Sometimes I just can’t find them. It is rare, but sometimes I feel as if I’m trying to search through a gray fog for something just slightly out of my sight on the other side. Usually it is because a name is too common: Elizabeth Chavez, Maria or Mary Martinez, Dorothy Sanchez, Dianne Jones – coupled with the fact there is limited information – no specific age, no date of birth, no conscientious case worker that wrote family history… But most of the time, I find them.
And then there is Serelda…
I say “is” because this story has no end, only thousands of leads, hundreds of hours, and reams of paper. And even writing this sends me down the rabbit hole of “Serelda” – did I check this? did I search that?…and I have.
It started with a phone inquiry from a man named Mike. He had been abandoned as a toddler in 1945, in Gallup, NM. The only clue was a silver bracelet which had the name “Elijah” stamped on it. In 1945, it was front page news. A caseworker believed Mike to be approximately 15 months old and a birth date was given to him accordingly. But no birth parents came forward, and eventually he was adopted by a local couple. After a life time of wondering, Mike decided it was time to search. I knew that there would be no paperwork that would provide me with any information because he is considered a “foundling” – meaning exactly what it implies…he was found. So, I turned him over to a local newspaper columnist who wrote his story, published pictures of him, and gave him hope. Astonishingly, within 24 hours, a woman contacted the Journal stating that she, too, had been born in Gallup and subsequently abandoned. Virginia – or Ginny to her friends. Ginny’s sister had seen the article and thought the picture looked like Ginny, and that simple call started the process. But unlike Mike, Ginny had a formal adoption and had records available. Enter Serelda.
Serelda Jeannette King. She was all of 19 when she gave birth to Ginny in Gallup. She was married to a transient musician named Paul. There was an 11 month old child living with them and Serelda had another child living with her parents in California. At 19 it seemed that Serelda already had three children.
An adoptee herself, Serelda was born in 1927 and adopted by Pearl and John W. King in Long Beach, CA where she lived a seemingly normal, middle class lifestyle until her mid-teens. Between 1944 and 1951 Serelda gave birth to at least four, possibly five children – all of whom were given up for adoption or abandoned and their fate unknown. We learned that Serelda had several marriages: one to a very nice man named William Bryan who informed us that when he was married to Serelda, he was in the Navy and out to sea a great deal of the time. Whenever he came back there was another baby, but he did the time line, and determined these babies were not his…but he remembered their names: Rebecca and Natalie. He also gave us the odd, yet very tantalizing lead….she joined the circus.
Serelda next married transient musician Paul. He and Serelda are Ginny’s biological parents. After giving up Ginny in Gallup, Paul and Serelda had another child, Paula Dee born in California in 1951, who was subsequently raised by her paternal grandmother Daisy Ethel in San Bernardino. Paula Dee died in September, 2010 prior to our search, and from our research, apparently followed Serelda ‘s example of not raising her own children… Paul died in Oregon in 2000 without telling his then-wife any stories of his time with Serelda.
In 1965 Serelda married a man named Benny Benjamin in Las Vegas, Nevada. Following that failed marriage, she married a man named Johnson. According to one obscure newspaper article, she tried to run him down with her car in northern Nevada… She failed to kill him and together they had a child whom she gave to a bartender. The child was given to the State of California and subsequently adopted.
In all, we believe Serelda had at least eight children. We believe the first to be Natalie, then Rebecca, Ginny, Paula Dee, Gia, three boys (one known to Ginny as Terry), and possibly one other… All but Paula Dee were given up/taken/ placed for adoption in the State of California, undoubtedly because Paul stepped in and placed Paula Dee with his own mother. Ginny is the only one we can confirm in the State of New Mexico. Using DNA Mike and Ginny have learned they are siblings, but Mike was not one of Serelda’s many children.
Over time, I have accumulated a file that is about five pounds and several inches thick. I even have Serelda’s social security number – gold in the world of searching – but there are no returns on any database on that number. According to the Social Security Administration she was Serelda King, Serelda Bryan, Serelda Benjamin, Serelda Johnson, Serelda Walker, and Jeanette Yeagar. The list stops in 1989, but the story does not. There is no Social Security Death Index match, there is no public records database match, she never worked under her SSN that I can find…yet she left a large legacy. Some of the siblings have been reunited, some have not been found, some have refused contact.
As for me – I will pull this file out a couple times a year and run through it again. It’s what I do. I have become good friends with Ginny and Mike because the journey from Gallup to this has been interesting, long, and binding. But still…I would very much like to know how and where Serelda’s story ends…