The pursuit to find my biological grandfather is a story on its own, and has taken me in unexpected directions. For example, I have become increasingly interested in my grandmother’s immigrant experience as well as the history of the social and medical systems’ response to the very real phenomenon of unwed mothers in the early 1900’s. Adoption per se was not the goal of many maternity homes and infant asylums. Instead, women were given skills so that they could rejoin society as productive people, and if in a stable home environment, take their babies with them.

I’ve also become interested in the history of the Hungarian community in Cleveland, and the very complicated Hungarian/Eastern European political history in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s. So many interests, so little time! With such diversions, I sometimes feel like I’ve made little progress. However, I have developed a list of resources, some already consulted, that are my plan of attack for gathering information. I thought I’d share these for others interested in exploring or writing about their family histories.

Primary sources – documents or artifacts that came into existence during the time of interest. For example, my dad pursued some promising leads and left a file filled with: photocopies of manifest of alien passengers for US Immigration at port of arrival; 1930 census; copies of petition for naturalization; death certificates (of men who could have been my dad’s dad and that he wrote to request); marriage certificates; city directories; employee directories of Cleveland companies and law firms — attorney was the profession of the father on my dad’s birth certificate; newspaper clippings. He researched sources at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cleveland Public Library, and the County Archives, looking for records of his biological father and this man’s mother.

Secondary sources I’ve used include relatives, particularly my aunts, and memories of conversations I had with my grandmother; family histories and trees composed by relatives here and in Hungary; and AncestryDNA results (for me, a sister, and one brother- wondering about and confirming the ethnicity of our biological grandfather), And Sin No More: social policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland 1855-1990, by Marian J. Morton; A PhD. dissertation written by Tamas Udvardy, a Hungarian scholar, about the Society of Social Mission, the order of nuns that cared for my father until my grandmother was able to take him home after she married; Images of Cleveland’s Buckeye Neighborhood, by John T. Sabol; Hungarian Americans and their Communities in Cleveland by Susan M. Papp; the Hungarian Cultural Center downtown Cleveland. Potential source is the Hungarian Genealogical Association. The featured picture is the facade of St. Ann’s, one infant asylum and maternity hospital in Cleveland at or around the time of my dad’s birth —not necessarily the place where my dad was born. I wanted to show this to give a flavor of the period.

What I’ve learned so far is that this finding a missing person business, especially one long dead, is time consuming, sometimes overwhelming, yet fascinating. I have often considered consulting with a private detective on the theory that one would know about tools unknown to me.

Unexpected boons include being in touch with relatives, close and far in distance and connection.

Next steps: legwork retracing my dad’s work with primary sources. As always, feel free to offer suggestions, and correct me in facts, assumptions, and deductions. Any missing piece is helpful.

Check out Literary Cleveland’s workshop on writing about your family history Saturday, February 4, 10 AM to noon, Lake Erie Inc. in Cleveland Heights. Register on LitCleveland’s website,


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