photo of her mother and her oldest son Jeremy at the same age together and saw an unmistakable resemblance.
“He’s his grandmother’s child,” Machin said. “The features are almost identical. They say I look more like my grandmother on my mother’s side and my sister looks more like my mother. And she has a son that looks like Jeremy.”
As the siblings got to know each other, more pieces of her parents’ lives came to light.
“She [Mary Watson] remarried my dad six years later. They were together six or seven years, and then divorced again,” Machin said. “I have two more brothers from his marriage between the two marriages to my mother. I have more family than I know what to do with.”
More information about Illinois law
Under the amended Illinois Adoption Act 750 ILCS 50, starting Nov. 15, 2011, adults born on or after Jan. 1, 1946, in Illinois who were surrendered or adopted, can request a non-certified copy of their original Illinois birth certificate, which typically includes the birth parents’ name(s), age(s) and place(s) of birth.
Birth parents can fill out a form to request that their identifying information remain confidential. Birth parents can still confidentially provide medical information, such as genetically-transmitted disease, to the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange to be released to an adopted or surrendered child.
Forms for birth parents and adoptees are avilable online at www.idph.state.il.us/vitalrecords/vital/non_certified.htm or by calling the Illinois Adoption Registry at 877-323-5299.
Source: State of Illinois