Today was a brutal day of searching – my back aches, my neck screams. It was also quite fulfilling when I finally reunited two siblings who never knew the other existed; whose mother had a tumultuous life and kept one, giving the other up for adoption. French Canadian…not much of that here. All this from just the original birth certificate.
But to my point: I ran across the eulogy I gave at Sally File’s funeral in February of 2011. I thought it illustrated what it’s like to be a searcher; to have items in your home that no one else has; to do this because not to would be unthinkable. And for those of you who knew Sally, a peek inside her life and how she got it all started.
This is what I wrote…
“Les asked me to say something about the work Sally did. He told me, “people know she does something, but could you explain what she did….?” And I thought – WOW – how will I explain this?
My name is Ann House I’m a certified court appointed intermediary for the State of New Mexico. Sally has been my mentor, my friend and search partner for over 20 years. The point of saying this is simple – I would simply be Ann House if not for Sally File.
Sally was an adoptee who located her own biological family. In March of 1979 she put an ad in the Albuquerque Journal: “If anyone is interested in search for reunion, please come to…,” and gave an address. Operation Identity was born. Sally made up the name after seeing a notice on television about a group called Operation Identification, which worked to fingerprint children to prevent kidnapping, and she thought, “Well, we’re looking for our identities as adults.”
Sally was instrumental in getting New Mexico’s laws changed to put in place the current confidential intermediary system, whereby adult adoptees, birth parents and siblings can search for their biological family through a Certified Court Appointed Intermediary. Those laws are still the guiding force behind all adoption search and reunion in the State of New Mexico
My journey with Sally began with my own search in about 1980. At that time Sally was building her network of searchers across the nation and pointed me in the direction of those who might help me in the state in which I was born. Through out my search – which took years – we chatted off and on and eventually she asked if I would consider searching for New Mexico adoptees and birth mothers. This must have been around 1987 or so because I had limited interaction with her for a time due to the fact I had a new baby at home and a full time job, but by 1990, I fulfilled my promise to her and started helping her do the searches.
By the early 1990s – in that decade between Sally’s own search and my beginning to assist her, she personally completed over 3,000 searches. These were not just court cases, but were reunions that she facilitated by whatever means necessary and often provided for free. She built an astonishing network of highly placed sources and resources. She made every source a friend for life, and even though she told me the names of a few of them over time, she literally took most of their identities with her this past week.
In 1992 the State certified the first of the Confidential Intermediaries. Sally and I were among those who were certified and searching took on a whole different look and feel. Gone were the days of making cold calls, knocking on doors and creating a fabulous story to get information, or leaving your trunk unlocked in a parking lot because when you returned, some angel had left documentation you might need to complete a reunion. Now the State had provided us an avenue to legally open files and with the advancement of the Internet, searching took on new scope and sequence.
What I hope you understand by now is that Sally helped reunite a lot of people – but what I think you should understand is the shear body-of-work or volume of “stuff” that goes along with assisting someone find their biological family. If you ever visited the lovely home of Les and Sally, you were probably not aware that under every bed, behind every closet door, and hidden in the garage was a vast array of items we used to complete search and reunions. Thanks to Sally and at the insistence of Les, I now have the largest collection of City Directories in Albuquerque – probably surpassing even the library. And I decorate my guest bedroom with a micro-film reader.
Sally firmly believed that God put her on this earth to do this work. She always knew she was destined to create the opportunity for reunion. Remember I said that she stopped counting at 3,000 sometime in the early 1990s…. You should understand this meant that she talked to all of these people – that she listened to their stories, she lent a shoulder to cry on, and in some cases, used her own money to help them achieve their goal of reunion. You should also understand the impact on your family of talking to that many people… it takes a lot of time.
There were and are many, many successful reunions. There are also occasions when the news is not good. Sally delivered that news with grace and sympathy also, and taught the rest of us how to handle these situations. She was – hands down – the world’s greatest listener.
When she first was diagnosed with cancer about 4 years ago, she turned all of the searching over to me and promptly volunteered her time to the International Soundex Reunion Registry – a registry that matches adoptees and biological family members. Her job was to go through the mis-match forms and see if the reunions were complete. They gave her an 800 number, a printer, and a headset…and she worked her way through the alphabet. When I last saw her about a month ago, she had just finished scanning and uploading the last of the mis-match forms. She made it through S….
Sally was the greatest gift imaginable for thousands of adoptees and biological families. She united, reunited, counseled and supported all of us who had the honor of working with her in some capacity. She did it without network television, without a jet, and certainly without Oprah. She made it OK to be adopted and OK to want to search. To Les: she would say thank you – for all the love, the support and the postage. To all the intermediaries here tonight, to those of you from Operation Identity, from various agencies, attorneys, and any of you adoptees, birth parents, siblings – anyone in the Triad: to those who have called and written – I passed on your messages and she expressed to me more than once how very proud she was of all of you and was grateful for your support.
In the end, Sally believed it was the stress of searching that gave her cancer. As was typical of Sally, her concern was for me. She was afraid that I might get cancer and she was equally afraid I would stop searching. I did my best to assure her that searching did not stress me in the same way because she taught me well and laid a solid foundation. I did convince her that what she started will not end. We will search.”