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September 21, 2012

After decades of searching, woman locates birth family

JOHNSTOWN — Life for Cynde Smith has changed significantly since an article on her appeared in a 1999 edition of The Tribune-Democrat.

The story focused on the Johnstown woman’s search for medical information on her birth parents following the birth of her sons,who were diagnosed with hemophilia.

For more than two decades, Smith’s search was unsuccessful. But she finally found her mother and is now a member of a large extended family. She also has the answers she was looking for.

Smith said she searched countless sites on the Internet through the years. Eventually she learned that her father had died. She also learned another important piece of information. Smith believes someone accidently left the words “See Rupp family history, Altoona” on a form she requested.

She finally had a name.

In 2010, she attended a hemophilia gathering in Pittsburgh.

Smith and her family had attended for years and she was tired of wondering if perhaps she had relatives attending the same event. Since hemophilia is a hereditary condition, she expected her unknown family also would be affected by the condition. 

Smith decided to do something, so she asked one of the vendors at the gathering if they had ever heard of the name Rupp.

“Oh yeah, Hazel,” the woman answered.

“Did Hazel have a son who had died?” Smith asked.

She did indeed.

“I asked if she could contact her and tell her that I may be her granddaughter,” Smith said.

Hazel Rupp, who still lives in Altoona, called Smith and confirmed her suspicions.

Rupp had been told just two weeks prior to the call that her son had a baby girl who had been put up for adoption.

At Smith’s urging, Rupp asked her half brother if he had any idea who Smith’s mother might be. She was given the name Janet Porter and passed the vital piece of information on to Smith.

Shortly thereafter, Smith and her husband, Jeff, made a trip to Altoona’s library, where she searched school yearbooks for that name.

When she saw a student named Janet Porter, Smith shot a photo of the page and sent it by text to her husband, who was waiting for her.

“He said, ‘Oh my God, that’s got to be her,’ ” Smith recalled.

But Smith knew her mother had probably married and her maiden name might not be enough.

So Smith, a devout Roman Catholic, said she said a quick prayer and then observed someone reach for a city directory.

That was the hint she needed. She searched the directory from the same year as the yearbook and found the Porter family name. A search through the 2010 directory found the same name still at the same address.

She called the number, and through that contact learned her mother’s phone number.

She called the number and left a message. Several days passed without a return call.

Then, Smith said, she prayed to the Virgin Mary. “I prayed, ‘Let her call me. Let this whole thing finally end. Put it to rest for me,’ ” Smith said.

That night, her phone vibrated.

“It was a text message from my birth mother, Janet Lego of Altoona. It said: ‘This is Janet. I would like to meet you.’ ”

The two set up a date to meet: Sept. 11, 2010.

Smith said she was so excited “I couldn’t even sleep that night. I had to have a friend drive me, I was so nervous.

“We walked into Off the Rak (in Ebensburg) and she stood up and said ‘You look just like your father.’ ”

The conversation that day answered many of Smith’s questions about her birth family.

She learned that it hadn’t been easy for her mother, who had been a teenager when she gave birth.

“When she told her parents she was pregnant, she was shipped off to a home,” Smith said.

“She told me that they brought me in to her. They told her that she could give me something, but she was heartbroken because no one had told her beforehand and she had nothing to give to me.

“She had to go to court and sign off and the judge told her. ‘You may never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, try to make contact with this child or you will go to jail,’ ” Smith said. “The family never talked about it again.”

In addition to finding her mother and her paternal grandmother, Smith has connected with many other family members including six half brothers and sisters. They join the brother she was raised with who also has connected with his birth parents.

Smith hosts large family gatherings at Easter.

Finally getting a sister is a thrill for her, but, Smith acknowledged, it’s hard to stay in touch with her new family.

She’s busy keeping up with her six children and grandchild, in addition to her office job and church activities at Visitation Parish.

But the new relatives have added much to her life, Smith said.

“My kids have a grandmother now.”

She also enjoys the relationship she has gained with her grandmother, Hazel Rupp.

“She and I are very much alike,” Smith said. “It really tickles her.”

At 85, Rupp is a full-time caregiver for her two sons, Smith’s uncles, who are housebound.

“She amazes me,” Smith said. “She is such a spunky little thing.”


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