A Tale of Two Sisters

Reunited, they learn of their different paths.

"My whole life, I wondered who I looked like." - Janet Manni
"My whole life, I wondered who I looked like." - Janet Manni
Photo by Chad Hunt

Janet Manni had been looking for her natural parents since she was a young girl. She was adopted at just six weeks old, but as she grew, she used what little information she had to do the mental calculus on every birthday: If I’m 10, then my birth mother would be 50 now. She hoped one day to meet her birth mother before the woman died. That never happened. By the time New Jersey changed its adoption disclosure law, enabling Manni, who turns 56 this month, to get a copy of her birth certificate, her mother had been dead for 13 years.

But it wasn’t a total loss. The night she received her birth certificate, Manni and a friend searched the Internet for any information they could find about Manni’s mother. From ancestry.com they learned the mother’s married name, and with that, they were able to find her obituary and a whole list of relatives—including a woman who appeared to be Manni’s half sister.

“We were waiting all these years to find all this stuff,” Manni says as she pulls out a sheet of yellow legal paper on which she and her friend had drawn a family tree. She points to the name Roland Daniel Curley and says her mother left her home in North Jersey at age 22 to marry him and live on an army base in Alabama. They wed on March 15, 1943, were married for 12 years and never had any children. Curley died in 1955.

“He was the love of her life,” Manni eventually learned. “She was never the same after he died.”

Some time after Curley’s death, Manni’s mother met a man named Edward Dauphin. Though there’s no record of a marriage, Dauphin is listed on Manni’s birth certificate as her father. Family and Children’s Services told her adoptive parents that her birth mother was married but going through a nasty divorce when she got pregnant by another man. Manni was told her birth mother came to the Jersey Shore to have the baby, staying in Point Pleasant until Manni was born. “It’s unclear if that was the truth,” Manni says.

On her yellow sheet of paper, Manni has a question mark next to Dauphin’s name. “He pretty much took a powder early on and was not around,” she says without a shred of sentimentality.

In 1965, Manni’s birth mother married another man, Thomas Mercantante, who would raise Manni’s older sister.

As for the sister, Manni tried to find her on Facebook but couldn’t. However, she found the sister’s daughter and sent her a message: “You don’t know me, but my name is Janet Bollmeyer Manni, I am adopted from New Jersey, and I just found out your mother is my half sister. Can you please call me?” Three hours later, the girl responded and said it was a lot to take in, but that she had passed Manni’s message on to her mother.

What Manni didn’t know at the time was that the young woman had made a long trip through upstate New York to deliver the message to her mother. The older woman does not have Internet or reliable cell service where she lives. The girl said her mother was having a hard time with the news. The woman’s upbringing had been “rough,” the girl said.

Upon finally speaking with her sister, Manni learned their birth mother was likely bipolar, and the sister had been sexually abused by her stepfather. “Things did not go well for my sister,” Manni says.

Manni, on the other hand, grew up in a lovely house in Freehold with grandparents nearby and aunts living up the street. The family celebrated every holiday and even had lilac and rose bushes and tree houses. She says when her sister looked through Manni’s Facebook page and heard her adoptive parents were still alive, she said, “I’m so glad for you that you had that life.”

“I’m very happy I had this life, too,” Manni says. “I don’t know that I could have survived what my sister went through.”

Manni has spoken to her sister three or four times now, and learned they may have the same father. She may, in fact, be her full sister. They both suspect Dauphin was their father—although they don’t have his DNA to prove it.

The sister was a long-distance truck driver but went out on disability a few years ago after a back injury. She lives on about $900 a month, off the grid, with a man named Fred who goes by the nickname Frog. The only photos on her new Facebook page are of Manni’s two children, though she’s never met them.

Unfortunately, the sister has no photos of her mother—not one.

“I was devastated to hear there were no photos,” Manni says. “It probably sounds trite in the big picture of things, but my whole life, I wondered who I looked like.”

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