Heather Livergood has spent much of her life searching for her birth family. She was thought to be one of “Gertie’s Babies,” so the chance of finding her birth family were slim. Gertrude Pitkanen was a well-known abortionists. Not a physician, she practiced midwifery in the 30s, 40s and 50s, as well as abortion. Charges of botched abortions that caused the death of women never stuck against Pitkanen. Besides performing illegal abortions, Pitkanen signed death certificates as the attending doctor. This was a time period when midwives did not need certification or any acknowledged training.
As notorious as her abortions is Pitkanen’s illegal selling of babies. Generally, prostitutes would seek out her services either for abortions or for delivering and keeping the babies. Seven of Gertie’s babies have been identified so far, but it is thought that she delivered and sold around 28.
Heather was lucky to at least have her mother’s name to help begin the search. Age 68, she was ecstatic to find her brothers in Utah, ages 66 and 72. The men agreed to provide DNA samples, which confirmed their relation. It was Heather’s submission of a saliva sample to Ancestry.com that led her to a third cousin and, eventually, to her brothers. The idea came to her after meeting with others of Gertie’s babies who are also on the search for their birth families.
There are still more questions than answers for Heather and her brothers, since both of their parents passed away long ago. But for now, they’re very happy to have found each other and to know that they’re family.