A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.
ATHENS – The calendar read March 12, 2011. It was a rainy day and Merrill Jenkins was lost in thought having lost his wife just last September. A bit of the foggy weather that cold spring morning, a bit of the heavy mood from the great loss he had experienced, and Jenkins felt the need to look for his roots, the Athens News Agency (ANA) reported.
Born 68 years ago in a small mountain village, Jenkins was found a few days after his birth abandoned on the steps of a church, Panagia Pantanassa. His unique piece of identification was a handwritten note that read: “he is baptized, his name is Mitso.” It was on November 25, at 6 PM when he was found and almost 24 hours later he was taken to the Patras Orphanage, from where he was adopted by an American couple when he was 11 months old, setting him on a new path in life, many thousands of miles away from where he saw the first light of day.
Mitsos, later named Merrill Jenkins, received lots of love from his adoptive parents and grew up carefree riding his bike and playing endless hours with the neighborhood kids in Cedar Hill, a small town near Saint Louis, Missouri. He raised his own family and even though he always knew he was adopted and was Greek, he had never felt the need to find his biological family until that morning, when the tangle of his story began to unravel. A decade and more later, he celebrated his 68th birthday for the first time with his Greek family, in a surprise party for him.
The search Lasted a Decade
“That morning I was sitting in front of the computer and decided to type ‘Patras orphanage,’”’ looking for information. I’ve done this 2-3 times before, with nothing interesting coming up. This time, in the list of results a New York Times article appeared from 1996, talking about the ‘stolen’ children of the Patras orphanage. I had never heard anything about it. I read the article with my mouth hanging open… I felt the need to start digging into my past and see what I could find. I went down to the basement and looked for my adoption file, which my parents had kept, and spent the rest of the day in front of a computer screen,” recounts Jenkins, who immediately contacted an organization in Greece to help him in his research, while at the same time he looked for the file with his information in the records of the relevant U.S. social services.
“I was hoping to find information in this file but unfortunately there was no other information or names,” he says, and looking back he remembers how he always knew he was adopted. “In second grade, I told my teacher that I was adopted. I don’t remember exactly when my parents told me, but I always knew that I was adopted and that I was Greek. I was, in fact, very proud to be Greek, although at the time I didn’t know exactly what that meant.”
Two years later, in 2013, he decided to take a DNA test on Ancestry, but all he could find were some very distant cousins. Although several years passed, he did not give up and in 2018 he decided to upload his information to other related websites, such as My Heritage, to see if he could find something more. It was then that Eftychia/Linda Carol Trotter, the president of The Eftychia Project, a non-profit organization, which since 2019 helps children of Greek origin adopted in the U.S. find their roots, and close friend of Jenkins advised him to take another DNA test, this time with 23andme, which led to him finding a first cousin.
It was then that for the first time he felt that the tangled tangle of his short life in Greece began to unravel. “The results came out a month later and luckily Eftychia was at my house that Saturday when I opened my computer around noon and I found myself in front of the screen looking at an email from 23andme, unable to believe what I was seeing,” he recalls.
His cousin lived in Montreal, Canada, but unfortunately for Jenkins, his father, with whom it seems they had blood ties, had passed away. Communication with him “faded” little by little, but not the hope that he would eventually find his biological family. And he was right. One of the searches brought him into contact with a woman who lived nearby in the United States, whose husband was apparently Jenkins’ cousin. Steve was originally from Drosia, a small local community in the wider municipality of Erymanthos, in Achaia, and it was this element that finally unlocked the riddle of Jenkins’ story.
Wanting to help her friend, Eftychia, together with Maria, a volunteer at The Eftychia Project, found themselves at the beginning of last September in the cafe of Drosia drinking coffee and answering the persistent questions of an old man about what brings them to the village. So they answered him that they had come from the United States to see the village of a friend of theirs. “He asked us his name, we answered him, and from then on he told us everything,” Maria said, explaining that luckily the whole family (from the father’s side) lives in Patras, while one of the cousins owns a tavern in Vrachneika.
“We went to the tavern and there we had to tell the truth to the cousin who owns it. We explained to her who we are, what we do, and whether she can talk her aunts and uncles into agreeing to a DNA test.
The woman was shocked as she had never heard anything about it. At one point, in fact, she cried,” explained Eftychia who remembers like it was yesterday when Jenkins’ cousins took the test and the results came out. “They started saying ‘he is ours, he is our brother’ and anxiously asking when he will come to Greece,” said Eftychia – also a Greek adoptee in the United States – who also found the love and comfort of her own biological family.
Jenkins arrived in Greece to meet his cousins on October 31, with Eftychia meeting him at the airport. It was not the first time he visited the country in search of his biological family, while reports in the local press, as well as an appearance on Aggeliki Nikoloulis’ show ‘Light in the Tunnel’ may have caused his phone to ring constantly from people who believed that they had some kinship with him, but unfortunately to no avail. In 2018, in fact, Jenkins and Eftychia had visited the priest of Panagia Pantanassa in Patras as they believed at the time that he had been found as an abandoned infant on the steps of that church. Eftychia will never forget the emotion they experienced when the priest called the faithful at the Good Friday service to help Jenkins find his family, but unfortunately there was only silence. Shortly after, it was discovered that the Panagia Pantanassa mentioned in the police record for the day little Mitsos was found was the one in the small mountain village and not in Patras.
A day after his arrival in Greece, Jenkins was surrounded by dozens of members of his extended biological family (primarily cousins and their children), who organized a large welcome party at a restaurant in Patras to welcome him and ‘drown’ him in flowers, hugs, and kisses.
“The first time I met them in the tavern in Patras, it was something special. The love they showed me was unprecedented. Greeks are very warm, especially with their family. I immediately felt like I had returned home. They are all great,” Jenkins told ANA.
A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.