By Alice Perry Linker
Observer Staff Writer
Melissa Burgess has been filled with curiosity since she was 11 and learned she was adopted.
What her adoptive parents told her on that day nearly 15 years ago planted the seeds of curiosity that grew into a successful search. Her adoptive parents, Gary and Carla Hubbard of Imbler, adopted Melissa when she was about 2 and lived in Downey, Calif.
"That was a very emotional time for all of us," said the La Grande resident about learning of her adoption. "They told me and explained what they knew about my family."
Although Melissa felt a strong bond with her adoptive parents and brothers and sisters, she also felt a strong curiosity about her birth parents and her heritage. She wanted to know who she looked like, where she got her personality.
"My (adoptive) parents were wonderful. I never felt I didn't belong," she said. "But I wondered about my biological family. There were so many unanswered questions."
Gradually, bits of information about Melissa's heritage came to the Hubbards. They were notified by the adoption agency that Melissa's birth mother had died in 1980, when Melissa was about 3, and they had the birth mother's surname: Asselta.
A couple of years ago, Melissa began a serious investigation into her family. She wrote the California Department of Vital Statistics and received her adoption records, but no name was attached Â— only physical descriptions of her birth parents.
Armed with her mother's last name and date of death, she started with Social Security records and learned that her birth mother had died in Vermont. The local newspaper provided her mother's full name: Catherine Asselta and the names of survivors and their cities.
The Internet Â— there are many sites that search for people Â— gave her possible names and addresses of her family, most of them in California, and she began to phone.
"I'd tell people that I was adopted and was looking for information," she said. "They were all very nice and answered my questions."
Finally, she found a possible link through a phone conversation with an elderly woman in California. Melissa was looking for Patricia Escovita.
"She said she didn't know if she had a Patricia in her family, but she'd look in her address book," Melissa said. "She went and got her address book, and said, Â‘Oh, my nephew George has a wife Patricia.'"
Melissa phoned, and Patricia answered.
"I went through my little speech; I gave her my name and said, Â‘Do you have a sister?' As soon as I said Â‘sister,' she said, Â‘Oh my God. Is that you, Melissa?' "
The search had taken two weeks.
The two talked for hours, and Melissa learned where her two brothers and one sister were living. A few weeks later, Melissa was on her way to California to meet most of her family.
"It's been quite an amazing one-and-a-half years," she said.
Since they first met, Melissa's sister, Kathleen, eight years older, has visited La Grande. Kathleen's adoptive parents have a ranch in Hebo, although Kathleen grew up in California.
Melissa and Kathleen had met once when Melissa was an infant. A family member took the older sister to the hospital to meet the baby, thinking they would never again see each other. Kathleen, who had kept photos from that one meeting, made copies for Melissa.
Of the four children, only Melissa's oldest brother was not adopted, but they all have found each other, even her younger brother, who grew up in Vermont.
"He's the only one I haven't met, and I plan to go to see him," she said.
Melissa's search has had a happy ending. Her adoptive parents have met her sister, and the search "hasn't affected my relationship at all with my adopted family."
"My parents are glad I found my family," she said. "I hope they can go to California some time."
Although she has found nothing but joy since she began her search, Melissa has a caveat for those who are searching.
"You're not always going to find a happy ending. I didn't know if I would find a happy ending, but I was willing to take the chance," she said. "You have to decide if you want to accept both the good and the bad."