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July 28, 2010

I finally got Mom’s passport information last night so I could complete the online check-in. I’d been asking for it for a couple of weeks. First it was secreted away in some bedroom drawer. Then, she brought it into the dining room, but it was never within arm’s reach when I called her in the evening. Then, she had it in hand, but didn’t have her magnifying glass to read the numbers and dates to me. Getting the passport number was almost as trying as getting her passport!

Mom was born on an Indian reservation in L’anse, Michigan, a member of the Ojibwa tribe. As you might imagine, record keeping didn’t seem to be a priority on the reservation in 1928. As a result, she never had a birth certificate.

In the ’70s, she first started trying to get a birth certificate to prove her age for Social Security. She wrote to various state agencies to no avail. There was no record of her. After some time, the quest was dropped, and somehow she satisfied the people at Social Security.

Fast forward to 2007, when the rules began changing regarding travel between the US and Canada. Since Mom lives just a couple of hours from the border, her senior citizen group would regularly take trips to the Canadian casinos. So I started the quest again, to get Aud a birth certificate and a passport.

I gathered the 30-year-old paperwork, and started again. The only real documentation we had was her baptism certificate, which basically had no official meaning. I searched yearly Indian census data, and found her mother and brother in the years prior to her birth, but they weren’t there in 1928, and didn’t show up again until the 1930 federal census.

This time I called the town, and they searched under a couple of possible names (Mom had been adopted as an infant by her mother’s new husband). No dice. We tried the state again, and filed a form for getting a birth certificate in lieu of an official certificate, or some such thing. That, too, failed. We had run into a brick wall.

At the suggestion of an online friend, I contacted her elected representatives. One of them took the bait!  After a few months of back and forth, Kate, a staff member, called me, and said all she needed was something from the State of Michigan stating that they were unable to locate a birth certificate. She couldn’t understand why I started laughing. “Kate,” I explained, “I have at least five letters saying that very thing, dating back to 1976!”

The quest had ended. Audrey still doesn’t have a birth certificate, but in 2008 she finally was able to get a passport, proof from the United States government that she officially existed.


From → Mom stories

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