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Clark searches, finds adoption answers

Countless telephone calls, letters and a few trips to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas led Dawn Clark to learn about her birth family. While stationed in Fort Sill, Okla., Nevin and Frances Clark adopted Dawn in Oklahoma City. She was born in Tulsa. “Because I’m 3/8 Arapaho Native American, I always wanted to find out more about my roots,” she said.


The Clarks later moved to Mississippi. Her adoptive father died in 1986 when Dawn was at Mississippi State University. Her mother died in 1989 when Dawn’s son Matt was seven months old.

Purposely, Dawn waited for her search; her father was sensitive about adoption questions. “My mother was forthcoming when I had questions,” she said. Dawn’s older brother David Clark, who died in January 2011, and younger sister Alma Jo Ford approved her search, too.

“I never had any resentment about being adopted nor did I need any validation,” she said. Having different DNA didn’t matter. “We were family. I was loved and disciplined just like my adoptive siblings.”

In 1994, Dawn started searching email lists and forums when “the Internet was fairly new.” Obtaining her original birth certificate was difficult, because laws favored birth parents and “denied justice to adopted children.”

By spring 2009, Dawn hired a search agency, who promised to find her birthmother. “Unfortunately, after I paid the hefty fee, they came back unsuccessful,” Clark said.

She kept trying.

Clark's biological mother, Ellen, and her friend Ralph.

In fall 2009, an Oklahoma clerk mistakenly sent Dawn the “Termination of Parental Rights” form with her birthmother’s name. She again contacted the agency, which determined her mother had died in Fort Smith, Ark. in 2006.

“They gave me the name of her next closest relative, her brother — my new Uncle Bill,” she said.

Dawn wrote a letter to Bill Self in Duncanville, Texas and explained her search. Two days later, Self sent email. Their online conversation continued for three days. “I decided to send a picture of myself,” Clark said.

“Good grief! You could be (my sister’s) twin, not her daughter. You no doubt are Ellen’s daughter,” Self said.

Clark learned her birthmother, Elizabeth Ellen Self Shirley, was a licensed cosmetologist and nursing home worker. “Ronald Ted Shortteeth is the man I believe to be my birthfather. He died in November 1977,” Dawn said.

In August 2010, Clark and son Matt met Bill and Nancy Self in Fort Smith. They visited Shirley’s school, workplace and gravesite in the national cemetery by her last husband. In October, Clark visited the Selfs in Texas for four days.

Her birthmother gave up another child in the late 1950s. Dawn continues to search for her birthfather. “I want details regarding the family who gave me life, but they aren’t the family who gave me love,” she said.

Clarks encourages other adoptees to search — after clearing it with the family that raised them. “It’s not worth upsetting the family who has loved you all your life … not to me.”

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