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Native roots, hard realities surface in woman’s search for her past
Feeling trepidation and hope, Peggy Mandel dropped a letter in the mail to a woman she’d never met but who held the key to a secret piece of her past.
Adopted and raised in a loving middle-class Jewish family, Mandel didn’t know her own origin story. As a kid, she could remember people asking, “Are you sure you're Jewish? You're too tall to be Jewish.”
She wasn’t sure either but needed to find out.
After decades of searching, she’d come across a name — someone who might be a blood relative, someone who would lead her to a wrenching history of Native people in Minnesota she wasn’t supposed to find.
Mandel had been so scared she couldn’t write the letter. Her husband Joel wrote it. For weeks, there was silence. Then came a voicemail that changed lives across two families and three generations.
“I am pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked,” said the voice. “And I would like to connect with you.”
Mandel, who moved to the Twin Cities at age 11, started looking for her birth mother in the 1990s. However Kentucky adoption records were closed and no information was available.
About eight years ago she sought help from a staff member at the Children’s Home Society, a St. Paul adoption agency.
In early 2014, an agency staff member called. “She said, ‘We found her. She is alive and well. But we can't tell you where she lives. And she doesn't want anybody to know. She doesn't want to meet you,’” recalled Mandel.