“Adoption carries the added dimension of connection not only to your own tribe but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties, and family. It is the larger embrace.” — Isabella Rossellini
When I grew up in Sag Harbor, Thanksgiving meant a kickball game at the park, showing up for dinner sporting our holiday socks, my favorite lemon meringue pie … and sometimes it also meant Aunt Ann’s giblet gravy and Uncle Ray’s lengthy slideshows. Year to year things changed a bit, but the cast of characters remained basically the same. That’s family, and that’s what you do. This year Sag Harbor’s Kathi McCarron will celebrate having a family that she never knew she had. Ancestry DNA and her “search angel,” Marsha, have opened a new and exciting door into Ms. McCarron’s life.
Ms. McCarron was adopted when she was 10 days old from a children’s home in New Jersey. Her loving parents, Jimmy and Alice Barnes, had adopted Ms. McCarron’s brother two years earlier. “My brother and I grew up believing that adoption was a wonderful and positive thing, a brave thing, a gift. I was told that I had come from a good family, and I never ever felt like something was missing,” she said. Raised in Parkchester, in the Bronx, Ms. McCarron went to Saint Helena’s Catholic School and eventually moved to Sag Harbor full time.
“My mother was a very kind and caring person. She was a talented seamstress and made all of my clothes. I had the best-dressed dolls in town,” she remembered. “She loved being a homemaker and a mother and she and my father cared for several foster children while I was growing up. My dad was the guy who would pile every kid on the block into his red 59 Chevy Impala and drive us to the movies.”
Kathi’s family summered in Sag Harbor starting when she was just two years old. “My parents bought a small cottage in Wickatuck Hills in Noyac, and we would spend weekends and the entire summer there,” Ms. McCarron said. “After the last day of school, my brother and I would be packed up and waiting to go. We were eager to leave the city. The whole family loved Sag Harbor. We’d ride our bikes to Pine Neck and over to the beach.”
When she was a teenager, Ms. McCarron met her future husband, Charlie, on one of those summer vacations. A Sag Harbor native, Mr. and Mrs. McCarron were married right before he was deployed to Vietnam and have celebrated 51 years together. They have two daughters, and five grandchildren, and she has lived full time in Sag Harbor for 46 years.
“Throughout my life, I would from time to time think about my birth mother, but I was happy with the family I had and never felt a desperate need to search,” she said. “My mother had, at some point, given me all the info that she had been provided when I was adopted and had given me her blessing to search whenever I was ready. After both of my parents and my brother had passed away, I started to think that if I was ever going to search, I had better get started. Around this time, I started to see all the commercials for Ancestry.com. I thought at this point my birth parents might have passed, but perhaps I would have some half brothers and sisters. So I purchased a DNA kit and waited for the results.”
It was around the same time that Ms. McCarron ‘s daughter, Doreen, called to tell her that she had just read that the state of New Jersey was going to allow adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificates. “I immediately filled out the paperwork and sent for a copy,” she said.
“When my DNA results came back, I had a second cousin match to whom I reached out in a message, telling him my adoption story. Luck was on my side; as the woman who was managing my cousin’s family tree, was an amazing researcher and genealogist who got right back to me and volunteered to help me with my search,” said Ms. McCarron. “Marsha became my ‘search angel’, and without her help, this story would have had an entirely different ending. She spent hundreds of hours going through ancestry records, old local newspapers, family trees, and old census records trying to come up with people who had lived in the right place and would have been the right age.”
Among her ancestry matches, Ms. McCarron also had a “close family” match, which was very exciting. Since Ancestry was able to show that these two matches did not match each other, they now knew they had a close match on both sides of Ms. McCarron’s birth family.
“In February of 2018, I went on to check my Ancestry matches to see if there was anyone new. Up comes a new match: a woman named Pamela who is listed as immediate family,” said Ms. McCarron. “Before I can finish typing her a message, one arrives from her. She tells me she was adopted, born in New Jersey in 1950, now living in England, and she is looking for her birth family. I was so confused; I called Ancestry to ask about our match, and after looking at our numbers, the agent informed me that Pamela and I are full sisters!”
Through their DNA cousin, the sisters were able to locate their birth mother and found out that she was alive and well. Ms. McCarron remembers, “After much discussion about how to best contact our birth mother with the news that we have found her, our mother’s cousin called and told her that her two daughters were looking for her. Imagine her shock since she had been told that I had died at birth.”
“A few days later, I received my first call from my birth mother, unbelievable,” she said. “The first thing she said to me was ‘you were conceived in love.’ My birth mother told me the story of when she was in her teens; she fell in love with a man just home from serving in the Navy in World War II. When she discovered she was pregnant, they talked about getting married, but her parents felt she was way too young and would not sign. They concealed the pregnancy from everyone and made arrangements for the baby (me) to be adopted. After I was born, my birth mother’s parents came and told her that I had died at birth. I am sure this was a misguided plan to help her get on with her life so that she would forget about the baby, and I am sure, my birth father as well. Yet my birth parents continued their relationship and a year later Pamela was born and placed for adoption. At this time our birth father returned to the military and their relationship ended.”
A month after their first phone call, Pamela came from England and together she and Ms. McCarron drove to Delaware to meet their birth mother, half-sister, an aunt and a cousin. “We were so nervous, but it was just wonderful. I feel that it is a great testament to how much my birth mother’s family loves her that they have all taken us in as family,” she said. “She is an amazing woman, loved by all; her family is crazy about her.”
Ms. McCarron’s birth mother is thrilled that they have found one another. “This means a lot to me,” said Ms. McCarron, “because I know how hard it must be for her to relive that time in her life.”
“Since our initial phone call, we have been in regular contact. I was happy to find that after this sad period in her life, she went on to marry a wonderful man and have four more children. Our siblings and other family members have been incredibly welcoming and accepting of us. Pamela and her family have made some trips over from England, so slowly, but surely, we are getting to meet everyone. Thankfully, at 85, my birth mother is totally tech savvy so we text and call on a regular basis. We have spent hours chatting about our lives and getting to really know each other.”
Ms. McCarron is so grateful for the life she had and the life she has now. She would like to encourage people to search but realizes that there are no guarantees for a happy ending.
“When I started this search, I really had no idea what to expect if I found my mother; what kind of relationship could I have with a mother I met when I was 68? And I certainly was not looking to replace the mother who had been my mother all my life. Amazingly, we have fallen right in step as though I have known her all my life. I have found that just like a mother has room in her heart for more than one child, I have room in my heart for more than one mother. I am so grateful to have been blessed with two wonderful mothers!”
This Thanksgiving, Ms. McCarron is thankful for both of her families and we’re thankful that with her openhearted spirit of love and acceptance, she calls Sag Harbor “Home.”