Michael Patrylo's search for his birth mother gave him an entire family living in Oklahoma.
The 61-year-old Jim Thorpe man, who was put up for adoption in Germany when he was five months old, never thought that his search for answers would end with a new family, as well as uncovering a family secret, long held by two loving people who had to make a painful decision many years ago.
Patrylo began his quest to find his roots when he was still in high school.
With the support of his adoptive parents, Rudolph and Anne Patrylo, he wrote letters to registrars offices in Germany, including the town of Babenhausen, which was his birth mother's last known address.
Each time his letters were returned with simple responses indicating no success in finding any information about his birth mother, wishing him luck in the future, but giving him little hope that the mystery of his adoption would ever be solved.
Over the years, he wrote again and again, with the same results.
Wanting to know
"I've led a charmed life," he said. "I've had good parents and I was very happy growing up, but I always wondered about the circumstances of my adoption, if only to tell my birth mother that I was OK."
A casual conversation at a local bar in Franklin Township gave him new insight as to how his request might be perceived by those who had answers.
"I was speaking to a German man about my search while at Platz's," he said. "The man asked, 'How are you communicating? Are you writing in English or German?'"
Patrylo responded, "In English. How else can I? I don't know any German."
The man suggested that he try to find someone in Germany to help him.
An angel appears
Friends helped him connect to Marianne Dewey, a woman in Germany who started going to the same agencies on his behalf, where he had been asking for help for all those years. She not only translated his letters, but she kept calling them and telling them his story.
Patrylo calls her his "little angel."
"She worked hard on my behalf," he said. "She made telephone calls to post offices and newspapers. She did all the extra things to get people motivated to help me."
It was his angel's persistence that helped him find the town where Helga Gotz, his birth mother, had grown up.
Once they had the name of Rhein, the town where his birth mother's family had lived, the search got closer.
"We knew that people had to register when they moved from town to town," he said. "We thought we might be able to find a living relative that might give us a lead as to where she might be."
Puzzle pieces begin to fit
Within two months, the discovery was made that his mother, Helga Gotz, had gotten married on Feb. 6, 1954 to a Sgt. Joseph Lefebvre. Having her marriage name made all the difference.
Within 10 hours of searching on the Internet with the last name, Lefebvre, Patrylo was convinced he found his birth mother. He was confident he had found a link when Helga's name showed up in the search connected with Joseph's name, along with several other names, including Bruce Lefebvre.
He contacted Bruce, who he believed may be his biological brother. Bruce was a retired police officer living at the time in Oklahoma and to Patrylo that seemed the safest avenue to initiate contact with the greatest amount of discretion possible.
He left a message with the police department where Bruce had worked and asked them to have Bruce contact him. Within a few hours, Bruce returned his call and the two spoke cautiously at first, with Patrylo becoming understandably emotional when he told his brother who he was.
Before he contacted Bruce, he had compiled documentation that he believed supported his claim that he was Helga's son. He also knew that his coming forward might lead to problems for Helga, accepting at that time the possibility that her husband might not know anything about him.
Bruce showed remarkable patience and compassion as he listened to Michael and gave Michael his email address and Michael pressed "send" in an emotional state, not knowing where the search would lead.
Within five hours, Bruce called back.
The mystery is solved
Patrylo heard, "I've looked at all your documentation. Michael, this looks real".
Now accepting that Michael was Helga's son, Bruce and Patrylo then talked more about their respective lives, and strategized on how to safely and discreetly approach Helga. The next day, Michael got a surprise call from Bruce in which he said: "Michael, I couldn't wait. I talked to mom. My mom is your mom and my dad is your dad." Patrylo says his knees almost buckled with that astounding news.
His search had uncovered not only a mother, but an entire, intact family: a mother, father, three brothers and a sister.
"I had always anticipated the possibility of finding my birth mother, and maybe a half-sibling, probably in Germany, but to find an entire intact family here in the U.S. is incredible," he said.
Patrylo learned that his adoption was due to circumstances beyond the control of the young couple who were very much in love and had wanted to marry.
"Papa Joe" was a career Army man and also carried Canadian citizenship when he applied for papers to marry Helga, but faced numerous obstacles because of rules and regulations, common in post war Germany", he said. "Then he was sent back to the States and I was born. It was a difficult time for Helga. It took a couple of more years before he and Helga were finally able to overcome those obstacles and marry."
"I had great parents," he said. He and his sister, who is also adopted, grew up in upstate New York.
His adopted parents, who are now deceased, encouraged Michael to find information about his birth when he became curious.
When he was in high school, he was planning a trip to Europe. Unfortunately, the trip was canceled three days before he was to leave because the travel agency went bankrupt. His goal was to make a side trip into Babenhausen and try to find his birth mother.
A family unites
His arrival to his biological family was a shock for his sister and brothers, who were never told that Michael existed.
His birth mother said to him when they finally spoke, "So, you are Michael, I named you Andreas." Patrylo continued, "She then tried to apologize and I wouldn't let her. I told her not to be sorry about it. That I was OK. I had a good life and that I was raised by great parents."
Patrylo and his wife, Marianne, have had the opportunity to go to Oklahoma to meet his family.
Now his phone is busy with calls and texts from his brothers and sister and the extended family. He has nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great nephews, who all are excited to meet him.
"They are all very loving," he said. "To meet such high quality people, who are an intact family is awesome," he said. "It's been an emotional time for me. I never expected that."
He has found that his brother, Blane, also has musical talent, which he finds quite amazing. He is discovering other similarities with his new family.
"My parents are still alive," he said. "It's a true love story. They met and fell deeply in love, and even though they couldn't marry right away, they've stayed together to this day."