It was 7:30 a.m. back on Feb. 11 when Mary-Ann Scroggins got a call from her daughter, Heidi, that someone claiming to be her cousin was trying to get in touch with her.
Scroggins and her husband, Gary, were out West visiting family, but she took the news seriously, and she was both nervous and hopeful when she called the woman the next day.
Scroggins had thought something like this was possible when she completed the AncestryDNA kit that she had received as a Christmas gift from her children just seven weeks earlier, but she had scarcely allowed herself to hope that it would actually happen.
“I was floored!” said Scroggins, recalling that first phone call with her cousin, Barbie, who told Scroggins the photo of the man named Perry Lucas whom she had listed as her father on her Ancestry page was her uncle.
“When she said, ‘Perry Lucas, your father,’ those words changed my life forever. They really did,” said Scroggins, with tears in her eyes. “He was real . . . The only connection I had with Perry Lucas was a little photograph that I’d had all my life. He was just a picture. Now here was someone who knew him and could tell me details about him.”
It turned out that Barbie had been looking for Mary-Ann for about five years, ever since coming across details of her birth in an old diary kept by Perry’s mother.
‘The Special Gift’
Scroggins, who moved to Washington in 1993 and then Marthasville the following year, had always known that she was adopted. Her parents, Joseph and Mary James, never kept that from her, although as she got older and noticed the difference in their appearance, it was obvious. Mary-Ann was of Japanese descent, and Joe and Mary were not.
The story of how the couple came to bring Mary-Ann home with them became a favorite bedtime story of hers when she was little. They called it “The Special Gift” story, and now Mary-Ann has made it into a children’s book with illustrations drawn by her 7-year-old grandson, Liam.
Twenty-two-year-old Sgt. Perry Lucas of the U.S. Air Force was stationed at Misawa Air Force Base in Japan in 1953 when he met 19-year-old Sadaku Eriko Aizawa. They fell in love and had plans to marry and move to the United States.
“Soon after he had orders to return to America. Sadaku wanted to go with him. She was going to have a baby. They were sad they couldn’t be together,” said Scroggins, reading directly from “The Special Gift.”
After Perry returned home to Indiana, Sadaku had a baby girl and named her Mariana. She took care of the baby but didn’t always have the money that she needed to feed her properly, and as a result Mariana was not meeting her growth expectations.
Perry sent money for a few months to help, but even that was not easy, said Scroggins. For a Japanese woman, having the child of an American GI was not popular in post-World War II Japan, and Sadaku’s own father had been a Japanese Naval officer killed in the war.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Joseph James was stationed at Misawa Air Force Base. He and his wife Mary were anxious to start a family, but were not having any luck. Their Japanese housekeeper said she could help and arranged for three young Japanese mothers with babies to come to their house. Sadaku was one of them.
The young mothers wanted Mary to pick one of their babies to be hers. She chose the smallest, Mariana, and Sadaku was very happy.
After going to see a judge in Tokyo and completing the proper paperwork, the couple changed Mariana’s name to Mary-Ann. She was 9 months old at the time of the adoption in 1955, and 17 months old when the family left Japan.
In those eight months, the family remained in touch with Sadaku, even regularly having her over to their house for dinner.
“My mother worked at a barracks on the same base, right behind their house, and on her way home, she would go right past my parents’ house. So my mother had a standing invitation for her to eat dinner with them,” said Scroggins. “She would come to our house after work and eat supper with them and spend a couple of hours playing with me.”
Sadaku gave the family photos she had of Mary-Ann’s father as a way to connect the baby to her past. Scroggins used a name scrawled on the back of the photo to try to track down her father years ago. The name on the photo was Perry D. Lucas, but her father’s actual name was Perry G. Lucas.
Having the wrong initial slowed her down at first. Although three years ago, Scroggins did find some information in an obituary for a Perry Lucas. She suspected it could be her father, but she opted not to reach out to the family because his wife was still living, and she didn’t want to upset anyone, if they didn’t know she existed.
Grandmother’s Diary Brought Story to Light
Back in the 1950s, Perry Lucas’ mother, Geneva, kept a diary and in it she wrote about her son’s intentions to marry Sadaku and of their baby girl. After Geneva passed away, Perry had possession of her diary, which spanned 30 years. He began to transcribe it with the idea that it would serve as a family history, said Scroggins.
But as his own health deteriorated, he passed the diary along to his niece, Marilyn, and asked her to continue transcribing it. He had passed away by the time she came to the entry regarding Mariana/Mary-Ann.
“She didn’t know what to do with that information, so she called her sister, Barbie, and they talked about it,” said Scroggins.
They began looking for Mariana/Mary-Ann right away, completing an AncestryDNA kit to see if they might find any connections. But they ended up waiting a couple of years to say anything to Perry’s three sons, said Scroggins. Then one year at the annual Lucas family reunion, they approached his middle son, Jeff, and his wife to see what they thought.
“They asked would he want to find out if he had an unknown relative,” said Scroggins, noting Marilyn and Barbie weren’t sure if it was a secret that Perry had had a baby with a Japanese woman.
Jeff said, yes, he would want to know, so they told him what they had found in the diary. They didn’t tell the other two brothers, opting to wait until they actually found Mariana/Mary-Ann.
Almost immediately after Scroggins’ AncestryDNA results were made public on the company’s website, Barbie was informed of their family connection and began trying to track her down to verify they were related.
“She got on Facebook and started looking immediately for my name,” said Scroggins, realizing that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the name of the baby in the diary was Mariana and Scroggins’ first name was Mary-Ann.
“She realized I had to be the child,” said Scroggins.
Through Facebook, Barbie was able to find Mary-Ann’s daughter, Heidi, and sent her a message about the Ancestry results. At the same time, Barbie had seen photos of a young Perry Lucas that Heidi had been posting on the family’s Ancestry history.
It was a new kind of joy for Scroggins to have confirmation that she had blood relatives — not just first cousins in Barbie and Marilyn, but halfsiblings. Her father had four children with his wife, Janet: Eric, Jeff, Cathy, who passed away in 1996 from breast cancer, and Kyle.
“I thought that I would never have siblings that shared my blood,” said Scroggins. “That was the thing that blew me away. We were actually related by blood.”
‘It Was Like We Had Known Each Other All Along’
Perry’s sons took the news that they had a halfsister well, said Scroggins. They were excited to meet her and last month invited her to Crawfordsville, Ind., where her father lived.
She was afraid the initial meeting was going to be awkward, but it turned out smooth and easy.
“It was like we had known each other all along. It was very comfortable,” said Scroggins, with a smile, noting they teased each other in a fun way that made everyone laugh.
“There was one point where we were lining up for pictures and I told Eric, ‘Now get over here little brother.’ And he said, ‘I’ve never been called that before.’ We thought that was pretty funny,” said Scroggins.
Initially she didn’t see much of a family resemblance between her and her brothers. Her dark hair and Asian eyes seemed markedly different from their features. But they noticed a resemblence right away.
“The first thing they said was, ‘You have the Lucas nose!’ ” said Scroggins, with a laugh. “I had never liked my nose, but now somebody likes it.”
The siblings noticed they all have the same cheekbone structure, emphasized when they smile, and they have many of the same interests and hobbies.
“There were lots of silly things . . . like we all like table games. Their favorite is Settlers of Catan. Well that’s my favorite too,” said Scroggins.
She loves puzzles and Southwestern style, and so did her late halfsister, Cathy, who was an artist. Scroggins had considered studying art in college, but chose music instead.
And it turns out that Jeff and Eric also have a talent for music. There were common medical histories too — from hernias to cancer.
That was valuable information for Scroggins, who never had any family medical history to provide doctors when they asked. It also made her feel connected to people in a way she never had before.
“It makes me feel like I belong somewhere,” she remarked. “Not just like I dropped out of the sky.”
Scroggins only spent a couple of days with her brothers in May, but she will be going back in September for the full Lucas family reunion.
“Barbie, who lives in California, has already told me they ordered T-shirts with my grown-up picture on one side and my little kid picture on the other. And it says, ‘Lost But Found,’ ” said Scroggins.
She used that same description as the title for a book she is writing on how she came to find her biological family. “Lost & Found, a DNA Connection” is expected to be completed next month. She hopes others who are doing DNA research will find it useful or, if nothing else, encouraging.
“Even if it seems utterly impossible to find your relatives,” she said.
Scroggins has looked into tracking down her mother, Sadaku, who went by the name Eriko, but the cultural barrier has made finding information difficult. Her mom (Mary James) always suspected that Sadaku would have come to America at some point, but searches here haven’t uncovered anything fruitful.
“It’s hard to even think about,” said Scroggins, about the possibility of finding her mother. “That would really be mind-boggling. It’s the kind of thing you hope for but you think it’s unlikely.”
Finding her father and siblings has been enough for her, “like a dream,” she said, because everything has been perfect . . . before I didn’t even know if he knew about me, and the diary proved that he did.”