Special for the Armenian Weekly
I dedicate this article to nine Armenians. Without their assistance, my odyssey would not have occurred. Their names are Sooren S. Apkarian, Arra Avakian, Nazeli Bagdasarian, Ara Baliozian, Avedis Kaprelian, Robert Khachadourian, Percy Sarkisian, John Tembeckian, and Jirair Yessayan.
Judith Movsisian was born on Sept. 23, 1945, in Washington D.C., at Old Providence Hospital, then placed in the Charity Ward. No contact with Mother was allowed. I was 25 months old when my adoption was finalized at the Montgomery Circuit Court in Rockville, Md. My original birth certificate was sealed permanently. My identity was now Mary Louise Letts, daughter of Lieutenant Commander David D. Letts, U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C., and his wife, Eathel G. McCallum Letts. In 1983, Mom Letts hired a private source to get information about my birth mother.
My determination to seek Mother’s exact location became a daily practice of logging every trail, writing or calling public agencies, my congressman, doctors, ministers of churches in the greater D.C. area, private investigators, genealogists, a U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., judge, and search organizations. I included a photo of my class from Central Elementary School and myself, plus my home and school phone numbers. I had sent more than 800 penned letters at the conclusion of my odyssey.
Everyone wanted to help me, Mary L. Foess, from a rural, farming community in Vassar, Mich. Children at the three-story brick school knew what their teacher, the sleuthhound, was up to! Some parents of my students, teachers, even our principal, Tom Matuszewski, pitched in.
A package to my newly found brother broke the 41-year-old code of silence: He had an older sister! My Armenian genesis had jump-started. The secrecy vanished. How I found my Armenian uncle, Korean, required persistence. My primal instinct took over; I was unstoppable. I didn’t know then that I was exactly like Mother and Father: fiercely independent. Even the private source that Mom Letts had hired to locate my family told me to slow down. I was euphoric. Uncle was still alive! Dynamite had blasted through all the pretense. Like a cat at a mouse hole, I patiently waited to pounce, to seek what I had wanted badly. Soon this dear man, a lawyer who had pled two cases for the U.S. Supreme Court, would see me.
Though my methods were always honest, this process included a touch of charm. The results bore fruit for the next eight years. Our link to each other was an unbreakable DNA-chain that reached back to ancient history: the Euphrates River Valley, possibly 5,000 years! I was Grandmother’s only female descendant who followed Mother. The mitochondrial DNA was already passed on to my three daughters, and soon to be part of three granddaughters, ad infinitum. I wasted no time weaseling a way to get Uncle’s address and phone number. I was about to crash into his “known” family tree like a catapult hurling missiles. I enabled his phone to ring! His attachment to me was just around the corner. I was 32 years younger than he. We located his home in greater Chicago, Ill., on March 30, 1986. My husband, John, and son, Tim, were a part of this adventure.
Uncle had not seen a photo of me and yet recognized me instantly. We were both on uncharted territory. Uncle and I had a similar appearance and demeanor. Clever, smart Uncle was now mine to claim. He knew who I was the moment our huge, dark, brown eyes met in unison. A brief but intense stare ensued for 15 seconds. He said, “Please come in.”
Our assessment of each other could not be avoided. Through his kitchen door we had bonded, within a micro-second. His guests would soon be John, Mary, and Tim. Nervous, I said something to him. He then piped, “That’s what I say in court!” His kitchen countertop Formica was the identical color and pattern as ours, his living room had the same tongue-and-groove wooden ceiling, and his car was the same year, make, and color as ours at home was, but was a sedan, instead of a station wagon.
Uncle got out a box of photos. Gazing at our son, his eyes sparkled, his smile was infectious, and his facial manifestation of rapture filled the entire room. Uncle went over to his living room window to sit across from Tim, his grand-nephew. Bragging about his very first car, my uncle showed our son the picture. Uncle loved our teenager!
Walking back to Uncle’s kitchen door to leave with my husband and Tim, I saw Uncle’s eyes close up. Sadly, he looked directly into my eyes to speak these words, “There’s nothing I can do!” He was referring to my seeing Mother. I looked at him with implied forgiveness.
My determination grew as the calendar kept moving ahead to the next month. My sense was focused on, still, the need to just keep anticipating another move in the making. No one could advise me. Uncle had hinted in an aggressive tone during our second visit that I had a brother. He joked with me, then out of his mouth came a first name in a sentence about his nephew. His move created a stage for me to untangle the web, then discover something hidden. He was leveling the playing field for me! For six months I pursued locating my brother. A lone wolf searcher, I relied on public records. It paid off! Lastly, I contacted a secretary of a large school system who had access to all high school yearbooks. By then, I realized Brother’s full name, finally, after chasing every lead to contact people! A photo—his—came to our mailbox 21 days after The Armenian Weekly, July 3, 1986 edition Letter-to-the-Editor, penned by yours truly, was published. Insane with joy, my body became one with my spirit. I bonded with my handsome Brother, just by seeing his senior photo. I rushed to our telephone to call every friend and adoptive relative I had. By 10 p.m., I called Mom Letts to tell her. Without her, none of this reunification would have happened.
On Dec. 11, 1986, our telephone rang. It was Brother! Six days earlier I had sent a large box full of photos and documents to his residence. My persistent, stubborn refusal to give up had yielded results. The next few months were chocked full of our making calls to each other. I became attached to his children and made three visits to California to see them. In June 1988, I formed an organization, Bonding by Blood, Unlimited, a non-profit that helps people find their biological families. A local television news reporter came to our Central Elementary School in Vassar, Mich., to interview me while my class was working at their desks. My third graders loved every single minute. In 1990, I met my father’s three younger brothers at a nation-wide reunion in Culpeper, Va.
One day while looking at my “based-on-my-book” website, www.ArmenianAncestryBook.com, a man claiming to be my relative e-mailed me on the site’s address! My relative, Aram Mahtesian, 83, had found me! Stumbling onto my site, he had recognized the people in my photos! His miraculous message shook me to the core.