FAQs about the search for my father’s birth mother

February 16, 2019

FAQs about the search for my father's birth mother

This blog, Causing Dad’mage, is generally about modern day fatherhood, the challenges we face, what we can do to meet those challenges, and to relate to one another about our shared journey as parents.

However, much of this blog is also about fathers of the past. And I’ve focused much of this work about fathers of the past on a specific topic — the search for my own father’s birth mother and the investigation into what happened in 1956-57 that separated her from him when he was just an infant.

One of the themes of Causing Dad’mage is how we influence our tiny humans and shape their character. That’s one reason why I’m sharing this story about both the recent and deep past. You can imagine how learning from your Dad how your grandmother wasn’t actually your grandmother and how your grandfather may have perpetuated a heartless crime would change your perspective pretty quickly on a lot of things.

Now imagine how that would affect your own Dad and his character and personality.

A lot of questions have come in since I began blogging about this specific story, especially from enthusiasts of genealogy and family history research, and I wanted to address many of them here as a reference point.

I look forward to sharing more of this story with you. For now, here are some answers to questions you’ve sent me:

I just started reading these blog posts? What happened?

Imagine attending your grandmother’s funeral, and at the wake, your father pulls you aside and tells you a blindsiding secret. “The woman we buried today, she’s not your grandmother,” he says. That was how I learned my father, as an infant, was apparently taken, forcibly, from his young birth mother in the mid-1950s. His father, Bud, had carried on an affair with a much younger woman named Dorothy Lipp, and that young woman became pregnant. When Bud reconciled with his wife, Mary Catherine, Bud forcibly took the baby away from Dorothy and told her she would never see him again.

My father was then raised by a woman he thought was his birth mother and didn’t learn the truth until he was in his 20s.

My grandmother on vacation pictured in the woods during the 1980s
Mary Catherine, the woman I knew growing up as my grandmother.

No one had heard from Dorothy for about 60 years.

After he told me the truth, I secretly launched an investigation into who Dorothy was and where she went. And I wanted to understand not just what happened, but how two people I’d known and loved as grandparents could do such a thing.

When did all of this happen?

I learned my father’s story in March 2012, and the investigation lasted until late 2014.

It’s also important to note an 11-year time period, between 1945 and 1956, when I believe events involving Bud and Mary Catherine and their marriage led to separating my father from his birth mother.

Where did all of this happen?

Most of the events I describe took place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Why did searching for Dorothy take so long?

I’ll share more about this in future blog posts, but for now, I’ll answer this by saying no amount of online digital records, interviews with family members, or luck of both kinds made anything clear. There were false leads and different interpretations of clues.

I was also conducting this search at a time of great change in my life. I myself had just become a father, and I started a new job with a railroad company that kept me traveling several times a month.

Another complicating factor in the search was how many of the people with knowledge of what happened, including Bud and Mary Catherine, had passed away and left no record or clue.

What do you mean you searched for Dorothy in Secret?

When I began the investigation, I did not tell my parents. I feared my father would tell me it wasn’t my place, that I should back off and let him handle it. To be honest, I didn’t think he could handle searching for her emotionally, not that I blamed him. It was a hard truth to face, but ultimately out of a son’s abiding love for his father, I felt compelled to at the very least find out what happened to Dorothy.

And if she was still alive, present him with the choice of reuniting with her.

You describe the events of 1956-57 an “Abduction.” How can you call it that?

This is one of perspective. When I began looking for Dorothy, what I understood was my grandfather had forcibly taken the baby from Dorothy. Then, in conspiracy with his wife, raised that baby into adulthood while hiding the truth and preventing Dorothy from having any contact with him.

A 1960s era sepia toned photo of a child sitting on his father's lap
Bud sitting with my father as a young child.

Yes, Bud was my Dad’s biological father. But was it his right to unilaterally take the baby from his birth mother? No, I don’t believe so. Especially not in the manner as told to me by my father.

The laws vary state to state on whether this rises to the level of criminality. All I can say is my grandfather forcibly, possibly violently, took an infant from that infant’s mother and forbade her from ever seeing the baby again. That to me is an “abduction.”

Are you writing a book?

Yes. At least I’m trying to write a book, a mix of memoir and investigative journalism. I’ve been working on it for years, and my goal is to have a publishable draft during the next 12-18 months. It’s about more than just the investigation into the circumstances of 1956-57 and the search for Dorothy Lipp. It’s also about the ups and downs of a parent-adult child relationship, which many of us I’m confident can relate to.

What’s the title?

I’m calling it for now Maintenance of Way. It’s a railroading term describing the department responsible for building, maintaining, and fixing the tracks and other infrastructure. Often it’s referred to as “M-O-W.” My father worked 42 years as a trackman, and so the title is an homage to him and a multi-generational legacy in my family of working for railroads.

Fatherhood, Dad, Son, Railroads, Norfolk Southern, Michigan
My father and I in Michigan during one of his last weeks working for a railroad.
How can I read the other blog posts you’ve published?

You can find them all by clicking here.

Do you have a background in genealogy?

I don’t. Like many people, when I began investigating I knew little about my family’s past and its legacy. My background is in newspaper and magazine journalism, where I learned many of the skills necessary to take on such a project.

I’ve seen you describe these blog posts as being a part of a project called “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” What’s that?

One of the leading voices in family history research, Amy Johnson Crow, each year sponsors a blogging challenge called “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” She puts out a theme and challenges her genealogy followers to write a story with that suggested theme. I’m using this challenge to put stories out related to the search for Dorothy.

Did you find Dorothy?

For right now, I’ll answer this by saying the investigation did lead to a resolution. Leading readers to that resolution is the goal of these blog posts.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. He writes about fathers of the past and his own journey into fatherhood here at CausingDadmage.com. You can reach him at dave@writingintheafternoon.com

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