Finding Sylvia Sternhill

Fifteen years ago when I first started having symptoms of this muscle disease I wanted to find my father’s birth parents. I wanted to know if it could be genetic because where I was then, and still am, don’t know where this originated. I knew my father’s birth mother’s name. I made one phone call to the only name listed out in California where my father was born. A woman answered the phone. I told her I was looking for Sylvia Sternhill. She was unavailable. I told her I was looking for my father’s birth mother. The woman who answered told me I had the wrong number because THIS Sylvia Sternhill had no children.

After the muscle biopsy and the diagnosis of a myopathy I asked my father for more documents to find his biological family. He gave me everything he had. I had a list of Sternhills to call and started right away. Dead end after dead end because Sylvia Sternhill never had any children. I then realized that no one KNEW she had my father. In my documents of her birthday, the birth certificate, and her social security information though, I knew she was 30 or so when she had my father. How on earth did she keep that a secret? Why did she keep it a secret? I was told at the last call that Sylvia Sternhill had passed away. Was I telling her secret that she took to the grave? I was. The last person I called asked me to fax everything I had. He immediately called me back and I will never forget his voice. Somehow he intuitively knew I was his cousin. He compared her signature and all the information with what he had. I was His long lost cousin. Randy. Randy and I became fast friends and family. I loved him like a father I never had. I loved his wife. He told me that no one knew that Sylvia had had a child or put dad up for adoption. After talking for hours we learned how many similarities I had with Sylvia. Our personalities. And then my Randy sent me a picture of himself. I looked JUST like him and he looked JUST like my father. He and I, for 10 years had a very close bond. We talked every week. He has since passed away and we never did find out the details of why Sylvia kept her secret. I wish I could have met her. She was infact still alive when I made my first phone call 15 years ago. I wish I could have heard her voice. The person who I spoke to that day must have told her I called. Did I upset her? I hope not. She gave me a great gift of LIFE. She also gave me a group of cousins that I cherish.

I did learn from Randy, that his mother had the same symptoms as I do. Sylvia’s sister had the same symptoms as I do. She had since passed away. They never diagnosed her. I validated for Randy though that every symptom was real because he said I was JUST like her. He wished I could have met her so that someone would have KNOWN what it felt like to be weak and in pain.

Randy’s wife sent me a few of Sylvia’s things.

One was a charm bracelet that she wore. On the charm bracelet was a man holding weights (reminds me of my husband), a deer ( we all know my affection for deer), a couple under an umbrella, a wheelchair (why the wheelchair?), looking at her bracelet it was as if she foreshadowed my own life. She also had a broach that is beautiful. I took a picture of it even though I am in the middle of cleaning it with baking soda so it is not perfect but I am still sharing it.

I discovered that my ancestors are Russian/Romanian Ashkenazi Jewish. I love that I look like my cousins. I love that I found my father’s birth family. I hate that finding Sylvia Sternhill was just a few years too late. Maybe it was better for her that way. She has a place in my heart for saving my father, and placing him with two loving parents. My grandparents were wonderful. They knew unconditional love like I have never seen.

We never found out who my father’s biological father was. I don’t think we ever will. That secret she took with her. She loved her sibling’s children like her own though I was told.

Finding Sylvia did not bring me the health answers I was looking for. It gave me a family that I didn’t know I was missing.

9 thoughts on “Finding Sylvia Sternhill

  1. I’m glad you found out your disease is inherited. At least you know the origin. The bracelet is amazing as it has many charms on it that have meaning in your life! And a wheelchair too! I’m sorry you never got to meet her.

    One of my sisters is adopted. My cousin gave birth to her when she was 14. My aunt had kicked her out and my mother took her in. After she had the baby (Rose), she went back to Canada, met a man and married. But they didn’t want Rose after 2 years, so my mother took her for good. I remember all the secrecy back in those days. Mom never told Rose who her mother was and didn’t want my cousin to tell her, but when Rose was 12 and visiting Canada, she did tell her.

    It is nice now that people tell their children, and it is very important because of genetic diseases.


  2. I am experiencing a similar scenario. My Granny was born Ashkenazi Jew but was cut off from her family after marrying a Non Jew. She died before I was born. I’m a adult now suffering from Ashkenazi genetic disorders and I don’t even know any of my granny’s family. It’s like a curse. I have high IQ issues that I don’t understand and can’t ask anyone.


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