Eight years ago Theresa Tinggal discovered she was illegally adopted. Now aged 56, Theresa, like many others, is still fighting for information about the circumstances of her birth. She tells Conall Ó Fátharta about her quest to find her true identity and the obstacles that remain in her way.
FOR six months Theresa Tinggal lived “in a daze” as she came to terms with the fact that everything she had believed about her identity was a lie. Eight years ago she discovered she was illegally adopted. She was 48.
That day she learned the couple who raised her as their own and whom she had called ‘Mam’ and ‘Dad’ were not her real parents. They had been given Theresa in a house in Collins Avenue in north Dublin when she was two days old and had registered her as their natural child some six weeks later.
It was a revelation that stunned her but also offered her a strange form of relief.
She believed she was Theresa Hiney, born and reared in Rathfarnham in Dublin as the second daughter of Kathleen and Jimmy Hiney. Suddenly, this identity was shattered.
However, it was not just her family that had kept the secret of her identity from her.
Shockingly, the Irish State was well aware that Theresa had been illegally adopted and had also decided to keep it a secret.
In fact, the Eastern Health Board made sure a social worker visited and reported on her progress at least once a month from 1956 until she turned 16 years old in 1970. At that point she was deemed to be no longer its problem with a cursory entry: “Teresa has attained her 16th birthday. Remove from register”.
It would be more than 32 years later before Theresa would discover any of this. She was 48. Today, at 56, she is still trying to discover her true identity.
Now living in England, she vividly recalls the moment she learned she had been illegally adopted. It was a revelation that has driven her search for her natural mother ever since.
“I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother. I decided when I returned to England from Brunei, after separating from my husband, that I was going to approach her and ask her about my childhood and how she had treated me.
“I phoned my mother’s brother, my uncle Pat, and told him what I intended doing. I had always been very close to him and he had seen how my relationship with my mother had affected me.”
“He was very upset when I told him what I wanted to do. He said he would come with me and told me I wouldn’t like what I would hear. Ten minutes after the call, he phoned me back in tears and said: ‘The reason you were treated that way is because you are not hers’. He said he couldn’t go to his grave with the secret. Immediately after that, I phoned my older sister in the north of England because I didn’t believe it and straight away she said: ‘Oh my God, who told you’. That’s how I found out,” Theresa recalls.
According to Theresa, the news not only shocked and angered her, but also gave her a sense of relief.
“I had no idea that I had been adopted. I mean why would I? My adoptive parents were down on my birth cert as my real parents so I would never have thought differently. However, I always felt the odd one out, out of place in the family. As soon as I found out, it all fell into place really. It was interesting because a few months earlier I had said to a friend that I almost felt like I didn’t come out of that woman’s body. Little did I know then that it would turn out to be true,” Theresa explains.
In the years since, Theresa has been trying to piece her story together as best she can. Her mother told her part of the story but it was the silence of other authorities that hurts Theresa the most.
“I don’t hold it against my mother. They probably thought they were doing the right thing but I am bitter that I was never told and with authorities in Ireland that have done nothing to help me. My father died when I was 16 and I was very close to him. I am sure that if he had lived longer he would have told me the truth.
“As for my mother, it may have become harder and harder for her to tell me as I got older. She also might have guessed my reaction, that I would have cut ties with her completely. I am just bitter over why I was never told. If I had known I would have gone searching years ago. The thing is if I hadn’t been told nobody would have ever known.”
The state’s involvement in Theresa’s story came to light in 2002 after she received a file held on her.
“After being first told they had nothing, the file mysteriously appeared and then the following year out of the blue they phoned me and said that they had found an index card with a name on it,” she says.
To Theresa’s astonishment, the lengthy file contained a monthly account of social worker visits to her home from when she was two and half years old in 1956 until she turned 16 in 1970.
Contact with the health board regarding Theresa occurred when her parents were trying to foster another child. When questions arose as to Theresa’s origins, the truth finally came out.
A health board inspector’s report on Theresa’s file from Nov- ember 1956 highlights just how the health board became aware of Theresa’s illegal adoption.
“Mrs Hiney admits that she took this child of two days old from a Mrs Doody of Collins Avenue. She also admits that she got £45 from Mrs Doody towards the maintenance of the infant. Mrs Hiney states that she had the baby baptised and the birth of the infant registered in both her own and her husband’s name. In other words, the child’s birth is registered as the legitimate daughter of Mr and Mrs Hiney,” records the report.
Theresa later discovered that Mrs Doody was a nurse, who lived at the address, but ran St Jude’s nursing home on the Howth Road.
From then on, a social worker visited the family home every month to report on the progress of both Theresa and her new foster sister. The first entry in the 14-year record, for November 1956, simply asks what was to be done in the case of Theresa: “I would respectfully ask the board for a direction in this case.”
Two months later, in January 1957, the social workers record what appears to have been the only effort made to find Theresa’s natural mother.
“I called at 85 Collins Avenue, both east and west and have failed to trace a Mrs Doody. I have also failed to find the mother of this child.”
From there on, the record simply notes Theresa’s appearance, health, education, interspersed, from time to time, with remarks on the families financial situation.
In the following 14 years of health board visits, no other mention is made of the fact that Theresa’s birth was falsely registered and she was illegally adopted until a final-once off visit in 1972.
“Theresa is now 17 years. She is not long on the Register of Children at (full name blacked out in report) but Theresa who is registered in Mrs Hiney’s name does not know she is not Mrs Hiney’s natural child,” the report states.
Theresa admits that reading the file kept on her for all those years of health board visits was a strange and unsettling experience.
“Reading the file that I got relating to myself was the weirdest thing I have ever experienced. Details about me in school, going to work, what I looked like. I felt that I was dead and reading my life story. I can’t really put it into words but it was like I was reading about someone else and felt my whole life was a lie. I still can’t believe it sometimes that all this has happened,” she says.
Theresa remembers the social worker visits every month but simply presumed they were checking up on her sister Bernie who was fostered.
“I didn’t think anything about it as I was led to believe that it was for my sister Bernie, who was fostered, and that I was brought in along with her so she wouldn’t feel odd. I accepted that. I can’t remember being asked any questions just probably the usual small talk. She basically just wanted to see how we were being looked after,” she recalls.
just one clue
Despite being in possession of a lengthy file documenting more than 14 years of her formative years, just one page offered her any insight into her identity.
The page, which seems to be a form confirming a foster arrangement, lists a child called Margaret O’Grady being fostered by Theresa’s adoptive mother.
Given the date of birth is the same as her own, Theresa suspects this may be her real name.
“It could be me but the health board said it could also be a made-up name. I don’t want to destroy some woman’s life who is in her 80s now if still alive. I just think that somebody knows something as to why I was allowed to be adopted like that.
“When you get to this stage you will try anything to find out your identity. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might never find out what happened but the files and the information has to be somewhere. My adoptive mother thinks my birth mother could be called Bridget as when they collected me Nurse Doody said to go out the side way ‘so that Bridget won’t see you’”.
Theresa is also not convinced by the entry in her file that Nurse Doody could not be found at the address listed.
“I have since discovered that Nurse Doody ran a nursing home on the Howth Road called St Jude’s until the new health act came into force in the 1970s. That home and another 39 homes then quickly closed their doors. There are apparently no files for any of them which is very suspect. I don’t believe for one minute that there are no records out of 40 nursing homes that closed down,” she says.
However, despite this belief, Theresa is no closer to finding out any information as to the circumstances of her birth.
She has written to the Adoption Authority, in its previous guise as the Adoption Board, as recently as October, but as no legal adoption took place, it has told her that it cannot help. Theresa has also written to the Department of Health and former minister for children Barry Andrews about the state’s knowledge and complicity in keeping the truth of her birth from her — all to no avail.
Theresa’s struggle for information is a similar and all-too-familiar one to many adopted people and natural parents.
Despite the much publicised Adoption Act which came into force late last year, and the push to get inter-country adoption up and running again, Ireland has yet to deal with the shameful legacy of its adoption record.
Although tracing, and information and reunion services are provided by adoption agencies, the HSE and the Adoption Authority, such services are not provided for in the new act. This is despite a national public consultation process in 2003, under Mr Andrews’ predecessor Brian Lenihan, recommending tracing and reunion services on a legislative footing.
Out of this process came the Standardised Framework for the Provision of a National Information and Tracing Service. These are essentially guidelines for information and tracing providers and these providers are not under any obligation to follow them. According to many groups representing adopted people and natural parents, many agencies have simply refused to follow the guidelines.
Both the outgoing minister Barry Andrews and chairman of the Adoption Authority, Geoffrey Shannon, have stressed the need for specific legislation on tracing and information rights for adopted people and natural parents.
Just this month, the new Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald confirmed work had begun on drafting the legislation.
For those who have suffered the trauma of an illegal adoption, or a false birth registration, it’s a case of they will believe it when they see it. The promise of rights, routinely available in countless other countries, has been made by numerous governments down through the years.
Yet here, they remain waiting and largely ignored. Those who were adopted are now fully grown adults, with natural parents now an ageing sector of the population, who feel they may never receive answers as to how they were treated.
However, given the underhand and illegal way in which many of these people were treated, it is unlikely they will go away.
* Anyone with information that may help Theresa in her search can contact her at email@example.com
SNAPSHOT OF IMPERSONAL NOTES BY HEALTH SERVICES ON THIS WOMAN’S LIFE
26/11/56: Mrs Hiney called to the office this morning to give 48 hours notice of her intention to take an infant under Part I of the Children’s Act. She was accompanied by a child of 2½ years old whom she called Teresa Hiney [sic].
Mrs Hiney admits that she took this child as a baby of two-days-old from a Mrs Doody of 85 Collins Avenue. She also admits that she got £45 from Mrs Doody towards the maintenance of the infant.
Mrs Hiney states she had the baby baptised and the birth of the infant registered in both her own and her husband’s name. In other words the child’s birth is registered as the legitimate daughter of Mr and Mrs Hiney. Teresa is a lovely child and appears strong and healthy.
The infant is very well cared for and both Mr and Mrs Hiney are very attached to the child. The Hiney family has only one girl of their own aged 7½ years.
When I asked Mrs Hiney why she did not give the required 48 hours notice to the board of her intention to take an infant for fee or award, she told me that she had never heard of the regulations laid down under Part I of the Children’s Act until now, when she was told by Miss Hannon, Almoner of the Coombe Hospital, that it was imperative of her to give the required notice to the board of her intention to take an infant for fee or reward.
26/11/56: I would respectfully ask the Board for a direction in this case.
31/1/57: Since Mrs Hiney registered as a foster parent she has carried out her duties diligently as required by Part I of the Children’s Act of 1908-1936.
7/57: Teresa appears healthy, clean and well cared. The Hiney family may go to Longford for a fortnight’s holiday next month.
23/1/58: Teresa is a lovely child and appears healthy and well clad.
18/7/58: Teresa is a very attractive child, clean and well cared. She started school on the 1st of this month.
7/59: Teresa looks well and is clean and well cared. Foster father is still out of work but he hopes to be reinstated in the near future.
5/7/65: Teresa is an attractive girl who appears very well cared. She attends Our Lady of Loreto School and is in 5th class. This is a good foster home and Mrs Hiney is a capable and kind foster mother.
2/66: Teresa fell and fractured her arm about 10 days ago. She attended the Children’s Hospital Harcourt St and has it in a plaster. Otherwise she is in good form.
8/10/66: S Ryan: Teresa is 12 years old, she is tall for her age, has short thick brown hair with fringe, she has a sallow complexion and big brown eyes. Mrs Hiney related how Teresa wanted to do hairdressing and that she was thinking of taking a Christmas job in town.
Mrs Hiney seemed worried but she should let Teresa do this. Mrs Hiney seems to have quite an anxiety complex about the children. I understand from herself they did hit a very bad patch financially a few years ago. Teresa has a reserved manner, seems to be intelligent and good at schoolwork. I suggested to Mrs Hiney to let Teresa try the hairdressing as a Christmas job.
30/3/1967: Teresa who was out visiting a friend was reported by Mrs Hiney to be in excellent form and to be enjoying her holidays from school.
4/1967: Teresa who was going to a concert this day was resting in bed as she will be up late tonight. She has got very tall and is a pretty dark-haired girl. She hopes to finish in the primary school this year and will continue her education in Rathmines Vocational School.
5/1967: No reply.
6/7/67: Teresa has improved immensely since the commencement of the school holidays and looks much more rested and has lost the pale wan look. She told me that she had got both entrance exams to Rathmines and Parnell St Technical Schools. She intends availing of a vacancy in the latter school as she is interested in doing sewing.
10/67 Teresa is now attending Parnell St Vocational School and appears very happy there. Mr Hiney, her foster father, was at home when I called and commenced to complain that he was unable to clothe Teresa for the winter months. He produced a light water-proof coat and said it was the only one she had. He intends applying for clothing for the two foster children to Home Assistance Section.
12/67: Mrs Hiney informed me that Teresa was working in Woolworths for a week or so before Christmas and that she was asked back for this week also. She is reported to be in good health. Mrs Hiney said that Teresa has become much less shy than she was since dealing with the public. She will be returning to school after the holidays.
5/68: Teresa is progressing very well at school and is very happy there. She has got tall and is an attractive child although quiet and introspective. She is reported to be a favourite with her teachers.
6/68: There was no reply when I called today.
1/7/68: Teresa has finished at school and has taken on a job for the holidays. She has been invited on a holiday to England by Mrs Hiney’s brother and wishes to make enough money to buy herself clothes when she goes there. Mrs Hiney said she would let her work for about six weeks and then she can take a rest for the remainder of the time until she returns to school.
8/68: I did not see Teresa as she was still at work when I called. I had a long talk with Mrs Hiney. She and her husband are pleased with Teresa’s progress — she got an excellent all-round report from school and is showing real interest in dress-making. Although most of her friends have left after the finish year to start work, Teresa wants to complete the two-year course. Teresa is very fond of her uncle Pat in Manchester and is saving hard for her holiday with him and his wife. Mrs Hiney said that Teresa has a very reserved personality and can be difficult to reach but she can also be very thoughtful. She thinks a lot of Teresa and feels as if the girl is her own child. Mrs Hiney went to Manchester for two weeks holiday in June and said she felt much better after it. Mrs Hiney has been losing her temper a lot with her husband and the girls, her husband sounds a jovial extravert type. Also Mrs Hiney said she was very worried because she had not told Teresa anything about the facts of life and did not know how to do this. I advised her to buy the Catholic Truth Society for a suitable booklet, preferably by a woman doctor. Teresa has probably been well informed by her school mates but Mrs Hiney would find it easier to discuss things once the girl had read this.
17/9/68: Teresa has returned to school after the summer holidays and is very happy and interested in the course she is doing. Mrs Hiney, who did not look well was very drawn and tired, told me all about American visitors she had during the past week. Despite the fact that she was very sick with food poisoning while the visitors were here she went down the country with them for the weekend and was all agog about how they enjoyed themselves and what a lovely weekend they all had.
10/10/68: Mrs Hiney was out when I called but Margaret, the other foster daughter was there.
11/11/68: Teresa is keeping well “and” attends school regularly. Teresa is doing extremely well at Parnell St Vocational School and is very interested in Designing in which she hopes to specialise later on. She is now looking forward to a break at Christmas as she worked very hard this year.
2/12/68: Teresa is attending school regularly and appears very happy there. She is a tall, dark-haired, very reserved, type of girl, rather good looking with dark brown eyes and a good figure. Mrs Hiney was out when I called but Margaret was at home and told me her mother was keeping fairly well.
3/2/69: Teresa got an excellent school report at Christmas and is getting on very well in all subjects. She has settled down very well this year as she was a bit giddy her first year in Parnell St. She is very interested in dress designing and when she finishes school hopes to do this type of work. Both her foster parents were at home today and Teresa’s future was discussed, among other things.
10/4/69: Teresa will be finishing in Parnell Square School at the end of this term and hopes to get employment in the type of work she is engaged in at present i.e. dress designing and sewing. She has got very tall and is now an attractive girl and more sophisticated than she was.
6/69: Teresa is commencing her examination tomorrow and as soon as this is completed employment will be obtained for her by the teacher in Parnell St School. She intends continuing at night classes next September and hopes to specialise in dress designing in which she is very interested.
1/70: Teresa has been working in Dovene Models, Camden Street, for the past few months and attends model classes twice weekly in the Bolton St Technical School. Mrs Hiney said that she was very happy in her work and gets on very well with the other girls. Her general health is reported to have improved and she has not missed work since commencing in this job.
2/4/70: Teresa is reported to be keeping very well and is very happy in her job. Her foster sister Margaret is getting married in June and both Teresa and Bernadette will be bridesmaids and Teresa is making the dresses for the occasion. Mrs Hiney is working part time and appears happier.
9/6/70: Teresa has now attained her 16th birthday. Remove from register.
10/4/72: Teresa is now 17 years. She is no longer on the Register of Children but Teresa, who is registered in Mrs Hiney’s name, doesn’t know she is not Mrs Hiney’s natural child.
QUEST FOR ANSWERS CONTINUES
GROUPS representing adopted people and natural parents believe stories like Theresa’s are just the thin end of the wedge in terms of Ireland’s adoption record.
Anecdotal evidence obtained by the Adoption Rights Alliance and Adoption Loss — The Natural Parents Network of Ireland and other cases seen by the Irish Examiner would indicate that falsification of birth records and illegal adoptions were widespread throughout Ireland for decades.
Many natural mothers speak of coercion suffered in mother and baby homes where they were told they would have more children and should move on. Of course, to just forget about a child you have lost is an impossibility.
Those are just the natural mothers who have been brave enough to speak out. Many others have remained silent, just as they were instructed to. For the children who were adopted, whether illegally or not, they have grown into adults with no rights to find out about their identity.
Under the new Adoption Act adopted people continue to have no legal rights to their birth certificates and will most likely remain ignorant of their natural parentage for their entire lives.
They also have no right to know that they are adopted, no right to information on their natural family members, no right (and more importantly no information) to make contact with those same family members; the sort of rights enjoyed by adopted people in Britain since the early 1970s and in most other developed countries.
This issue can not be shelved as a historical matter affecting a small number of people. There are 42,000 adopted people and 80,000 plus natural parents in Ireland, a large number of which have been searching for answers their entire adult lives.
* The Adoption Rights Alliance can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 086-2359127
* Adoption Loss — The Natural Parents Network of Ireland can be contacted at email@example.com or at 01-6600795