NOTE: Richard Hill founded the DNA Testing Adviser website and managed it until August 2021. The details of his personal search for birth parents are both fascinating and educational. He shared his story over four separate pages and, with permission, his first-person words have been preserved here.
Eventually, many adult adoptees get involved in finding birth parents. I was one of them. By sharing my story here, I’m hoping to help other adoptees with their search.
Once I started, I learned my birth mother’s full name and history in less than a year. But the process of identifying my birth father stretched out over three decades.
I’m telling my story over four web pages. This first page explains how I got involved with finding birth parents and describes my first steps. The other three cover the search for my birth father and the different types of DNA testing I needed. You can see how each one helped me…and learn which DNA tests might fit your situation.
My Secret Adoption
When I was born in 1946, society was pretty harsh on children born “out of wedlock.” Unmarried, pregnant women usually left town to have their babies. And some people still referred to these children as “bastards.”
The idea of “open adoption” was decades away. So in the unforgiving culture of the 1940’s, my adoptive parents made a decision that few would make today. They decided to pass me off as their natural child. Relatives and close friends knew the truth. But they kept the secret and I grew up ignorant of my adoption.
The Truth Slips Out
My first glimpse of the truth occurred when I was 18. A doctor happened to mention my adoptive status during an office visit. He assumed I knew and was almost speechless when I told him that was news to me.
I was leaving for college in a few days. So finding birth parents was not a priority.
Furthermore, I loved my adoptive parents. They had raised me and would always be my “real” parents. So I didn’t want to upset them. If they didn’t want to talk about my adoption, I decided that I wouldn’t either. Over the next 14 years the subject never came up and I had no expectation of ever finding birth parents.
A Sudden Revelation
Shortly before my father died in 1978, he surprised me with an unexpected revelation. He opened the subject of my adoption and told me my birth mother was a cute little Irish girl named Jackie from the Detroit area.
It seems my birth mother actually came to live with my adoptive parents during the last months of her pregnancy. This happened in Lansing, where my father worked and my adoptive parents lived for awhile. After my birth, Jackie returned to her home town where she subsequently died in an auto accident. My adoptive parents moved back to their small home town. And that’s where I grew up.
While that was big news, my father had even bigger news.
He told me my birth mother was divorced and had an older son from her marriage. So even though my birth mother was dead, I had a brother who was probably still living. My father thought I had a right to know this…and he encouraged me to find my brother.
Delaying My Search
Raised as an only child, the idea of having a brother was the most intriguing part of this for me. But my mother didn’t know that my dad had shared any of this with me. She was still keeping my adoption secret after 32 years. And I didn’t want to open this sensitive subject with her when my dad was dying.
Adoption records in Michigan are closed. And I couldn’t see any way to fill in the missing pieces to find my brother. Plus, I had a demanding job. And my wife was about to give birth to twins. So I sat on this information for three years before I finally decided to search.
Finding My Birth Mother
In 1981 I heard about a local support group that helped adoptees in finding birth parents. I started going to meetings and also met with a similar group in Lansing. I also confided my interest to some older family members and close family friends who were around at the time of my adoption.
People shared what they remembered or assumed. I wasted a lot of time chasing theories and rumors that eventually proved to be false. But after many months of research, I finally tracked down some people who had known my birth mother. Through them, I finally learned Jackie’s full name and much of her story.
Jackie left high school a year early to marry an older boy from the same school. When she was 18 they had a baby boy. Her husband turned out to be a jerk and she left him. Then she left her son in the care of his grandparents, while she worked two jobs and lived in a rooming house.
During this time, she got pregnant for me and moved to Lansing to stay with my adoptive parents. After my birth in May 1946, she returned to her home town and worked two new jobs. In June 1947, when Jackie was only 21, she and her sister died when a Jeep they were riding in rolled over.
Finding My Brother
I met an adoption search volunteer in Lansing who helped people in finding birth parents. She helped me locate and contact my brother early in 1982. Knowing nothing about me, he was naturally suspicious.
Fortunately, our initial contact was through his father’s sister, who knew about Jackie’s second baby. She was excited to hear from me and assured my brother I was for real.
Searching for My Birth Father
Unfortunately, no one I talked to was certain of my birth father’s identity. Early on I had obtained “non-identifying” information from the court. But that wasn’t a perfect match to anyone they remembered.
Over the next few years I tracked down and interviewed several more people who had known my birth mother. I even found her surviving older sister, my biological aunt. Unfortunately, she had been living in another state when Jackie got pregnant. And she never learned the identity of my birth father.
My next breakthrough came several years later. Read about it on the Parental DNA Testing page.
I have written a book that tells my whole story with all the details and all the highs and lows. In it, I describe in detail every DNA test that I took to finally learn the truth about my biological roots.
Whether you are trying to find birth parents or just craving a darn good read, this is a book you will likely devour in one sitting…and wholeheartedly recommend to others.
Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA