John Baker always knew he was adopted. His parents returned to the United States from their home in the Philippines to pick him up from The Cradle Society in Evanston, Ill., when he was four months old. His mother had told him he came from a wealthy family and his biological mother was probably a college girl that couldn’t keep him. Eventually, John would find out how much correct information his mother had.
It wasn’t until his adoptive mother died in 1981 that his adoptive father gave John his adoption papers. It was her wish that he get them after she had passed. John had always wanted to find out if he had brothers and sisters, as he was an only child. After receiving his papers John quietly started to work on finding his biological family. “I always felt that I never wanted them (his adoptive parents) to know that I was searching ... I didn’t want to risk offending my father who was remaining,” he says. His adoption papers said his biological mother’s name was Mary Carroll Abell, and she was 16 when he
Mary Carroll Abell (right), John Baker’s biological mother, with her father and sisters.
Mary was 13 in this photograph.
was born. John’s birth certificate said he was born in Cook County, Ill., and his name is John Roland Baker—his adoption papers state he was born in Cockeysville, Md., and his name was Baby Boy Abell. John started searching for his biological mother by making phone calls and writing letters. He says he started with the 1981 Baltimore phone book. “There were several Abells listed in that area of Cockeysville, north of Baltimore. I was scared to death doing this, but I tried calling a couple and I never got an answer,” he says. He also visited and wrote The Cradle Society. They could not tell him his parents’ names, but they did give him “social information,” including everything he did during his two-month stay at the organization. The information also included the fact that Mary’s father was divorced, that she had two younger sisters and that her father was in real estate. John wasn’t able to find out too much more information, and it wasn’t until his adoptive father died that he really started looking again.
Mary at 17 years old.
This time, John hired a professional researcher, Sarah Little of Seattle, and about 20 minutes after sitting down with her, they had found a woman they believed was his mother—she was the right age, had two younger sisters and her father was in real estate. They also found out she had never been married. John soon learned she was definitely his biological mother, but she had passed away the year before in a rest home in Vermont. Not giving up, John decided to write a letter to the postmaster of the small community in New Hampshire that Mary Abell had lived in, asking him to deliver the letter to anyone who might have been friends with his mother. “The cleverest thing I did was writing that letter to the postmaster,” John says. His letter was delivered to Mary Abell’s close friend, a woman named Martha Walker. John says he worded the letter carefully after being advised by Sarah Little that the first contact needed to be handled very delicately. His letter said he was a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, contacting her on behalf of a client. Once Martha spoke with John, he explained while he was a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, he was the “client.” Martha provided John with photographs of his mom and encouraged him to speak with a cousin he had in New York. John found his cousin, Sandy, after a few tries. When he identified himself, she said “I’ve wondered all these years what
happened to you.” Sandy shared more information and photographs with him about his biological family. He learned his mother had named him Michael and she and his grandmother had wanted to keep him, but his grandfather had insisted on the adoption. His cousin even gave him directions to the family’s summer home in Maryland, “Mary’s Meadows,” where John believes he was born.
The Cradle Society during this time also told John that his parents had been 16, their ancestral background was Welch and English and his paternal grandfather had been a successful businessman who owned a local manufacturing company. John decided at that point to go to Baltimore and see the former family home. “Turned out it was 120 acres of beautiful, rolling farmland,” says John. The home was under restoration when they got there, and the contractor not only let them inside to see the home, but also gave them the name of the previous owner, who had moved down the street. Through her, John was put in touch with one of his relatives, Charles Fenwick. John says Charles was “very, very nice, and has a lovely wife,
Mary (right) with her sister, Anne (center), mother Elaine (left) and John’s cousin Sandy (front) in 1951.
Barbara. They were very helpful.” In fact, Charles introduced John to a man who had extra information about John’s biological father. John says with what he knew of the family business and the new information, they were able to find not only the family, but through the Historical Society of Baltimore, an obituary for his father’s older brother—a great place to see the names of survivors and thus, his biological father.
Mary’s Meadows as Mary knew it (above) and as it appears after rennovations (right).
In 2005, John met his biological father and learned he didn’t even know he had a son with Mary Abell. “It turned out they had been in love for two years, from 13 to age 15. And he had been accepted into the Abell family,” says John. After Mary’s family learned of her pregnancy, the family moved—they were gone so quickly John’s father found the house empty and his phone calls went unanswered. He never knew what happened to Mary, or that she was pregnant. Since meeting, John says he sends his father cards for birthdays and holidays, and receives phone calls and cards back in return. His father’s wife doesn’t know about John, as well as some
grandchildren, so John’s father asked that he not be named in this story. John did get to meet one of his half-brothers when he met his father. “You’re just wondering what these people are thinking. You’re hoping it’s all true (that he is your father),” says John.
John’s search for his family was not an easy one. In addition to finding out that his mother had passed away just a year before he found her, he learned he has an aunt—Mary’s youngest sister—who is still alive, but wants no contact with John. He also had one false lead early in his search: He found a Mary Abell in Florida that was the correct age to be his mother, but after sending a letter, learned she was a nun. John says it was a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end, he found closure. Through his search, John says he has met a lot of wonderful, interesting people who he credits for most of his
discoveries, and is tremendously grateful he wrote a letter to the postmaster in the town where his mother had lived. For others that also might be searching, John says to stick with it. “You will go down many, many roads and the smallest bit of information can prove useful somewhere along the line, but you’ve got to take whatever you find as ‘that’s it.’
Don’t be sorry. Use professional researchers, and do it early on because they really can help.”