Brenda Anderson is grateful.
Sitting at her kitchen table flipping through a book of records that helped her discover her past, Anderson says she is grateful to finally know where she came from and who her family members are, and also that her adopted parents chose to love her.
Anderson, 59, was adopted when she was 3 months old. Born in Louisville, she became property of the state when her biological father, Harold Stewart, killed her biological mother, Beulah Rogers, in 1954 and went to prison.
Shortly after, Anderson was adopted by a Casey County couple, Jesse and Minnie Carmicle. She moved to Campbellsville in 1985 for a job. A year later, she married Kenny Anderson.
Anderson has three children, Aaron Anderson, Chris Kelley and Josh Kelley. She has six grandchildren and is expecting another soon.
She said she has learned her family's history is complicated, and it's taken her a long time to discover what she knows about herself.
Her history begins with her adopted father's first wife, who was a sister to her adopted mother. She asked Anderson's adopted mother to care for her five children shortly before her death. Then, Anderson said, her adopted parents had five children of their own.
"Which I made child No. 11," she said.
After her biological father killed her biological mother, Anderson said, he tried to sell her for $200.
"They found me in a bar with him," she said.
Anderson went to live with an aunt. But that aunt was expecting a baby herself and didn't want to raise two infants.
That's where the Carmicles stepped in, Anderson said.
"They went looney tunes," she said. "They wanted another child."
Anderson said her adopted parents didn't know what happened to her biological father and never tried to find out.
"It was just like a closed book," she said. "Nobody even cared."
When she was about 9 years old, Anderson's adopted parents told her she was adopted.
"I never knew," she said, looking at her family photos.
Anderson said she later learned her biological relatives hadn't tried to contact her or her adopted parents to ask about her.
"They didn't really care if they had anything to do with me or not," she said.
And Anderson said she doesn't believe her biological family really is her "family" after all. She said she later learned some of her biological relatives believed she was to blame for her mother's death.
"Blood does not run thicker than water," she said. "It has nothing to do with the love you have for another person."
When Anderson became curious about her family history, she turned to a friend, Martha Jones, and the two began researching.
She said she believes most adopted people begin to wonder about their biological families, if only to learn about medical and other history.
"I got to thinking, 'What kind of people were they? What did they look like?'"
Years of searching later, Anderson said she now knows enough that her curiosity about her birth family has been satisfied.
Anderson began her search with a phone call to Frankfort to find out about her biological father's criminal history.
"All I knew was his name and that he killed my mom and went to prison," she said.
After asking for some help, Anderson learned the names of her biological brothers and sisters.
"So, I contacted them and I went and met them," she said. "They were really sweet ... but they were not my family."
After meeting those relatives, Anderson said, some of her questions were answered, but she wanted to learn more.
Anderson later learned her biological mother had three sons during her first marriage. When she and their father divorced, the boys were taken to an orphanage.
"I met all three of them," Anderson said.
But she said she never formed a bond with the three and hasn't had contact with them since.
"Because my family was the Carmicles," she said.
Anderson said she remembers wanting to meet her biological relatives, but not wanting to love anyone other than the Carmicle family.
"I didn't want to have two families," she said. "I just wanted one."
One of her three half brothers, Larry, came to visit Anderson for a few days. She said the two tried to form a bond, but it just didn't happen.
"I said, 'Larry, I can't be your sister,'" Anderson said.
During her search, Anderson learned that her biological father had been murdered at age 34.
After writing to a Louisville newspaper, Anderson received some clippings about another death in her family. Her biological grandmother's boyfriend had murdered her before killing himself.
She also learned another relative shot his nephew in the 1970s.
"Both sides of my biological family were not good people," she said. "They might be now, what's left of them. Don't know, don't care."
Anderson said she began to feel that way after thinking about what could have happened to her if she had remained living with her biological relatives. She said she believed adoption saved her.
"This was God's plan," she said. "This was his purpose. I was spared. My three brothers weren't.
"Nothing in my biological life was right."
Anderson said she feels blessed to have been adopted by such loving parents and raised in a Christian home.
"They didn't have to love me," she said. "They didn't have to care for me."
Anderson said she was the baby of the 11 children, and was treated that way, too.
"Because they did for me things they would never do for their biological kids," she said. "They got me special gifts. They were my special gifts.
"This is where God wanted me to be."
When Anderson entered her teenage years, she said, she became very rebellious.
She said she remembers feeling useless when she learned she was adopted. She said it was also very upsetting to learn her biological parents weren't married.
"But my mom and dad never gave up on me," she said. "She never let God leave me."
And Anderson said God came back into her life.
She and her husband attend Elk Horn Baptist Church, and she says she understands the meaning behind the premise that once a person is a child of God, he will never leave them.
And for that, she said, she owes her adopted parents a debt of gratitude.
"So, I owe them everything," Anderson said. "So many of their values I raised my boys by."
With her adopted parents both now deceased, Anderson said, she and her adopted siblings, those who are still living, try to stay close.
Today, Anderson considers her adopted siblings to be her true family.
"That's all I know," she said.
Anderson said she believes those who are adopted are truly special.
"They are chosen children," she said. "You love your biological kids. With an adopted kid, there's that special sparkle. That something special."
Also during Anderson's search for family history, she went to find her biological father's grave. She searched the cemetery to no avail.
As she was getting ready to leave, Anderson's husband, Kenny, who is an avid bird watcher, saw one land on a headstone. It was the one they were looking for. Anderson's biological grandfather was also buried nearby.
Years after beginning her search, Anderson said she is now finished finding out the past.
"My search is over," she said. "I think every adopted child wants to know where they came from.
"My curiosity is finished. Me and my brothers and sisters are probably closer now than ever."
Anderson said she is willing to talk to others about adoption and how to find their biological families.
And now that Anderson knows where she came from, she said she is more thankful than ever that her life has taken the path it has.
"I'm just so thankful I ended up where I ended up," she said. "I've had to deal with a lot of demons."
But Anderson's adoption story doesn't quite end there.
Anderson's husband, Kenny, adopted her son, Aaron. She said her husband has always said, "I don't look at him as an adopted child. He's my child."
The Andersons discussed adopting children together, but ultimately decided against that because her children were getting older and the timing didn't seen right.
Now, Anderson said, she has accepted her past and moved on to make her future the best it can be.
"It's brought a lot of closure," she said.
And Anderson said she grew up with a special love between her and her true "family."
"They gave me my life. I don't know where I would be ... I just don't know."