NEWPORT CITY — Terry Difazio has a new family, a new future and a new name.
Not so long ago, Difazio felt cut off. His immediate family had narrowed to his wife, Barbara, and his son, Jonathan Ruppert, now 37, who was the only biological relative he knew.
His adoptive parents, Louis and Elizabeth Ruppert, were gone, and their families were scattered and not in touch.
His home with Barbara in Newport was a long way from where he was born in Brooklyn or where he lived for most of his life in Springfield.
And he had no idea if his family has a history of serious ailments.
So he launched a quest to find his family.
Fourteen years later, with the help of online ancestry sleuths, DNA tests, a kind Roman Catholic sister in Brooklyn and some luck, a determined Difazio finally found them.
On Dec. 2, Difazio, 66, met his birth mother Margaret Thomas, 84, at her nursing home in Winter Garden near Orlando, Fla.
“It was a funny feeling because it was almost like Mom and I had never separated. We bonded immediately,” Difazio said.
“Like we were never apart. You could just tell. Not a feeling I can describe.”
Terry Difazio was born on May 22, 1951 in Brooklyn at the Angel Guardian Home, a Catholic charity, to an unwed mother who gave him up for adoption, according to his birth records.
Louis and Elizabeth Ruppert adopted him six months later. They renamed him Terence Louis Ruppert.
When he was nine, his father revealed he was adopted. But he loved his parents and it didn’t matter.
“I’m telling myself: ‘Who cares now?’”
When Difazio was 41, his adoptive mother gave him his adoption records, saying he had a right to know. The records revealed his birth name: Terence Edward Difazio, and little else.
In 1998, after his adoptive father died, Difazio changed his name to simply Terry Difazio. He always disliked the sound of Terence Louis Ruppert, and didn’t much like the sound of Terence Edward Difazio either.
“We decided that Difazio is a really nice name,” unique in northern Vermont. And his wife Barbara, from the Farrar family in Newport, agreed.
And he thought Difazio was his birth mother’s name, his link to the past.
By 2002, Difazio decided to find his health ancestry. He wrote to Angel Guardian Home in Brooklyn, but got little information.
He paid Locator’s Plus, recommended by the Better Business Bureau, $400 to help find his biological parents. But the owner took the money and ran. “They caught her and threw her in jail. That didn’t do me any good.”
He called Angel Guardian Home again, but got nothing new.
He heard about a sale at Ancestry DNA and spent $100, getting hits of fourth, fifth and sixth cousins, but nothing close.
Another call to the orphanage, now called Mercy First Hospital, led him to a Catholic sister who took pity on him. She agreed to steer him in the right direction if she could.
He told the sister that he thought his mother’s name was Difazio, because that was his birth name.
The sister said “Nope, guess again.”
“’Ah ha!’ I said.”
Meanwhile, his wife found the Difazio connection on Facebook in 2015, when they stumbled upon the second wife of his birth father, Robert Edward Difazio, and another relative.
They exchanged emails. He learned his biological father had died in 2002 from exposure to gasoline and other chemicals in the U.S. Navy.
“All of a sudden they cut all ties with me,” Difazio said. “I was quite angry.”
Difazio later learned that the Difazio family didn’t want any ties with his mother. But he didn’t know that then. He was so close.
He found Search Angel Priscilla Sharp, a genealogist and adoption advocate. And he went back one more time to the good sister who said “OK I will tell you one last thing” and provided his mother’s birthday of June 19, 1933.
Around the same time, Ancestry DNA turned up a first or second cousin named Lillian Bernhardt.
He couldn’t figure out the connection. “I was devastated.”
But his search angel knew good information when she saw it. Not long afterward, Sharp called Difazio. She had his mother’s name, Margaret Thomas, born a Bernhardt.
“I have good news for you. Your mom is still alive.”
He called the phone number she gave him, but his mom was no longer at that nursing home.
Sharp told Difazio about his brother, Peter Thomas, 51, the chief of police in Orange County, Fla.
Difazio called three times, and Peter finally took his call on Oct. 24, 2017.
“I said to him ‘I believe we have the same mother. … I just want you to know right now this is not a scam. I am not after anything, I just want to meet my family.’”
“He was somewhat dumbfounded by this,” Difazio said. “He didn’t know what to say.”
Peter called his mom and sister Jill Maroney, 48.
“So the next day I get a call from my sister, who was absolutely beside herself with emotion. We talked for 45 minutes and cried through most of it,” Difazio said.
He told her “I just want to meet my family, I want to meet my mom.”
“My mom broke into tears when she found out that her first-born child was alive and wanted to see her. … She said my mom has been celebrating my birthday all these years,” Difazio said.
His mom had told her daughter six years ago that she had put her first born up for adoption. She never told Peter, Difazio said.
Margaret Bernhardt was 17 when she had Difazio. His father didn’t want to marry her and went into the Navy to get away. His family was opposed to the marriage, Difazio said.
Four years later, she married John Thomas, who died just last year. They tried for 14 years to have children, but were told she could not, so they adopted John, now 53, and Peter. And then she gave birth to Jill.
Terry Difazio had the truth. He couldn’t wait until his usual trip with Barbara to Florida to see his mother; she had fallen repeatedly and was in frail health.
“March may be too late,” he said.
Difazio met Jill and her husband in Florida on Dec. 1 and then met his mother face to face Dec. 2 at her nursing home. They talked for a couple of hours. “She’s still pretty sharp.”
His mom said she was heartbroken that she gave Difazio up for adoption, but had no choice. She filled Difazio in about her big family and the Difazio family, and explaining why the Difazios don’t want to connect with him.
“I don’t hold any resentments toward them. It was a different era, a different time,” Difazio said.
Because he has a family now. He lost his adoptive mother in 2010. Margaret Thomas is Mom. She’s the only mother he has left.
And he’s close to his half-sister.
“I couldn’t love a little sister more than I love Jill,” Difazio said.
He talks with his aunt Lillian Bernhardt, his mom’s half-sister, who has a Cyndi Lauper accent.
Difazio stays in touch with his mom through letters, DVDs and through Jill. He can’t telephone because his mom is hard of hearing.
He expects to see her and Jill again when he goes back to Florida in March.
As for his health ancestry, no worries.
“I found the only things I share in common with Jill is that we both have a history of kidney stones” and through his aunt nose bleeds. There’s no history of cancer or heart ailments.
“I got a lot of information and I feel happy about that,” Difazio said.
“I was asked if I felt fulfilled, complete.
“I said ‘I don’t think you ever really feel that way.’ Life is a journey, an adventure, and if you have nothing left to live for you stop living.”
“But I feel far more fulfilled than I ever did.”
“They all have been wonderful to me.”
If anyone would like information on the process Terry Difazio went through to find their own birth parents, just send him an email at email@example.com.