University News

WIU Archives Research Leads Macomb Man to Connection with Biological Family

October 7, 2021


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MACOMB, IL – A curiosity about the history of automobile dealers in western Illinois, and visits to search through the Western Illinois University Archives, has turned into a unique story of a Macomb man finding members of his biological family in the process.

Gary Neuhardt and his wife, Marika, moved to Macomb from Arlington Heights, IL, in 2018, after retirement to be closer to family.

As a retirement project, Neuhardt decided he wanted to find out what dealerships sold specific brands of cars throughout Macomb's history. He was discussing his idea while having coffee with a group of people that included WIU Archives and Special Collections Coordinator Michael Lorenzen, who suggested he come to WIU's Malpass Library so University staff could help him with his search.

"As I was sitting, looking very studious, (Senior Library Specialist) Bill Cook asked if he could take my picture for the Library's Facebook page," said Neuhardt. "I said 'Yes," and he did. That picture was then posted with a very short statement as to what I was doing."

Jump forward a few days after the post, and Neuhardt was contacted by WIU Senior Library Specialist Kathy Nichols, who said someone had seen the picture on social media and was trying to contact him.

In terms of a backstory, Neuhardt was adopted in 1946, and in 2003, he began to get interested in the ancestry of his adopted last name.

"In the conversations with people about that search, I mentioned I was also adopted," he said. "It was asked if I knew anything about my birth parents and/or family. Thus, another search was started."

The trail of Neuhardt's ancestry search is full of stumbling blocks in terms of privacy acts and sealed adoption files.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but you never know what kind of can of worms you're going to open up," he said. "In the meantime Pennsylvania opened up some of its adoption laws and I was able to get my certificate of birth."

Neuhardt said the story of his birth mother was one of four used in the arguments to change the state's adoption laws.

After connecting to a support group of people searching for birth parents while he still lived in Pennsylvania, Neuhardt was able to gain some insight into the process of adoption searches.

"When you're talking about parents who had given children up, there are a lot of emotions in that room," he said.

After searches that included Ancestry.com, U.S. Census reports, cemeteries, funeral homes, birth and death certificates and marriage certificates, Neuhardt was able to find a few more details, including finding a half-sister on his mother's side, as well as other family members.

Trips to Maine and Minnesota turned up some details about his birth mother, but nothing about his biological father. Because of this, Neuhardt did an Ancestry DNA test in 2005, but again hit a dead-end.

In Summer 2017, a woman named Mary Pat called Neuhardt from Minnesota to ask why he was listed on the results of a DNA test she had taken.

"We talked for 20 minutes, but could not make a connection," he said. "We had to let it go."

Fast forward to 2018, when Mary Pat saw Neuhardt's photo on the WIU Archives and Special Collections Facebook page and was struck to find he looked just like her father. She then called the WIU office to attempt to track down her half-brother after finding the WIU post during a Google search.

"This time we compared notes and worked out the time line," he said of their second telephone call. "A second family member had just done a DNA test and I came up on that sheet also. The DNA indicated we were half siblings."

Since that time, Neuhardt has traveled to the Minneapolis area to connect with Mary Pat, and also a second half-sister and a half-brother. The group also stays in touch monthly by phone or email.

"I also have a family tree that has many people, stories, and now memories that go down four different roads," he said.

Without Neuhardt's research at WIU, and the chance photo taken for the Archives and Special Collections Facebook page, the connection might have never happened.

"All of us at the WIU Archives were very pleased to help Mr. Neuhardt connect with his family," said Lorenzen. "We are happy our resources were able to help him have such a great outcome."


Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (JK-Pospeschil@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations