Tuesday, September 5, 2023
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Last July, David Greer travelled from his home in Vancouver to Calgary’s Central Library, hoping to meet the people who helped him find his birth father.
More than a year earlier, David had written a letter to ResearchPlus, a fee-based research and reference service at Central Library.
In his letter, David explained how he was adopted as a baby in Edmonton in 1957, and for decades was fine knowing nothing about his birth family. That changed when he turned 60. He decided he wanted to find out who his birth parents were and see if he could connect with them or their families.
David had applied for his records from the Alberta Post Adoption Registry in 2017. Four months later, he received a heavily redacted file and began to glean what he could about his past.
David found support from the Forget Me Not Family Society in Vancouver, which led him to connect with an Edmonton counsellor who specializes in helping adoptees find their birth parents. With the counsellor’s help, David identified his birth mother.
The search for his birth father proved more difficult. David’s adoption file included no name for his birth father and just a few details. David knew his birth father lived in Calgary when he was born, was 17 years old and in Grade 12, was interested in basketball, swimming, and track, had three siblings, and a father who was an anesthetist.
“I was really stuck at that point,” David says. David had previously used Vancouver Public Library’s specialized research centre, and when he learned Calgary Public Library had a similar service, he reached out.
In his letter, David outlined the details he knew from his adoption file. “I said, ‘I’ve taken my search this far, can you take it any further?’ And the answer was yes,” David says. “Librarians are really smart people, and they know how to access a lot of information that we don’t necessarily think of or know of.”
Calgary Public Library offers free genealogy programs, such as Family History Coaching, run in partnership with the Alberta Family Histories Society. As well, the eLibrary contains a variety of free history and genealogy resources, plus Library staff at Central Library can help patrons navigate the Calgary’s Story collection, full of community heritage and family history resources.
David was not in Calgary to access those free services, so he turned to ResearchPlus instead. Four Library staff members helped on David’s file, including Kayla McAlister, a Library Experience Facilitator at Central Library.
Kayla says one small detail — that David’s birth father’s father was an anesthetist — is what “broke it open.”
Library staff used a free Digital Resource called Ancestry Library Edition. The database contains voters’ lists, which typically include occupation. Kayla searched by occupation only, and got just a few hits.
From there, another staff member, Christine Hayes, used those names to search high school yearbooks in the Calgary’s Story collection. She found a student whose last name matched one of the last names for an anesthetist on the voters’ list. The yearbook also listed the student’s interests, which matched the description from David’s file.
Using that name, other members of the ResearchPlus team found more information, through other free resources including Henderson Directories and Canadian Newsstream. The ResearchPlus team shared their detailed findings with David.
Kayla has been involved in genealogy research for about 25 years and says it’s a rewarding area to work in.
“It’s just a way for me to help people,” she says. “It means something to people, finding this fundamental piece of who they are and where they came from.”
With the information from ResearchPlus, David found a phone number for the man he believed was his birth father. Last October, he dialed the number. He got an answering machine, called again a few days later, and spoke to his birth father for 45 minutes.
“He shared that for the last couple of years, he wondered when he got unknown phone calls if it would be me,” David says.
Seven months after that phone call, David travelled to Ontario to meet his birth father and three new brothers. David has also gotten to know two sisters on his birth mother’s side, who he talks to regularly through a WhatsApp group chat.
He’s been introduced to many extended family members on both sides, and continues to meet even more. “It’s been an amazing experience,” David says.
When David travelled to Calgary in July to visit his two sisters on his birth mother’s side, he decided to stop by Central Library and meet the people who helped him on his search.
“Meeting the team members face to face was just a piece of completion for me,” David says. “The work they did was incredibly valuable to me.”
Guinevere Soare, a Library Experience Facilitator at Central Library who helped on David’s file, was working the day David stopped by.
“I’m really, really happy for him, that he found this new extended family,” she says. “It was rewarding to hear his story and know we helped him.”
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