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An Amazing Find in the National Archives

To track down my husband’s birth family, I needed more than old records.

Close-up of National Archives in Washington: A Miracle in the National Archives
Credit: Willard

My husband, Rich, who’d been adopted as a baby, always brushed aside questions about whether he’d like to find his birth parents, saying, “If they didn’t want me then, it’s too late now.” Still I knew that his stoic surface hid a deep ache. One night I noticed Rich crying at a TV movie about a father and son. I decided to track down his birth family so he might find some closure.

All I had to go on was the information on Rich’s birth certificate: his birthdate, October 16, 1941; his mother’s name, Ruth Hicks Casselman; and her place of birth, Waupaca County, Wisconsin. I wrote to the hospital, went through old phone directories, searched the Internet—but no luck.

The only place left to try was the National Archives in Washington, D.C. One day in November 1999 I went to check the census records there. But I learned that by law, census information isn’t released for 72 years. I was crushed. What good was such dated material?

I pulled the latest Waupaca census reel available—1920—from its file drawer. As I passed the first rows of microfilm readers, I overheard a man mention Wisconsin to the older woman with him. That’s interesting, I thought before going on to my reader.

There was a listing for Hicks—Ruth! Encouraged, I went back for the 1910 reel. Maybe I could get names of relatives to follow up on. The slot where the reel should have been was empty. Then I remembered the folks I had overheard.

I walked over and peeked at their screen. Ruth Hicks, Waupaca County, 1910! Amazed, I asked, “May I take a look when you’re done? I’m trying to locate the family of Ruth Hicks… ”

“… Casselman?” the woman gasped. “She was my mother! Our family split up when I was little and I’m trying to find my baby brother. I’ve been looking for him for years.”

Later that evening over dinner, the last chapter in the family history was finally closed. Shirley Casselman Garnett met her long-lost baby brother, my husband, Rich.

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