Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.
A DNA test has helped reunite a mother and daughter after nearly 70 years by uncovering a startling secret: A baby girl long thought to be dead was alive, and had been covertly adopted by a family in Southern California that lied about her origins.
The girl, Connie Moultroup, 69, met her birth mother for the first time this month.
“I was absolutely floored,” she said, upon discovering that her mother, Genevieve Purinton, 88, was living in Tampa, Florida.
Purinton was similarly shocked. After giving birth in 1949, she said, she was told her newborn had died.
When they met for the first time on Dec. 3, the connection “was almost instantaneous,” said Moultroup, a massage therapist who traveled to Florida from her hometown in Richmond, Vermont.
As they hugged, Moultroup recalled, her mother looked at her and said, “You’re not dead.”
They both cried.
“It was a bawlfest,” Moultroup said. “She was so happy to meet me.”
They found each other after Moultroup took an Ancestry.com DNA test that led her to a cousin, who in turn led Moultroup to her birth mother.
CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist and founder of The DNA Detectives, said the two women are “far from alone.”
“It is clear that many unscrupulous, cruel individuals fraudulently separated mothers from their children for profit, believing no one would ever discover their crimes,” she said.
Purinton was 18 and unwed when she became pregnant in her hometown, La Porte, Indiana. She had already picked out a name if the baby was a girl: Margaret Ann, after one of her favorite high school teachers, who had polio, she said.
As Moultroup understood it, “She wanted me to be tough, and this Margaret Ann was tough.”
Purinton said she was alone when she gave birth on May 12, 1949, at a hospital in Gary, Indiana, about 30 miles southeast from Chicago.
She never saw the baby.
“I was told it was a girl, but she died,” Purinton said.
She did not argue or ask to see a death certificate.
“Who at 18 would think about something like that?” she asked.
Between 1945 and 1973, the year Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, hundreds of thousands of young women were forced to give up their newborn children, Ann Fessler reported in her award-winning book, “The Girls Who Went Away.”
“I think of my life as before and after, sort of like B.C. and A.D.,” one woman said of losing her baby.
Purinton said she could not recall the name of the hospital where she had given birth. According to adoption paperwork obtained by Moultroup, she was delivered at St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Gary that no longer exists.
The adoption documents, which Moultroup retrieved from the adoptions and abandonment unit at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Los Angeles County, showed that a doctor at the hospital had arranged for the adoption.
Within the paperwork she found her mother’s signature.
Purinton said she recalled having signed papers at the hospital, but that she assumed they were meant to provide a directive in the event that she died or could no longer care for her daughter. “I had no idea what I signed,” she said.
Before being reunited with her daughter, Purinton thought she was the last surviving member of her immediate family. Her parents and all eight of her siblings had died, and she did not have any children — or so she thought.
Moultroup was told by her adoptive parents that she had been born to a “friend of a friend.”
When she was younger, they gave her a different explanation, saying they had “walked up and down the aisles of the hospital until they found me and they just had to take me home,” Moultroup recalled.
Seeing her birth mother in person was almost like looking in a mirror, she said.
“It was so weird to go my whole life with only three blood relatives: my daughter and two grandkids,” Moultroup said, adding that none of them bore a strong resemblance to her.
But the two women had more in common than just appearance: They both love to cook and crochet. Moultroup was a nurse for 34 years. Purinton once dreamed of being a nurse but never attended college.
Purinton eventually learned that the man who fathered her child was married. She left high school as soon as her pregnancy became visible, she said, and received her high school diploma in the mail the same day her daughter was born.
After giving birth, she severed ties with her parents and moved to Florida in 1950. There she became a chef and helped raise one of her sister’s children. A hysterectomy prevented her from having any more of her own.
At that time there was a “huge stigma” about unmarried pregnant women and children born out of wedlock, said Ryan Hanlon, vice president of the National Council for Adoption.
“There was a lot of secrecy around adoption,” Hanlon said. “It’s the opposite of what we do now.”
Today, more than 90 percent of adoptions are open, he said, putting birth parents in control. Closed adoptions are becoming less feasible now that states are changing laws that allow adoptees to receive original birth records.
In addition, more than 20 million people have participated in direct-to-consumer DNA testing.
“Many of those individuals tested out of simple curiosity about their ethnic origins and were met with an unexpected, often life-changing, surprise when they received their results,” said Moore, the genetic genealogist.
In January, Moultroup plans to meet her two half sisters, the daughters of her biological father, at a gathering in the Poconos in Pennsylvania.
“I’m super excited to meet them,” Moultroup said. “I’ve never had siblings!”