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Finding answers: Columbus woman finally reunites with lost family

COLUMBUS — A Columbus woman’s lifelong dream of connecting with her biological family finally came true.

Linda Henderson, 62, has had journey of ups and downs throughout her life — with huge shares of both of joy and devastation, beginning her life in York, Pennsylvania — which created a path that would lead her to her current home in south central Indiana.

But now, she’s finally met face-to-face with relatives she never knew she had, winding up back where her story began.

In recent years, individual states have passed laws that require adoption records to be unsealed upon the request of adult children. A Pennsylvania adoptee rights law, passed in November 2017, allows adults over the age of 18 who are no longer in high school to request a summary version of their original birth records that contains the names of parents, their ages, their residence and the child’s name at birth.

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Before this law was passed, adoptees and their families were at the mercy of the adoption agencies, who often decided what, if any, information it would release to family members — sometimes at a price.

Placed in foster care

Henderson was born in York on July 13, 1957, to a young unwed couple. She has no memories of them. For reasons she didn’t learn until she was much older, she was placed in foster care by a faith-based adoption agency.

On that date, her birth identity was sealed from her — and her whereabouts sealed from her biological family — for decades.

“Once you were placed in foster care, the records were sealed,” Henderson said about the laws of that time.

Henderson would later learn that she was taken from her birth parents because her mother got into legal trouble and both of her parents struggled with alcohol, which led to the child services agencies taking her away.

She was placed in multiple homes before finally getting placed and then legally adopted by Lois and John Redding. Lois was a registered nurse and John worked at the nearby U.S. Army Depot. The couple had a son, Patrick.

Although she made a strong emotional bond with her adoptive father, the relationship with her adoptive mother was always strained.

Henderson said she endured abuse at the hands of previous foster families, and before getting placed with the Reddings, she was so malnourished after living in one household that as soon as a social worker saw how thin she was and that she was losing her hair, she was taken from that home immediately.

Eventually, Henderson got into therapy to come to terms with the abuse she experienced from such a young age, but Lois still could not connect with her.

Largely because of this strained relationship, Henderson says she never truly felt at home.

“I didn’t feel a part of that family,” she said.

Something was always missing. Knowing she was adopted, she dreamed of one day finding her birth family.

Some aspects of Henderson’s life with her adoptive family were good. She has many happy memories of her dad — she was his caddy on the golf course for many years. Overall, she was well taken care of.

“I had a nice home to live in,” she said. “I was very well taken care of, and I’ll always be very thankful for the Redding family.”

Henderson left home shortly after graduating from high school. Eager to venture out on her own and begin her search for her birth family, Henderson first landed in Virginia Beach in 1976, a place where she was encouraged to move by friends of hers stationed in the Navy there.

“I took off and started a new life of my own,” she said. “I got a job, I had my own place; I was able to explore life as an 18-year-old adult; I was now responsible for myself and grew up quite a bit. I learned how to be a productive young woman.”

It was here where she met the man she would marry, Carl, who was stationed in the Navy at the time. His family was originally from St. Paul, Indiana, which is why Henderson and her two daughters, Patricia and Amber, first ended up in Indiana.

The search begins

Ultimately, it would be a years-long struggle for Henderson as she searched for her birth family. After she left home, she contacted the adoption agency several times and received elusive responses to her inquiries for information about her biological family.

“Nothing would open that file,” Henderson said. “I called and I begged.”

It wasn’t until Henderson’s granddaughter, Lillian, was diagnosed with lymphoma, that any information was able to be found. This time, in 2008, the records were opened for the sake of medical research. It was with this information that Linda finally found what she’d been looking for all along: the names of her parents.

A caseworker told Henderson that both of her parents were deceased, but that she should look up their obituaries online to find more names of her immediate family members.

Finally, she had something to go by with the family’s names.

“I found out I had all these sisters and brothers and where they lived. That’s where my search started, reaching out to the family whose names I found,” she said.

As elated as Henderson was to finally find her birth parents’ information, she was devastated to find out that just a few years before, both had passed away. Her birth mother’s name was Catherine Campbell. She died in 2006. Her birth father’s name was Clarence Campbell, and he passed away in 2004.

Linda was able to visit both Catherine and Clarence’s graves this past summer.

“My goal was to see my mom and dad before they passed,” Henderson said. “I ended up saying hello and goodbye at the same time. It’s a sad story, but I don’t want anyone to give up if they’re looking for their families.”

She’s happy that she has so many new family members to embrace in her life and so many new relationships to build.

She learned she is the oldest of seven children born to Catherine and Clarence — her siblings are Rae Ann, Jeanne, Wanda, Tonya, Clarence Jr. “Pnut” and Tony.

In the summer of 2019, she met Rae Ann, Tonya, Tony and Clarence Jr. as well as aunts and uncles, including her aunts Jeanne and Dottie, Catherine’s sisters.

“I have a lot more people to love,” she said. “They can look up to me because I’m their big sister,” she said, smiling. “I can go back to Pennsylvania, and I’ll always have a place to stay. The emptiness I felt was no longer there. Now that emptiness is gone.”

Tony Mann, Linda’s biological brother, first learned about Linda when he was about 12 or 13 years old. He knew from the first time his mom mentioned her, her deepest wish was to reconnect with her oldest child.

“Back in the early ‘90s, when my mom was alive she often said she wanted to meet (Linda),” Mann said. “I contacted (the adoption agency) in Harrisburg and ended up spending over $400 for them to get a hold of Linda and let her know we were looking for her.”

The agency would not help them, and Catherine passed away before meeting Linda.

“She was all of 18 years old,” Mann said of his mother, when she had Linda taken from her. “Mom was a very good lady. I miss her and dad desperately every day. I just wish that mom could have been here to see (all of us reunited).”

When Linda did visit Pennsylvania to see Tony and the rest of her siblings for the first time this year, however, things did change.

“It changed me,” he said. “My sisters contact me a little more now since we have had this big get-together. We do talk more than we did in the past. It’s brought all of us a little closer together.”

The future

Linda uses her experiences in guiding her grandson, Christopher, 17, whom she’s raised since he was 7. Christopher is a junior at New Tech High School, and since transferring there, has become an “A” student. He loves web design and ultimately dreams of designing video games.

“I try to help him set and accomplish those goals — you don’t give up on your dreams … Whatever life throws at you, deal with it and move on,” she said. “Keep that in mind. I never gave up on life. Life can throw you some pretty hard punches. As you keep in mind what you want to do, that’s what keeps you going. I want him to know that life is going to throw him some hard punches. It’s all in how you deal with them.”

Now that her dreams of finding her biological family have come true, she hopes to inspire others in a similar way as Christopher: to not give up and know the answers to their questions are out there.

The burden of not knowing her parents’ story was a burden that has been released. Those questions that bothered her throughout her life have been answered.

“I know my mom and dad did want me — and asked about me through the years,” she said. “I was never forgotten. That was really important to me. Did they love me? Do they think about me? Did they ever think about me through the years? I finally got some big answers to those very big questions.”