Thursday, February 16, 2017

Some family history stories are not happy ones.

I'm pretty sure I'm the only one still alive who knows this story. So for that reason I feel compelled to 
share it here so my sons and their families will have it should they need it in the future.

Everyone who is Mormon, has their own conversion story.
My parents had theirs, which I posted HERE.

So this is how my first husband, Bill, found the church. There's lots of sadness in this story so I don't
mean to imply these horrible things happened so he would find the church. It's just the truth of how
this story unfolds.

If this can be considered a conversion story, it is the most unusual one I've ever heard.

It began to me as a family mystery. Back in the mid 1970s my first husband, Bill, and I were
attempting to do his family history work. When we'd go through the Heasley line we were able to find
information. But whenever we would attempt to investigate his mother's line, we would get stopped
by his maternal Grandma, Alice. Her maiden name was Altop, but she would say to us, "Don't do 
the Altop line because that is NOT my family." Then she would go on to say, "I was adopted, so 
go through the Massa line, NOT the Altop. I'm a Massa!"

She obviously had issues with being adopted, or so we thought. Made no sense because we
discovered she was only about a year old when she was placed into the Altop family...so she couldn't
have had memory of her bio mom, Dominica Massa.

So Bill and I would discuss that the Altops must not have been good parents to her, maybe even
abusive? She was probably not wanting to claim them because of that? We could only guess.

So a few times while we were talking to Grandma Alice about her family, I gently and carefully
asked her something like, "Were the Altops good people?" and her response was alway this: "They 
were decent people." Nothing more.

So then why did she not claim them as her family?

Didn't make sense to either one of us, but out of respect to her we just ignored the Altop line and or
any line connecting Alice to family.

It all just stopped right there and remained one big mystery.

Until one afternoon we were visiting Grandma Alice at her home in Coalinga. Her birth sisters, Lee
and Thelma were also visiting that day. (Yes, Alice had 2 older birth sisters. When Lee, the older of 
the 3 sisters, became an adult, she went looking for her 2 younger birth sisters, Thelma and Alice. So 
somewhere back in the day the sisters reunited and stayed close.)

In the past when I would ask Grandma Alice about the reuniting of her birth sisters, she was vague,
not really answering any questions, and just changing the subject.

But that afternoon Grandma Alice went somewhere....so did Bill, his parents, and 2 of our sons. I
think they went together to get ice cream at Thriftys as they often did, I can't remember, but I found
myself sitting around the kitchen table with Grandma's birth sisters, Lee and Thelma. With my baby
McKay on my lap. This was 1984

I don't know how the subject came up that day, but Lee and Thelma started talking about their birth
mom and how lucky they were to have found their birth sisters all these years later. They never told
me how that came to be, but they did talk about their birth mom and why the 3 sisters grew up in 3 
separate homes.

As they explained to me that day, their mom, Dominica Massa had just given birth to her 3rd
daughter (Grandma Alice) when her husband suddenly left her. He took off, and was gone. Thelma
did most of the talking, "Back in those days a woman could not survive without a man to support 
her. So Mom married the first guy who came along. Problem is he didn't like children."

She went on to explain that after they were married he insisted she give the daughters up. Thelma
very matter of fact explained, "So mom put us in an orphanage. She was so upset about losing us, 
that she got a job in that orphanage so she could be with us each day."

Soon their mom became pregnant. She was fearful of telling her husband this so she attempted to
give herself an abortion. She died in that attempt. So all 3 girls (about 1, 3, and 5 or 6) were
relinquished for adoption and put into three different homes. Lee was the older sister so she
remembered her mom and she remembered being taken from her sisters.

This is when 1 year old Alice was adopted by the Altops. It just so happened they were Mormon, so
Alice grew up active in the church, but for whatever reason she did not remain so for at least the first
two decades of her adult life. Alice married young and had her first and only child, Niada (my sons'
Grandma), when she was 18.

Alice eventually came back into the Mormon church. By now her daughter Niada was married and
they had 2 young sons. Alice wanted her daughter and her family to also have the church in their life
so with their permission she arranged to have the missionaries teach them. Soon Niada, her husband
Bill and their 2 sons Jim and Bill were baptized. But since it was a long drive to church they soon
quit going and that was that.

When Bill joined the Army at age 18, the form asked what religion he was. He barely remembered
being baptized, but he did remember he was Mormon, so he wrote that down.

Several years later, after he completed his Army duty, he thought about the religion he listed on those
Army forms and wondered about the Mormon church. So while attending college in Visalia, one
Sunday he stopped in to one of the Mormon churches, walked up to the bishop and basically said,
"All I know is that I'm a baptized Mormon. But I don't know anything about it." This kind
bishop brought him into his office where they talked for a few hours. From that day forward he
started attending church and the Young Single Adult activities. Four months later he moved to
Fresno, and that's when I met him. We married 19 months later.


I did find Alice's baptism certificate in an old brief case containing Bill's old genealogy family sheets.
But I noticed it was signed in 1977. I'm assuming this must be when the sisters reunited....and
somehow they were able to track down this event, find this Catholic church, and ask for a certificate. 
I'm just assuming here, but perhaps when Alice found out her mother did not WANT to give her up, 
she felt an allegiance and loyalty to her. Perhaps that is why 
she kept saying she was a Massa and not an Altop. 

Searching now on Familysearch.com, I notice that her adopted mother has the name of Minnie Niada 
Altop. Alice named her daughter Niada, and all these years I thought she had made up that name 
since I'd never heard it before! 

Now I see she named her daughter after the woman who adopted her and raised her. 
So she must have loved her adopted Mom too. 

Also, her original parents were married of course, 
so technically she was born with the last name of Miller, not Massa.
But I'm guessing she was angry her dad left her Mom and put her though all the anguish 
of losing her daughters, and even losing her life. So she didn't want to claim being a Miller. 
Another logical assumption on my part.

Sometimes as I learn what someone has gone through, it's much easier to understand them. 

The older I get the more I realize I need to just assume whoever I meet is having some sort of 
deep sadness I know nothing about. I believe it's usually true.

3 comments:

Tyler Heasley said...

Thank you so much for writing this down! It's a crazy story, for sure. It's a miracle Dad got into the Church as an adult. Thank you thank you, Mom.

Tyler Heasley said...

I wish I could thank that bishop!

Grandma Honey said...

I have never even thought of thanking that bishop. I wonder if it would be even possible tracking him down. It was 1973, and that was 44 years ago. I guess there's a chance he could still be alive. I wouldn't even know how to begin searching.