It all started with a little sliver of land in Conroe.
“My grandfather Pappy had some property down there,” said Sherry Crowell.
In December, a landman contacted Sherry at her home in Marshall about some mineral rights she possibly owned there. It was only three-quarters of an acre, but the treasure this landman had inadvertently unearthed had nothing to do with fossil fuels.
It was the priceless treasure of family.
“An oil company contacted me about mineral rights,” Sherry said. “Then he contacted me later and said I didn’t have any of the mineral rights. They’d been sold. Well, about a month later another landman called and said, ‘Guess what? You do have mineral rights.’ It’s a little piece of land.
“They had to go through all the family members. They don’t miss a thing. They really dig up a lot of dirt. He told me he’d been down to Houston going through all the books, and he mentioned the word adoption.”
She asked him why he used the word adoption.
“Maybe I got you mixed up with another family,” he said.
But there was no mistake. The landman had indeed done an incredible bit of investigating.
At age 67, Crowell learned she had been adopted. Her adoptive parents, Edwin and Mildred Silveria, died in 2007 and 1992, respectively, without ever telling her. She had an older brother named Donald, who died in 2010. He knew the truth, too, but never told her.
And she had a twin brother, Terry, who died in 1995 never knowing that he and his twin sister Sherry had been adopted.
Since both her parents and brothers were dead, Sherry contacted cousins to find out if the adoption story she heard from the landman was true. They quickly confirmed it.
“Apparently everybody in the family knew we were adopted except for me and Terry,” Sherry said. “We were the only ones that didn’t know. My cousins were floored that their Aunt Mildred and Uncle Edwin never told us.”
They confirmed it, but they couldn’t answer any of the deeper questions. So her daughter helped her research online, combing through courthouse and county clerk records in Houston, where the adoption had occurred.
It didn’t take long before Sherry discovered she had a lot of family out there, including three brothers and a sister – three of whom lived in Wise County.
A PAST UNKNOWN
Linda Freeman lives in Bridgeport with her husband Jimmy. Her brother Ken, nicknamed Peewee because he was so small when he was born, lives at Lake Bridgeport. She has another, older brother named Gene who also lives in Bridgeport, and a little brother named R.E. who lives in Burleson.
Last Saturday, she placed a towering stack of Kleenex boxes on an end table in the living room of her Bridgeport home. It was the weekend she got to meet a long-lost sister – a sister she always thought was dead.
“I remember Momma telling me she had twins,” Linda said. “So when I asked her where they are she said they were dead. She told all of us they died at birth. So we always thought Sherry and Terry were dead. My mother died not telling me.”
Her mother, Dolly Ramsey Cansler Houchins, married Earl D. Cansler in 1933. Earl had been born in Paradise in 1915, the son of a sharecropper. The two had three children together, Bill, Ken and Gene. Bill died last year, never learning about his secret siblings.
In 1940, the couple split up and intended to get a divorce. Earl went on and met another woman, and believing he was already divorced, got married again. However, divorce papers had not been filed, and Earl was convicted of bigamy. He had to spend time in the state penitentiary in Huntsville.
While he was in prison, Dolly made the divorce official at the cost of $1.
“She always told me it the best dollar she’d ever spent,” Linda said.
However, upon his release, he and Dolly rekindled their relationship. They were living in the Houston area. She soon became pregnant with the twins, Sherry and Terry, out of wedlock. They soon broke up again, and Dolly decided to give the children up for adoption.
Dolly actually lived with Edwin and Mildred Silveria in the last few months of her pregnancy, sending her three boys to Bridgeport to live with their grandfather. She stayed four days after the delivery, on Dec. 29, 1946, and then left to join her other children in Bridgeport.
“Mother wasn’t married and in 1946 you don’t have kids out of wedlock,” Linda said.
A year later she married her second and final husband, William Houchins, in Wise County. Together they had three children, Linda, R.E. and another son who was stillborn. They enjoyed a happy and long life together in Bridgeport. William died in 2000. Three years later Dolly died, never giving up the secret of her twins to her other children.
“It makes you wonder why Mother would hold something like this from us, but at the time, and her situation it was probably the best thing she could think of to do,” Ken said.
“As close as me and Mom were I can’t believe I never knew,” Gene said. “I figured Mom did what she thought was best for the children. Momma loved children.”
“Well she better,” Linda quipped. “She had enough.”
While Sherry never knew she was adopted until she received a call from a landman, she knew something wasn’t right.
“There were secrets that Terry and I never knew,” Sherry said. “We were kept in the dark about a lot of things.
“You know if I was bright I would have known something back in high school. When we studied genes and traits in science I should have figured it out. My adopted mom had brown hair and brown eyes. My dad had brown eyes. Terry and I both had blond hair and blue eyes.
“But of course you believe everything your parents tell you. When I asked my dad about it one time he told me we got it from my aunt.”
There were other differences she noticed as well.
“I was always very affectionate, but my adoptive mother wasn’t,” Sherry said. “So I married into an affectionate family and now I’ve found all them and they are affectionate.”
“There was a strange relationship with my mother, and it got worse through the years to the point where she disowned me.”
When she first tried to reach out to her new-found family, no one was sure what was happening.
“I had my doubts at first,” said Ken. “Mom had never mentioned anything about it. Then the first time I talked to her I wasn’t quite sure. The first thing that entered my mind was somebody found out about mineral rights and someone was trying to run some kind of bogus deal. But then I saw her picture. That’s mom right there. It was like, pow! That’s my sister!”
“The first time I saw a picture of her on Facebook, I saw my mother in her,” Linda said. “I just saw my momma, and I just broke down.”
Now everything fits.
“I’ve always wanted a sister, and she’s always wanted a sister, so why did it take so long for somebody to tell her?” Linda said.
“There is so much likeness it’s unbelievable,” Sherry said.
“We just clicked,” Linda said. “It just felt natural.”
They only wish now it hadn’t taken so long.
“I felt severely cheated,” Linda said. “I always wanted a sister. And I’ve got stinkin’ brothers all over the place. I wanted one sister and here she is many years later. We could’ve gotten into a lot of trouble together.”
A letter penned from Dolly on Dec. 23, 1947, is the only evidence they have of her acknowledging the twins. Linda found it during her research.
“I am now married again. And I have never seen the twins. I don’t know how they look.”
A lot of things had to come together for this amazing family reunion to occur. But the central character was the landman.
According to the American Association of Professional Landmen, the role of the landman (which also includes women) is varied and complex including “negotiating for the acquisition or divestiture of mineral rights; negotiating business agreements that provide for the exploration for and/or development of minerals; determining ownership in minerals through the research of public and private records; reviewing the status of title, curing title defects and otherwise reducing title risk associated with ownership in minerals; managing rights and/or obligations derived from ownership of interests in minerals; and unitizing or pooling of interests in minerals.”
“If it hadn’t been for that landman doing all that research to find the family members, we would have never known,” Ken said.
“If he hadn’t used the word adoption I would have never known,” Sherry added. “I only talked to him one time.”
“You’d be surprised how often something like this happens,” said Brian Tickle.
Tickle works for his family business called Tickleland Brokers, located in Palestine. They help set up contract work between landmen and energy companies requiring their assistance. The landman who contacted Sherry and inadvertently informed her she was adopted was working for Tickleland at the time.
“They’ve helped people find out about a cousin or uncle or a black sheep of the family that was kind of forgotten,” Tickle said. “But I’ve never heard of a case where they uncovered an adoption.”
He said landmen work like detectives or private investigators, and often uproot more than minerals.
“What we do is two-fold,” Tickle said. “We have to figure out who owns the mineral rights and the land rights. Texas separated the two more than 100 years ago. The mineral rights pass on to next of kin like real estate. You could have someone who died back in the early 1900s, and it’s been through three generations since anybody even knew about it. We have to find out who it rightfully belongs to.
“It’s really detective work. Landmen have to go through courts, and look at family trees and figure out the rightful owners and heirs. And once they find them they have to work out a contract to lease the mineral rights. Projects can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a decade to unravel.
“It’s real estate that you forget about. It’s a piece of land you never see. You don’t pay taxes on it.
“I had one case where a woman in Illinois didn’t know she had a lot of mineral rights in Texas. She got $600,000. But sometimes it’s a small piece of land that has been split 100 ways. They’ll get a little bit of money, but it won’t change their lives.”
This time, it changed lives more than a royalty check ever could.
“We have a huge extended family now,” Linda said.
“My grandmother was a realtor,” Linda said. “Her second husband, Pappy, was a genius. He was an astronomer and inventor. But I didn’t know he had any land. I thought it was all sold. There were 175 acres of land, but all the mineral rights had been sold on it but for three-quarters of an acre. For some reason he left three-quarters of an acre.”
It didn’t yield an oil fortune, but that three-quarters of an acre, a century later, united a family.