Imagine not knowing your own ethnicity, or family medical history, or even your own birth date.
Or not knowing if you have your father's laugh or grandmother's smile.
Imagine your mother's maiden name isn't just another form of identification, but instead a lifelong, unsolved mystery. And each time you shook the family tree - no matter how hard - nothing toppled out.
This is what Rosalie Ann Panyard has been going through for six decades.
The Fort Wayne woman was left on a Hammond doorstep on July 26, 1938. By whom? And why? Only one mother knows for sure.
Daniel Brown, the city's park superintendent at the time, and his wife had gone to bed on a mild summer night. Just after midnight they heard cries from a baby outside their window.
Alone on the front porch, a 1-day-old baby - dressed in a cap and gown and wrapped tightly in a blanket - lay weeping. There wasn't a peep of a soul around. And no note either.
The Browns immediately called police, who took the baby to nearby St. Margaret's Hospital. Nurses there named the mystery infant "Ann." The name stuck.
"Little orphan Annie, that's what I called myself for years," Panyard said.
A Hammond Times front page story from July 27, 1938, shows a photo of baby Ann cradled in the arms of Mary Weigle, a nurse. The headline reads: "SHE WANTS HER MAMMA!"
No clues, little hope
Sixty-five years, five children, nine grandkids and two great-grandkids later, Panyard still wants her mamma. Time is running out and her hope is wearing thin.
"I'm afraid anymore to be hopeful," said Panyard, who's been divorced for 35 years and lives alone.
Through the years she has returned to the region - her birthplace - poking around for clues or an inkling of what happened way back when. Her last visit, in 1999, she pursued several avenues for answers - county libraries, police stations, local hospitals, a courthouse or two - but they all led to dead ends.
This much she knows: After staying at St. Margaret's for an undetermined time, she was transferred to St. Anthony's Hospital in Michigan City. A few months later, she was adopted through Catholic Charities by Mr. and Mrs. Antoine Roethele, of Fort Wayne.
Back then, most Catholic Charities adoptions in Northwest Indiana ran through the Fort Wayne Diocese, a spokesman said.
Panyard, the married name she goes by, lived in Fort Wayne most of her life. She's always been curious about her region roots, her family, and of course her mother.
"I'd like to know if I look like her or talk like her. But mostly I'd like to know why she left me there," she said.
Panyard's third oldest daughter is mentally retarded and, after much regret, was moved into a group home in Fort Wayne. Panyard is pained to think she abandoned her, but she needed constant care.
"I know that if I left my own daughter on a doorstep, I'd miss her all my life," she said.
Once, as a young girl, a church lady walked up to Panyard on the sidewalk and said, "I know who your mother is."
Little orphan Ann flippantly replied, "No you don't. Nobody does. I'm adopted." So the lady strolled away. Panyard has come to regret that incident a half century later.
Second generation searches
Her adopted parents also didn't offer much help through the years, she said.
They chose July 10, their anniversary, for Panyard's birthday, possibly to throw off her search, she said.
In the same 1938 Hammond Times paper, there is another story about a Chicago woman named "Rosalie" Krause who was killed in a car crash in Lansing. She died on July 10. Coincidence?
"I just don't know," Panyard said.
Panyard's children have tried to comfort their mother by saying things like, "Your momma had to love you to put you on a doorstep for a better life." Kind words have never healed the void.
This past month, Panyard's daughter, Kellie Christman, picked up her mother's flickering torch. She's mailed letters, searched the Internet and placed phone calls here.
Oddly enough, the current resident at Daniel Brown's Hammond home has a last name of Riddle. The woman who's lived there since 1953 has no information to solve Panyard's mystery, she said.
Like her mother, Christman also wants closure and a happy ending on an otherwise rough life. She also would like to know her grandmother and the other half of her family.
"I'm figuring she's dead, but maybe - hopefully - I'm wrong," said Christman, who also lives in Fort Wayne. "If she's alive, she has to want to see her daughter, right?"
"Either way," she added, "somebody somewhere knows something. We just want them to come forward, even anonymously."
Christman has recruited the help of Lori Carangelo, founder of Americans for Open Records and AbolishAdoption.com, a family advocacy group.
"My Italian ancestors have a saying: 'Blood seeks blood'," said Carangelo, who authored "The Ultimate Search Book" and has had a hand in 14,000 family searches.
Though Panyard faces the same legal obstacles as all American adoptees searching for their birth parents, there is hope, Carangelo said.
"Mothers never forget the babies they have to give up, and times have changed," she said.
When asked what she'd like to tell her birth mother or her unknown blood relatives if they're reading this, Panyard paused for five, then 10 seconds. Then she whispered: "Please help me find you."
Jerry Davich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 933-3376.