Real Names: George, Lena, and Emma Simon, other names unknown
Case: Lost Family
Location: Alliance, Ohio
Date: September 5, 1921
Details: In 1929, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, an eight-year-old farm boy named Frank grew up in Dillonvale, Ohio. For him, the hard times, common to all Americans, were especially cruel. On the farm, he had chickens to feed, grass to cut, and chores to do. Although he did not mind the work, he did not like the fact that he usually did not get fed afterwards. For as far back as he could remember, his hardships went beyond thankless chores. He was beaten. He went so hungry that the smell of food made him sick. He was not allowed in the farmhouse. Instead, he would sleep in the barn or with the family dog. Growing up, he was a bitter, angry, and upset young man.
By age nine, Frank's life had completely disintegrated. His parents informed him that he was not their real son. They ordered him off the farm and out of their lives. He was told that his real parents did not want him either. They had turned him over to the state welfare department just days after he was born. After being abandoned a second time, he was left to fend for himself. He had no family and no idea who he really was.
The search for a missing family and one's true identity can be a difficult ordeal. Many times, years of research end with disappointment in the dust-covered files of some county record department. For those who do succeed, the solution can sometimes be more painful than the quest; for example, when a child discovers he was abandoned by parents who simply did not care. This was a fear that haunted nine-year-old Frank, whose search for the truth would last more than half a century.
After being put out of his home, Frank was shuffled from state institutions to foster families and back again. He became a ward of the state of Ohio. He often ate at soup kitchens and stole food off the front of stores just to have something to eat. He did not know anything about his birth parents. He was told all types of stories, including that his family deserted him. He felt completely lost. As a teenager, his troubles continued. The belief that his birth parents had willfully abandoned him left him dispirited and aimless.
At sixteen, however, Frank's life took an unexpected turn. A concerned social worker confirmed that Frank was not his real name. He had been born "Victor Emanuel Shiman". The counselor also made a promise: if he applied himself and stayed in school, his birth parents would be in the audience when he received his diploma. He did just that and finished school. On graduation day, he asked that he officially be graduated "Victor Shiman". It was the first time he used his real name. He thought that if his parents were in the audience, they would hear his name and respond. However, no one showed up. It turned out to be one of the sorriest days of his life.
Victor wrote to the Ohio Welfare Department's Bureau of Charities. They told him that nothing could be found and that his family had disappeared without a trace. At that point, he gave up his search. He had no choice but to move ahead with his life. In the 1950s, he married Eleanor Kell and started a family of his own, having five children. For thirty-four years, he all but abandoned the hope of finding his birth family. Then, in 1984, he learned of an organization in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, called "Reunite", a support group for people searching for lost loved ones. An old friend from school had told him about the group and he decided to meet with them.
Victor told the group the story of his childhood. That evening, he met amateur genealogist, Rose Murphy. She was upset to learn that he had spent his entire life not knowing his family and his history. She was determined to find his family and solve the puzzle which had eluded him his entire life. She began sifting through a labyrinth of state adoption records, county welfare files, and old newspapers. Incredibly, less than a week later, she discovered the obituary of a thirty-seven-year-old Hungarian immigrant named Lenna Schmon. She had died in 1921, just hours after giving birth to her eleventh child. The baby's name was Victor.
Rose contacted a Hungarian language professor. He guessed that the family name was actually Simon, a common Hungarian family name. However, when pronounced by a Hungarian spoken person, and heard by an English ear, it would be spelled as "Shiman" or "Schmon". Within twenty minutes, she located Victor's original birth certificate that had sat there for sixty-four years. It had not been found before because they were searching for the Shiman family instead of the Simon family.
Information found in the obituary and birth certificate enabled Rose to reconstruct the events surrounding Victor's birth. His forty-two-year-old birth father, Dan Simon, had worked for the railroad in Alliance, Ohio, just 100 miles from where Victor had grown up. Just before his birth, a tragic series of events was set into motion that would separate him from his family. While Dan was working on September 5, 1921, the bones in his ankle were shattered in an railroad accident. He was rushed to the hospital. That afternoon, Dan's wife, Lenna, went into labor. She died shortly after giving birth to Victor.
According to Lenna's obituary, Dan was taken from the hospital to the funeral. With his broken ankle, he was unable to take care of Victor. Welfare then placed him in foster care. Records indicated that Dan agreed to him being placed in foster care only with great regret. Rose believes that Dan later returned to welfare after he recuperated and tried to get Victor back. However, he may have been told that they did not have anyone by that name, since his name was accidentally changed to "Shiman" in their records.
Victor has taken some comfort in knowing that he was not truly an unwanted child, but rather a victim of an unlikely conspiracy of events. However, several pieces to the puzzle of his life are still missing. He hopes someday to meet a member of his birth family, just to know that he belongs. He wants to know what happened to them. He also wants his children to know their family.
Through Rose's research, Victor learned the names of three of his siblings. His brother, George, was born around 1916. His sister, Lenna, was born around 1920. Another sister, Emma, was born around 1915. However, he has been unable to locate them or any other birth family members.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 23, 1991 episode.
Results: Solved. According to Victor's grandson, Victor was able to locate a distant cousin in Arizona and speak with them over the phone. He also learned that he had several other relatives in Romania. With help from Rose, Unsolved Mysteries, and other organizations, they were able to confirm with 95% certainty that these relatives were members of his birth family.
Unfortunately, Victor died in Columbus, Ohio, on May 16, 1995, at the age of seventy-three, without ever meeting his birth family in person. However, according to his grandson, he died happy as he was able to locate "the people that he belonged to". His grandson hopes to one day travel to Romania and meet the descendants of the found relatives.
Records indicated that Dan died in 1940, George died in 1967, and Emma died in 1987.
- Victor Simon Actor Article - January 10, 1991
- "Lost For Life" - January 13, 1991
- Victor Simon Death Record
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Victor's case (includes comments from his grandson)
- Lenna Schmon and Victor Simon on Find a Grave