Reunited family

Siblings James Grounds, Edward Downs and Karen Chavez are pictured left to right, with with Karen’s genealogist daughter Mary Gonzales standing in back.

NASELLE — An amazing event took place in Naselle on April 23. Two brothers and a sister, along with their spouses and several children, met face to face for the first time in their lives.

“I’ve looked forward to this day for quite a while,” said Naselle resident Edward Downs. “This has just been an incredible experience for me to see my family. Here I am, almost 79 years old, and I’ve never met my family until now and here they are. What a treat for all of us.”

They are a family again, thanks to modern genetics testing and the immense growth of genealogical databases.

Family pulled asunder

In late 1930s a young woman met a man she believed was her forever companion. However, he was physically and verbally abusive. They never married and, as it later turned out, he was at the same time married to another woman. But while they were together, she gave birth to four children, two boys and two girls, each born about 13 months apart.

Perhaps to protect her children, the young mother made what must have been a heartrending decision. Edward, then 21 months old, and his sister Peggy, then 9 months, were put up for adoption. She was pregnant with her third child, Jim. Maybe because she didn’t want to go through the pain of loving a child and then having to give him or her up, Jim was adopted directly from the hospital following his birth. Four months later, she became pregnant with a fourth child, a daughter, Karen. Providence stepped in and the man was drafted into the World War II military. With him out of the picture, the mother felt she could raise Karen in safety. The man of violence was never to return and, as if by karma, he died in violence after returning from the war.

In this way, Edward and his sister Peggy were adopted and became members of the Downs family. Their adoptive father was a physician and the two were raised in a happy family environment in Glendale, California. Jim was adopted into the Grounds family and he too had a happy childhood, living in National City, California. Karen was raised by their birth mother, also in Glendale, close to where her siblings Edward and Peggy were being raised.

Long time coming

Over the years, the adopted children received clues about other siblings.

“I was contacted when I was about 16 years old,” Edward said. “My father received a call from Jim’s mother informing him that Jim had just found out he’d been adopted and wondered if Peggy and I would like to meet with him and see if we could help him with this sudden revelation. I told my dad, ‘Sure, we’d be glad to talk to him,’ but nothing ever came about and it just got lost in the cracks.”

“I had a cousin that told me he had heard I had a brother in Washington,” Jim said. “She wanted to know if I would like to contact him. I said yes and she said she would set it up but, I never heard another thing after that.”

“I did find out there were other siblings when I was 15 years old and had to get a birth certificate for a job,” Karen said. “I asked my mother about them but, ohh, she shut right down and it was a non-subject. It was not something that she wanted to talk about. I don’t know if it was hurtful for her — which I’m sure it was — or whether it was so ugly she just didn’t want to talk about it, but that was the first and last time we ever discussed it.”

Over time, they all grew up, had families of their own and moved on through life. Their birth mother passed away at age 55 and Peggy passed in 1980. They would have continued on through their lives not knowing who or where their siblings might be except for the involvement of Karen’s daughter Mary.

“I just started doing some family research through Ancestry.com,” Mary said. “Within a couple of years, I decided to do the DNA testing. I had my mom do it as well and started putting the dots together on who we were related to from matches provided by Ancestry. In that way, I found Uncle Edward’s son and contacted him. I asked him if there was a chance one of his parents was adopted and born in California. I gave him a few of the names that I knew and he wrote back and said ‘Yes, I think my dad was adopted and believe he did tell me his name was originally Stack.’ That is basically how this all got started.”

Pieces fall into place

With Mary at the helm, the pace picked up and soon Jim was located as well.

“Once I came across mom’s two brothers, it was kind of nerve wracking and a little scary,” Mary said. “This was uncharted territory and maybe one or both of them didn’t know they were adopted or maybe couldn’t care less about the whole thing. I was certainly nervous, but it has worked out beyond my hopes. After the initial contact, we got close just through emailing. When we met in person, it wasn’t like I was hugging a stranger. It felt like these are my uncles I’ve known my entire life, and my aunts, too — they are amazing women.”

“I wasn’t sure at first,” Jim said. “But then, we started communicating and everything started falling in place.”

Mary and the three siblings communicated via email and phone calls and the bonds of family began to grow. It was decided they all had to meet face to face. Due to a stroke, Edward would have trouble with traveling, so the decision was made for the long-awaited reunion to take place at his and wife Claudia’s home in Naselle.

Family bonds

“It’s been wonderful,” they all agreed. “We’ve been finding out how we share many similar traits despite our having been raised apart from each other.”

Edward provided a photo of sister Peggy. The resemblance between her photo and Karen is startling. They could easily be taken for twins.

“Oh, do we have the stories,” Edward said. “It’s amazing how we are the same in a lot of things. Karen’s mannerisms and the way she talks are just like our sister Peggy. We’ve been finding out so many things as we’ve gotten together here. I have no memories of our birth mother and had never seen a picture of her until Karen wrote me and sent some pictures. When she received a photo of Peggy from me, her kids looked at it and said, ‘That’s you mom.’ This has just been a wonderful experience.”

“This is fantastic,” Jim agreed. Jim’s son and his wife and daughter will soon arrive to add to the new-found family group.

From the glow on everyone’s faces and the laughter in their voices, this is clearly an event none will ever forget.

Edward Downs of Naselle, Jim Grounds of Napa, California, Karen Chavez and daughter Mary Gonzales of Sante Fe, New Mexico along with their spouses and children are now and forever a family.

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