STERLING – Janell Loos feels a connection to a family she has never met and a heritage she has known only through popular culture.
Loos, 40, who is of American Indian descent and was adopted by a Polo couple as an infant, is searching for her birth mother.
“I know my beginning, but I really would like to know my past – for myself,” Loos said. “God snapped his fingers, and I was here. But I’ve got a history, a whole heritage – a culture – I only know from books and movies.”
Loos started her search about 20 years ago. The search was casual but somewhat fruitful until it was put on hold by divorce and single-parenthood in 2000. Loos reignited her search about a month ago.
“Why put it off?” she said. “I always said, ‘Once things are settled, once I get this done, once I do this, I’ll do the search. But I thought, ‘I need to search now.’”
Loos was born March 23, 1972, at the former Community General Hospital in Sterling. She was adopted – privately, rather than through an adoption agency – a couple of weeks later by Arlyn and Lyna Loos of Polo.
In her first search attempt years ago, Loos learned from her adoptive family that her birth mother was named Phyllis Camp. She also learned, from an old municipal arrest record, that her birth mother was born in 1940, lived in Sterling, and hailed from North Carolina.
Loos turned to her parents’ adoption lawyer, but he declined to share the confidential information with her. (He isn’t allowed to by law.) She asked for her records from the hospital, but she was turned down. She also petitioned the Ogle County Court for her records – she technically was a ward of the state in the couple of weeks between her birth and her adoption – but the records were heavily redacted.
Loos scanned old records and searched genealogy sites. She plugged “Phyllis Camp” into online search engines. She found next to nothing.
“I was incredibly frustrated,” she said. “It seemed like every lead was a dead end; it led to nothing.”
Now, in her latest search attempt, Loos has asked for a copy of her birth certificate – which could include her birth parents’ names, ages and places of birth – under a law enacted in 2011. She could receive it in a couple of weeks.
She also hooked up with Trace DeMeyer, an author and American Indian adoptee who is well versed on the topic and has helped dozens of other adoptees to find their birth families.
DeMeyer works closely with a grassroots adoption search group called Soaring Angels. The group, which works for free, leverages its genealogy knowledge and access to records via paid memberships to search for adoptees’ relatives.
In fact, the Soaring Angels, within a few hours of searching, might have found Loos’ birth parents; she just needs her original birth certificate to verify the apparent connection.
The researchers believe they found Loos’ mother, Phyllis Camp, in North Carolina. They believe her father, William Pratt Camp, died – just 2 months before Loos was born. They believe they found an older brother, too.
“I’m impatient,” Loos said. “It’s going to be 20 years of searching. ... These last few weeks [of waiting] are killing me.
“But I’m cautious,” she said. “What if everything I’ve learned [from my search] is wrong? What if this really isn’t my family?”
What if the woman the researchers found really is her birth mother, though?
“The first thing I would ask is for her phone number,” Loos said. “Then, ... so she’s not completely sideswiped, I would have my best friend call her and let her know that I found her and would like to meet her.
“I’d like to know – I’ve tried so hard to find her – has she ever tried to find me?” she said.
What if her mother doesn’t want contact with her?
“I’ll respect that,” Loos said. “But I would ask to contact her family. ... Because they’re my family, too.
“I hope she does, though,” she said. “Even if after we meet once and it’s too hard, ... at least I met her once.”
DeMeyer, an adoptee who got to meet her birth father, hopes a reunion is in the cards for Loos.
“Until that reunion, you never really heal, ...” she said. “It takes time. The reunion begins the day of the meeting, ... and then life starts over again.”
Loos is eager for closure.
“It would be like my feet are finally on the ground,” she said.