State - Monroe Women begin search for elusive birth certificate Happenstance inspires two strangers to unite in mission

By Michelle Swartz

The Monroe Evening News

MONROE, Mich. (AP) -- Vera Miller still keeps a $1 refund check, dated 1980, from the State of Michigan in her personal records.

The 83-year-old Monroe resident never cashed the check that was supposed to buy her a copy of her birth certificate. It symbolizes her 30-year struggle to retrieve an original copy of her birth certificate.

"I was born at home in 1927. I don't know why I never had a birth certificate. I guess the doctor never recorded it," she said from her Monroe home.

She was able to manage without the document by using her baptism record for other important forms, such as a Social Security card and a marriage license.

"But after Sept. 11 (2001), I couldn't go anywhere without a birth certificate. It was like I was an (illegal) alien," she said.

She began making calls years ago to the Monroe County Clerk's Office, which did not have any record of her birth. She sent the State of Michigan a $1 check, the fee for a certified copy at the time. Again, no record was on file.

"I never really got past the first step of the process because I didn't know what to do," she said. "I kept sending $1 checks to Lansing, but every time I did that, they would send me a refund. I stopped because I just got sick of it."

That is, until Jean McManaway of Monroe heard her story. As office manager at Rehabilitation Specialists of Monroe, Ms. McManaway became acquainted with Mrs. Miller and her husband, Pierson, who are patients of Dr. Keith Barbour at the rehab office.

"Somehow we got on the subject about her birth certificate and I told her that I would help her. Initially, I just thought it would take a few phone calls," Ms. McManaway recalled from their conversation in January.

She called the Monroe County Clerk's Office and the State of Michigan, and picked up the forms needed, and then asked Mrs. Miller for documents to prove she was born in Monroe. One of the documents was a picture of Mrs. Miller as a baby being held by her mother in 1927. The back of the photo had the address 507 Humphrey St. written on it.

And at that moment, in a strange twist of fate, the mission of finding Mrs. Miller's birth certificate became personal for Ms. McManaway.

"When I saw the address, I asked Vera where she was born. When she said the 507 Humphrey St. address, I couldn't believe it. I told her that was the same house where I grew up," she said, smiling. "What are the chances of that? We were stunned."

Mrs. Miller was born in the Humphrey St. house in June, 1927, and lived there until the age of 3. Ms. McManaway's grandparents, Franklin and Florence Hudkins, purchased the house in 1930. Ms. McManaway was raised in the home from the time she was 5. Today, it remains in the McManaway family. Her sister, Donna Rath, currently resides at the house with her family.

"For whatever reason, I knew I was meant to help her find her birth certificate," Ms. McManaway said.

Inspired by the happenstance, the two friends were more determined than ever to get Mrs. Miller's birth certificate. They began looking for evidence to prove Mrs. Miller was in fact born June 5, 1927, in the Monroe home.

With only a baptism record and the photograph taken in 1927 to go on, Ms. McManaway looked for other evidence. After sending in a Social Security card, marriage license, baptism record and a 1930 U.S. Federal Census form stating Mrs. Miller's name, the State of Michigan said more proof still was needed.

"It was frustrating because it took much more than a few phone calls, which I originally thought at first when this process began," Ms. McManaway said.

So she went to the library, where she found a 1927 Evening News paper on microfilm that included Mrs. Miller's birth announcement. But the state said it could not be used as evidence since it did not indicate where she was born.

"So we kept digging," Ms. McManaway said.

Their efforts finally paid off when they sent copies of Mrs. Miller's current physician's records, which includes her personal information.

The documentation, the state said, was the final piece of the puzzle. After six months of filling out necessary paperwork and looking for enough documentation to prove Mrs. Miller's birth in Monroe, her official birth certificate was sent through the mail.

Mrs. Miller found it in her mailbox on June 17, shortly after her 83rd birthday.

"I can't even tell you how it felt. All I could do was cry," Mrs. Miller said from her Monroe home. "All those years, I felt like a nobody. But with the birth certificate, I felt like I was finally born."

It also gave Ms. McManaway a great sense of satisfaction.

"It was a lot of work but also a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to do something nice for someone like Vera. It became a challenge," she said.

Both Ms. McManaway and Mrs. Miller agree they have gained much knowledge over the six-month process. Ms. McManaway offers advice to others in similar situations.

"Don't give up. It can be time consuming but you have to do what it takes," she said. "I called the state's vital records department every week. I called so much that I got to know the vital records lady on a first-name basis."

After reading it several times once she had the actual birth certificate in her hands, Mrs. Miller still keeps the document at home. But she plans on putting the record of her birth in a security box at her bank.

She not only found her birth certificate, but also a true friend in Ms. McManaway.

"I'm indebted to Jean. She gave me my life back," she said. "I always wanted a birth certificate before I died and she made sure that happened. She spent a lot of her own time to do this for me. She is just a sweetheart. I gained a true friend."

Published: Wed, Aug 11, 2010