July 16, 2020 – We bring you an uplifting story about a recently published book titled “No Stone Unturned: A Remarkable Journey to Identity” by Nadean Stone, a member of the National Federation of Croatian Americans, about her decades-long search for her birth parents.
I first talked with the author in March, when she emailed me to share her amazing story that led to the discovery of her Croatian ancestry. Her story begins in Canada, where between 1945 and 1973, almost 350,000 unmarried Canadian mothers were persuaded, coerced, or forced into giving their babies up for adoption. (Andrews, Valerie: White Unwed Mother: The Adoption Mandate in Postwar Canada, Demeter Press, Toronto 2018.) Many babies were illegally given away, like a puppy at the pound, for a nominal donation to the church. Nadean shared with me that, “On Christmas Eve, 1952 I became one of those babies. From the moment my grandmother disclosed the story of my adoption, my birthday wish every year was to find my mother.” Nadean started her search in 1973 when she was 20.
Nadean with her Great-Uncle
In 2008, the Province of Ontario changed its law, enabling legally adopted persons to access their birth registration records. That document usually contained the birth mother’s name at the time of the child’s birth, her home address, age, religion, nationality, and professional occupation. Armed with that information, the adoptee could then search Ontario databases, telephone directories and in time locate their birth parent. Birth father names were seldom placed on this document as it was not a requirement. After many communication exchanges with the provincial government, the hospital where Nadean was born and the Children’s Aid Society, she discovered that adoption had never taken place. Nadean was simply given away by Mother Superior at the hospital. This resulted in denial of her access to any birth records.
In 2013, Nadean increased her search efforts with an intense focus on DNA. She had concluded that “DNA became my only source of hope. In December 2013, I tested with 23andMe but didn’t know how to proceed with a search. However, the DNA indicated that I was of Eastern European descent, with one Croatian parent. A DNA genetic genealogist, Olivia, found my post on a Canadian adoption website in February 2017 and offered to assist. Olivia had me test on Ancestry to ensure we covered all possibilities and Olivia downloaded my DNA info to GEDmatch, a website designed to assist adoptees.”
Olivia and Nadean divided their responsibilities. Nadean sent messages through both Ancestry and 23andMe portals to all her new cousins asking them to share their DNA, family surnames, residences in Europe, the US, and Canada, family trees. They explained the mission to find her birth mother. Nadean messaged more than 150 cousins at numerous times during the journey. As the months progressed, many of the “cousins” became invested in her search. They exchanged personal email addresses and telephone numbers, creating a “Village of Cousins” desperate to help “the baby find its mother.”
Ancestry DNA found Nadean’s birth father’s family in June 2017 when his daughter tested. I asked Nadean how it felt to hear the news and she exclaimed that “I never thought I would find my birth father. I thought the chances of finding my mother were slim and even if she was alive, she might not be well or have the mental capacity or desire to share his identity. I must say that finding him first through DNA, was truly a miracle.” It turned out that Nadean’s father, Vinko Tatarević died in 2000. Vinko was a Croatian fighter pilot during World War II, a Croatian Ace who was featured in a book called Croatian Aces of World War II. Vinko is considered to be a hero in his home town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
2-year-old Nadean on the farm
In finding Vinko, Nadean and Olivia zeroed in on the remote town he immigrated to in Canada in the early 1950s. Nadean and her husband Bill traveled there in August 2017, set up in the town’s library and texted addresses of names and addresses of possible family members from 1951, 1952, and 1953 telephone directories to Olivia who compared them to her spreadsheets. On their last day in town, they abandoned the library and utilized detective skills. They sought out elderly Croatians who might have known her birth parents in 1952. Nadean shared her story and explained that finding her mother was her only remaining wish in life. Nadean shared that “We found the house where Vinko lived during the 1950s and took photos and we found Peterson Electric where he had worked.” The ownership had changed and they no longer had his employment records. They visited the Croatian Hall, the Croatian Catholic Parish, and the Multicultural Association sharing all around the purpose of their visit. Bill found a listing that day as well for the Croatian Recreational Center. Nadean called and left a message with their departure imminent.
There was a big break when Leonard, an elderly Croatian man called with the news later that evening. Leonard said he knew Vinko very well. They had both worked initially at the bush camps upon arrival in Canada. Although Vinko was older than Leonard, Vinko had been very good to him and had taken care of him. He told Nadean that Vinko was very handsome and all the women in North Bay were in love with him. Leonard did add that he did not know any of Vinko’s girlfriends.
Although not successful on that trip, Nadean continued in her dogged efforts to find her mother, resulting in an astonishing journey with a miraculous ending. Nadean started a memoir in 2017 as her life was already replete with unbelievably daunting life challenges, including a harrowing escape from a Caribbean island. As one reviewer noted, “This book is a MUST READ. Never judge a book by its cover. Don’t let the beauty and softness of Nadean fool you. She is tough as stone. No Stone Unturned is a real-life story that contains all the elements for a great movie: Real-life drama, pain, suspense, romance, royalty, politics, and more. You will cry, laugh, and get angry. Thank you Nadean for being transparent and opening up your soul to share such personal details.”
Her goal in writing the memoir is to use it as a platform for change. Nadean hopes to bring attention to the issue and to petition the Province of Ontario to amend the law enabling non-adoptees equal rights to their records. She has consulted with a leading civil rights attorney in Toronto who is interested in this precedent-setting case. In July 2018, Nadean filed a petition with the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child illuminating numerous Articles of the UN Convention that the Province of Ontario has violated in its treatment of illegally adopted children.
It was over several conversations with the author that the objective of her lifelong journey and her book became clear and Nadean said it best last week with her quote that, “My goal is to inspire readers to find faith, hope and the courage to persevere, despite the odds and to never give up.” Her memoir, No Stone Unturned – A Remarkable Journey to Identity is available on Amazon. She also created a Birth Search Directory on her website to assist adoptees in their search, www.nadeanstone.com.
Nadean’s book is a riveting story that I highly recommend to all readers who want to be inspired at this time of a pandemic. It is a triumphant memoir of courage and perseverance, a story of love on many levels, and proves the miraculous and joyous ending we can achieve when we never give up!
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