To help tell the story of my connection with the Salzburgers (which I’ll get to in a different post) we have to start with a more recent past--specifically, my grandfather. I never had the privilege of meeting grandpa Wally as he died suddenly at the young age of 46 in 1974. Instead, my knowledge of my grandfather came from the people who did have the privilege of knowing him--my grandmother, my own mother, her siblings, and other more distant members of our family. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother (every parent can speak to the benefit of having built-in babysitters) and my curiosity about her husband really began to grow when I started rummaging around her home of over 50 years.
I discovered lots of photographs, papers, memorabilia from his stint in the army, a briefcase full of papers from his contracting business, and the like. For as much of a legend as grandpa was in my family, his past was quite the mystery to those around him. One thing in particular pushed me over the edge so to speak, to find out more: grandpa was adopted.
The details surrounding grandpa’s adoption were mostly unknown. He didn’t speak a lot about it, but from what my grandmother told me, we knew that he was adopted by his aunt, and that he knew (and was close with) his biological siblings of which he had 2 (actually, he had 3 but that’s another blog post entirely) and that his birth name was Saleker. However, he never seemed to tell anyone the names of his biological parents--or if he did, no one remembered. And this is where the meat of this post begins: how to uncover an adoption.
One of the first things to do when uncovering information about an adoption is pretty obvious: ask the source. Grandpa isn’t with us anymore, so that was out. And I had all the information I could get from what my family knew--his birth name was Saleker, his aunt adopted him, and he had two biological siblings. In retrospect, this was actually all I needed to uncover grandpa’s adoption--but when I first started this, I was new to genealogy and didn’t quite realize what I had. The easiest path would have been to get information on his biological siblings. Their death and marriage certificates had their parents’ names written plain as day--and then I would have had my answer. Sort of. I would still need some kind of verification that those were the same parents as grandpa’s. Any genealogist will tell you that if you have multiple verifications of a hunch, you’re home free to a bonafide family history fact.
Checking Available Documents
The next thing I did was check some of the documents I already had on grandpa--his death certificate listed his date of birth, date of death, and the name of his parents. Of course, these were his adopted parents--but good information to have nonetheless. It also listed that he was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Then I checked some of the other ‘standard’ documents we use in genealogy. First his obituary which listed his biological and adopted siblings, and his adopted parents--no luck there. Grandpa was born in 1927 which means he would have appeared on the 1930 and 1940 census. The first listed grandpa with his parents and, surprisingly enough, his relationship to the head of household was “adopted son” (something I’ve never seen on a census before!) What is also important is the timing--grandpa appeared on both the 1930 and 1940 census under his adopted last name Schultz which means that he was definitely adopted before 1930. All of this gave me important information to take the research one step further.
Getting Adoption Paperwork
In order to obtain this paperwork, I had to make a few assumptions. But, with all the information I gathered so far, I was confident that my assumptions would be pretty spot on. Grandpa seemed to have spent most of his life in the Cleveland area, as did his siblings and extended family, so I looked into what was needed to obtain the adoption paperwork from the State of Ohio.
Most (if not all) adoption information is very private, no matter where in the world you might be--and Ohio was no different. Adoptions usually are either private/closed (meaning that the information is available for those with the right credentials to view them--i.e. the birth parents, the adoptee, the adoptee’s next of kin, child etc.) or they are officially ‘sealed.’ When adoption records are sealed, this often means that the birth parents did not want the child (or anyone else) to know who they were, and they intended for the child to never learn. For private/closed adoptions, all that is usually needed is some kind of signed affidavit from someone proving they have the right credentials to access the information. But when records are sealed, usually a judge must be involved. Oftentimes, you’ll have to go to the judge and present your case (don’t think Law & Order) as to why you want or need the information, and then the court can decide if the records should be unsealed.
Anyway, in Ohio, the process is fairly simple. I made the assumption that grandpa’s records probably weren’t officially sealed, seeing as he knew he was adopted by his aunt and he likely knew who his parents were anyway. Since my mother was my grandfather’s child, I had her fill out this form, sent in the required fee, and in a few days we received these:
The first is the official affidavit, filled out by his adopted father Kurt. While it was a treat to finally see, I will admit that I was disappointed that it didn’t include the reason why grandpa was adopted by his aunt and uncle. An employee of the probate court in Cleveland confirmed that it’s rare, especially when children of this era were adopted at birth, that the reason was ever given.
The second document is the original birth certificate and it had the information and confirmation I was looking for: grandpa’s biological parent’s names were Gustave Saleker and Julia Dickson.
Receiving this information was a memorable experience--one I wish my grandfather had been around to experience with me. With these two documents in hand, I finally began a journey to discover more about the Saleker family and how the ended up here in Cleveland, Ohio.
Tips for Researchers
Trying to track down an adoption probably seems daunting. If you believe that the adoption was official (meaning it was done through courts or other official institutional means) start by searching which of those institutions is the owner of the adoption records based on your best guess as to where the adoption likely took place--then figure out what information is needed to gain access to the records. That’ll give you a good checklist of information you’ll need to seek out. Some institutions may search their records for free to confirm if they have any information on the individual you’re interested in--some may have restrictions on basic information like that. Every process seems different.
Some churches or houses of worship may also have information on adoptions, so check with any of these organizations your family member may have belonged to.
If none of these are viable options, I’d highly recommend utilizing as many of the DNA testing services (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, etc.) as you can afford. Using the information you obtain from matches may help you fill in the gaps.
Additionally, you may also be able to get assistance from organizations who do this sort of research everyday. We have a great one in Cleveland: Adoption Network Cleveland.