From Baroness to Princess … and the God Winks Along the Way

From Baroness to Princess … and the God Winks Along the Way

John FarrellBy John FarrellSeptember 22, 202215 Minutes

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well (Psalm 139:14).

Psalm 139 holds a special place in Ann Kief’s heart.

As a naturalized American citizen born to German parents and adopted by Richard and Lois Hagan – an American couple – when she was born in 1948, Ann has often leaned on Psalm 139:14 to provide her strength during her quest to find her birth parents. Although she had a fear of rejection that partially stemmed from being adopted, the peace that the verse provided helped her realize that God knew her before she was even born and that He wanted her to be born and He knew the mother He wanted to raise her.

Ann has a phrase she likes to use to describe her birth mother and adoptive mother: “One mother gave me life and the other mother taught me how to live.”

The problem, however, is that Ann didn’t know her birth mother. She had a great relationship with her adoptive family, and her adoptive mother, father, and older brother were loving, kind, and supportive – everything you could ever ask for in a family. Growing up she was very social, getting involved in sports, art, Girl Scouts, and various other after-school activities and clubs. In 1970, she was even named the Cherry Blossom Princess for Georgia.

Although she loved her adoptive family, that didn’t stop her from wanting to learn about who her birth parents were. When Ann was around 30 years old, her adoptive parents told her that if she wanted to know more about her birth parents, they would tell her. However, out of respect for her adoptive parents, she never pursued trying to find her birth family while they were alive.

It wasn’t until nine years after both of her adoptive parents passed away that Ann finally decided to look into her past. In 2005, she began her journey by searching for her adoption papers. Several years earlier, her adoptive parents had told her they were in a briefcase under the stairwell, but when she and her brother moved them to a nursing home they found the briefcase, but there were no papers.

Ann’s search led her and her brother to a storage unit in Illinois: “We went there and it was very hot. We couldn’t run a fan because there was so much dust. We went through all the files, everything looking for those adoption papers and we couldn’t find them.”

As they were leaving, her brother, Richard, looked up in the corner of the unit where he saw a box that looked undisturbed. He asked Ann if she had gone through it. Since she couldn’t remember, she decided to look inside. To the casual eye it looked like a box of bank statements, but when she looked deeper, she found a thin folder that seemed out of place. She opened the folder and there were her adoption papers.

Front Cover of the BookThe records she found that day set her on a thirteen-year fact-finding mission complete with several God winks along the way. She turned her journey into the 2019 book, Blessed by Adoption: A Journey of Discovery Blending Families and Countries, published by Xulon Press.

Ann has an expression for how God seems to always have a hand in everything we do: “The more you see God, the more you see God.” And her exploration for answers was replete with God sightings and side blessings.

“I felt there were times when God would say, ‘You like this? Let me show you this over here.’ And the next thing was even more remote, but it was more evidence that it could have only happened by God.”

Ann’s brother, who knew German, translated the adoption papers for her. When she returned home to Florida, she visited her friend, Stefan, who was originally from Germany. When Stefan looked at the papers, he was pleased to see that they had a record number on them; therefore, he contacted the records department in Munich, Germany – where Ann was born. A few months later, they notified him that they had located Ann’s birth mother’s address.

Believing that her birth mother, Marion Eva Freiin von Stenglin, was still alive, Ann wrote to her describing herself, her children, and her hope to meet her. Stefan decided to call the only family with that surname in Munich. The man on the other end of the line wasn’t related to Ann and didn’t know the genealogy, but he knew someone that did.

A couple days later, Ann received an email from a previously unknown birth cousin, Lennart von Stenglin, with a photo of her mother. The similarities were obvious.

“I was shocked to see that I resembled her so much. It was almost a surreal feeling, because I didn’t know anybody in the world that I looked like except my children,” Ann stated.

From Lennart, Ann learned that her birth mother had passed away in 1985 from a heart attack. Lennart was also able to connect Ann with three other cousins and an aunt by marriage. In 2006, Ann and her family traveled to Germany to meet them. The reception they received was overwhelming.

“My aunt gave me a chalk drawing that had been on her living room wall for years of my birth mother when she was about eight or nine,” Ann recounted. “She had it framed and gave it to me.” Ann’s aunt also had an official von Stenglin signet ring made for her.

Since their initial trip, they’ve visited Germany several other times. Each trip unlocked more and more questions Ann had about her mom, but no one knew anything about her birth father.

“We looked through photo albums and there were a lot of pictures of older men with my mother, but we had no way of knowing,” Ann said in a phone interview. “We were at a dead end. We couldn’t find anything.”

For several years, Ann worked tirelessly trying to piece things together, often flying back to Germany. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find the answers she so desperately wanted.

Then in 2011, an 84-year-old woman named Sigrid Crane was flying back to her home near Washington, D.C. She was a lifelong friend of Marion, Ann’s birth mother, and she saw a young girl on the plane that made her think that if Marion had a granddaughter, that girl might look like her.

“This was probably the biggest miracle in the story – totally a God wink,” Ann conveyed. “Sigrid went home, didn’t even take her coat off, and Googled my birth mother’s name knowing that she had died 26 years prior. Because I had connected with my birth mother’s side of the family, I had information about me on adoption.com. She found my name and called me.

“She said, ‘I’m a lifelong friend of your birth mother in Germany.’ She was excited because it felt like she’d found a daughter. We’re still in touch today.”

Although Sigrid was able to help Ann further connect some of the dots on her birth mother’s side, she didn’t know anything about her father. However, Sigrid suggested Ann get her German birth certificate because it would be a double embarrassment to not be married and also not know the father.

Susan Waag, one of Ann’s cousins, helped her locate her birth certificate. Written in the margin, about a week after her adoption was finalized, was her father’s name, Baron Henning von Royk-Lewinski, attesting to being her father.

Soon thereafter, she discovered that her birth father was a Baron and her birth mother was a Baroness, making her a Baroness, too. She also learned that they were unmarried and there was a sizable age difference: her birth mother was 18, while her birth father was 45.

Having finally uncovered her birth father’s name, Ann consulted the Internet to discover more about him. She learned that he had passed away years earlier. She also found out that he had started the Wooden Church Crusade to build churches all over Western Germany after World War II.

Although she now knew who her birth father was, she still didn’t know any living relatives on her birth father’s side. Then in 2018 – as Ann was finishing up her book – she was referred by someone to GEDmatch — a free DNA site — which she had never heard about before. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she uploaded her information onto the site. The results showed she had a generation 3.5 match, and that felt very specific compared to any matches she encountered on other sites.

Ann decided she would email the match to see if he knew anything; however, she didn’t send it until six months later. In the email, she provided her birth parents’ names. After several back-and-forth emails between them, Ann found out that not only were they related, but that he was good friends with the son of one of her first cousins.

All of a sudden, Ann had four living first cousins on her father’s side, which she didn’t even know existed.

“This was another God wink – two months later they were having a family reunion in Germany,” Ann said. “So, my husband and I went over and met between 60 and 70 relatives on my birth father’s side all at once. It was pretty overwhelming, but I got to meet these four cousins.”

The oldest cousin was 89 years old and knew Ann’s birth father the best. He was able to fill in many of the gaps for her. He gave her a poster of her father with Pope Pius XII when he traveled to Rome to get the Pope’s blessings for the Wooden Church Crusade. In addition, she received a huge family tree wallhanging and she heard a tape recording of her birth father’s voice.

“Hearing my father’s voice was pretty breathtaking. It was quite an experience since he was living in Hawaii and phone calls were extremely expensive so he made cassette tapes and sent them back as his letters.”

Over the years as Ann’s search for information regarding her birth parents stretched out, the God winks and side blessings became more and more prevalent.

“It’s not a coincidence that Sigrid saw somebody that she thought might be my birth mother’s granddaughter. That was a God wink,” Ann stated.

Ann’s book is a page-turner as one exciting occurrence after another amazingly unfolds. She even met a lady named Dorothy who knew both sets of parents, arranged Ann’s adoption, was living with her birth mother and grandfather, took her mother to the hospital, signed her birth certificate, and was there when Ann was given to her adoptive parents. Readers can learn how Ann even randomly met Dorothy’s godson at a chamber of commerce meeting in Florida, although Dorothy was from Germany and living in Denver. “That’s not a coincidence; that’s God.”

It’s anecdotes (and there are so many more) like these that are sprinkled throughout Ann’s book, Blessed by Adoption: A Journey of Discovery Blending Families and Countries, that prove just how much God really has a hand in our lives.

Purchase your copy of Ann Kief’s book at blessedbyadoption.com