When I was a teenager I began to focus on finding my biological mother. Arguing with your Mom is pretty typical for a teenage girl and I was no different, slamming doors and arguing about world-views and curfews were just some of the daily irritations happening in the house at 11 Mohigan.
We didn’t talk much about adoption at home. My brother and I always knew were adopted. For me, I guess I felt like there wasn’t much to talk about, or that it may be a topic that made people feel uncomfortable so I didn’t bring it up much.
My brother and I were helping Dad set up our camper on a vacation and one of us must have asked Dad if he knew who our birth parents were. Dad kept setting up the camper and told us that they didn’t ask for the people’s names because they didn’t want to be worrying every time they met someone with that name if they were our biological parents. He said it in such a calm and logical way that it made perfect sense and that was the last we talked about it for many years.
Around the age of 16 I asked for information about my adoption and my parents gave me a file with all the information they had, including notes my mother took when she got the call about my birth (including the information that I was Polish and Irish) and letters to and from their lawyer as well as a letter of special permission to take me out of the state during the probation period. (We went to Florida – my first plane ride!)
Throughout the years I’d pull out the file and use the information to make a phone call or send a letter trying to gain information about my birth. That’s when I found out that adoption records were closed in New Jersey (until January 2017) and that if I wanted to find my birth mother I’d have to get creative.
Remember, there was no internet when I was in High School!! We had to do all our research in the library, through phone calls and by writing back and forth using letters that were mailed with a stamp.
From 1981 until 1999 I stopped and started my search. I registered with all the groups in existence for reuniting adoptees and parents (these were all analog groups back then) and I even hired a private detective agency to help me. We made some progress but there were still many roadblocks.
With the advent of the internet, I could search groups online and found many people willing to help me search – some were legitimate and some were bogus. I made sure I always kept my adopted (legal) name prominent and always included my birthday when I could on any form of social media – in the hopes that my biological family was searching for me too.
In 1999 I requested my non-identifying information from Catholic Charities by filling out a simple form and submitting a check for $150.00. I was told the process was completed manually and it could take a little while. After 6 months I called and was told that they were having trouble accessing my files because there had been a file. Six months later and I still had no information. I called again and was told that my case worker had been off for maternity leave (now come on, that’s funny, right?!)
Finally, in December of 2000, I received my long-awaited non-identifying information and all I had was more questions. My notes had been cobbled together from various sources because there had indeed been a massive and suspicious fire at Iron Mountain storage in New Jersey in 1997. This is just one of the many times I kicked myself for not acting in a more timely manner.
My looks made me determine I was not only Irish and Polish but most likely Italian, Greek or even Middle Eastern. Based on the proximity to New York, I’d joked more than once that my biological father could well have been connected to “The Sopranos.” After the news of this fire, I was wondering if my jokes were possibly the truth.
Using the information I received from Catholic Charities, I began posting on various search and reunion sites around the internet, as things like Facebook came into the picture I posted my information in those search groups as well.
I put the search on the back-burner as I dealt with starting my own company, divorcing my second husband and all manner of life stuff that piled up around me. It was discouraging and depressing to put time and energy into searching and to start realizing that no one was looking for me.
In the meantime, I visited psychics and healers asking if they knew anything at all about my birth family. Various Mediums have connected to the same man who says he’s related to me, but I couldn’t identify him because I didn’t know anyone of my biological family and this man didn’t resemble any of the people I knew from my adoptive family.
From 2005 to 2011 I swabbed my cheeks for FTDNA and spit in a tube to submit DNA for testing 23andMe. I had no close matches on FTDNA or 23andMe but did learn that my DNA shows that my heritage is nearly 50% Italian! (my gut was right!)
The only close match I had on either site was a potential 1-2nd cousin who is also adopted and had no idea how to begin searching for his family!
Although I still thought about my biological mother regularly, wrote her letters each year on my birthday and Mother’s Day, and wondered if she was alright I was making peace with the possibility that I’d never find any biological relatives in this lifetime.
Then, while watching one of those search and reunion shows sponsored by Ancestry, my husband convinced me to do one more test – as a gift for myself for my birthday! That was in February of 2017 and it took until April for my results to complete. Working for a tax company when the results came in, I decided to wait until I caught up on sleep before checking the results – again, figuring it would be a dead-end anyway.
WHAT A SURPRISE!
I had a close match with a high probability of being a first cousin or uncle and I froze. I was so excited and so nervous that I sent a message through Ancestry right away to the match and pretty much threw up all the information I’d gathered throughout the years into his mailbox.
The kind soul that he is, he read everything and asked some very good, pointed questions to make sure I wasn’t a nut or a scammer. He had no idea I existed. He was doubly surprised because another half-sister of mine had found the family 17 years earlier and he couldn’t imagine that there were two of us.
After much back and forth he agreed that he was my uncle, my biological mother’s youngest brother. He was only 12 at the time of my birth and had no idea (until I found him) that she’d been pregnant.
We talked on the phone and began getting to know each other and he told me that my biological mother had died of lung cancer and that my maternal grandparents had also died of cancer. I’m sad that I never got to meet my biological mother and grandparents and I’m glad that I quit smoking 24 years ago.
From there I began the journey of finding my half-siblings and eventually my biological father.