Oklahoma woman who was placed for adoption and who says she found out later she is Winston Churchill’s granddaughter says there shouldn’t be a distinction between adopted and nonadopted adults being allowed to get their original birth certificates.
Energized by being told a grandfather had been willing to adopt her, an Oklahoma woman told a legislative panel Tuesday she overcame feelings of being rejected and spent 30 years trying to find her birth parents.
It is enough to simply need to know who you are. And every once in awhile you find somebody really interesting on the other end.”
Rhonda Noonan said she also was intrigued because she was told one of her birth grandparents was famous.
Noonan, 55, said she overcame various obstacles to getting her birth certificate and finally obtained information that allowed her to find her birth mother in 2008.
Her mother didn’t deny that the grandfather who had shown an interest in her as an infant was Winston Churchill.
“Everyone deserves the truth and the ability to find themselves and their ancestral history,” Noonan, of Sand Springs, told members of the House of Representatives Human Services Committee.
Rep. Purcy Walker asked Noonan to speak as part of his interim study on whether to change state law so that adults who were adopted as children would have access to original birth certificates and medical records for their biological parents.
Walker, D- Elk City, said he wants to study the issue more before deciding whether to propose a bill next session.
Michael Nomura, co-director of Heritage Family Services Inc., an adoption agency in Tulsa, warned committee members not to open all adoption records.
“There’s a potential for adoptees who get their original birth records showing up unannounced at the front door of their birth parents and saying, ‘Hi, here I am,’” he said.
“That may not turn out well for either the biological parent or the adult adoptee who may end up being rejected again.”
Nomura served on a legislative task force in 1995 that worked on changing the adoption laws, coming up with a 1997 law that established the confidential intermediary program to help adoptees find members of a birth family while still protecting the privacy of others who don’t want to be contacted.
Adult adoptees must be 18 in order to make a request.
He said few birth parents who place their children for adoption sign papers that keep the birth certificate sealed; they can come back later and change it to open the records.
“Our system in Oklahoma works hard to carefully balance the privacy rights of all concerned,” Nomura said.
Noonan and several others told committee members that adopted adults should be entitled to their original birth certificates.
All adoptions were open in Oklahoma before 1939. They were sealed that year to protect adoptive families.
Noonan, who is a mental health therapist, said she was adopted in 1956.
Her break to finding her parents came in 1990 when Noonan won a court order to receive an original birth certificate, which eventually led to more records from the state Department of Human Services.
She said she found out that Randolph Churchill was her father after she talked with a 96-year-old retired DHS worker who served as longtime agency Director Lloyd Rader’s assistant, who was in a meeting with Rader and her father.
“That’s how I was able to finally determine for sure that it was Randolph Churchill,” Noonan said. “I had some pretty good leads.”
Noonan, who hopes to have a book released on her odyssey next summer, said she still is trying to get additional details.
But her research shows that in October 1955, Randolph Churchill, a British journalist, came to Oklahoma City as a correspondent for The Times of London, reporting on those seeking to become the Democratic presidential nominee in the 1956 election.
She said Randolph Churchill was following New York Gov. Averell Harriman, who had been talking with Oklahoma Gov. Raymond Gary about being his running mate should he win the presidential nomination.
“What we do know is that he met my birth mother in an outing with a group of people at the Tinker Air Base Officer’s Club,” Noonan said.
“As far as we know, it was a one-night stand. My birth mother has never been willing to tell all the details. She was kind of a classically traumatized woman.”
Meeting her mom
Noonan said she met her birth mother, who was from Oklahoma City, in 2008.
She was living in Purcell. She died about a year ago.
“She didn’t deny any of it,” Noonan said.
“She sort of confirmed it in a roundabout way to my oldest sister — I have four half sisters on my mother’s side.”
No records include Randolph Churchill’s name, she said. He died in 1968 at the age of 57.
As far as the grandfather she was told was interested in her, Winston Churchill, who was known leading the United Kingdom during World War II, resigned as Britain’s prime minster in April 1955 at the age of 80. He died in January 1965.
“The thing that moved me on in my search was simply the fact that I knew that there was someone out there who had wanted me,” Noonan said. “It was really that simple.
“It’s a long story. The FBI was involved,” Noonan said. “They interviewed folks in my little hometown before I was placed and really bizarre things happened through the process of it. It’s quite a story.”
Noonan said it’s wrong that adopted adults in Oklahoma can’t get their birth certificate regardless of whether their birth parents may have objected.
“You have to go to court, and it’s very rare that anyone ever obtains a court order to get records period,” she said. “It generally has to involve some sort of medical situation.”
It’s important for adopted adults to get their birth certificate so they can check medical records, “but it is quite sufficient to say, ‘I want to know who I am,’” Noonan said.
“It is enough to simply need to know who you are. And every once in awhile you find somebody really interesting on the other end.”