For 74 years, Tangent resident Yvonne Brosi Lathrop thought of herself as an only child.
But today, she'll celebrate her first Thanksgiving as one of eight siblings, thanks to the bulldog-like tenacity of her son-in-law, Paul Goodwin, who's married to her daughter, Julie. He’s a farmer by day and amateur genealogist by night. It was his perseverance that put her in touch with family members she never knew existed.
“I always knew that I had been adopted,” Lathrop said. “It was a bedtime story for me. My parents always told me I was special.”
But she never knew until recently that she has five sisters on her biological father’s side of the family, plus a sister and two brothers on her mother’s side. And Lathrop couldn't be happier or feel more blessed this holiday season.
Lathrop’s story began Oct. 3, 1945, at Mercy Hospital in Roseburg, where her adopting mother, Frances Brosi, was an obstetrics nurse.
“My parents could not have children of their own and wanted a child badly,” Lathrop said. “But, they were told that at 38 and 32, they were too old to adopt.”
But Brosi and her husband, Ivan, never gave up.
“My mom’s friend told her a new baby was going to be available for adoption,” Lathrop said. “My mother went to the head nun and told her the baby was meant to be hers.”
The nun apparently agreed. Ivan and Frances named their new daughter Catherine Yvonne, although that wasn't her first given name (more on that later).
“We lived in my grandfather’s house in Winston, where my dad grew up. The property is now the entrance to Wildlife Safari,” Lathrop said. “It was a good, happy life, and I was surrounded by cousins. It was a bit isolated, but I rode my bike a lot and it was a very good life.”
The Brosis knew little about their new daughter’s lineage, although they believed her father may have been in the Navy. They did have her adoption records, which included the name of her birth mother, Vivian Leroy, but not of her biological father.
After Ivan's death in 1977, Frances Brosi told their adoptive daughter that she might have a brother or sister, or possibly both. Brosi said she would understand if Lathrop wanted to find her birth mother, but Lathrop had no desire to pursue the issue, although she admits she'd always wanted a brother.
But all that changed in 2015, when Paul Goodwin entered "Vivian Leroy" into internet search sites. Her obituary turned up, and it included the name of Lathrop's sister and two brothers. Goodwin found the youngest brother, Steven Clemet, during a Facebook search. He attempted to contact Clemet, but was unsuccessful. Time passed.
In 2018, Lathrop’s daughter Julie submitted her own DNA to Ancestry.com, and things began to get interesting.
“A match came back from my sister, Mary Jane (Merrell), who was born in 1954,” Lathrop said. “They had also found an obituary for my father, Leonard Tyler.”
In October 2018, a friend, Vickie Hargreaves, gave Lathrop an Ancestry.com kit for her birthday. The trail again led her to her father’s side of the family, the Tylers.
“My DNA matched Mary Jane’s, which wasn’t a big surprise, since it had already matched Julie’s DNA,” Lathrop said.
When she made initial contact with Mary Jane Merrell on Dec. 18, 2018, Lathrop told Merrell she was making the search to learn about the family’s medical history.
“She said she was happy to find a cousin,” Lathrop said of Merrell's response. “Then, I told her I was her sister.”
“Your dad is my birth father," Lathrop told her. "Are you interested?"
"Things exploded like a champagne cork," Lathrop said. "We spent a day-and-a-half texting and sending emails.”
That’s when the story could have blown up. Instead, Lathrop found a family that was excited to welcome their long-lost sister. Mary Jane immediately contacted her siblings, except for one, Susan Russo, who's been in ill health. Mary Jane wanted to break the news in person instead of via the telephone.
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Lathrop learned that her siblings on her father’s side are Linda Zoller, born in 1949; Susan Russo, born in 1951; Mary Jane Merrell, born in 1954; Kathleen Tyler, born in 1959; and April Fox, born in 1964.
“April has eight children and in 1985, she lived in Albany,” Lathrop said. “We were living in Albany at the same time, but we don’t know if our paths ever crossed.”
She learned that her birth father was born in 1918 and died in 1991. She also learned that a half-brother, Arden Tyler, was born in 1941 and died in 1988.
Her connection to her mother’s side of the family tree came in June 2019. The Goodwins' research had provided a link to a woman named Heidi Niermeyer, who turned out to be her biological niece and the daughter of Lathrop's biological sister, Patricia Niermeyer.
Lathrop sent Heidi a Facebook message and received a response within 15 minutes. “We sent messages back and forth until 11 that night,” Lathrop said.
That’s when she learned she had other siblings in addition to Patricia, who was born in 1940 and now lives in Mesquite, Nevada. There are also two brothers, Fred Freitas, who was born in 1942, and Steven Clemet, born in 1953. Both live in Chico.
“It wasn’t a reality for me until I saw my birth mother’s photographs,” Lathrop said. “We look very much alike. It’s amazing.”
Lathrop outlined her unique family tree. Her birth mother, Vivian Leroy Freitas, was born in 1922. She married and had two children, Patricia and Fred. Freitas and her husband divorced in 1943. She and her children lived for a time in one room of her parents’ home in Chico.
Then, in 1945, Freitas became pregnant by Leonard Tyler, a divorced Navy man. He also lived in Chico. It is believed Freitas kept her pregnancy a secret — even from Tyler — giving birth in Roseburg while possibly en route to Spokane, Washington. She named the baby Linda Marie Leroy, who later became Catherine Yvonne, and, finally, Yvonne Brosi Lathrop.
Both Freitas and Tyler later married others and started new families. Freitas married Walter Clemet in 1951 and in 1953, they had a son, Steven. Tyler fathered seven children: six girls, including Lathrop; and a son, Arden.
“I really didn’t want to cause anyone harm,” Lathrop said of her quest. “Steve (my husband) was cautious at first. He didn’t want to see me hurt.”
Lathrop had planned to travel to California in April 2020, but her sisters were so excited to meet her they paid for her to visit in September.
“Mary Jane picked me up at the airport. When she put her arms around me, there was an immediate connection. I never realized I had such emotions about this,” Lathrop said.
Mary Jane and her husband drove Lathrop from Sacramento to Chico, where she spent three days getting to know her new family.
“We went out to eat, took photographs and I even got to tour the home where my birth father was born,” Lathrop said. “I would say that Mary Jane and I are like two peas in the same pod. My sister Kathleen made a beautiful family photo album for me. They have all been so loving and generous.”
The photo album includes a notation: “Sisters are different flowers from the same garden.”
Lathrop and her siblings received matching pendants that feature the birth stones of all of family members, including her birth father.
In October, the Lathrops traveled to Ashland, where they spent an afternoon with her sister Pat and brother Fred and their spouses, who were traveling to Nevada from California.
“Fred had been a bit reluctant at first,” Lathrop said. “But after our meeting, he said, ‘You are truly a gift.’”
They plan to meet again in the spring.
Although Lathrop’s mother never talked openly about giving her daughter for adoption, siblings told her that when their mother was in an assisted living facility suffering from dementia, she often carried a doll.
“She would tell people it was her baby,” Lathrop said.
Lathrop said she had always wondered what she might say to her mother had they ever met: “I thank her every day that she put me in a safe, loving place.”
She is also thankful that her newfound siblings have “opened their hearts and lives to me. They didn’t have to do it. I also owe so much to my son-in-law who devoted many, many hours of research to make this happen. He has truly given me a wonderful gift.”