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NPE Surprise, My Birth Mother was Famous

Updated On: February 29, 2024

Our guest this episode is Edward De Gangi, author of the book “The Gift Best Given: A Memoir.” Ed’s family twist arose when he was 70 years old. Ed was adopted as an infant, a private adoption, but he never had a conversation with his adoptive parents about it. He found out when rummaging through his parents things. In 2016, Ed did an Ancestry DNA test out of an interest in ethnicity. Ed’s birth father was married five times, and Ed is convinced he never had any knowledge of his existence. The bigger twist comes with the discovery of his mother’s identity. Ed’s story gave us goosebumps!

About “The Gift Best Given”: Set in the 1940s, as America emerged from the Great Depression and went to war, Ed’s book recounts the search for his family and tells the story of a young woman’s courage as she overcame obstacles to achieve her dreams.

Edward De Gangi’s website

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Hello and welcome to season 3 of Family Twist, a podcast about DNA surprises, found family, and amazing adoption stories. I'm Kendall Austin Stulce, and my partner is Corey Stulce. We've had fabulous guests during seasons 1 and 2. We're sharing stories of people who identify as NPEs, also called Not Parrot Expected, others who found out they were donor conceived and have surprised siblings, and even others with unique family twists.


We started this podcast to spotlight Kendall's adoption story and his discovering both sides of his biological family in 2017. So if you're just finding the podcast, we encourage you to start with episode one to learn more about Kendall's journey. Thank you for listening.


Thank you for joining us on season three of Family Twist. We're excited to be with you today. And our guest is Ed Degangi, author of the book, The Gift Best Given. Welcome, Ed. Thank you so much for having me here, Corey. It's a pleasure to be with you. Now your Family Twist came about when you were 70. However, we can rewind back your adopted at birth. Yeah, I was adopted via a private arrangement at a day old and my


birth parents came and took me from the hospital as a one-day old, which I know today is kind of unheard of, but back then things were different and they were the only parents I've ever known. My birth mother kind of carefully selected them, I think, not knowing them, but knowing what she wanted for me and was profoundly lucky in finding people who met her criteria. And there's nobody luckier than I was growing up as I did having her wanted such things for me. Absolutely.


growing up, did you have siblings? No, I didn't. I was an only child. And I always tell the story that somewhere around the time I was about seven years older, so we traveled to Europe and spend a good part of the summer traveling France and Italy and Switzerland. And while we were in France, my parents went to an orphanage outside of Paris. And I guess I questioned what is an orphanage. And then they said, well, wouldn't you like a little brother or a sister?


And at seven years old, I'm thinking, well, if I'm going to have one, why don't you make one? Right. And the second part of that was I'm perfectly happy just being the only child. But as it worked out, I suppose they, for whatever reason, were not eligible to adopt a child. So it just remained myself as an only child. When did they have the conversation with you about being adopted? They never had that conversation.


Oh my goodness. I see. Which is kind of an interesting thing. I say they never had it. If they had it, I certainly have no recollection of it. My adoptive mother told my wife when we were first going out that the doctor had said, what you need to do is hold your baby and tell them over and over and over. You're my wonderful adopted child and we love you. And I imagine she did that right up to the day that I had any recollection and stop there.


So I found out I was adopted when I was kind of rummaging through my parents' papers one day. They had a fireproof box with the deed to the house and the insurance policies and resumes. I found a folder with my mother's name on it and inside was a piece of paper. It was a certificate of birth by adoption. Then I found another piece of paper, which turned out to be my adoption decree. And even as a young kid, I understood what that meant.


but I thought if they were not talking about it, then I wouldn't ask about it. So to the day, both of them passed away and it's been years and years now, we never had that conversation. What was going through your mind when you saw that piece of paper? I don't really recall. As I said, they were the only parents I ever had. So I think in my mind, I knew somebody else had quote unquote made me.


But these were the people who raised me and sheltered me and loved me and did everything else that parents were supposed to do. So I put the piece of paper away and just went on with life. What prompted you to do a DNA test? My wife had been after me and this goes to the year 2016, I think the Christmas season with the advertising like crazy online, the TV shows of long lost families, I had always been a little.


curious about what my heredity was or what my ethnicity was. Not so much as who my parents were, just what part of the world did I spring from? I had always identified with my adoptive father's Sicilian ancestry. My mother's family came from Ukraine. So for Christmas, I ordered two sets of DNA kits and I did mine pretty quick and got it right into the mail. My wife was caring for her father who was sick at the time.


And she's always said, well, I just didn't have time to spit. She did later spit and she found that exactly what she had always known. It must've been a remarkably busy Christmas season for Ancestry because I didn't get my results back until May. And at that, by that point, I had already gotten pretty deep into the search for the identity of my birth mother.


When I got the results back, I got my pie chart and it told me I had no Sicilian heritage at all, which was not a surprise. A good part of Eastern European, which didn't surprise me at all because I had always kind of identified with my birth mother's family from Ukraine.


Uh, about a third of my DNA was Ashkenazi Jew. And I get kind of a giggle out of that because I thought back to my high school girlfriend, whose mother always said, he's such a nice boy, it's too bad he's not Jewish. So my first thought is I wonder if a third would have been enough. Yeah, exactly. But along with that pie chart, I got my list of thousand relatives and at the top of the list was a name I did not recognize. By that point, as I said, I.


gotten pretty deep into my search and I didn't recognize that name as anybody from my mother's family. I then assumed, okay, this person has to be on my paternal side. And I had rarely given any thought at any time to who my father was. I always thought my mother was a high school girl who accidentally got pregnant and my father was the gas station attendant. And yeah, so I found this name and fortunately, when I looked the owner of this name and it was identified as a first.


cousin, close relative. I looked for him and he was a latter day saint and online he had a family tree with about 600 people on it. Wow. And I said, bingo, this will give me some real firm feel. His father had no siblings. His mother had six siblings, only one of which was a male. So I assumed that this person whose DNA matched mine had an uncle. That uncle must be my father.


Right. So I reached out to this person online and you hear all the stories about, well, I sent message after message after message and nobody got back to me. He got back to me within 10 minutes. He said, I'm really delighted to hear from you. This is really interesting. I'll do anything I can to help you. So I sent him another message telling him what my logic was that his uncle Harris, because he was the only male uncle on either side of his family, must be my father.


And about 10 minutes later, I got another email from saying the logic makes sense, but you've told me that you were conceived in San Francisco in 1947 and looking at your pie chart, you've got a third of your DNA is Ashkenazi Jew. I can tell you two things is that my uncle Harris never left Texas and that my uncle Harris had absolutely no Jewish blood. So he said.


I don't believe uncle Harris is your father, but I would tell you that my father was half Jewish and I believe that you and I are half siblings. And as it worked out, that was the case. His father lived all his life in San Francisco. His father had an association with the place my mother was in August of 1947.


And all we could deduce was there was a summer romance. My mother left town not knowing she was pregnant. My firm belief is my father never knew I existed. Mm-hmm. Ed, I gotta tell you, I just got goosebumps. When we get these reveals, I know we've been doing this for, this is our third season, but it never gets tired. No. I love hearing those. It's amazing. I mean, I'm still like, I'll get the chills running through me. The story has been all about the chills and the goosebumps, it really has.


And they've all been good. You know, everything has been good. My half brother could not have been more welcoming. He could not have been more forthright. And the one thing he said, as we talked, is said, I don't know who raised you, but I'm sure you did better with them than you would have with my father. And it turned out that I was conceived between the second and third of my father's five marriages. Oh, okay.


So he got around. When I met my half brother, we had a very nice day together. And as we parted, he said, did you ever think there may be more of us? And yeah, possible. I don't know if this is your workplace or not. Yeah. Now, when did your father pass? You were your birth father. Right off the top of my head. I'm thinking it was 2004 and he was about six years older than my birth mother.


And again, I don't believe he was ever aware of my existence. I think when she found out that she was pregnant, she just kept on traveling on and managed the pregnancy and then subsequently the adoption all on her own. Did your brother have a good relationship with him? I think in later life, there was a good relationship. He identified his father as he said, back then, if they knew what they knew now, he might've been diagnosed as ADHD.


I met his third wife who was very, very kind. She wanted to talk with me and meet me and tell me whatever she could about my father, because she felt I deserved to know that. She said he was just an impetuous and a compulsive type of person. He would buy a car on Friday. He would trade it in on Monday. After they got married, he announced that don't ask me any questions. Saturdays are mine. And he disappeared. He left the family twice for periods of time.


My half-brother was an only child as well. And finally, when my brother was about nine years old, he abandoned the family altogether. So he didn't come with a great resume. Right. Yes. Wow. I'm assuming Ed, you didn't inherit any of those traits. No. No. I'm at home. My wife is downstairs. We had dinner with their son this past Wednesday. So yeah, we're okay.


We are recording this on a Saturday after all. That's true. I just actually, I just came in, I came back. Okay, great. Now, Ed, I can't wait to hear you talk about how you discovered your mother's identity. This is fun. That's really the fascinating part of the story, the unexpected part of the story, I think. As I said, I assumed she was the high school girl who became unexpectedly pregnant. In the midst of the baby scoop era would have been sent away to have the baby and the baby taken from her.


what I found was my mother had been a celebrity performer in the big ice shows of the 1940s and 1950s. I had my adoption decree because I was privately adopted. My adoptive parents were fortunate enough to keep that paperwork and I think with the intent that if I ever wanted to go looking I would have a starting place. So that adoption decree had their signatures on it, their attorney's signature and one other for a name I didn't recognize.


Once I got interested, I intuitively knew that had to be my birth mother. So I went and got onto, plugged that name in and you sit there for a minute with your finger over the enter button saying, yeah, am I ready for this and a screen full of documents came up, there's census documents. And I think a New York city birth certificate registered. The one I went to was a visa application dated 10 months after I had been born.


And I picked that one because it was the closest one to my birth date. As it turned out, it was written in Portuguese, but filled out in English and identified her as an artista traveling from Miami to Rio de Janeiro. And I just sat there thinking what kind of artista and why is she going to Rio? My wife and I just speculated came up with everything except the right thing. Uh,


The one real eye opener is the document was on the left-hand page, on the right-hand page was her photograph. I sat there and I looked and I said, wow, this is my mother. The document said she was 23 years old at the time that I was.


So it kind of threw out the high school girl scenario. Right. So I went back and got started with ancestry again. I ultimately found a marriage license for her from 1955. So she married seven years after my birth and it listed her as a performer, listed her husband as a performer as well as I recall.


And it listed her by her family name, which was Genevieve Narowski. It listed another last name, Naris, N-O-R-R-I-S, which I found that later she had adopted as a stage name. And then it listed her husband's name Meza, M-E-Z-A. So I started to Google and I put in Genevieve Meza, performer, nothing, Genevieve Narowski, performer, nothing. Genevieve Naris, performer.


And I got two immediate hits for blog posts. And one was a blog post for an antiques dealer in South Carolina and talked about how she had been at an auction with a partner, I think in 2012.


in Georgia and it explained that Genevieve Naris had married Ted Meza and after they retired from ice skating, they had formed a company which manufactured props for the ice shows, big theatrical events and commercial use. And they had some photographs. There were huge pieces and the woman said these were highly sought after as pieces of folk art. And I've got some photographs. One of them is of a giraffe that must be 12, 14 feet tall.


One is an elephant that's probably equal in size. The one that really interested me was an American eagle with an eight foot wingspan. And I would so have loved to have bought that. I got just the place in the house. My wife is happy I missed that auction. But I made contact with the woman and she really could not tell me too much. She told me about the auction. She told me that the pieces or additional pieces had been stored some.


place off site, but couldn't tell me too much more. The interesting piece was as we talked on, and I thanked her so much for being so responsive, is she said, you know, I guess it just comes naturally to me, my daughter has given up a child for adoption. So she felt a bit of kinship there, I think. I went to the second blog post, and it was from a woman who had been at the same auction. And she too is an antiques dealer, but she dealt in what she and her husband call smalls.


or little items that you could buy, put online, and then sell and easily post to somebody. She had several pictures of my mother up there, probably half a dozen promotional photographs of my mother, a copy of her middle school diploma, a copy of her first professional contract. She explained she purchased a carton of ephemera, not knowing who the person was, but just because she was glamorous and came from a glamorous point in time.


Auction was 2012, I'm in 2017. And remarkably, she still had this carton. Wow. When I first reached out, she confirmed I've got it, but she said, but I'm really busy, I'll get back to you. And she never did. So the second time I contacted her, I said, the things you have are my mothers and I don't want to bother you, but could you please get back? And within five minutes.


And we talked about it and she said, you need to come here right now. Now we're in North Carolina, she's in Georgia. A week later we went to Georgia and she and her husband came in with this carton of ephemera and we went through it all. Ultimately, they sort of pushed the carton across the table at me and said, this is yours, we've just been holding it for you. And it was, you know, it's just one of so many generous and kind things people have done during the course of this search.


What I learned is my birth mother was no longer alive, which was sad, but there were a stack of photographs in that carton that were of other skaters, all autographed to her with some sort of inscription. One of them was from a lady named Isabel Smith and said to the best roommate ever, love Isabel. And I said, if I could find Isabel, maybe she could tell me something. And lo and behold, I found Isabel. She was in a memory care facility. Oh boy.


But Isabelle knew all about 1947. You know, as her son had told me, she doesn't know what she had for breakfast, but she'll tell you all about 47. And I talked with her for a long time on the phone one day, and then several months later, my wife and I traveled to Minneapolis, and we actually met with her and probably spent.


better part of four or five hours with her. And she told me an awful lot about my mother, mostly in terms of the kind of person she was and the type of skating she did. If she knew she was pregnant, I can't believe she did what she did on the ice because she was what they called an adagio skater. In music, adagio is slow. In skating, it is fast and fairly violent. So I was getting spun around like a centrifuge.


Wow. She was with ice follies at the time that I was conceived in San Francisco in 1947. And I kind of worked my way back and I did find a maternal half brother as well. Hmm. That's good. How was that experience been? It was bumpy at first. I sent several letters to several addresses I found for them. And I tried to explain the relationship and each one kept on coming back, address the unknown or no longer at this address. Eventually I did make.


a connection with somebody else who identified himself as a friend of the family. And he and my brother had grown up together. And he told me that my brother had been in a very serious fire a couple of years before and had spent almost 28 months in the hospital and in assisted care. He said, but I will get him to call you. And lo and behold, one day the phone rang and it's my brother. And we talked kind of a very high level.


How you doing? You know, how's the weather in Georgia? And then I sort of brought up the subject and he said, now tell me what kind of kin are we? And I said, well, you and I have different fathers but we have the same mother. And there was a pause. He said, I need to go and take my wife for a walk now but I'll call you back. He had met his.


current wife in the assisted care facility. She was also a patient. It was weeks and weeks before we talked again. Oh boy. And had sort of the same conversation and he was not registering or he was not allowing it to register. Ultimately we went down to Georgia. He was very open. I said, can I come down and visit sometime? Sure. Yeah, so we went down there and yeah, we had the same conversation. I said, now tell me again, what kind of kin are we?


And I repeated it again. I said, we have different fathers, but your mother and my mother are the same person. Said, I don't know how that can be. Said, you know, my mama and my daddy were always together. I said, I don't think so. I know where our mother was or where your mother was. In August of 1947, when I was conceived, she was in San Francisco skating with the Ice Follies. Said,


They were always together and he went off into the other room and came back with a big roll of posters from the icecapades and they listed all the cast members on them. He pulled out the 1945 one, he sort of ran his finger down the list of names and his father was there and he kept on going and his mother was not. And he then took out the 1946, same deal. As he was unrolling 1947, he said, Ted, I'm not arguing with you. They were not together.


But he did the same thing. His father was there, his mother was not. He kind of rolled it up and took them away and came back with a big photo album. And it was my mother's photo album, her mother's photo album, and she was meticulous in chronologically keeping and labeling every photograph she took. And each one had a location, who she was with and when it was taken. So he flipped from 43 to 44 to 45 to 46.


before he flipped to 1947, these are all those old fashioned little brownie snapshots. I said, Ted, things hold out the way they should. There should be a picture of your mother someplace in San Francisco in 1947. And he flipped that page and this photograph was in the middle of the page. It's the photograph on my book cover. The only color photograph in the entire album sitting in the middle of the page.


saying San Francisco, August 1947. And he kind of looked at that and he just closed up the album. He put it away and he came back and offered me a beer. And the conversation just kind of stopped there. It just went on to random things again. And we went back to visit with him the following morning and I brought a copy of my adoption decree with me and I gave it to him. I said, here, this is the paperwork that's surrounding my being adopted. It's got my parents' names on it, it has their lawyer's name.


And this other name is our mother. And she had a very distinct handwriting. By then I'd seen her signature on a number of other documents. I had no doubt. He looked at it. He had no doubt either, but the person who had put us together was there with him. Good friend. And he handed it to Kevin. Kevin looked at it and just kind of shrugged his shoulders and handed it back. And my brother started to hand the paper back to me and I said, that's a photocopy. It has absolutely no value except to me and to you.


So he kept it and four or five days later, he said, well, I took that paper down to the assisted care facility and I showed it to so and so, who I think was the administrator down there. He had developed a relationship with him. I said, well, what did he say? He said, well, he asked me if that's mama's signature. What did you tell him? He said, well, I told him that's mama's signature. I said, well, what did he say? He said, Ted, if that's mama's signature, it sure looks like you've got yourself a brother.


And from that moment on, there's been no questions asked. Wow. I'm just curious at that time, it would have been not necessarily television footage, but is there film footage of your mother skating? There are three little snippets of it. One is from 1943. She appeared as an extra in a movie called Lady Let's Dance. So she was 18 years old at that point. And she skates through the scene three or four times. I naturally went and


bought the DVD for the movie. And then I brought it down to show it to my brother. And he was just, you know, that's my mama. That's our mama. He was real excited. I had been equally as excited. There's another piece from 1951, a little bit longer, which was recorded on 16 millimeter black and white. She and her partner performing in Paris. And it's without sound. So you can try to.


put the soundtrack to it. It's a quite complex. It was the featured number of the performance in Paris. And then there's about three seconds that were done in 1956 from memory movie. They did of holiday on ice in which she skates through and chances are she was already at that point pregnant with my brother, her career had kind of tapered off by then changed. Yeah.


Did your brother talk about, did she like to talk about her time as a skater? Yeah, she did. She loved every moment of it. And he said, if it wasn't for me, I think she would have stayed skating until the 1960s. I think in some way he almost feels bad. He appeared as early as he did. Because I think he knew how much she loved that lifestyle. Yeah. She began at the age of 17 in 1942 and continued up through 1956.


There's a Georgia Power Cooperative magazine. I think the issue is from somewhere in the 1960s and they had a swimming pool in their backyard and around the deck of the swimming pool, I guess in the midst of the winter, they kind of flooded that and it froze and they have pictures of her ice skating out next to the swimming pool. He's still got her last pair of ice skates, you know, saved away in the closet and that lot of memorabilia. There's a lot to remember. Yeah.


Absolutely. Wow. Have you had the opportunity to introduce your two pap siblings? I have not, and I don't know that there could be two people less alike. Oh, yeah. I have those. I'm much more alike with my paternal half brother than I am with my maternal, both physically and just lifestyle.


Yeah. My maternal half-brother was brought up out in the country and kind of turned out and let her run free. And my paternal half-brother grew up mostly in San Francisco. He worked for quite a long time with Stanford University. So they're in very different places. Yeah. Right. Right. Interesting. What kind of feedback did they give you about your book?


My brother Ted, my maternal half brother, was very interested in the photographs. Several of them came from, we'll call them his archives. They were pieces I took from the album or photographed out of the album. So he really enjoyed seeing the book. He enjoyed seeing his name in it. He enjoyed the references to his mother's career. My brother Rich, my paternal half brother, has not said a great deal about it. I think he knows that it's very accurate and represents what he had told me. I think...


that he appreciated the way I referenced his mother and the graciousness that she showed to me. And the time I met her, she was 98 years old. She just recently passed away and I believe 102. Wow. So yeah. And that's his, yeah, that's his mother. Yeah. My maternal half brother is hoping the book will become a movie and make us both rich. I'm trying to temper those expectations as much as I would like to see it as a movie. Right.


I think that's everybody's hope. Sure. Of course. Excellent. What a remarkable story. And it's so great to hear that you had so much help along the way that people were very gracious and open with giving you information and the box of ephemera, just, you know, priceless, of course. So yes.


It's very cool that you had some help along the way. Yeah, absolutely. I met several maternal cousins and one after the other, I would ask them, what do you know about my adoption? And they would always say, didn't know a thing. If anybody knew that Aunt Jenny was pregnant, everybody would have known. So it was a carefully guarded secret, but all of them have been exceptionally welcoming and we're all interested in the story and they feel it represents the aunt who they cherish so much very well. Right.


Well, we will definitely share your links in the show notes for this episode so people can check out the book for themselves. Wow. This has been great. Ed, thank you so much for joining us. Well, thank you for having me. It's been a great conversation. I've enjoyed it. Good. Us too. Nice way to kick off our Saturday. Thank you so much for listening to Family Twist. We feature original music by Cosmic Afterthoughts and Family Twist is presented by Savoir Faire Marketing Communications. Check out our website at


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