Sitting in a hospital waiting room for hours on end can be boring…unless a conversation begins with a stranger, and their story is the following:
Leila Tucker of Henderson, NV was 56 years old when she found out she had been adopted by the man she had always thought was her birth father.
As a child, Tucker had always felt a kind of distance from the man she knew as her father, though she always adds, “He was a good man, a good father.” However, 14 years ago, upon looking up some family papers when her parents were both gravely ill, Tucker was stunned to find a marriage certificate between a man named Robert Emery Moreau and her mother. She also found adoption papers transferring parental responsibility from Moreau to the father who raised her, George Cannizzaro. Tucker asked her father about the papers. He confirmed that Moreau was indeed her birth father. He said her mother had divorced her father after he had been abusive to their young daughter. Only hours after answering Tucker’s question, Tucker’s father passed away and that was just 16 hours after her mother had also died.
Tucker not only had to deal with the deaths of her parents. She was stunned that all her life, she had thought her heritage was half-Italian (on her father’s side) and half-German (on her mother’s side). But clearly, half that story wasn’t true. Her unusual name, Leila, she had been told, was inspired by a name in a society column. That story, too, turned out to have been a fabrication.
“Who am I?” Tucker asked. The question haunted her to the point of being an obsession. At the time, Tucker worked for Jury Services in the Clark County Regional Justice Center. She used a computer at work, but decided she needed answers about her birth family. She bought a computer for home use and started out on a 14-month quest to find her father.
She was given help by work colleagues as to where to begin her search. She also bought an extensive $200 workbook and tapes by Troy Dunn who had appeared on a TV program talking about finding “lost” individuals. The workbook and tapes explained how to read legal documents, how and where to order document copies, and where to look for other clues in finding lost persons.
“I spent about three hours every night following up on the book’s suggestions,” said Tucker. “I sent letters requesting records all over the country. Sometimes I even included pictures of me and my husband to substantiate that we were real people. Other times, I incuded $5 money orders in my letters to pay for records searches. I sent countless registered letters. On weekends, I would spend whole days in the search. I was haunted by not knowing answers. My husband, Robert, said I was looking for a needle in a haystack…and I was. I think some aspects of our marriage suffered because of my obsession.”
After finding no substantial clues in a year, Tucker got creative. She even searched records using a made-up name, her own first name plus the Moreau last name. Then came an answer: a death certificate for a woman named Leila Moreau who had once lived in Cattaraugus, New York. Because Tucker had been born in New York City, she wondered if a family connection might, in fact, be in upstate New York. She found the names of every restaurant, bed-and-breakfast, store and government office in Cattaraugus and send letters explaining who she was and that she was trying to locate her father’s family. At the local historical society, the letter rang a bell because a woman using historical society records was doing a geneology search, and the Moreau family name was part of that history. Tucker’s letter was given to that woman’s daughter.
One night, after coming home from work, Tucker retrieved a message from a woman who said, “I think I am your cousin.” The cousin, Sheri St. John, had talked with her mother who had been aware that Tucker had been born many years ago. Tucker’s father was no longer alive, having died in a car accident, but she told Tucker that she also had an aunt and uncle and half sisters.
Tucker was thrilled. Though friends told her she might not want to meet her father’s family, should they somehow be disappointing, Tucker would have none of it. She definitely wanted the connections. Tucker ultimately flew to Buffalo, New York and met her cousin and aunt. (Her aunt has since passed away.) She learned her father’s part of the family was French; hence the Moreau name, and that indeed, her father didn’t always have the best reputation as a husband and father.
Then there were the half sisters and an uncle. Tucker contacted them all. Her uncle, William Moreau, is in Sutherlin, Oregon, and she has visited him many times. She flew to Louisville, Kentucky to meet half-sister Lola Keeble and her family. Eventually all three sisters reunited for a week in Las Vegas. “We had a wonderful time together,” said Tucker, “and we still keep in touch. Thank God for email. Lola has a big family in Kentucky and we get lots of pictures from her. My other sister, Jennifer Carpenter, is in Oakland, CA. She had been put up for adoption as a child, was raised in California and is a school teacher. Although we were raised in three different families, the three of us are, in many ways, very much alike.
“I can’t explain it,” Tucker continues, “but it’s a horrible feeling not knowing who you are. I was mad at my mother for a couple years after she died for not telling me the truth. It turned out that I was named after both my grandmothers, not after a name in a society column. I guess the times were just different then and my mother thought it best to keep the secret.
“I think the doors should be open for all people who choose to locate their birth parents. I’m helping a girlfriend who’s trying to find a birth parent and another friend who is trying to find a son. In my case, I can’t tell you the peace of mind and absolute joy that comes in finding my family.”