Monday, March 17, 2008

Searching for Francis Miller - Videos on news page

Take a peek at this.... these separated sibling stories always break my heart

Michigan - Greenville woman is struggling to reunite her family after being separated for 60 years

Jessica Dudenhofer
Staff Writer

His bashful face peeks out through heavy locks of curly blond hair in the old black and white photograph.

The youngster is standing with two older brothers - three children who never saw each other again shortly after the picture was snapped of the trio.

Their oldest sister has been searching for a long time now, trying to track down all three and get the members of the Miller family back together again for the first time in 60 years.

This is the story of 70-year-old Greenville resident Edna Miller, her brothers and her ongoing attempt to reunite them.

1948: A simple life

The story begins six decades ago - back in 1948 at a little farm on the south side of Lakeview along Almy Road.

Charles Eli and Mabel Ilene Hammond Miller had six children - a daughter and five sons. Edna Miller, the eldest member of the group, said some of her earliest memories involve changing the many diapers of her five younger brothers, Larry, Charles, Francis, Raymond and Robert.

At that time they ranged in age from Edna's 10 down to the infant Robert.

Edna remembers performing skits in one of the farm's outbuildings and the sheep that used to graze in a field behind the barn. They were happy, simple times.

Then one day her family changed forever.

No father or mother

"One day my dad left for work and he never came back," Edna recalled, the pain of that day still visible in her eyes.

Edna's mother was left with practically nothing and six hungry mouths to feed.

"My mother had no money coming in," Edna said, trying to express how desperate the family's situation was.

Welfare was basically nonexistent back then and Mabel Miller had no means of support so she was taken to jail. Her sister came to get her out and allowed the destitute mother to live at her home.

However, Edna's aunt couldn't care for all six children too. So the youngsters were sent to the children's home in Stanton, now a large stone home at the northwest corner of M-66 and Main Street across from Subway.

All alone

Mabel later showed up at the children's home and reclaimed baby Robert.

However, she left the other five children in Stanton facing an uncertain future.

The children later learned that their father had fled to his mother's home in California after the hard times of supporting a wife and family became too much for him to bear. But a few years later he returned to the Lakeview farmstead.

"A couple years down the line my father came back to Michigan," Edna said with hesitation. "He took Mom and my baby brother" with him back to California.

But they never came to pick up the rest of the children.

It would be years before Edna would see any of the three of them again.


In the summer of 1948, the inevitable happened to the five children left behind at the Stanton children's home.

They were separated.

The two middle boys were adopted. Seven-year-old Charles and 5-year-old Francis went to separate homes.

Meanwhile, Edna spent the next several years floating from one foster home to another.

Then, finally, when Edna was a teenager a case worker helped her get back in touch with her parents.

What's more, her mother and baby brother came back to Michigan looking for her.

Mom and Dad return

"My mother and brother came to Livonia (to the foster home where Edna was living) on my birthday," she said. "It was my 16th birthday."

Edna said she never saw her father until the court released her from foster care when she was almost 17.

It would be 60 years before Edna again saw either of her two brothers who had been adopted - Charles and Francis.

Her parents never made an attempt to get the family together again. Meanwhile, Edna lived almost 60 years wondering what ever had become of Charles and Francis.

The search begins

After being released from foster care, Edna lived with her parents for just a short while before moving out on her own.

"To make a long story short," Edna said with a chuckle, "my baby brother married a Lakeview girl."

Her name was Judy Ostrander and she was the daughter of a dairy farmer. As the years went on, Edna and Judy became good friends.

"We were always close, more like sisters than sisters-in-law," Edna said with a smile.

Judy knew how much Edna wanted to track down her lost brothers and last July decided to give her a birthday present that she would always treasure.

"'We're going to help you find your brothers,' she told me," Edna said.

She already knew where two of her brothers were. Raymond had mental and physical handicaps due to birth defects and was placed in a hospital on Michigan's east side while Larry hadn't responded to attempts to contact him. The last Edna knew he was living in Sparta.

Judy said she would help pay for trying to locate Charles and Francis.

Thus the long process of tracking down Edna's two lost siblings began.

One down, one to go

Edna moved back to Montcalm County nine years ago and settled in Greenville's Creekview Mobile Home Park.

That's been her base of operations for tracking down her two brothers. The living room contains scrapbooks and photo albums filled with family memorabilia.

Using old adoption records from the state, high school yearbooks, common sense and most importantly the help of an intermediary in Grand Rapids, Christmas 2007 became especially memorable for Edna.

Back in December her telephone rang a few days before Christmas. It was a call that would forever change Edna's life. At the other end of the line was Edna's intermediary, calling to announce that Charles had been found.

"When she told me, all I could say was "oh my God," Edna said, the joy of the moment still apparent in her smile. "I was numb all over."

So close

What shocked Edna most was that Charles had been living so close to her.

He had had a home at Lincoln Lake, mere miles away, for several years.

"All this time," Edna said.

She said she couldn't help but think about how many times she must have passed her brother in stores, never knowing who he was.

It was just after Christmas that Charles William Bunce came to visit his sister at her home.

"When I answered the door I just stood there and looked at him," Edna said.

Her brother, who turned 66 on March 9, looked much older than when Edna had last seen him as a young tyke.

"Are you who I think you are?" she said she asked Charles.

Her answer was an impish smile.

"Yes, I'm your brother," he said.

It's all coming back

"I don't remember much," Charles said as the newly reunited brother and sister drove out to their childhood home on Almy Road.

This was the first time Edna had returned to the farm since the six siblings had been separated 60 years earlier. After getting lost a few times and driving down several wrong roads, she spotted the house and recognized it almost immediately.

"Yes, that's it," Edna said with excitement as the pair pulled into the driveway of the old, white farmhouse with new white siding.

Charles listened carefully as Edna poured out story after story of her childhood adventures on the farm. He remembered a few of the details, but not many. After all, he was only 3 when the children left there.

"We used to put on skits for the boys back there," Edna said excitedly, pointing to a now-abandoned outbuilding. The barn, windmill and outhouse all still stand proudly in their original locations and Edna continued to fill in some of the holes in Charles' memories.

Turn back the clock

The pair knocked on the door, nervously waiting almost 10 minutes before an elderly man answered.

At 96, Frank Rentschler could hardly stand. Though he pulled an oxygen tank behind him, his spunk was readily apparent as he greeted the two strangers at his door with a smile.

"My name is Edna Miller and this is my brother, Charles," Edna said loudly, hoping the elderly gentleman would hear her. "We grew up in this house."

Rentschler was immediately intrigued at the news and started to ask the brother and sister questions. He said he bought the home many years ago, after living on a farm nearby, but didn't remember the Miller family.

"I remember a Hammond," Rentschler said, his forehead furrowed in concentration.

Edna's eyes lit up at the name.

"That was my mother," she cried out.

"Well, what do you know about that," Rentschler said with a chuckle.

"My heart is pounding"

After a few more questions and a few more minutes, Edna and Charles learned that the 96-year-old man probably went hunting with their father.

As Edna walked out of the house she shook her head in disbelief.

"I just can't believe it," she gasped. "My heart is just pounding right now."

Charles, who'd been listening quietly most of the time, leaned over to whisper to her.

"I just love it when things work out," he said with a chuckle.

Now Francis...

The only challenge remaining for Edna is to find her last lost brother, Francis.

State adoption paperwork has been locked up for some time for archiving, but just last Wednesday Edna received a letter saying that the files once again were available.

Edna said she was going to contact the intermediary who had successfully located Charles and have her start searching for Francis again.

"I know she's going to find him," Edna said with confidence.

She said she has a feeling that Francis is living somewhere nearby.

"My gut tells me Francis is also in Greenville," Edna said.

Finding Francis

Francis' last name was Miller when the children were young.

However, no one knows if that's still the case.

Edna hopes that her search to reunite her family soon will come to an end. She said the feeling that something was "missing" has been eating away at her for years.

"It's like a hole in the atmosphere," said Edna. "Something is just missing."

She hopes that all the years of waiting soon will be over.

"It's been 60 years since I've seen him (Francis)," Edna said with a sigh.

What to look for

Things to look for to help find Francis:

• He had thick, blond, curly hair "like an afro" and no visible birthmarks as a child.

• He was born in 1953 1943 so he would be 64 or 65 today.

• He was adopted out of the children's home in Stanton in 1949 at age 6. The adoption process began the year before.

• At the time his name was Francis Miller but both his first and last name may have been changed. Charles Miller's adopted family changed both his middle and last name.

• Several members of the Miller family have an interest in hunting and cars or mechanics so Francis also may.

Contact Edna Miller at (616) 225-3433 if you have any information or know of someone who may be Francis.

4 complaints from ingrates:

Anonymous,  March 17, 2008 at 12:54 PM  

If Francis was born in 1953, then he would not be in his sixties.

He would be 55 years old.


Ungrateful Little Bastard March 17, 2008 at 1:20 PM  

Aha thanks Cathy - I had just copied from the news story. I made an edit in my post -- thanks!!

Anonymous,  March 18, 2008 at 3:04 PM

Apparently sort of like yoname. One of my friends got notified that she was searched for.

Ungrateful Little Bastard March 18, 2008 at 8:59 PM  

Interesting... I set up a dummy Yahoo account today to join, because I wasn't about to give them my login information. I played around with it a bit and did a search on my own email address. So far nothing but I'll keep an eye

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