The Journey Toward Reconnecting
Mar 01, 2018 08:30AM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger
The Journey Toward Reconnecting
Adoptions have changed a lot over the decades (see Cabarrus Magazine Feb. ’17 issue). Open adoptions have become more prevalent, with some adoptive parents keeping lines of communication open between birth parent and child.
For those adopted when the process was closed and records sealed, however, the search for a biological family can be a more difficult, complicated one. And there are certainly those individuals who have no interest in finding their birth parents. They grew up in a good home and are content in not opening up a potential Pandora’s box.
For the curious – whether about where they come from or for medical history questions – the ever-expanding Internet and social media provide a number of resources (see sidebar). The journey can be an emotional one and a positive mindset at the start is strongly encouraged.
Adoption.org says, “Going in, you should be honest with yourself about your reasons for searching. If you’re expecting an adoption reunion to heal all of your emotional hurts, you should prepare to be disappointed. That said, many people who have reunited with birth family have said that – regardless of the outcome of their search – they were grateful to have found some answers and gained a sense of closure regarding that portion of their life.”
The site recommends documenting the journey every step of the way, either in a notebook or electronically. There could be a lot of research.
“Begin by finding out as much information as you can about your birth and placement. Your (adoptive) parents may be a great source of information,” adoption.org says. “Other family members – aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings – who were around when you were adopted may also have information that will be helpful to you. Some foundational information to begin with includes:
• Your birth name;
• The city and state of your birth;
• Your birth date;
• The hospital you were born in;
• The adoption agency that facilitated your placement;
• Any maternity homes that might have been involved;
• Birth parent names, if available, or descriptions.”
It’s at this point that social media and genealogy websites become valuable. Genetic testing via DNA testing sites adds your information to extensive databases that link you to others who have also had their DNA tested. And with ancestry.com, for example, potential relatives may contact you through an email address you’ve provided. Any further contact is up to you. It’s also fun to see where your family came from before immigrating to the U.S.
With social media, simply searching for a name – if it’s known – is one avenue to take. Another is posting that you’re looking for your birth family. Providing as much information as possible along with photos is a good start. And asking, say, your facebook friends to share your post obviously gets the word out to a wider audience.
There are also adoption search registries. “These registries allow you and anyone searching for you (typically birth parents or siblings) to enter in information about your birth and adoption – dates, names, hospitals, adoption agencies, etc.,” adoption.org explains. “If the people you’re seeking are also signed up for these registries, you’ll be able to make a connection.”
A key piece of documentation is the original birth certificate (OBC); it contains the birth parents’ names. However, in all but a handful of U.S. states, the OBC is sealed once an adoption is finalized. The adoptive parents’ names replace the birth parents’.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of the states that still denies adult adoptees access to their own original birth certificates. “A court order is required for the release of any identifying information, including an OBC,” adopteerightslaw.com says. “An OBC must be specifically requested in any court action that seeks the release of identifying information.”
On the up side, NC House Bill 823 is pending; it was been passed by the North Carolina House and “would allow adoptees 40 years of age or older to access their original birth certificates so long as they also have ‘proof’ of the names of the parents listed on the OBC.”
Mike Anderson was born July 28, 1972. Owner of Michael A. Anderson Photography in Concord, he’s been spotlighted in Cabarrus Magazine before for his entrepreneurial skills. In his personal life, he was adopted by James and Elizabeth Anderson of Harrisburg right after birth.
“My adoptive mother was put in contact with my biological mother before I was even born; my (adoptive) parents were in their mid-50s,” Anderson shares. “I found out I was adopted a year before my mother died. A friend whose mother was a nurse in the hospital I was born in told me. My mother had burned all the papers so I wouldn’t find out. She didn’t want me to know. My dad died of a heart attack in 1982 when I was nine and my mom died when I was 12, in 1985. She had a lot of health problems: cancer, heart disease and emphysema.”
After his parents passed away, Anderson went to live with a couple they knew through church; they became his guardians. “My mom didn’t trust her family or my dad’s to take care of me,” Anderson adds. “The day before my mother died, my grandmother on my father’s side died. The aunt that gave me my very first bicycle took me to court to try to get my inheritance because I wasn’t blood. The inheritance went to my guardians.”
Over the years, Anderson’s interest in finding his biological family grew. In October 2016, he posted information about his search on his facebook page. “I figured, I’m not getting any younger and my parents could very well be alive; they’d be in their early- to mid-60s. It’s now or never. So I posted pictures of me as a child and said that I was looking for my biological parents. It went viral, seen by more than 200,000 people.”
One of those people was a director from Relative Race, a reality TV show that airs on BYUtv; he liked Anderson’s story.
The show revolves around four teams of two – married couples or family members – the searchers getting their DNA tested through ancestry.com. Those results are used by the show’s producers to locate their family members, wherever they may be in the U.S. Then the roller coaster ride begins.
Familysearch.org says, “Competitors had to find their own way to family homes in an allotted time. Equipped with only a printed map, a rental car, a clue and a cell phone without Web access or GPS,
the couples raced to navigate their way through unfamiliar cities and states each day, solving additional clues associated with their next unknown relative that would ultimately lead them to their relative’s home. Once they met their new relative, they’d snap a photo on the rudimentary cell phone and send it to the show’s host to stop the clock. Couples faced elimination if they went over time, and received a strike. Then they were able to relax a bit to learn how they were related and get to know more about each other.”
Three strikes and a team is eliminated, returning home. Physical challenges are also part of the show, with the last remaining team winning a $50,000 grand prize. Anderson chose his 22-year-old son, Dylan, as his Team Blue partner. Anderson had always been forthcoming with his own family regarding his adoption, but the two would be learning more about – and meeting – their family for the first time together.
“They (producers of Relative Race) came to Concord last spring and did a back story…at my house, in downtown Concord, at my studio. They were here for a couple of days,” Anderson says. “We filmed the show starting in Washington, DC, in late August into September, for 13 days.”
Season 3 of Relative Race premiers March 4 at 9:00pm and while Anderson would love to disclose how the show plays out, he and Dylan are legally obligated to say nothing. So, be sure to check out Anderson’s facebook page as the show progresses and the story unfolds.
“The most important thing in the entire show is that I got to do it with my son,” Anderson says. “We made memories we’ll never share with anybody else. Because of the show, I’ve had every single question I ever had answered. People who watch will see a totally different side of me.”
The BY Network is offered on DISH, channel 9403; and on DirecTV, channel 374. The show can also be streamed at BYUtv.org/relativerace. For additional help in viewing the show, BYU offers a Customer Service number: 866-662-9888, or they can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judy Ryder Neely was born October 7, 1943, in Winchester, VA. She was adopted by Edward and Bernice Ryder six weeks later. Unlike Mike Anderson, Neely didn’t search for her biological parents. And her experience is a testament to the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.
“My (biological) mother and her sisters were best friends with my adoptive mother,” Neely explains. “My mother was separated from her husband and sent away to give birth in Winchester. She came back home to the Durham area with me, with the intention of keeping me, but her sister said no because it would put shame on the family.
“Now, my adoptive mother had just gotten out of bed with polio; she had no use of her left arm but she said she’d take me. My father came home from work and there I was. In the beginning, my biological mother helped my mom, who pinned my diapers with her teeth.”
Neely’s adoption was made official, and her father continued working in a North Carolina defense plant until World War II ended. He hadn’t been required to go overseas because of his wife’s illness. Post-war, however, was a time of economic hardship for many and Neely’s father moved his family to Gary, IN, for a job.
“My mother didn’t tell me I was adopted until I was about 12 years old,” Neely says. “My parents eventually adopted two boys: 21 months and six months old. Little did I know that my biological mother had been married and had a daughter five years older than me. She married again, had three more children and moved to Miami. I was the only one put up for adoption.”
Neely spent her high school years in Gary, recalling an autobiography she had to write as a freshman. “I used only pictures of my adoptive family. By this time, I knew my mother knew my biological mother; she’d told me. I spoke negatively about my birth mom one time and my mom said, ‘Don’t do that because she gave you to me, and you’re special to me.’ ”
Neely stresses that times were much different back then. Families didn’t sit down and have conversations about personal topics like they do today. She laughs that she had more of a “get on with it, do your chores” type of childhood.
After living in various regions of the country, Neely moved back to North Carolina and settled in Concord. About eight years ago she received an email from a woman who turned out to be her biological cousin. It’s likely that minimal digging had to be done to find Neely; after all, the two families had been intertwined for decades.
“All the years I was growing up in Gary, my mom and (biological) mother’s sisters were still best friends,” Neely says. “We’d come to North Carolina every summer and I’d play with who I didn’t know were my cousins.”
When asked what she felt upon receiving that email, she says, “My emotions were mixed. I was maybe a little curious going in.”
A meeting was set up in Durham where Neely met a large group of family members. “I have a lot of relatives in Durham and Greensboro. My biological mother lived into her 80s, but was already deceased. Two brothers and a sister were born after me,” she shares. “I was very well accepted; I didn’t really think about it until I got home. But I still felt like I belonged to my adoptive parents.”
Neely says she still attends family reunions with her cousins and their families. “We meet once a year near Durham,” she says. “My 80-year-old sister does communicate with me by email periodically. At one reunion, we watched movies that showed some of my cousins and I when we were little. Then it showed my adoptive mom and dad playing in the snow.”
She also learned that a lot of her family members are animal lovers. That struck a chord because, once her own children were grown – she’s a grandmother and great-grandmother – Neely became an active volunteer in animal rescue. Initially working with the Cabarrus County Humane Society, she currently fosters puppies for Kreitzer’s Critter Corral.
Anyone who knows Neely is struck by her strength and independence. She doesn’t “get” why Americans today feel the need to search for biological family, although she finds it interesting to discover where, geographically, ancestors originated from.
She also stresses the importance of sharing any medical knowledge, if any can be had. “I remember
being concerned when I was pregnant with my children about medical history. That is the only thing that ever bothered me about not knowing who my biological father was, and I will never know,” she says. “I often wonder if knowing would have changed anything. Probably not.”
Whether or not to search is a personal choice driven by reasons only the individual understands. They must determine the risk and reward and follow their heart.
Article by: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Kim Cassell, Judy Neely and Relative Race