When Ann Kief began her quest to find her birth parents, she never dreamed the journey would lead her to a lineage of nobility.
The South Walton resident was adopted at birth in
"I grew up knowing I was adopted," she said. "My parents started telling this adoption story when I was young and eventually told me the little girl in the story was me. I don't recall how I felt; I was young and always knew."
The adoption was arranged by a mutual friend of her birth mother and her adoptive family before her birth. She doesn't believe the two knew or met, or knew the identity of the other.
Kief's adoptive family lived in Germany for more than a decade and loved the country. Before the adoption they let it be known that they wanted to adopt a German child. After the adoption, Kief's parents kept her heritage alive by celebrating German holidays and singing German carols every Christmas.
Kief's parents died in 1996. Over the years that followed, Kief began to wonder and search for any trace of information about her birth parents, primarily for health information. She didn't begin to search in earnest until 2005 and seemingly like a miracle finally found paperwork in an old box of bank statements that belonged to her parents. She discovered that her name given at birth was Marion Eva and that her birth mother's name was Marion von Stenglin.
Kief registered through an adoption site online and not long after, she was contacted by a woman who told her that she was present when she was born, took her birth mother to the hospital, and arranged her adoption.
"She knew both sets of parents and she was there when I was handed to my mother," said Kief. "However, she did not know who my father was."
Kief was told that her birth mother was a baroness named Marion Von Stenglin.
This woman saw Kief's birth mother walking with a much older man about the time Kief was conceived. She also knew that Kief's grandmother ran a boarding house and rented out rooms. She kept a guestbook that one man signed quite frequently during that time.
Through research, Kief discovered this man attested to being her biological father just weeks after her birth. His name was Henning von Royk-Lewinski, a baron and former German submarine commander under Marshal Rommel in Tunisia.
Kief has found that her biological parents were unmarried at the time of her birth. At the time Kief was conceived, her father was between his first and second wives. He was 27 years older than her mother, and Kief suspects that is the reason they did not marry.
"This lady was a life-long friend of my birth mother and when the lady noticed my mother was gaining weight, my mother told her she had been eating too many chocolates," said Kief. “She told me a lot about my mother. She never married and was very kind, but lived a long, lonely life. She died of a heart attack at age 56."
Her father went on to marry a second and third time, but as far as she can ascertain, neither of her biological parents had any other surviving children.
Kief met her mother's friend and she was given pictures of her birth mother and she was encouraged to obtain her German birth certificate.
A friend helped Kief find records leading to her mother and for three days she thought her mother was still alive. It was after contacting her mother's relatives that she was told she was dead.
"I was crushed emotionally to find out she was dead. I had written a letter to her when I thought she was alive, thanking her for choosing a good family to give me to and for not aborting me. It was an emotional rollercoaster," she said.
Kief Googled her father and found out a lot, such as he was behind a wooden church crusade, an international effort to replace bombed out churches of all denominations. The idea was to create a “spiritual wall” of wooden churches to combat the Iron Curtain and the Communist ideals.
In the process, Kief also acquired pictures of her father and mother.
"The resemblance is uncanny when I look at pictures of my mother. There is a lot of resemblance," she said. "And, I see my father and German features in my son."
Kief has contacted cousins living in Germany and traveled there to meet them, and they have come here. They do not question her heritage, and have even had a ring made for her that bears her mother's family coat of arms. A chalk painting hangs in her office of her mother when she was age 9. Kief and her cousin also have matching wine glasses that were in the family.
"My aunt doesn't speak much English, so I am trying to relearn my German," she said. "A lot of them are doctors and I am involved with sales of natural health products. We're on similar tracks."
Kief says that her sense of family has simply been expanded by connecting with her noble German bloodline.
"I have had a great life," said Kief, "but, I always felt I would find out."
Kief has begun writing a book about her adoption story with all its provincial twists and turns, and hopes as her story goes public, maybe more information will turn up.