For 40 years, Marla Jones, left, of Mitchell, knew she had a sister who was adopted at birth. A change in state law in 2018 allowed adoptees such as Marci Hawkins, right, access to their sealed adoption records. (Carol Johnson / Times-Mail)
For 40 years, Marla Jones, left, of Mitchell, knew she had a sister who was adopted at birth. A change in state law in 2018 allowed adoptees such as Marci Hawkins, right, access to their sealed adoption records. (Carol Johnson / Times-Mail)
BEDFORD — Marci Hawkins always knew she was adopted. That wasn’t the mystery. But she had questions. Who was her father? How did her birth mother and father meet? Did she have siblings? Those were the questions for which she could find no answers.

Hawkins was born June 19, 1962, and lived in Indianapolis until she was 8 or 9, when her family moved to Alaska. Her birth mother named her Diana Lynn Tuell. She would occasionally look for information about her adoption. As databases and the internet made research easier, she found pieces of information.

“My parents never kept it from me that I was adopted, and I always felt comfortable in my family,” she said.

She knew she had been adopted from the St. Elizabeth’s Agency, which, at the time, provided a home for pregnant women wishing to place their child up for adoption.

Her birth certificate listed the name of her mother, but her father was listed as unknown. But her father wasn’t unknown. Her mother’s file at St. Elizabeth’s contained information about the birth father, where he was from and other details, but those records were sealed.

A new law that went into effect July 1, 2018, granted adoptees like Marci access to those records. Senate Enrolled Act 91 allows any Indiana resident adopted before Jan. 1, 1993, to request access to their adoption records unless the biological parent files a form to restrict access.

In the spring of 2018, Marci spoke with a woman at the adoption agency, now named the St. Elizabeth Coleman Pregnancy & Adoption Services. She told her about the pending change in the law and recommended she file her request before the law took effect so hers wouldn’t get stalled in the flood of records requests the law was expected to generate.

On June 1, 2018, she filed her request.

The records arrived in September, unlocking the answers to so many questions.

The day they arrived in the mail, she said her hands were shaking as she opened the envelope. The notes from the agency not only gave her the name of her presumptive father, but shed light on the two young people who had fallen in love and found themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy.

She learned her mother, Carole Tuell, was born in Orange County and lived in Mitchell. As a child, she had polio and the care she received influenced her decision to become a nurse. In 1961, she was studying to be a licensed practical nurse in Anderson, staying with an uncle, when she met a young man named Marvin Horton. Horton was 24, had served in the U.S. Army and had a job.

She did an online search for Marvin Horton and learned he had passed away in 2016. The obituary also listed a surviving wife and four children. Finally, she had names of siblings.

Marla Horton Jones always knew she had another sister. Going as far back as her pre-teen years, she remembers her dad talking about the child he fathered when he was 24, that he didn’t want her placed for adoption and struggled with the reality he had a child he never knew.

During one of those conversations, Jones of Mitchell recalled she asked her dad, “When can I meet her?”

“It’s not that easy,” he replied.

Adoption records show after Marci was born, her birth mother contacted Marvin to tell him she had given birth to a daughter. He went to the adoption home, where he got to see his infant and filled out a paper claiming paternity so his name would appear on her birth certificate. But it wasn’t and that left him little recourse to have any contact with his daughter again.

The agency’s case file also shows that Marvin came to see Carole and the baby July 3, 1962, but Carole had left St. Elizabeth’s the day before. It’s not known if the two had any contact thereafter.

Marvin would eventually meet and marry Cynthia and start a family. They had three daughters and a son. He never hid the fact he had fathered a daughter from his wife.

“Dad wanted to raise Marci and tried, unsuccessfully, to have her placed with him,” Marla said. “Dad was told that was not possible as she had already been placed with an adoptive family. The loss of his daughter and first-born child cut Dad to his core.”

In October 2018, one month after finding out she had four siblings, Marci worked up the courage to make contact.

She found them on Facebook, but was nervous about making contact.

“What if they reject me?” she wondered.

What she didn’t know is Marla had wanted to meet her for 40 years.

She decided to send a message to Marla, based on the fact Marla was active on social media.

It was a moment Marla will never forget. At the time, Marla, her husband, John, and sons Jared and Jacob were in Tennessee preparing for Jared’s wedding. Busy with wedding prep, Marla had not checked her Facebook page until after the wedding and after she and John returned to their hotel.

She popped open the message that began, “Dear Mrs. Jones, please forgive the intrusion but I may be related to Marvin Horton ...”

“This is the message I had been looking forward to, for what seems like, my whole life,” Marla recalled.

That set in motion the beginning of a relationship between the sisters. After many phone calls, Marci flew from her home in Alaska to Indiana to meet Marla. She returned this past spring, and Marci used the time to research other family members in Lawrence County on her mother’s side as well as those on her father’s side in Anderson.

“It has been a true blessing and my great pleasure getting to know Marci. She embodies so many of Dad’s best qualities that she is easy to love,” Marla said. “I like the way she tells a story, the way she thinks … we share a love of musicals.”

They also share the same deep-set brown eyes and other features they got from their dad.

“It is hard for me to adequately express my great joy and happiness to connect with Marci,” she said. “It is bittersweet as I know Dad would have loved to see her again and hold her in his arms once more.”

For Marci, it’s been bittersweet as well.

“I can’t tell you the joyous level of happiness to discover that they all knew I existed and were happy I found them,” she said. “Marla said it was like the missing piece had been found.”

Just weeks after Marci mailed off her adoption records request, her husband Allen, who supported her search, died.

“While 2018 has been one of the worst years of my life, it has opened a window to new family members,” Marci said. “While my father passed away in 2016, he never stopped thinking of me and wanted me. I am truly blessed to have more sisters and a brother. However, I am still the eldest, age wise that is. So I am pleased to announce that in addition to my sister, Shannon, and my birth mother’s, Carole, daughter Laura and her family, I have sisters Della and Marla. I have not had a chance to meet sister Donna and brother Marvin yet.

“My silver lining has been finding family and getting to know Marla,” she said.

“It’s been the pleasure of a lifetime and my mother is very pleased we’ve found her,” Marla said.
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