Monday, October 08, 2007

Long search for birth family bears fruit

Happy Birthday, Jennie

Long search for birth family bears fruit

BY CARRIE CASSIDY / Of The Patriot-News, 09/05/07 11:15 PM EDT

Jennie Maresca always longed to find the woman who stood at the train station as her new family whisked her away to America.

From her early teens, Maresca has been searching for that woman, her birth mother, whom she knew as Elfriede Marta Kate Ropke. She never knew her mother's married name, hindering her search for decades.

About a year ago, Maresca, 54, formerly of Susquehanna Twp., found information that she said made her "feel whole again." She found her biological family, after years of feeling like she didn't belong.

"No matter who raises you, you still possess your birth parents' genes and that ultimately controls who you are inside and who God intended you to be," she said.

Maresca was born in October 1952 in Bremen, a harbor town in West Germany, to a housemaid whose financially tough times prompted her to put up for adoption her youngest of two daughters. Maresca was adopted two years later by a soldier stationed in Germany and his wife.

The family left Frankfurt, West Germany, by train and eventually returned to the United States, to Penbrook. They moved to Susquehanna Twp. when Maresca, whose adopted name is Martha Jane Hall, turned 5 and became a U.S. citizen.

Maresca lived in Susquehanna Twp. for most of her life until she moved to Florida four years ago. Her adopted parents, Elmo and Josephine Hall, still live there.

Maresca always knew she was adopted and, over the years, the need to find her birth family grew. She started searching at 13 and spent years with the painstaking and often disappointing quest.

She tried everything -- blindly writing to other Americans who shared her birth name. Searching Ellis Island records. Surfing the Internet.

While doing research on the Internet, Maresca found a story about a woman who reunited members of a German family.

Maresca's search ended within six months of contacting Angela Shelley, the family detective mentioned in the story.

Shelley, who lives in southern Germany, gathers information from records offices in Germany for her clients, mostly German-born adoptees adopted between 1945 and 1969.

Shelley's $1,400 fee, paid only if she succeeds in finding the client's birth family, includes "countless hours" of translating letters and e-mails for her clients, relaying phone messages and helping the families get to know each other.

With Shelley's help, Maresca learned most of the information she had wondered about for years, such as whether her mother ever wondered about her, too.

"My half sister has told me [my mother] always thought about me especially in October, at the time of my birthday. She would get depressed," Maresca said.

She learned that her mother died of breast cancer in 1984. But through phone calls and letters, Maresca has come to know the rest of her family -- two uncles in Germany, and three aunts, three half sisters and a half brother, all of whom live in the United States.

Maresca plans to meet her younger sister and her family this month, and the rest of her family in October.

"My search was worth it, although, at times, very frustrating," she said. "I am so happy. I feel whole and so loved."

CARRIE CASSIDY: 255-8244 or


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