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Connecting the dots after the search: DeHaven finds uncanny similarities to long-separated family members
Debbie Epping
Antelope Staff
Photo courtesy of Joan DeHaven
Audrey Drabbels with her husband, Virgil, describes finding her birth family as the "best gift" her son has ever given her. "My dear husband, Virgil, has been especially supportive and continues to hold my hand as Aunt Marian gives me more and more information about my birth family,” Audrey said in a letter she wrote about her adoption story to the Child Saving Institute of Omaha in March of 2006.
Photo courtesy of Joan DeHaven
Marians husband, Jim Yonan (left), Marians son, Jimmie (second from left), Marian Yonan (center) Marians son, Paul (second from right), and Pauls wife, Virginia (right) make up the missing branch of Audrey Drabbels family tree.

Face-to-face for the first time

Joan DeHaven looked into her great Aunt Marian’s face for the first time. She was standing there still in pretty good health for 94. “I could see so much of mom’s features in her face, but when we went to her home she had family pictures on the wall. She had a picture of herself when she was much younger, and it was a spitting image of my sister’s daughter. They just looked like twins. It was so uncanny,” DeHaven said.

DeHaven, the accounts payable manager in the finance office at UNK, met her great Aunt Marian Yonan for the first time in July 2009. Her brother, Gary Drabbels, had located and made contact with Yonan, the last surviving sibling of their mother’s  birth family. Their mother, Audrey Drabbels, had been adopted as a baby in 1922.

“Back in the 20s there appeared to be quite a stigma on children who were adopted,” DeHaven said.

Although not the case with Audrey, many times families would adopt children to use as extra help on the farm, and society perceived adopted children as inferior, more like servants.

“I could always tell it bothered mom she was adopted. She’d say, ‘My cousin Tom…, but he’s not really my cousin because I’m adopted,’” DeHaven said.

The missing link

Those feelings lingered until DeHaven’s brother surprised their mother by finding her birth mother’s family after a long search.

“Our whole family has been exuberant about sharing my ’good news.’ Our friends and neighbors are rejoicing with me at my finding my long sought roots. Yonan welcomed her niece Audrey into the family with open arms and made the comment that she vaguely remembered her older sister being pregnant (Yonan was seven at the time), but never knew what happened to the baby.

Nature vs. nurture

When DeHaven visited her great aunt in Oregon, she found similarities that stretched far beyond physical characteristics.

“I don’t have an opinion on nature over nurture. Although I do think there are certain people with left brains vs. right brains, and you have a natural ability for one or the other,” DeHaven said.

DeHaven took pictures of Yonan’s home and bedroom to show to her mother. Her mother, Audrey, was quite talented creatively and loved decorating her house. Aunt Yonan’s home was so tastefully decorated it looked like Audrey could have lived there.

“There are so many characteristics of mom’s birth family that seemed to have gone to mom as well,” DeHaven said.

Both Audrey and her aunt Yonan are very musically gifted, and Audrey passed her love of music on to her kids. Yonan had written a song with lyrics that DeHaven played and her sister, Susan, sang for Marian.

“Marian went to her piano bench and said, ‘Here can you sing this?’ So we played and sang it for her, and she was just in seventh heaven. She loved it so much,” DeHaven said.

Audrey and her Aunt Marian both loved to write and scrapbook. Aunt Marian compiled an album of family photographs with each page dedicated to the memory of her parents, siblings and their families. The pictures were carefully embellished and framed with cutouts of flowers and cleverly captioned in much the same way Audrey would have done herself. The book Yonan wrote about her family and called “the Wood Pile” included a forward page dedicated to her newfound family member—Audrey Drabbels.

“Tears welled up as, for the first time, I laid eyes on the images of my family members. My long held curiosity was quenched as I recognized resemblances between my birth mother’s family and me and my children and their families,” Audrey wrote.

Yonan noted the many ways her niece Audrey reminded her of her sister and Audrey’s mother, Ethel.

“Ethel was the very caring type also. Compared to the rest of us six girls she was more the homebody type,” Yonan wrote in one of her e-mails to DeHaven.

A new outlook

Although Audrey was never able to meet her mother, finding her birth family gave her a new outlook on life.

“If I could say one thing to my birth mother who passed away 30 years ago, I would say, ‘Thank you for giving me life.’ My mother had a belief in the sanctity of life and had to make a heart-wrenching decision to place me in the care of the Child Saving Institute. It was a personal sacrifice beyond the scope of which most of us have to endure,” Audrey wrote.

Audrey recognized her fortune in being blessed with a loving adoptive family and wrote, “If I could say one thing to my adoptive parents, I would say, ‘Thank you Mama and Daddy for giving me a home, your love and the faith that has seen me through my 83 years.”

“From the time mom and dad found out about Aunt Marian they wanted us to meet in person. The most rewarding thing was being able to get out there before my mom was gone and before Marian was gone,” DeHaven said.


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