By Sean Barron
If one word could encapsulate the range of emotions Jacquelyn Smith has experienced in the quest to find her mother, it likely would be bittersweet.
The bitter part resulted when the Youngstown woman’s search revealed her mother, Louise Doan, had died nearly 20 years earlier.
The sweet side, though, came when Smith, 51, learned she had two sisters and a brother — and found them after 50 years.
“[My mother’s] husband died two weeks after I was born, it was told to me, and he said, ‘I don’t want a black baby,’ so she gave me up for adoption,” recalled Jacquelyn, who was born out of wedlock to a white mother and a black father, Earl L. Smith, in Mount Clemens, Mich. Earl Smith died Jan. 28, 1997, at age 74.
Also, Jacquelyn later learned her mother’s husband had died a few weeks before her birth, she noted.
The adoption resulted in Jacquelyn, a 23-year bus driver for the Youngstown city schools, being given to Earl Smith, her biological father. He then handed Jacquelyn to his mother, Delores Smith, who picked her up in Mount Clemens when she was about 3 days old and raised her in Youngstown, a few blocks from her Parmelee Avenue home.
Jacquelyn’s painstaking search for her mother started shortly after she learned her adoption records might be unsealed, but Smith assumed the process probably would be expensive and entail hiring a private investigator, she explained.
Nevertheless, Smith’s husband, Frederick, had experience with genealogy searches and encouraged her to continue with her efforts. One big step forward came when he found his wife’s adoption information online and advised her to contact the Macomb County Circuit Court in Michigan, where she was referred to its juvenile division’s adoptions department.
Beforehand, the couple had traveled to Mount Clemens to conduct research, including time at the local library, but were unsuccessful, said Frederick, a production and track foreman with CSX Railroad.
After sharing her story with a doctor friend and learning that certain rules pertaining to adoptions had changed, Jacquelyn turned toward the courthouse, he continued.
Another dead-end came when Jacquelyn was initially told that records from 1945 to 1980 were sealed and that her mother had left no information regarding whether she wished to be contacted.
In January 2013, however, she was instructed to send a notarized letter, a copy of her driver’s license, adoption papers and $10, she said.
Soon, she was put in touch with a confidential intermediary, who told Jacquelyn her mother had been located, and that her full name was Mary Louise Doan. The good news, however, was a false alarm because it was the wrong person, so last summer the intermediary advised Jacquelyn to write a letter to her mother, she added.
“It was a whole roller coaster of emotions,” Jacquelyn said, adding that she provided the intermediary with more specific details pertaining to Doan, which led to the discovery of her siblings.
The sweet part of the story got quite a bit sweeter for Jacquelyn on Sept. 27, 2013, when she met for the first time her older sister, Denise V. Timrick of Alpena, Mich., and her brother, Charles B. Doan, at a motel in Milan, Mich.
“She snatched me out of the car and hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe,” she said with laughter. “But it felt so good to be accepted.”
Timrick and Doan undoubtedly felt an array of strong emotions as well, especially since they were told Jacquelyn had died at birth.
The siblings spent a lot of time during that occasion, which Jacquelyn’s husband filmed, reminiscing, looking at photographs and catching up. Timrick also brought Jacquelyn a few of their mother’s belongings, including a bowl and a bracelet, she continued, adding that the three have grown very close.
“Even our laughs are similar,” she said.
Jacquelyn also learned her mother died Oct. 8, 1994, in Farmington, N.M., where she had been a missionary on a Navajo Indian reservation.
“It was bittersweet news because my mom died, but you have a sister and a brother who want to meet you,” Smith explained, adding that she harbors no bitterness toward Doan. “I cried for my mom because I didn’t get to meet her, and I prayed.”
“It was a very touching, emotional time,” Frederick Smith added.
Jacquelyn also has a younger sister, Deborah S. Vondra, of Gilbert, Ariz., who she plans to meet for the first time later this year. The two have kept in touch, however, via Facebook and calls, Jacquelyn added.
The three siblings got together again Dec. 26, 2013, for a family reunion in Alpena. The special occasion also included Jacquelyn’s 31-year-old daughter, Jacquese, an Air Force tech sergeant, who met several aunts, uncles, cousins and a host of other relatives for the first time.
One relative made a plaque for Jacquelyn Smith that read, “Welcome to the family.”