Finding his biological mother was always a life-long dream of Robert Oppenheimer. Bob and his twin brother James were born in July 1952 in Bad Homberg, Germany to Else Handler, a single mother who was probably struggling to put food on the table. During this same time period Bob’s adoptive parents were stationed in Germany. His adoptive father, serving as part of the allied forces working to rebuild war torn Germany, was director of the orphanage that Bob and his brother would be brought into. Louis and Alta Jean Oppenheimer decided to adopt Bob and his twin brother James who were around 6 months old when Else Handler decided to give them up for adoption. Both boys were in desperate need of care and attention.
Growing up, Bob often wondered about his birth mother, but it wasn’t until after his adoptive parents passed that he began seriously searching for his biological family. Bob had little to go on, but he did have his adoption papers. Those papers gave his mother’s name and where she lived when the adoption took place. Bob had also been told that he had an older brother who was not given up for adoption.
Bob began making phone calls to local governments in Germany trying to find help. The language barrier made it nearly impossible for him to make any progress. Frustrated he gave up searching until a friend suggested he contact the Local History Department at Boone County Public Library for help. Kaitlin Barber, Local History Librarian, was the first to work with Bob. She suggested that Bob consider having his DNA tested with Ancestry.com. Bob saw an advertisement for the DNA test offered by Ancestry and decided to give it a try. He notified Kaitlin that he had taken the test and his results would be available in about 8 weeks. Kaitlin was going on maternity leave for the next couple of months so she suggested he contact Robin Edwards, Local History Associate at BCPL.
It was around early February when Bob and I met for the first time. We spent our first hour together going over what he knew about his past and looking at his adoption papers from Germany. While all this was great information I was anxious to take a look at his DNA results and see if he had any close matches. DNA testing has become very popular over the past several years. With more and more people testing it makes the chances of someone like Bob finding his birth family much better. However, I knew that Bob was going to face an obstacle, he was born in Germany to a German mother. You see, DNA testing while growing in popularity in the U.S. is not as common overseas. To my surprise, we signed in to Bob’s Ancestry.com account to find that he had two half-sibling matches showing up. Bob was happy to say the least, but we still didn’t know who these matches were. Ancestry.com allows user to create their own user name for their account. Some people will use their real name but others create user names that make it hard to identify them. Bob’s matches had a user name that prevented us from learning anything about them. We could tell that the two matches, a male and female, were administered by one person, so I knew these were siblings who had tested. We also could see that the matches had not logged into their account in months. Even though discouraged that his matches were not actively using Ancestry.com Bob decided to send them a message in hopes he would hear something back. Unfortunately, the next eight weeks went by and Bob still had heard nothing back from the messages he had sent.
In the meantime, I told Bob we would use other search methods to try to find his family. We knew that his biological mother was probably born in the 1920s. We had a name and an address for his mother at the time of the adoption. We were able to find her home using google maps. We used the white pages to find the phone number of the person who lived at the address. Bob, forgetting the time difference, called the number one evening only to hear in broken English, do not call back.
One evening while Bob and I were working together I came across the name and email of a lady in Germany who had helped other adoptees find their family. I told Bob we should be cautious but I didn’t think it would hurt to email her and see how she may be able to help. Evelyn Schumacher responded to Bob’s email right away. She wanted to know everything Bob could tell her and said she was happy to see what she could find out on her end. Within a week Evelyn emailed both Bob and myself. She had located Bob’s biological mother! Bob’s mother, Else Handler had met and married an American soldier a couple of years after Bob and his brother were given up for adoption. Else moved to Massachusetts to be with her new husband, Paul Seaburg where they lived until Else’s death in 2007. Bob’s mother Else had been living in the U.S. all these years!
Bob immediately made contact with Paul Seaburg who knew nothing of Bob and his twin brother but was very open and understanding and willing to share with Bob all that he knew. He confirmed that Bob and his twin James did have an older brother who had died in 2004 but he also told Bob that he had two other half-siblings, a brother and a sister that Paul and Else had together. They also lived in Massachusetts. Bob was finally connecting with his biological family. The next couple of weeks were filled with plenty of phone calls and picture exchanges via Facebook. Bob and James were getting to know their siblings. Finally, Bob and James went to meet their siblings for the first time. Bob said the meeting could not have gone better.
While Bob is sad that he won’t get to meet his mother, his new siblings have shared many stories and photos. Bob looks forward to getting to know them better and many more visits between them. I feel truly blessed to have taken a part in helping Bob find his family. It is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had
Robin Edwards is a Local History Associate at Boone County Public Library. Her passion for history and genealogy carries over to her involvement with the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) where she is the current regent for the Boone County chapter. Robin has a BA in Middle School Education from NKU.
Good job Robin!
This is wonderful! I have a similar experience.. a German birth mother and father then adopted by a military family stationed there. It’s been a long, amazing journey. I actually have a very good friend who lives in Bad Homburg!