Rest in Peace Karen Vigneault, the woman who made miracles for Native adoptees

Kimberly Linebarger, left, with sister Gudrun Drofn Emilsdottir, in lobby of Seven Clans First Council Casino Hotel, Newkirk, Oklahoma, November 19, 2018.

Guðrún Emilsdóttir, circa 1967, baby picture

Guðrún Emilsdóttir, adopted shortly after birth, was 28 before she tracked down her birth mother.

Her birth mother gave Emilsdottir her birth certificate, which named her father, Henry Linwood Jackson.

“My nephew started looking for Henry,” she said.

Eventually, he contacted Native American genealogist Karen Vigneault, a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in California who was profiled in an earlier VOA story.  On Vigneault’s advice, Emilsdottir took a DNA blood test; they uploaded the results onto an online database and waited.

20180929_093011(PHOTO: Iceland covered the story too) (Karen Vigneault, an enrolled tribal member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and college and tribal librarian, has a face tattoo.)

(READ Long-lost Native American Sisters Reunite for a Joyous Thanksgiving)

Emilsdottir has returned to Iceland but is planning to return to Oklahoma in July 2019 for the “Encampment,” a pow wow the Otoe-Missouria tribe has held annually for more than 130 years. It’s an occasion for the tribe to sing, drum, dance and remember their history and traditions. And celebrate family, lost and found.

Henry Linwood Jackson, Otoe-Missouria tribe member, ca. 1965.

BIG READ: Long-lost Native American Sisters Reunite for a Joyous Thanksgiving

The reunion happened because of the tireless methodical work of librarian and tribal genealogist Karen Vigneault; she and I have worked together since 2013.

I learned yesterday that Karen has passed away in San Diego at her home.

She made miracles and reunions for adoptees, like these sisters.

It is impossible to put into words the impact she had on me and the lives of many adoptees she helped. She worked to find adoption records, tribal histories, family genealogy and find relatives that adoptees could contact and meet.

This loss is personal and devastating.

Not just to me but to readers of this blog who are still searching and hoping and waiting and wanting to find their families.

Karen traveled to Iceland late last year to meet Guðrún and the Iceland media covered it. Her wish was to reunite Guðrún with her tribe and relatives. She succeeded.

Chasing Ghosts: My 20 year journey

By a very grateful Lara Trace Hentz  (adoptee/author of One Small Sacrifice)

Chasing Ghosts twenty years? Yes. It took me 20 years to attend the Harlow powwow in southern Illinois on Sept. 6.  This family reunion was a first time for me, meeting many many new Harlow cousins.  (It’s that very same reunion my birthdad told me about when I asked him about our ancestry. Sadly I only met my dad once in 1994. I wanted to go after I met the Harlow Girls who’d read my memoir but Hurricane Irene had stopped me.)

When I got to the picnic pavilion in Pana that Saturday, I had to explain who I am: I am the granddaughter of Lona Dell Harlow (who died early at age 49.) When I said I was Earl’s daughter they got confused since there was an Earl Harlow too.  “No, my dad was Earl Bland. I was given up for adoption. I met him once when I was 38 years old.” One cousin said, “Are you the one who wrote that book? My dad had a copy of it.”  Then I can only grin! “YES, that’s me!”

I drew a chart to show people I knew my Harlow branch: Bessie, Lona (mine), Lily, Thomas, Earl. I explained how I found my dad Earl and later decided to write the memoir about my search.

The Harlow clan have been holding this powwow for 36 years. I was initiated. (I can’t tell you how since it’s secret.)

This gathering reminded me of the August Meeting held by New England tribes for the past 300+ years, when tribes would gather annually and give updates on marriages, births, deaths and significant events in an individual’s life and in their families. This happened in Illinois too. (There wasn’t dancing but lots of laughing.)

Being there made me think of destiny. I was thinking of my grandmother Lona, who they called Lonie. I was looking around at all their faces and thinking of her face, definitely the one who I resembled. I was looking for me in their faces, too.  This family to me represents continuity, tradition and culture. This is something I didn’t have growing up. I am very grateful I have it now.

The Harlow girls, three female cousins, who stayed with me the entire day of my sisters funeral, were there with me again.  Their attention and love is something new to me so I was emotionally overwhelmed, without words to explain what I was feeling.

The Harlow girls had told me how much I resemble my great-granddad James, who was married to my ggma Mary Francis, always called Granny. (My great grandparent’s love was so great that when he died, she died a few days after.)

What was also a big part of this recent journey was my finding out I had just taken the Potawatomi Death March trail through Illinois. When we drove through Danville – I didn’t know that in 1838 the Potawatomi started to march from Indiana single file to Kansas.  Read more about the history here.  Their chiefs resisted leaving Indiana and were put in a cage on a wagon. The heat nearly killed them and a priest had them released.

We stayed in Decatur and there is a Death March marker there, too.

Knowing Illinois Indian history is important to me.  My Harlow cousins say it was always known and important to them that we are Indian.


Here’s what I am reading:

Any society that legally sanctions an unregulated profit-driven adoption industry over a child’s best interest is sick and inhumane.  Baby Veronica’s Birthday LINK

De-Colonizing History: Frank Ligtvoet LINK (see my comment on this blog)


And someone I just discovered:

‘Marion Woodman: Dancing in the Flames’

Love is the real power. It’s the energy that cherishes. The more you work with that energy, the more you will see how people respond naturally to it, and the more you will want to use it. It brings out your creativity, and helps everyone around you flower. Your children, the people you work with–everyone blooms. – Marion Woodman

Marion Woodman’s work: