Reunion brings adoptees
by Hattiesburg American
Eva Johnson knew searching for her birth mother was something she had to do - for herself. Born in 1954, the Sterling, Va., resident was delivered at a Hattiesburg hospital. Three weeks later, she was adopted by a family.
Opened in 1931, the Emery Home in Richton was established for unwed mothers. The home was named after the E.A. Emery family who donated the property to the Missionary Bands of the World, Johnson said. It burned in 1964 - just a year after it closed in 1963.
In August 2006 and following a 30-year search, Johnson, 53, was reunited with her birth mother, Joyce Lara of Commerce, Texas. The two had a lot to talk about.
Today, several babies born at the Emery Home have found their birth parents. The reunions were made possible by Johnson, who started the Emery Reunion in 2001 for other babies who were adopted from the home.
On Oct. 19, a group of families attended the group's fifth reunion in hopes of stepping closer to what Johnson has achieved - locating biological family members.
"These reunions are good because you can talk to someone who is willing to search," Johnson said.
The home had the same obstetrics facilities as hospitals and a full-time nurse. Most of the residents' babies were delivered there.
In the later years, some of the babies were delivered at hospitals in Hattiesburg or Laurel, she said.
Women found a home at Emery for different reasons, Johnson said. Every adopted child's mother has a different story - be it sexual assault, an unplanned pregnancy or to avoid disgracing the family. She said it wasn't uncommon for women to come back to the home more than once.
"At any given time, there were as many as 20 women in the house or as little as six," she said.
Johnson lived at the home for three weeks before being adopted. Her adoptive grandmother, who also was a Greenville attorney, handled many of the adoption cases for the home. She said her adoptive grandmother learned about Johnson's birth while having dinner at the Emery Home.
Johnson said her birth mother and her adopted grandmother were talking and the result of that conversation was her adoption. Johnson's sister and a cousin also were adopted from the home.
Her personal search for answers is similar to what other Emery babies (that's the term they've given themselves) have encountered - vague information and false leads.
Johnson was given her mother's first name but no middle initial.
"I got that in 2006 and I was looking in the state of Mississippi but my birth mother was born in Texas," she said.
Mary Lynne Hatcher of Los Angeles is the last recorded baby to be adopted from Emery, she said.
Her search for her biological mother has been a 15-year quest and continues on today. Nine years into the search, she was able to get her hospital records from Jones County.
"That was really great. I went through a lot of different steps to get there," she said. "I do have my mother's name but nothing else."
Hatcher has attended two reunions and uses the network for support.
"What's so great about it is we're all friends online," she said. "Knowing there are people who have the same set of mixed-up circumstances and many have dug through the pieces and figured things out."
Hatcher, 44, stopped keeping track of the costs but estimates she has spent almost $10,000 on her search, counting legal fees, travel costs and other expenses.
"I quit keeping count at $6,000," she said. "I've traveled to Mississippi many times from L.A., gone to different colleges to look through yearbooks and made many trips to the Perry County courthouse."
Hatcher said she and her adoptive family lived in Perry County until she was 8 and then they moved to Anniston, Ala. She returned to Hattiesburg after college but now lives in Los Angeles.
Between hospital records, birth certificate and adoption records, Hatcher had three different names for her birth mother. The name listed on her birth certificate is Betty Ann Carruthers Powell.
Johnson said her whole focus is to help Hatcher reunite with her birth family. Searching is hard, she said, but what's harder is actually making that first step.
"It takes courage, initiative and desire if a person is going to be involved in their search," she said. "I or my searchers cannot help them."
When a connection is established, Johnson said, she steps away from the situation.
"I make initial contact and then after that, it's none of my business. It's a very private thing," she said. "Many people come back and share their stories and more times than not, it's a very good reunion."
Hatcher has hired private detectives, searchers and networked with other adoptive people but said she has had no success. She is about to try DNA testing but even that has a downside.
"I could be a match to people all over the world and trying to narrow it down to someone from the South and even from America can be difficult," she said. "I'm trying because you just never know."
Hatcher said she hopes as her search continues things will get easier. Her message for women who have given a child up for adoption is hopeful.
"Don't hide away," she said. "We're reaching out to you all over the Internet and we're not here to judge you. We aren't angry and we don't want any money."