Family searches for missing sister

The last time Patricia Thompson saw her little sister, they were playing tea together with their mother at the little girl’s foster home in Fort Frances.
Thompson didn’t know at the time that would be the last time she saw her youngest sibling, but she is determined to find her and restore her family of nine brothers and sisters.
Now living in southwestern Ontario with her husband and daughter, 56-year-old Thompson was born in Toronto. Her parents, the late Frances and John Bartell, had eight children, but gave three up for adoption before moving from Toronto to Schreiber in 1958 for a job their father has arranged with the Department of Highways.
In Schreiber, Alice, the last child, was born Feb. 19, 1959. Shortly thereafter, their father’s job ended and the family of seven moved to Fort Frances.
“He had lived in Fort Frances as a young child,” Thompson explained of the decision to move here.
The family lived in Fort Frances from 1959-61. “I don’t remember my dad having a job,” she noted. “Things were really, really difficult.”
Thompson’s oldest brother left in 1960 to join the army. As he had played a vital role in caring for the younger children, his leaving affected the family profoundly.
“It wasn’t too long after that my father left,” she explained.
The family continued to struggle until September, 1961. “Children’s Aid came and took all five of us away,” Thompson said. “We weren’t mistreated. It was simply a matter of economics.”
The oldest now at 14, Thompson was sent to live with a family in Atikokan while the other four children were put in different foster homes in Fort Frances.
“I really had difficulty keeping in touch with my younger brothers and sisters,” she said. “I tried to write to them.”
Two of the children were adopted within the first two years, including younger sister, Sandra, who was adopted by a family in Sault Ste. Marie.
Thompson was able to make occasional trips to Fort Frances to visit with her mother and remaining siblings, and she recalls the last visit she made to little Alice.
“She was making tea and pouring tea for everybody. She seemed a bit shy,” she said.
“I had the sense that it was in the west end of town, in McIrvine, out by J.W. Walker School,” she recalled. “It seemed a bit rural.
“She honestly looked like she was being well cared-for, even though [the foster family] seemed not well-off,” Thompson noted.
Alice lived with this foster family for about two years, until she was adopted at the age of four.
Because of regulations in Ontario regarding adoption records, Thompson has discovered little about the foster family or about the adoptive family.
Agencies who arrange adoptions only are permitted to give out what is known as “non-identifying information,” including the ages of the parties, their education, religion, ethnic origin, medical history, type of employment, physical description, and the reason for the adoption.
“But it doesn’t tell you anything that would help you find her,” Thompson said.
She has learned the adoption was finalized in July, 1964, and that the family changed the little girl’s name, probably to Laurie.
Thompson said her sister’s adoption record described the adoptive mother as “extremely religious” and said her father was a Protestant missionary.
While adoption records contain much more information, such as names and addresses, it is considered identifying information. “Both parties have to consent to releasing identifying information,” explained Arlette Carrier, the manager of children’s services at Family and Children’s Services in Fort Frances.
This information can be released through what is called the adoption registry.
“The Ministry [of Community and Social Services] has an adoption registry where adoptees, birth parents, and relatives can put their names on” when they would like to find their family members, Carrier explained.
If the adoption registry finds a match, they inform the appropriate agency to facilitate contact.
In the case of Thompson’s family, her sister apparently has not put herself on the registry, and so the family cannot access the identifying information in her file.
For some time, Thompson has been working to get the laws regarding adoption records in Ontario changed.
“The closed adoption records in Ontario are closed to protect the privacy of individuals. But there should be exceptions to the rule, and our family is one of them,” she said.
“We’re all related by the same mother and father. We’re all adults. There has to be a statute of limitations,” she added.
Thompson argues that opening adoption records will not infringe on privacy rights. The records only would be available to people involved in an adoption who are 18 and older.
“There will still be laws to protect the privacy of people who need to be protected,” she noted.
A bill was introduced at Queen’s Park in December that would provide access to birth registration and adoption records for adult adoptees and birth parents, and would provide for a no-contact notice.
Bill 14 was introduced by Toronto-Danforth MPP Marilyn Churley of the NDP. It is the fifth time she had introduced a private member’s bill seeking better access to Ontario’s adoption records.
While some provinces in Canada have opened their adoption records, the majority remain closed.
For Thompson, the search for her youngest sister has become all-consuming. “I hate to think I’m going to go through my whole life not knowing what happened to her. It just breaks my heart,” she said.
It has taken some time, but all eight of the other children have found each other. Thompson said the most recent to have been found is one of her brothers who was adopted out of Toronto.
They were reunited last February. Now, all eight are looking for their last missing sibling.
“We are four brothers and four sisters that would like to find our youngest sister to complete our family,” Thompson said. “We have done everything we can to find her.”
This is why they have decided to go public with their story.
“The more people we tell our story to, the better chance we’ll have of finding her,” Thompson reasoned. “Somebody in Fort Frances might remember her, might have some idea of where she went.”
She admits it’s easier to find someone if they are also looking for you. “I feel like she should be looking for us but she doesn’t seem to be. It seems odd,” she said.
Thompson conceded her sister may not know she was adopted, may not be living, or may not want to be found.
“Our position is, we would like to have her know that we are looking for her, that we are here. If she doesn’t want anything to do with us, we can accept that.
“We have no intention of interfering in her life if she doesn’t want us,” Thompson stressed. “We just want to know that she’s OK, that she’s alive.”
Thompson and four of her siblings now live in southwestern Ontario. Seven of the eight attended a one-week family reunion near Sault Ste. Marie last summer.
“The next one is scheduled for 2005, and if we can find her, hopefully we’ll have her at the next one.”
(Fort Frances Times)