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An article from the German Newspaper “Die Rheinpfalz” helped connect a woman adopted by a U.S. Army chaplain and his wife and brought to the United States with her brother.
An article from the German Newspaper “Die Rheinpfalz” helped connect a woman adopted by a U.S. Army chaplain and his wife and brought to the United States with her brother. (Screengrab from dierheinpfalz.de)

LEBANON, Pa. (AP) — About five years ago, Elizabeth Lynch was looking for information about her birth mother, Hedwig Halkenhauser.

Born in 1951 in Frankenthal, Germany, Lynch was adopted by a U.S. Army chaplain and his wife and brought to the United States at the age of three.

"Every once and awhile I'd put in Hedwig Halkenhauser and Frankenthal, Germany, (into Google), and I'd get some information. But not much," Lynch's husband, James Lynch, said.

Don Smith and Elizabeth Lynch finally got to meet each other for the first time in person in Lebanon on Sept 17. The German-born siblings found each other through searching for information about their birth mother.

Then during one of his searches, an article from the German Newspaper "Die Rheinpfalz" popped in the search engine. The article said that Dieter Smith was searching for records on Halkenhauser and members of her family.

"My husband reached out to Dieter, then he got back to him and said 'I think your wife may be my sister,'" Elizabeth Lynch said.

In an introduction almost 70 years in the making, Lynch and Smith finally met each other in person Sept. 17 at Lynch's home in Lebanon.

"When they walked through the door for the first time on (Sept. 17), I was like 'You're here,'" she said. "I'm just so happy. It's great, and I didn't even know he was out there."

Lynch was completely unaware that she had a biological brother when she was adopted from the German orphanage.

"My father was a full bird colonel, and he was stationed over there in Germany," she said. "They wanted a boy and a girl, so they came to this place where the kids were and he got us. I was three and my adopted brother was four."

Adopted in 1956 to a California police officer and his wife, Dieter, also known as Don, Smith's adoption took several years to finally be processed.

"Even though (World War II) was over, I went to school with kids whose fathers fought the war. And Germans were not looked at with kindness," he said. "I had a rough time going through elementary school cause I was different. ... But I'm proud to be a German, and that's another thing that prompted 'I want to find out who I am.'"

Smith has been tracing his roots since 1985, finding family members through records in Germany. Smith was 5 years old when he learned that his parents were not biological, but he had almost no information on his biological family.

"I wanted to know who my biological mother was," he said. "The parents who adopted me were great. ...They were loving and they took care of me, and that's all that counts, but I approached them in 1985 and said I'd like to search for my biological mother."

Reaching out to a cousin living in Germany, Smith gave whatever information he had to find his mother. Within a day, he found she was living in a government rest home for refugees in Buxhiem.

Packing his bags immediately, Smith and his wife, Maggie, rushed over to Germany to see her.

"A tearful and memorable moment meeting her," he said. "In fact, Elizabeth pretty much looks like her...that's how we know we're family."

A few years after their meeting, Halkenhauser passed away after being diagnosed with cancer. But the search for his mother whetted Smith's appetite to learn more about his family, including his other biological siblings.

There would be month long trips to Germany, visiting hall of records and cemeteries to piece together his biological family's history.

"I wanted to find out who her brothers were, and her father, and it just kind of grew to finding information on all of her brothers and sisters," he said.

Smith has traced his family history into the 1700s. But when he start finding information on his sister, a reunion seemed to be complicated.

"When I found information on Elizabeth, she lived in Virginia," he said. "Well when I opened up the website in Ancestry, there was an obit that said she had died in an accident. So that kind of shut the door there."

The obituary was actually for Lynch's first husband, who died in an accident. But after reading that obituary, Smith was completely unaware that his sister was looking for him.

After seeing the "Die Rheinpfalz" article, James Lynch reached out to the editors attempting to make contact with Smith. On Sept. 27, 2020, editors received a request for contact information from Lynch, telling them "It's almost certain that Don is my wife's long lost brother."

"When she first found me, I was like 'I have a sister, now what do I do?'" Smith said. "I had gone 67 years without a sister ... but in the first week, both of us felt comfortable with each other."

‘It’s still not totally real’

Maggie Smith said she was happy her husband found relatives from his birth mother. "I just felt the need for someone he could talk to and connect with, and not just names of older people on a piece of paper," she said.

Elizabeth Lynch said that she bonded with her new brother right away, saying that their reunion was meant to be. Over the past year, the siblings have been calling each other comparing family history and getting to know each other.

"It's still not totally real," she said. "I feel so blessed that everybody pursued this, and I'm just so happy. It's great."

Lynch and Smith have another brother, Hans, who still lives in Germany. Smith said his brother has cancer, and he's not sure how much longer he has.

Working though pieces of a puzzle to meet this extended family he's still learning about has been a joy for Smith to work on. Smith is glad that his efforts have panned out to allow him to meet this extended family.

"You keep trying," he said. "You run into a dead end, let it sit for awhile. Come back weeks later or next month and see if there's more information."

Hoping to take her family to Germany with the Smiths, Lynch is hoping to learn more about her family history and hopefully meet with Hans.

"I can't get over it, I just can't get over it," she said. "I think about it all the time and I'm happy when we talk. It's like the highlight of my week. It feels like a dream."

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