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“I have been looking for you for 30 years.”
Imagine hearing those words from a father you had never known. That was the experience of Connie Brown of Mount Ayr who last year finally found her birth parents after a lifetime of searching.
Connie’s saga begins in the mid-60s with a romance between two students from wealthy families – one from Lebanon and one from New York – attending Parsons College in Fairfield.
One thing led to another, and in 1966 Connie was born at the Florence Critten Home in Sioux City. She was adopted two weeks later by Leon and Sharon James of Council Bluffs, who never kept secret the fact that Connie was adopted but who could never provide any further details about her birth parents.
Throughout her young life, Connie dreamed of one day learning the story behind her birth, but before the advent of the Internet, several attempts through the years to find answers to her questions always ran into dead ends.
In the mid-1990s Connie wrote a letter to the Florence Critten Home asking if they could connect her with her birth mother. Because adoption records are sealed in the state of Iowa, the Florence Critten Home could only forward her request to her mother, who responded with a return letter to her daughter forwarded back through the Home.
In her letter Connie’s mother, Sandra (Macdougal) Shamma, wrote that she thought of Connie “all the time,” but she termed her unplanned pregnancy as “a disgrace.” She said to this day none of her family knew about Connie, thus closing the door on any hopes of a reunion even though her mother lived as close as Chicago.
Fast forward 24 years to 2018…
Via online forums on ancestry.com and another company called 23andMe, Connie began to track her history through DNA sampling. On one of these forums, Greg Macdougal, a second cousin on her mother’s side, made contact with Connie. In July 2018 she traveled to Macdougal’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he shared his research on the family history including the facts that Connie had a full sister named Reem living in Chicago and that her mother had died in 2012.
Connie immediately searched for Reem on Facebook and while on her page saw a picture of an older gentleman named Mohammed Shamma. When Connie located Shamma’s own Facebook page, his biography included a reference to Parsons College. It was at that moment she knew she had found her birth father – ironically, on her adopted father’s birthday.
Within minutes Connie reached out to Shamma via a Facebook message: “Hello, my name is Connie. I was born at the Florence Critten Home. I think you may be my father.” Shamma immediately called Connie via FaceTime, coming face-to-face with his daughter for the first time.
Two days after speaking with her father, Connie introduced herself to Reem, who has taken a bit longer to come to terms with the fact that Connie’s existence was kept a secret her entire life.
Regardless, the very next week Connie and Reem traveled together to Lebanon for a reunion 30 years in the making. While there she learned her mother and father had eventually married and after college moved to Lebanon, where Reem was born. They lived there until 1975 when war broke out, forcing them to move to Chicago. Shamma returned to Lebanon 15 years ago following the death of his father.
Besides her father and sister, Connie’s new-found family includes two nieces in Chicago, an aunt in Egypt, an aunt in Lebanon, an uncle in England and several cousins from Dubai who made the trip to meet her when she visited her father.
At some point Connie hopes to return to Lebanon to visit her father, who is in failing health. But for now, she is still processing the newly found answers to questions she has carried with her throughout her life.