Skip to comments.A search for an identity lost long, long ago
Posted on 11/30/2001 10:31:34 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
Miranda Townsend remembers a train crash, people crying and a woman's voice yelling, "My arm! My arm!"
She remembers being lifted out of the train over the heads of passengers and that a conductor led her to safety. The landscape outside was rolling hills covered in yellow wildflowers. One of the train's other cars was on fire.
The memory is vivid, and yet Townsend can't really say how much of it is true. She was 2 or 3 years old at the time. She thinks.
"I remember being with my parents on the train and after the accident nothing (more about them)," she said. The woman sitting next to her on the train took her on to Ohio. That same woman raised her.
Now 36, Townsend is calling from Ohio on the off chance that someone in will read this and recognize her. The problem is, the details of her identity are so murky, she's not entirely sure who she is.
The woman who raised her admits that she's not her mother, but won't say anything else about how Townsend came to live with her. "She absolutely refuses to tell me anything about how I got here," Townsend said. They've been estranged since 1990.
Searches for her past have ended mostly in dead ends, and there is no evidence she's adopted, she said.
"I didn't just get dropped here from Mars," Townsend said. "Did my parents die on the train? Was I kidnapped? I just don't know."
When Townsend was about 9, she asked the woman raising her about the train crash and the woman said, "Oh, you remember that, huh?" then wouldn't say anything else about it. The woman told her she didn't have a birth certificate, so Townsend couldn't search there for answers. The spot for birthplace on her enrollment form for kindergarten says "Birthplace: Unknown." Her original Social Security application, signed when she was 14 years old, gives "Santa Ana or Anaheim" as her birthplace.
The woman who raised her told Townsend her name is Janinne Swan; Townsend never knew for certain that was true. A few years back, she hired an attorney to find her birth certificate, but all he provided was an abstract listing the barest of details.
"He said that was the best he could do and to get on with my life," she said. This led her to believe a birth certificate didn't exist, "that I was born in a hippie commune or something."
When she was of age, she went to probate court to establish an identity. "I made that name up," she said of Miranda Townsend - Miranda after William Shakespeare's character in "The Tempest" and Townsend because she liked The Who, one of whose members is Pete Townsend.
Recently, she's focused her search on train crashes that happened in 1967 and 1968, hoping the passenger lists might turn up someone named Swan. Her dreams are filled with train fires and yellow wildflowers; someone told her they bloom thick in the foothills near Sacramento. And so she called.
A few hours after talking to Townsend, I turned up a few things. A Janinne Lorraine Swan was born on a mild summer night in 1965 - at 8:35 p.m. at Orange County General Hospital in Orange, to be exact. Her mother, maiden name Alice Faye Rutledge, was 33. Her father, Robert Swan, was 27 and a nurse. They lived on South Spruce Street in Santa Ana. He was from Oklahoma; Alice was from Louisiana. (If you have any information about their whereabouts, please call here.)
On hearing this, Townsend was incredulous. "I lived in a house? I wasn't born in a commune?"
The information all came from a birth certificate, which, obviously, does exist; it wasn't even sealed. The lawyer simply ordered the abstract, a cheaper, faster and less informative version of the real deal.
But why all the secrets? Townsend still wants to know. "I've always wondered," she said. "Is someone out there looking for me?"
(Contact Diana Griego Erwin of the Sacramento Bee in California at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Then along comes this poor woman, who looks like she was illegally obtained. It is just not right! Hopefully, this article in the Sac Bee will result in finding that first domino somewhere, somehow.
It would be nice if one of those talk shows or some attorney took up her case pro bono, wouldn't it? At least there is a lot of human interest there that would create a lot of PR for whoever did it.