When I was twenty-six years old I learned that I had been adopted. Up to that time I had taken for granted that I was the birth child of John Joseph and Anna Waters Gruele of
Colorado Springs, Colorado. After several moves for my adoptive mother’s health, she died of tuberculosis in Tucson, Arizona when I was eleven. My widowed father and I moved to Denver, Colorado where I completed high school, and then studied voice for several years.
Finally, at twenty-five I was able to go east to Chicago and New York City to try to make a career for myself as a singer. Apparently my adoptive father had not planned for me to find out the truth, but, he gave me a clue when I was about eight which, at the time, meant nothing to me. While walking up Lexington Ave. in New York City one sunny day in 1935, I found myself in front of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church. And then that long buried clue floated to the surface of my mind. My father, just once, had mentioned that I had been baptized at St. Vincent Ferrer. Ringing the Rectory bell, introducing myself to the priest who answered the door, and requesting a baptismal certificate ended in a complete blank. No record of Mabel Gruele, born February 16,1909 could be found.
Noting my disappointment, the priest suggested that I try the New York Founding
Hospital (NYFH), two blocks away on East 68th St. He remarked that over the years they
had baptized many children there. I covered those two blocks in record time. The nun who greeted me acknowledged my being at NYFH, verified my birth date, stated my orphanage name as Mabel Ryan and, finally, gave me a baptismal certificate dated February 27, 1909, listing the Grueles as my parents. End of story! Closed book! Don’t ever try to find out anything more!
When I returned to Denver for a visit about four years later, unexpectedly, I renewed acquaintance with a woman who had attended first and second grade with me in Colorado Springs. She told me that she, too, had been adopted. She and I had been two of five children who had been sent by train to five childless couples who were members of St. Mary’s Catholic parish. She also told me my father threatened the end of friendships if any one ever told me that I was adopted. Because my father was not well when I returned from New York, I never told him that I had found out. He died shortly thereafter. Periodically over the years I questioned and fantasized, but I was too busy to let the puzzle take too large a place in my thinking.
And there the matter rested until I opened the August, 1986 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine with an article on the Orphan Train Movement and realized that I was part of it. Research time! Initial inquiries to the NYFH were frustrating. After mailing the completed form plus $25 to research my records, I heard nothing for nine months Later, I found out that they had simply filed my request under “Case completed.”
With the case reopened, I received a tidbit of information with each exchange of letters. Finally, I had the following data:
I was born at the New York Infant’s Asylum. My mother was 19 at my birth and was born in Russia. My father was 21 and a native New Yorker.
I sent this non-identifying information to Vital Records, New York Health Department, requesting an Amended Birth Certificate. I included my adoptive parent’s names, and mine as Mabel (Ryan) Gruele.
I was unable to add more details to two requests for additional information. The Record Clerk included her phone number on the second request. I phoned immediately. After considerable cautious conversation with that Clerk, and with her superior, the Chief Clerk, I was told that no records of adoption were in their files.* Fortunately, I realized the implications. New York laws applying to sealed records in cases of adoption did not apply to me. I requested copies of my original birth certificate. The Chief Clerk said, “Put it in writing, and make your request very strong.” This I did. Approximately five weeks later, on October 21, 1989, I received a copy of my original birth certificate, with a few surprises:
My name is Mabel Rubin. My mother”s name was Jennie Rubin, 19, born in Russia. My father’s name was Moe Cohen, 21, born in New York City. Father’s address, 604 Eastern Parkway.
Obviously, with names like that my heritage had to be Jewish. Not to worry! I got the best of both Testaments.
Since acquiring this identifying information I have been able to obtain the following data from NYFH:
I was sent west by train and placed with the Grueles on June 19, 1911; adopted January 7, 1912. Legal adoption finalized before Judge John E. Letile, at the County Court of El Paso County, Colorado.
NYFH does not have any court papers on my adoption. They state that information they have was contained in letters from my adoptive mother. None of the letters were kept. Notes made from the letters are on micro-film. My daughter, Judy, was in New York City during April, 1990, and was shown the micro-film pages when she visited NYFH. In spite of this, and the fact that I have obtained my own identifying data, NYFH refuses to give me copies of the micro-film information or any material that might be in other files. It’s beyond my understanding.
My efforts to obtain a copy of my legal adoption from El Paso County, Colorado, is also lagging. I believe there is a tendency among Court Clerks to put such requests in the bottom of the “IN’ basket without any urgency to move it to the “OUT” basket.
Other unanswered questions that keep me searching: What happened to my birth mother. Did she later marry my father (I’m a romantic) or some other man? I was her first child. Did she have other children who would be my younger half-siblings? The same questions about my birth father. At what age or year did my mother immigrate to America?
I have received a copy of the order for my adoption from the El Paso County Court, Colorado Springs, Colorado, signed by Judge John E. Little. It arrived on February l2,1991, just four days before my 82nd birthday. There was a discrepancy. The decree was signed on December 28, 1911, rather than January 7, 1912, as reported by NYFH. Also, attached to the decree was a casual, informal note to my adoptive father. It said, in part, “We will be pleased to allow you to legally adopt the baby…”, (I was 2 1/2 at the time), signed by Sister Teresa Vincent, 175 East 68th St., New York City. The note did not mention my name, nor was a NYFH letterhead used.
When I started to search back in 1986, I had no idea there were other train riders doing the same thing. It wasn’t until 1988 when a friend from Marion, Ohio, sent me an article from Midwest Living magazine telling me about the Nebraska train riders that I learned about OTHSA. In joining OTHSA I feel that I acquired a whole new family of
very unique people. One of our members has said that being an orphan means being a survivor. Regardless of why our parents gave us up, we might remember that they, too, were trying to survive. Perhaps they gave us the genetic material for our own survivorship. For some the demand was greater than for others. As I meet them and listen to their stories, I’m proud of all of us.
* Apparently I was the only girl named Mabel, born on February 16, 1909 at the N.Y. Infants’ Asylum.
by Mabel Rubin / Ann Harrison
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