She boarded the plane headed for Greece, anxious to meet her mother for the first time. For the last half century, she had believed, with good reason, that her mother died during childbirth. But after investigating her heritage, she uncovered a widespread scandal that made her question everything she knew about her origin.
Linda Carol Trotter (‘81) is one of the 3,000 Greek children adopted in the 1950s and 1960s under dubious circumstances, some of which turned out to be illegal, sealed with forgeries, and rooted in greed.
Despite the beginnings mired in deceit, Linda Carol was raised in a happy home by American parents.
“I had the most wonderful parents in the entire universe,” Linda Carol said. “No one was luckier than me when it came to getting adopted parents. They were fabulous. My dad was the one who told me I should go to Baylor.”
She attended Baylor, and her parents would often bring their motorhome down from Houston to tailgate at Floyd Casey Stadium. After graduating, Linda Carol was married and had two children of her own, Heather (’17) and Justin.
It wasn’t until her parents passed away that she renewed her interest in learning about her beginnings.
“Once Mom and Dad went, that's when I started to feel alone, because the only blood relatives that I had in the entire universe were my two kids. I just kind of wanted to know if somebody looked like me. Where do I get my talents from? Where do I get my singing talent from? Where did I get all this musical stuff that I've done my whole life? I just wanted to know.”
This question kickstarted a journey that would change her life.
As she researched, she began to uncover stories about other adopted children from the same time period, and the pieces did not add up.
In the years following World War II, many Greeks struggled to make enough money to survive. The nation had also endured a three-year civil war, leaving the economy in shambles. Some families resorted to taking their newborn children to shelters until they could find stable enough footing to take care of them, fully intending to come back and claim them.
“You can imagine when they would go back to get their baby, and they're handed a death certificate that says your baby died. In reality, that baby was sent to America,” Linda Carol said. “There's even cases where in some of these orphanages, the orphanage director would write down that a baby had died. Then he would take the baby out of that bed, put it in a new bed and write a new admission under a different name, for the same child.”
A pipeline was created between Greek orphanages, government officials, notaries, and American organizations that gave everyone a healthy cut of the profits.
In Linda Carol’s case, over 70 children were adopted through a partnership between the same two lawyers in Greece and a Greek Orthodox priest in San Antonio. Linda Carol’s adoptive parents, like thousands of others, had no idea. When the adoption was finalized, they received papers that stated Linda Carol was a foundling of unknown parents, that her mother had died in childbirth, that she was premature, and weighed four and half pounds.
None of that was true.
After the adoption was arranged and financed, Linda Carol was put on an airplane with two other Greek babies. Flight attendants watched over them as they crossed the Atlantic. Her adoptive father recorded her arrival to the airport on 8mm film.
“I still cry watching my film of me arriving, because my parents are so excited,” she said. “You can tell how excited they are to get me and how happy they are. In that film there's a lot of Greek kids in there, because other people at San Antonio already adopted these kids. And they came to support my parents and brought their kids with them.”
Her parents acquired a Texas birth certificate that listed her birthplace as Athens.
“They really didn't know where I was born. I wasn't born in Athens.”
After the death of her parents, Linda Carol found all of the documents her parents had been given during the adoption process. She turned to a tool that her parents did not have in the 50s: the internet. She quickly came across an online community of people like her, and most of them had unsuccessfully tried to track down their parents in Greece. Some people she met online had been searching for thirty years with no luck.
An investigative article in The New York Timesin 1996 confirmed mass corruption of Greek adoptions during the years when she was adopted, but resources were scarce, and she did not know where to begin.
“It's difficult to navigate over there,” Linda Carol said. “There’s bureaucracy. And you don't speak the language and you're not in Greece. So you send a letter in English and they ignore it. Most people have no idea where to send any of this stuff. So, it's very difficult to get information.”
Online, one expert’s name continued to come up: Professor Gonda Van Steen. She is the head of the Centre for Hellenic Studies at Kings College in London, and has been following this history for years. She became a key resource in Linda Carol’s journey. Linda Carol reached out to her, and was surprised to hear back. Based on her own research and the information Linda Carol had in her parents’ documents, Dr. Van Steen was able to direct her on how to submit the appropriate forms in Greek.
“She just happened to be doing research on these adoptions at the time when I started to look,” Linda Carol said. “And the way I met her was an absolute miracle. I give all the credit to God, because there is no way I would have found my family in two months time without a divine hand being on my shoulder the whole time. There is just no way.”
They spoke for two hours and developed a plan to submit paperwork through the right channels. Dr. Van Steen warned her not to have high hopes. Many others had been down this road only to reach a dead end, or to bounce between government agencies for years.
Six weeks later, and against all odds, Linda Carol received a package of nine documents from the orphanage. For the first time, Linda Carol had the adoption decree, the possible name of her mother, and her family’s village. Still, the documents conflicted with one another, and the signatures were obvious forgeries.
Linda Carol sent the documents to Dr. Van Steen to translate them into English. She helped research the names on the documents, and asked people from the listed village if they had any information.
One day, Linda Carol received an email from Dr. Van Steen that read, “Fasten your seat belt. I just spoke to your cousin, and he assures me that your mother, Harikleia, is alive and well at the age of 79.”
“I just broke down and cried,” Linda Carol said.
When Harikleia was told that her daughter was alive and looking for her, she almost fainted. Family members had to rush to hold her up. Her only child, named Eftychia, was still alive.
After giving birth half a century ago out of wedlock, the baby girl was taken by a godmother to an orphanage in Athens.
“She had no idea where I was,” Linda Carol said. “My godmother never told anybody what she did with me. None of my family knew, and up until I found them they really thought I was probably still in Greece somewhere. It never occurred to them I was in America.”
Her mother’s signature was forged on an array of documents, consenting to the adoption of her child.
After hearing the news that they were each still alive, Harikleia and Linda Carol made plans to meet. On the day they met, the entire family gathered to greet the long-lost Eftychia in the village of Stranoma. They wept and embraced one another. Despite the language barrier, Linda Carol and her mother have been able to grow closer over the last two years.
“She was overjoyed,” Linda Carol said, of meeting her mother. “She adores my kids, she adores my husband. She just thinks everything is hunky-dory now. She's got a whole family. And the best part of this whole thing is I have twelve first cousins, a really big family. I have a big fat Greek family.”
Linda Carol has an apartment in Greece, and she has been back over a dozen times. During one of those trips, she and her husband renewed their wedding vows for their 25th wedding anniversary on the village square. Her mother and 50 of their relatives joined them to celebrate.
Since reconnecting with her mother, Linda Carol’s story has gone viral in Greece. A piece in the Tennessean spread around the nation, and reawakened the hope of so many who have been searching for their parents. Linda Carol has since been featured in television programs and articles. Other adoptees began reaching out to her through Facebook.
She was determined to help others who were searching.
“I had it in my heart, right after I found my family, that somehow I want to help other people find their families.”
She founded The Eftychia Project. Since her name means ‘Happiness’ in Greek, the organization is fittingly translated to ‘The Happiness Project’.
Dr. Van Steen is on the board of directors, along with other Greek orphans and archivists. Their mission is to reconnect adoptees with birth parents, at no charge. They have already had success in reconnecting families.
“We probably have about eight or nine active cases right now that we're working on,” Linda Carol said.
“We tell everybody we're not professionals. We don't do this for a living. We don't make any money out of this. It's just a labor of love for us. And we're going to give it our best shot to everybody. I had this idea, but I really hadn't planned to start it. And it just goes to show you that God has other ideas. And his timing is perfect. He calls you when you're even not prepared to do it. This is what he meant to happen. There's a reason it happened two years after I found my family and not when I first found them. Because I would never have had the connections and the knowledge that I have now to be able to help anybody else.”