Lisa Hammerly is convinced the quest to find her birth parents had a helping hand.
“My mother masterminded it from the heavens above. I truly believe that,” said Hammerly, who through curiosity, good fortune and online resources was able to identify and connect with her birth parents in just six months.
Throughout her life, Hammerly’s adoptive parents, John and Dorothy Blain, were very open with her and her brother, Russell, about being adopted.
“They told me, ‘You were adopted, you were selected, you were special,’” Hammerly said. “I have known I was adopted since I knew what being adopted meant. It was integrated into the conversation from the beginning.”
When Hammerly turned 18, the Blains gave her all her adoption paperwork and their blessing to search for her birth mother.
“It was the most unselfish act an adoptive parent can do for their adopted child,” Hammerly said. However, due to her loyalty to the couple who raised her, Hammerly chose not to begin the search until after they had passed away.
“I felt like my mother always knew I wanted to search, but I never would as long as she was alive,” Hammerly said.
Starting the search
Hammerly’s search began in January 2018 with the passage of the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, which provides access to an original birth certificate for adoptees. Her father died in 2001, her brother in 2005 and her mother in 2016, “so this was an easy decision,” she said. “And not having children by choice made the decision to search uncomplicated for me.”
On Jan. 19, 1967, she was placed with the Blains by the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, but the adoption was not final until Jan. 2, 1968. As Hammerly went through her papers, she noticed the law firm of Martin, Gibson & Gardner had handled the adoption. Hammerly is the business manager for Sedalia School District 200; school board Vice President Scott Gardner’s great-great-grandfather handled the adoption. This connection is another reason Hammerly believes her search was predestined for success.
She contacted Gardner, an attorney, and soon he provided a phone number for her biological mother, Virginia Lee Gallus.
“He said, ‘I’m pretty sure I found her,’” Hammerly said. “That was a matter of days. There was really nothing I had to do.”
Hammerly called and left a message but did not say she was Gallus’s biological daughter; she just said she would like Gallus to contact her if possible. A couple weeks went by with no response. Then Gardner dropped off some more court papers he had located, and that day Hammerly decided to give Gallus another call. This time, Gallus answered.
The conversation was understandably traumatic for Gallus, so Hammerly just asked for some basic information and said she would call back in a couple of weeks. Gallus, who lives in Independence, is not on any social media platform and still uses a landline for her phone, so tracking down information about her was more of a challenge. After many long phone conversations, they finally met for lunch and spent four hours at the table getting acquainted.
“This was more about seeing one another for the first time and touching one another for the first time, feeling that connection for the first time,” Hammerly said.
She learned that Gallus, who never married or had other children, was 18 when she got pregnant after meeting a young man eight years older than her at a drag strip in Kansas City.
“It was very traumatic for her,” Hammerly said. “She never told anybody, hid her pregnancy, had me over Christmas break then went back to school. Her twin sister finally found out when she said she needed to go to the hospital because she was having a baby.”
Finding the father
Hammerly never planned to pursue finding her birth father.
“He never existed in my mind,” she said, “it was always more about the birth mom.”
She was encouraged to start the search by her husband, Mike, whose father died when Mike was 13. Hammerly signed up for the genealogy service Ancestry armed with the name, Ed Rose, provided by Gallus and knowledge that he was eight years older than her birth mother. She then went on Facebook and after a couple of nights of searching, a photo she found on Ancestry was on the subject’s son’s Facebook page, too. She sent the man a message and with his encouragement they both took DNA tests, but there wasn’t a match. The failure, however, brought success.
“This led up to finding my birth father because I never would have taken the test” without encouragement from the potential match, Hammerly said. She then went through Ancestry to message people whose DNA matched with hers.
One match was April Rose Martin, who was nudged by her cousin Stephen Gentry to check her Ancestry account. He said a DNA match indicated he had “a new cousin” and wondered if Martin did, too.
“I have a feeling he knew that it was more than a cousin for me, but it was his gentle way of making sure I looked in at it,” Martin said.
Hammerly was listed as a close family connection, closer than her cousins, “and I immediately knew something was afoot.” Martin said. The match could have been an aunt or niece, or a half-sister. Martin checked her messages and found Lisa’s attempt to reach out to anyone connected to Ed Rose.
Martin’s father is Milton Edward Rose, and when she and her brother, Paul, were children, Rose told them someday they might meet someone who knew him as “Eddie” from his younger years. Martin connected with Hammerly via Facebook that night and after they determined they were half-sisters they shared a long phone call.
“It was definitely a big shock to me but not in any kind of bad way,” Martin said. “It was a wonderful surprise.”
Hammerly said Martin “was just an open book from the start and lovingly took me in.”
All along, Hammerly was mindful of the impact her search could have on others. She had lived with her desire to know her birth parents for more than 50 years and “I wasn’t going to be selfish. My parents did not raise me to be that way.”
Hammerly thought it would be best if Martin and her brother broke the news to Rose, who lives in Richmond.
“Dad is usually a very emotional person, but his reaction was more of shock,” Martin said. When he met Hammerly on Father’s Day 2018, he said if he had known about her things would have been different.
“He had to deal with feelings that he had let her down even though he never knew that she existed,” Martin said. “My father is very family-oriented, and he felt that was a loss of a potential relationship between a father and a daughter.”
Martin said it has been fun getting to know Hammerly, but “you can’t replace a lifetime in a year.”
Hammerly believes the desire for connections drives adoptees to search for their birth parents.
“No one is more romantic about mothers and mothering than the adopted. Finding your birth mother … is like being born again. You enter an alternate reality. Nothing will ever be the same again,” she said. “It has been emotional. … I thought that just the sight of the birth mother or father or a member of the birth family would render me whole. I was thinking if I could just touch someone who has my heritage or my DNA, that would take care of all of my needs. … Instead, I felt more fragmented. I am still realigning myself, bringing together the pieces.”
She cautions adoptees who are considering a search that they don’t know who or what is out there waiting for them.
“You could be rejected. You have to know who you are so you can handle that,” she said.
Hammerly has stressed to Gallus that she did the right thing.
“I told her, ‘I am thankful that you were strong enough to give me up.’ I can’t imagine most people in that situation being able to make that choice knowing you are creating a better life for your child. It was a very selfless act,” Hammerly said.
Hammerly has been enjoying having mother-daughter days with Gallus, sharing lunches and having their makeup done together. Connecting with her new-found half-sister has been fulfilling for Martin, too.
“It’s been so fun to introduce her to different cousins and send her photos. She and I have gone out to lunches together, gone shopping together. … She is just nice and funny and smart and beautiful. She is everything I would have wanted in a sister and now she is my sister,” Martin said. “It’s terrific. I’m glad she’s here.”
Hammerly wrote Gallus a letter on Mother’s Day, saying she believes her adoptive mother had orchestrated all of this from heaven.
“That is how I like to look at it, that it was a gift from the mother who raised me. She knew that in the deepest part of my soul and heart, I had a yearning to find out where I came from,” Hammerly said.
The only family she knew growing up have all passed away, but instead of a void she now has people with whom she shares a natural connection.
“I had the family who raised me, now I have a second family – and it is my mom and dad,” Hammerly said. “That’s crazy.”