Special for the Armenian Weekly
Questions always worked their way to the surface, and after 38 long years, I was finally getting some answers. I, as an adopted person, could now begin to fill in the blanks. The following is a short expose of my journey, my innermost thoughts and feelings—essentially a letter to my mother. This is a heart-felt interpretation of happenings plus events. My name is Mary L. Movsisian Foess.
Mother, I have finally found you after 38 years of separation. The moment I was born, I sensed your love as you touched me with your gentle hands and refused to let go of my tiny body. The white-uniformed nurse had to pry me away from the one and only Armenian mother I would ever have. You wouldn’t let go. All 6 pounds, 2 ounces of me wanted to stay with you, but fate had another plan. Could you hear my cry? After 4 days, we both left the Old Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., but separately.
My name and date of birth was recorded by the Vital Records: Judith Movsisian, born Sept. 23, 1945. The wing had this sign: Charity Ward. The tag attached to my tiny bassinet read: bottle feed, no contact with mother. Twenty-five months later, on Oct. 23, 1947, my rare gift of being descended from the first group of people to accept Christianity would be falsified, hidden, then court-sealed forever. My birth records were falsified! It took one minute for Judge Stedwau Prescott to create a legal official, one which destroyed my connection to my biological families, forever. The Rockville, Md., Montgomery County Circuit Court, where the finalization of my adoption took place, was the center stage. My Armenian blood was deemed null and void. With pen in hand, and then his pounding of the gavel, the paper, complete with the raised gold seal, ended my blood ties to Mother and Father, forever. I was now Mary Louise Letts, said child of David D. and Eathel G. Letts of Tacoma Park, Md. His order was sent to the Department of Public Health, Department of Vital Statistics, Washington, D.C., to permanently seal on my original birth certificate. Nearly 5,000 years of recorded Armenian history, gifted to me at birth, was deleted! On record, I was now 100 percent Anglo-Saxon and born to people who were originally from the state of Michigan. In 2007, I was told by the chief deputy for operations, Greg Hughes, U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., that I could never claim my raised seal, original birth certificate due to jurisdictional boundaries: state versus federal. I wanted you to know this, Mother.
During my entire childhood and adult years, friends would ask me if I knew who my real mother was. My silence, along with a blank stare, was my only reply. But I never forgot you, Mother. I want you to know now how much I love you. My spirit continued to grow in Faith that I would know the truth. Questions by my friends’ curiosity followed me throughout my teen years. “Where did those huge, brown eyes come from? Who is your real mother? You don’t look like your brothers.”
On my 38th birthday, my adoptive mother, Eathel G. McCallum Letts, told me that she had hired a private source, one which procured both my given name, Judith Movsisian, and yours, as well. Mother, the secrecy following my birth vanished. Eathel, too, wanted to have face-to-face contact with you. That didn’t happen. My strength came from knowing that I love you. All your sacrifices for me did not go unnoticed. My spirit soared on that day, and my mouth was talking non-stop to everyone about this Miracle find. I knew now that God was in charge. Hope filled my heart with expectations for the future. I understand everything, Mother. A few months later, my imagination went viral. I found you!
I obtained your high school graduation picture; your beauty is unequaled, blinding. My odyssey continued as I worked to find other family members. Mother, surprises were in store for me, ones I had previously deemed impossible.
My hard work paid off, Mother. I became a sleuth. I kept finding relatives, even those from my father’s side, most of whom had colonial roots. Strangers, even public records office workers and police, helped me with clues that all fit together as tightly as a jigsaw puzzle. My biggest break came from the head of the Chamber of Commerce in a western state where I was frantically searching for another relative. Everyone wanted to help a light olive-skinned, elementary schoolteacher from the tiny town of Vassar, Mich., a rural farming community. Their help never stopped. Included were ministers, a judge from the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., the D.C. Metro Police Department, my own legislator from Bay City, Mich., Rep. Bob Traxler, and, a 95-year old lady from Virginia. I soon received invitations to attend family picnics in the southern states where my father’s family was scattered. We all had the very same male immigrant ancestor, named Colonel John Thomas Legg, from greater London, England, who came in the middle 1600’s.
Mother, I also found out that your father came to the U.S. in 1913 to make money, and then planned to return to the Kharpert region to invest. By then, the torture, followed by the killing of Armenians by the Turkish armies, had escalated. In 1921, your mother, brother, and three cousins came to the Midwest region to escape being tortured, and then, put to death. The Armenian Genocide, Mother, is now well documented.
I was fascinated to discover that your father, along with six other immigrant men, founded the very first Armenian Apostolic Church in the Midwest! Mother, I have learned that I am the very last female Armenian who could pass on our mitochondrial DNA to future female descendants. Did you know that this area is considered the Cradle of Civilization? Your father was the last of his entire family to get out alive! Mother, I missed seeing my grandparents!
John Waldemar Foess and I married on Dec. 24, 1966, and then we had three daughters and one son. We now have six grandchildren, four of them being girls. When I see their faces, I see yours. Our fourth child, a daughter, bears a strong resemblance to you. The others inherited a mix of Armenian and Anglo-Saxon features with a 6 percent inclusion of the nearly extinct Piscataway American Indian tribe from Maryland.
I am so sorry, Mother, that we were never able to talk face-to-face, hug each other, and to celebrate our lives together. You will always be in my heart. The example of your true sacrifice and love for me spurred me on to never, ever give up on what I believe is right. I am so proud to be an Armenian, the oldest known, intact civilization in the entire world, and shall continue with their tradition: the strong will to survive. I shall always be your daughter, Mother. Can you hear me now? I shall never stop loving you. I am your only daughter. I want you to always remember this. I will never forget what you did for me.
Mary L. Movsisian Foess is the author of My Armenian Genesis: The Last Survivor, a chronicle of her journey of self-discovery. For more information on how to order a copy of My Armenian Genesis, visit www.ArmenianAncestryBook.com.