The Girl on the Bicycle
Hi everyone, it’s Paul. One of the reasons I try to stay in contact with everyone who follows my story is because all of you out there are a very important source of tips and leads (not to mention of support, love and encouragement). I wanted to share one of those leads with you—and also describe how I followed it from beginning to end—to give you an idea of what I do all day in my continuing journey.
This was a lead about a possible Jill. A woman named Amy left me a message about a photo she saw on another Facebook page called “Stolen Babies (Are You a Stolen Child?”). That page is a discussion forum for people who know of—or were—children stolen from their families between the ages of 1 and 12. The photo Amy referred to showed a little girl standing on a bicycle. “There are two photos there with a very interesting description that might line up with what happened to Jill,” Amy wrote. “They are looking for her biological family.”
The photos were amazing. They showed this remarkable young girl balanced confidently on the seat of a bicycle, as if she were a budding gymnast or daredevil. One was an old polaroid photo, the other was a shot of an old newspaper that ran the photo in 1967. The caption in the newspaper identified the girl as Maria Crokaert, 2 years old. “Quite the Acrobatic Young Lady,” it read. The bicycle, we were told, was a Christmas present from her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Crockaert of Arden, North Carolina.
The person who posted the photo explained that the girl’s adoption birth certificate said she was born in July 1964. The birth mother was 23, Caucasian, Baptist and a full time plant worker who finished high school. The father was a Caucasian, Baptist full time laborer with a 6th grade education. They gave their child to the Crockaerts in a private adoption, but the details were sketchy. “This child could also be a black market baby,” the person who posted the photo wrote. “Both adoptive parents have passed away, so we really don’t know.”
The first thing I looked at was the girl’s alleged date of birth – July 1964. If the photo of her standing on the bicycle was taken on Christmas 1966, that would have made her two years and five months old. To me, she looked to be closer to 3 years old, if not older. My twin sister Jill was born of October 27, 1963, which means that on Christmas 1966, Jill would have been three years and two months old.
Which meant that, if the girl’s adoption birth record listed the wrong birth date (which my own adoption birth record did), the girl in the photo could be older than 2. Judging by how old she looked to me, the timing lined up. She could be Jill.
Next, I dug out the photo of my biological mother holding my biological sister Karen on a carousel horse in 1963. Karen is only a year and a half old in the photo, but it’s the only one I have of her (in the photo, my mother is pregnant with Jill and me). I wanted to see if the girl on the bike looked anything at all like Karen. And she did. Same face shape, same color hair, even the same general expression. I allowed myself to get a little excited.
I left a Facebook message for the person who posted the photo explaining who I was. Two days later, a woman named Maria contacted me and explained she was the girl in the photo. “There were so many different stories about me as a child,” she wrote. “I’ve been searching for years for my parents and family.”
We exchanged a few more messages, trading information back and forth. “My adopted mom would change the stories of how she got me and how she adopted me,” the woman wrote, “so I never knew what to believe. She was not an honest person.” By asking relatives and doing research, Maria learned that a woman named Kay had given birth to twin girls in the same hospital and on the same day as Maria was born. When she asked her adoptive mother about Kay, “she told me that the baby she was supposed to adopt died, so instead she bought me.”
Did that mean she might be a twin? “My mother did tell me one time that I was a twin who had been switched at birth,” Maria confirmed.
As I read that sentence, I held my breath. So far, I’d heard nothing to rule out that possibility that Maria could be Jill. She sent me a photo of herself, and while we don’t really look alike, I know by now not to go by facial features, which can change dramatically over the years. I don’t much resemble the one biological sister I located, either. Certainly Maria's appearance didn’t rule her out.
The truth is, the vast majority of leads I follow prove to be false starts or dead ends right from the get-go. Some date or detail is wrong, and that’s the end of it. So to get a few steps into this lead, and have it hold up, was kind of thrilling. But even then, I knew the odds were against me. Thousand and thousands of children go missing, or have murky adoption stories. I’ve always known my search for Jill has a needle-in-a-haystack aspect to it. But that’s okay, because I’ve found a few needles, and I intend to find a few more.
I knew what the next step I needed to take with Maria was, and it was the simplest step of all. It was also the step that could dash all my hopes in an instant, so I was hesitant to take it. My DNA is registered with all the big genealogy sites, which meant that if Maria had signed up with any of them, and if she was Jill, we would have matched. I knew from my own tree that Maria did not come up as a match. So I had to hope that Maria hadn’t joined the sites yet. Which I knew was unlikely, since she’d been looking for her biological family for years.
Still, I had to find out for sure. So, finally, I asked Marie if she was on Ancestry.com.
She said she was.
I asked one of the genealogists who worked on my case if there was any margin of error that would allow for the possibility that Maria and I were related even though we weren’t a match on Ancestry. The answer: not really. The best way to be sure was to find out if Maria was on any other DNA site that I was also on. If not, she could join it and see if we matched. So I asked Maria if she was on GEDmatch.
Maria was on that site, too. And we weren't a match there, either.
That was pretty much it. Saliva tests are very accurate; DNA doesn’t lie. Maria and I were both disappointed, and we wished each other the best of luck in our searches going forward. Neither of us is going to give up, and my dream would be that both of us find what we’re looking for. I desperately wish that for everyone who is out there searching for family, even though I know the odds are against us.
I’ll admit this wasn’t much of a detective story, but that’s the way it goes—most of the leads I get do not lead to dramatic moments of discovery. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to pursue them. And it doesn’t mean I can’t get excited if a lead seems promising for a while.
After all, what keeps me going is hope. Sometimes hope is all there is to hold onto. And for a short time, I was hopeful that I’d found Jill. Just as the girl on the bicycle was hopeful she had found her family at last.