Adoptees wanting to find a birth parent today have tools such as adoption registries to aid in their search often providing expedited results. But individuals who were adopted many years ago must search for their biological parents the old-fashioned way; detective work, sheer determination, and divine intervention may be the only way they are successful. Ann Kief is one adoptee who did not let time and geographical distance deter her from achieving the goal of discovering her biological roots.
Ann as a baby. (Photo credit: Ann Kief)
Ann was born in a hospital for unwed mothers in Munich, Germany, in March 1948. Her adoptive parents, a U.S. military couple stationed in Germany to assist in post-World War II recovery, took her home upon her discharge from the hospital. Ann spent half of her childhood in Germany, later moving to the U.S. with her parents. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 1961 at age 13.
Ann’s adoption was never a secret. From an early age, Ann’s parents told her the story of a baby girl who was adopted and loved by a family. This baby girl, they told Ann, was chosen and special. Ann cannot remember exactly when, but at some point, they revealed she was the baby girl in the story.
Ann enjoyed a loving and happy childhood. Her biological roots were not a big concern for her then. Nevertheless, once married and contemplating starting her own family, Ann began thinking about her biological heritage. She and her husband sat down with her parents who shared more details about Ann’s adoption story. Her mother and father related how they had seen Ann the very day she was born.
Learning more of her adoption story from her adoptive parents did not lead Ann to immediately begin a search for her biological parents. She was hesitant to take this action while her adoptive parents were living. Ann felt this way out of respect for her parents and out of fear that their feelings would be hurt if she undertook such a search.
After her parents died, Ann felt more of an urge to search for her biological parents. Through an aunt, Ann learned the name of her biological mother—Marion Eva Freiin von Stenglin. The “Freiin” in her mother’s name was a designation of nobility. To Ann’s amazement, this designation meant Ann had been born a baroness.
In 2005, Ann began a diligent search for paperwork related to her adoption in her deceased parents’ belongings. After spending hours combing through mountains of boxes and paperwork in a hot storage shed, Ann hit pay dirt. She found a folder with brittle brown paper containing her adoption records. The elation of this discovery was tempered with the disappointment that the paperwork listed her father as unknown.
Now Ann had more information, but how was she going to make a connection with her birth family? The answer to that question came in the form of a “God-wink” as Ann describes it. While living in Florida and carrying out a task for her local chamber of commerce, Ann met a German man from Munich. She revealed to him she had been born in Germany and was adopted there. He suggested contacting the records department in Munich to request information on Ann’s birth mother; the case number on the adoption paperwork uncovered in the storage shed would facilitate a records search. His contact with the German records department on Ann’s behalf yielded a street address for Ann’s birth mother.
Ann’s new German friend also called the only von Stenglin that could be found in the Munich phone directory. The man answering at that number was not related to Ann; however, he was familiar with the von Stenglin family. He offered to reach out to them. As a result of his contact with that family, Ann received an email from a maternal first cousin.
Once again, Ann’s progress was tempered with disappointment. She had connected with her biological family, but she learned her mother was deceased; Marion had died of a heart attack in 1985 at the age of 56. Although Ann was never going to have the opportunity to meet the woman who gave her life, she now had pictures of her mother sent by the first cousin. These pictures revealed a great physical resemblance between mother and daughter.
Ann’s birth mother. (Photo credit: Ann Kief)
With her maternal family located, Ann proceeded to reach out to various family members. An aunt did not want to speak with Ann on the phone due to the aunt’s limited command of English; however, the aunt asked her daughter, Ann’s cousin, to call to speak with her. When her cousin Susan called, Ann felt an instant bond with her. The women connected so well that Ann and her husband planned a trip to Germany to visit with Susan and other biological family members.
It was no small undertaking for Ann to travel to Germany to meet her biological family. She was afraid of flying and did not speak German proficiently. But her desire to meet her biological family was stronger than her fear of flying and her lack of German fluency. Ann’s cousin Susan met Ann and Ann’s husband at the airport; the cousins felt an immediate connection. Susan spoke English well, so she was able to assist Ann in communicating with other family members.
Ann’s maternal family was now known, but her paternal roots were still a mystery. Another “God-wink” sent Ann down the path to getting more information on her paternal family. In 2011, one of Marion’s best friends, a woman Marion met in fifth grade, was flying home to Virginia. This friend, Sigrid Crane, saw a young woman on the plane bearing a striking resemblance to Marion. As a result of the encounter, Sigrid was overcome with the desire to try and locate Marion’s daughter.
Upon her arrival home on November 28, 2011, Sigrid immediately logged onto her computer and typed in Marion’s name to search. On a page on the Adoption.com website, Sigrid found a woman named Ann Kief looking for her biological mother—Marion! Sigrid hastily found Ann’s number and called her that very day. Amazingly, Sigrid had lived a mere 10 miles from Ann’s home in northern Virginia. As a result of this connection, Ann and Sigrid met, and Sigrid was able to fill in some missing pieces about Ann’s past.
Sigrid suggested that Ann obtain her German birth certificate feeling that, as a baroness, it would have been quite embarrassing for Marion to be unwed and not know the name of her baby’s father. Although considered a long shot, that certificate did reveal the name of Ann’s father. Ann ultimately learned her biological father was a friend of Marion’s family who was much older (by 27 years) than Ann’s mother. As before, success was bittersweet. Sadly, Ann’s biological father was also deceased; it took seven years after learning his name for Ann to find a living relative on her father’s side.
Ann’s birth father. (Photo credit: Ann Kief)
The search for her roots spanned 13 years of Ann’s life with large time gaps in between discoveries. Undaunted, Ann continued to search for information on her biological family. As a result, she has connected with paternal and maternal relatives and has made several trips to Germany to meet and visit them. Despite Ann’s initial fears that her biological family would reject her, she has been welcomed with open arms and was even invited to attend a family reunion in Germany.
Some of the discoveries Ann made during her lengthy search for biological family revealed amazing connections between her birth and adoptive families. Her adoptive father’s military work in Germany likely had him overseeing her imprisoned famous birth great uncle post-World War II. Sigrid, her mother’s best friend, had a friend who knew Ann’s adoptive parents. These connections, among others, emphasize the blending of countries and families woven into the tapestry of Ann’s life.
Adoptee and author Ann Kief. (Photo credit: Ann Kief)
A search lasting many years rewarded Ann with information on her biological roots and an expansion of her family. Her search has also deepened Ann’s faith; she is convinced that many of the discoveries she made were divine appointments. The story of Ann’s quest to find her biological family is now a book, Blessed By Adoption—A Journey of Discovery Blending Families And Countries, which contains many more details of her search efforts. This heartwarming account of unearthing biological roots was released in May by Xulon Press and is available through Xulon, Amazon, iTunes, bookstores, and Ann’s personal website, blessedbyadoption.com.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY and speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.