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Finding A Brother Across An Ocean Of Time

The airport isn't a very happy place right now -- grim-faced business travelers trudge in from another gloom-and-doom meeting, families fret over fares, airline workers seem jumpy and glum. So it shouldn't have been surprising that a crowd of total strangers gathered around Angie Scurlock at the Dulles international arrivals gate to watch as she nearly burst out of her skin to meet her half brother, Hans Engel.

At 49, Scurlock was laying eyes on one of her three siblings for the first time. Five months ago, Scurlock didn't know she had siblings.

Now, thanks to determined detective work by an American woman in Germany who devotes herself to reuniting adoptees with long-lost relatives, a black woman who was raised by the owners of a D.C. liquor store would find out just what she had in common with a German truck driver who grew up in an orphanage.

How would Scurlock even know which passenger was Hans, asked her friend from work at the U.S. Patent Office in Alexandria.

"I'll know," Scurlock said.

She did, instantly. So did everyone else in the hall. The color of their skin was different, but pretty much everything else about sister and brother seemed eerily familiar -- eyes, nose, shape of the face, build, and their instinct about what to do first. They hugged and they kissed. They caressed each other's cheeks and nestled against each other's shoulders.

On the basis of a visit from a stranger bearing adoption records, Engel, 59, and his son, Benjamin, had gotten on a plane, making Engel's first trip to the United States, to see a woman who was his first link to the mother he had never known.

The story begins, like so many of this sort, with war and love. Germany at the end of World War II was chockablock with American soldiers. Over the course of the decade after the war, Inge Engel, a German whose father had been killed in the war, had four children by four different men, two of them U.S. servicemen. Inge left one son to be taken into the German foster-care system at birth; another son was adopted by a German family. Her two daughters, both biracial, were adopted by black American military couples.

Inge eventually married another American soldier and moved to the United States. But aside from one quick visit when Angie was 3 years old, there was no contact between the mother and her children.

Angie didn't find out that she was adopted until she was 11. One day at home in Southeast Washington, as they watched "One Life to Live" on TV, a friend of Angie's adoptive mother asked the girl: "Do you know what 'adopted' means?"

In the vaguest terms, the friend told Angie that her parents weren't who she thought. But not a word about adoption ever passed between Angie and her parents. "I had a good life," Scurlock says. "I had a pony, I had a minibike. I didn't see the need to rock the boat."

Only decades later, after her adoptive parents had died, did she act on that shred of information.

In 1995, she found her biological mother's sister in Colorado. But the sister wouldn't divulge details, telling Angie only that "you were a one-night stand."

Then, this year, over Memorial Day weekend, Scurlock got a call. "Hi," a woman said. "I'm your sister."

Deborah Bufford, 51, was calling from Oklahoma, where her adoptive family settled after their time in Germany. Bufford had always known she was adopted from Germany, but she knew little else. "I kept asking and asking, but my adoptive parents were reluctant to give anything out," she says.

Three years ago, Bufford contacted Angela Shelley, a researcher who specializes in connecting American adoptees with their German relations. Shelley hit a dead-end when German authorities refused to open Bufford's adoption files. Only after Inge died did the archives open up.

This June, after many months of calls and letters, Shelley obtained enough of the file to determine that there were four half siblings, none of whom knew of each other's existence. She found one half brother, Hans, and visited him with the documents; the other half brother, Werner, has not been located.

Meanwhile, Bufford used the German records to find Scurlock on the Internet. But after that Memorial Day call, Scurlock wanted to be certain. "I made Deborah take a DNA test," she says. "So many lies had been told to me, I just had to know for a fact. We did the test and she is my sister."

Sadly, Bufford says, "finances and circumstances" prevented her from coming to Washington to meet Hans.

She's missing a White House visit, a limousine tour of the monuments and a week at Scurlock's home in Charles County. But mostly, she's missing a brother's smile and a lifetime of stories -- and the answer to the question that most plagued Scurlock.

"I always longed for a family, especially around the holidays, my own family," Scurlock told me before Hans arrived. "But I am very nervous. I don't know what he'll think when he sees me. I mean, when he sees what I look like."

At the airport, Hans saw the sister he had always dreamed of. Four years ago, he says, he put himself under hypnosis and suddenly perceived two sisters.

"Until two weeks ago, I only knew that my mother left me lying in the hospital where I was born," he says. "My father visited me a couple of times when I was very young, but we lost contact by age 8 or 10, and I never saw him again."

Angie and Hans have no common language, so, over chicken wings in Reston, I translated stories back and forth. But Scurlock tapped me on the arm: "Ask him," she said. "What did you think when you first saw me?"

"Oh, such joy!" Hans replied.

"But what did you expect to see?"

"My sister who looks like me."

Angie wasn't satisfied. "Ask him specifically," she told me.

I translated her words: "Is it OK to you that your sister is black?"

Hans grabbed onto Angie by both shoulders. "As a child," he said, "in the orphanage, I was with the guest workers" -- the German term for immigrants brought to the country to do manual labor -- "from Italy, Africa, everywhere. Those were my friends, and I saw how they were treated. I have no problem with black or yellow or any color. Seeing you answers my greatest wish. You are my greatest wish."

Angie Scurlock turned to face her brother. They hugged for a very long time.

By Marc Fisher |  October 12, 2008; 9:43 AM ET
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Comments

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What a wonderful story. I recently experienced the flip side of this count. I recently found my African American birth father after his 28 year absence. I have chronicles some of that journey at http://seekingthecranberry.blogspot.com

I recommend checking out The Black German Cultural Society here in the United States. It's aim is to provide educational resources for and about Black Germans here in the US, as well as parent search resources for those still trying to locate biological parents here.

Posted by: Kathrin | October 12, 2008 8:29 PM

Thank you, Marc Fisher, for playing such an important role in this family reunion. There are countless numbers of German-Born adoptees who would like to search for their Birthfamilies, who will enjoy such motivating stories.

Greetings from Germany!

Posted by: Angela Shelley | October 13, 2008 3:56 PM

Thank you for a wonderful story! I too recently found my biological brothers in Germany and it was one of the best things in my life! I now have a new extended family and we've all grown very close. Let us all hope that soon there will be more stories like this to share. Thanks again for writing about this reunion.

Posted by: Peggy Hoppe | October 13, 2008 4:26 PM

What a wonderful, heartwarming story! Thank you very much for your detailed reporting.

Posted by: Howard Spivak | October 13, 2008 5:18 PM

What a heartwarming story. I had tears in my eyes when I finished the article. I too am a German born adoptee brought to the United States as an infant. I found my birthmother and half brothers in the United States, but also met many of my aunts, uncles and other family members while visiting in Germany in 2000, 2006 and 2007. Stories like this just go to reinforce the power of family ties and that deep sense of belonging that we have inside all of us.

Posted by: Laurie Shipman | October 13, 2008 5:33 PM

What a wonderful story. I have recently connected with my german family and am enjoying learning all about my siblings across the ocean. Thank you for your wonderful story.

Posted by: Brenda | October 13, 2008 6:49 PM

Great story,one that I could relate to.Two years ago I found my family in Germany(thanks to Angela Shelly)and met my birthparents,their spouses and ten of eleven brothers and sisters and countless nieces and nephews.It is an experience I will always treasure and am very grateful for.Not to be meant as a commercial,but if you are reading this and you know you were adopted from Germany and would like to find where you came from then contact Angela.Her email is shelly@t-online.de
It could change your life-I know it changed mine.I now know where I came from,who I look like,and feel complete.I only wish Germany was a few miles down the road and not clear across the ocean.

Posted by: David Bishop | October 13, 2008 6:57 PM

i really injoyed the previous story. i am an adoptive mother and have helping my son to locate his birth family. no luck yet maybe later. everyone keep looking.

Posted by: martha | October 13, 2008 7:43 PM

that was a great story and boy do I have one to tell thanks to Leona and angela they both helped me find my birth siblings I have found out my mom was murdered at 38 years of age but since then found two sisters and one brother I have 1 brother to find then my bio family will be complete.. Thanks for sharing Tammy

Posted by: Tammy | October 13, 2008 10:08 PM

Great Story! And very encouraging as I too am looking for my birth mother/family in Germany.

Posted by: DC | October 13, 2008 11:28 PM

Great story. But no one has seemed to mention that there's a group on the web called "Geborener_Deutscher ยท A community of German-born adoptees, their birth parents & interested others". There are currently 358 members.

Another adoptee that reads this story might get inspired to find their birth parents, children, or siblngs and not know there's a group of people that have been there, done that and willing to offer their help and support. So here it is.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Geborener_Deutscher/

Who knows--they might even find the person they're looking for was right around the corner all the time.

Posted by: Red | October 14, 2008 2:17 AM

Thanks for awesome and compelling story. As an adopted German reuntied with birth mother, brother, and sister in 2002 I can tell you that it is worth the risk. I encourage you to continue on your journey toward wholeness as the gaps from your past are filled with understanding and insight. May your heart be filled with hope and peace as you develop a friendship with your new found family.

Posted by: R.Williams | October 14, 2008 7:50 AM

Thank you for this story. Just one year ago I found out I had a half brother! With the help of Susan Pauls, he was located in August 08, and just 3 days ago I mete him! I was unaware how many children were german born adoptees, until I had a sibling that was. Thanks for your article, it brought more tears of joy!!

Posted by: Ilona Metell | October 14, 2008 8:31 AM

I too found my natural family, being born in Germany and adopted by a wonderful American couple. If it hadn't been for Angela, I might have never found them. It is wonderful to find your lost families. I encouarge everyone to try. It sure fills a hole in the heart that most of us adoptees have. Great, great story!

Posted by: Lori | October 14, 2008 9:44 AM

Great story! I am a German-born adoptee who found and visited my birth family in Germany 2 years ago at the age of 43. What a great experience! Unfortunately my birth mother passed away but was fortunate enough to meet my birthmothers sister. I still have siblings to find.

Posted by: Sandy | October 14, 2008 1:01 PM

Hi this is Shadow and Diane in California. Thank you. This was a fantastic story and we are so glad to be part of a network of Search Angels. With the help of our Search Angel, Ilona in Germany we found Shadow's birth mother last year still alive in Germany. We traveled to Germany and met her and her husband. What a gift we were given and so we now pay it forward. With our investigation business resources, our German Search Angel, Ilona and other angels we have now been part of reuniting other birth families here in the US and in Germany. We have been so blessed. If you are thinking about your own search, don't wait, you don't want to miss out. If you need help with your search, email us at

searchangels191@aol.com.

Posted by: Shadow and Diane | October 14, 2008 3:54 PM

This is a great story. I too was blessed to have found a couple who are licensed private investigators and operate a ministry called Search Angels. His name is Shadow and he was adopted from an orphanage in Germany over 50 years ago. They live and work in California. He found his birth mother and now helps others find their biological families both in the states and in Germany through his network of other Search Angels. When I was put incontact with these Search Angels something very Divine happened. Within 48 hours of my contact with them, we met at a motorcycle rally (we all ride Harleys) and after talking for a while over coffee about our mutual experiences as adoptees, his wife handed me her cell phone and said "someone wants to talk with you". I was dumfounded and the tears could not be held back as I spoke for the first time with my younger sister that I never knew existed! It turns out I was about 6 years too late in starting my search to meet my biological mother who had passed away but my younger sister and brother knew about me since my mother had cried each year on my birthday. They just didnt know where or how to find me. Wow. Anyway I am so blessed to have found these Search Angels and with their permission I am sharing their email address if anyone else would like assistance in finding their birth family. I want to be sure and point out that 48 hour miracles like mine are rare but these folks have truly changed my life forever and I know they have touched other lives as well. I dont believe that they charge anyone for these serivces. You can contact them at searchangels191@aol.com You may tell them that Harley Dave referred you.
God bless and I am so happy for this reunion story. I can relate!

Posted by: Dave | October 14, 2008 3:58 PM

wonderful story!! it is an encouraging for all!! i am too research for my aunte ( the alf syster of my mother) adoptee in germany munchen in 1953/1954.it is so wonderful there are so many people finding birth family i am so happy for this and i hope to do the same!!!

Posted by: alallu79 | October 14, 2008 4:06 PM

I also found my natural family in Germany and with Angela's help and German connections, this dream came true for me.I must not forget my wife's persistance in this also. I was left my adoption papers when my adoptive parents passed away and this was the anchor that unfolded the story for me. My birth father had passed many years ago and being born with the same name as his, and later changed when I was adopted. My birth mother had passed away only 1 year before I found her in 2005. I now have cousins and many other relatives living in the same small town or village in Germany. We have met, as they came to visit us in Jacksonville, Florida for a week. We had a great time as they did speak and understand a little english, and we are now planning to visit Germany next year so we can meet all the rest of my relatives. Thanks again from the bottom of my heart and I will always be indebted to Angela for what she has brought me and the rest of my family here in America.

Posted by: Richard Runge | October 14, 2008 7:14 PM

I just recently just found my birth mother and siblings living and well in Germany, after almost 54 years. What wonderful news and such excitement this brings. I hope to speak with them soon, even though the language is a barrier - it will be great!
For those wanting to or still looking for their "family" - I say keep moving forward and go for it!

Posted by: Restless Dave | October 14, 2008 7:21 PM

I always love to see or hear of happy reunions (August Rush). Angela found my birth mother... a search truely started for medical questions...for I was truely blessed with a mother and father who adopted three of us...a fact we always had knowledge of...we would tease the "forth" because the three were chosen, the forth just a product of passion. Mine is not a story of happy reunion... I feel the loss is not mine...choices were made in a war torn country decades ago and I will honor my Birth mothers wishes. But is it not wonderful that there is this avenue that Angela provides for us who do want to know?

Posted by: Brad Dietrich | October 14, 2008 8:21 PM

Thank you to my new found sista! Debora because without you, this would have nevr happen, I started my search in 1996 and gave up in 1998, Hans Started his search in 2001,he looked for Werner Engle and gave up a few years after hitting many road blocks, Debora started in 2005, and found me in May of 2008! and with the help of Angela Shelly, Hans was able to be located from the information that was in my adoption file! This is truely amazing as to how each one of us had a piece to the puzzle! and with Angela's Shelly's help she was able to put the pieces together from across 2 worlds!! I thank everyone of you who posted encouraging words for us and may we all be encouraged! We are still looking for our brother
Werner. To Marc Fisher, Many Thanks for the article!

Posted by: Angie Scurlock | October 15, 2008 8:37 AM

Thank you for this wonderful story. I was very moved by the exchange between Hans and Angie, by the acceptance and understanding they had for one another. Thanks to Angela Shelley, I too was able to find family members cut off during the post WWII period. She's one of the most generous and compassionate people I've ever met. Thanks for taking the time with these little recognized stories that still have an impact in our lives all these years later.

Posted by: a.benson | October 15, 2008 1:36 PM

To my sister "Angie", my brother "Hans", and my search Angel "Angela", as I have gone through this journey of faith I have held true to my belief of God and how he still has the ability to make miracles happen. He has truly blessed me to have found a lovely sister, and now a warm loving brother, although I have yet to have had the opportunity to meet you guys in person I feel as though a void has been filled in my life. And I look forward to making up for all the time we have lost.

And to my search "Angel" you have helped me so much in my search and I thank you for everything.

Posted by: Deborah Bufford | October 15, 2008 11:15 PM

I just wanted to comment on the great story! I too was adopted from Germany along with my sister and brought to the United States. I searched for many years for my birth family. My sister has since pased away. But, Angela Shelley called me one day and said she found my birth family! I can't tell you how happy and over joyed I am. We have not met but traded pictures and letters, not knowing the language is hard, but you just get through it. I finally heard my birth mother's voice the other day for the first time in 40 years. I can't wait to finally meet my whole family, I just wished my sister was still living to be able to experience it with me! Thanks to Angela Shelley for the wonderful work she did to find and heal my heart!!!!!

Posted by: Martina Mondics | October 17, 2008 8:35 AM

I know how you feel. Angela reunited my family with her help we were able to locate my brother who resides in Germany. He came to visit last summer it was a great reunion.My hope is to go back to Germany one day and see him and the country I left as a small child. It is true Angela is a angel.We need more stories like this especially at these times when all we hear on the news is negativitey. Maybe the Today Show will invite Angelia and all of us she has helped.
michaelavilla@comcast.net

Posted by: Michaela | October 17, 2008 9:26 AM

This past Monday the 13th of October I was reunited with my German born sister here in the US. This was our first meeting ever. We made our initial contact in January when with the help of our search angels we found each other. My sister Renee has been looking for our father for 24 years. In the process of her search she met Ilona, Diane and Shadow. Diane and Shadow were able to find my mother and in turn Renee found out she had a younger sister. We are so happy to have each other. My sister is truly a dream come true. She is wonderful, sweet and beautiful like our father. He does not want to know our sister but we pray that one day she will meet him and know him. He is a wonderful man, it was just a long time ago. This article is a wonderful example of miracles coming true. I encourage anyone that has a sibling in another country, seek the help of others. I have waited my whole life for my older sister, I have wondered where she was, what she looks like and who she was for so long. Now all I have to do is look across my room and she is there.
To reach Diane, Shadow and Ilona for assistance please email: searchangels191@aol.com

They are truly angels on earth...

Posted by: Charlotte | October 18, 2008 12:59 PM

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