Friday, January 1, 2016

A DNA Success Story by Buck Winslow

Buck Winslow, Adoptee Extraordinaire
I was adopted at six weeks. September 16, 1959, was my “Homecoming Day.” My adoptive parents were excellent parents; I’m one of the lucky adoptees. However, I always felt a desire to know my own origins. I had non-identifying information from the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina (CHSNC) but nothing else until 1998. In 1998, I gained access to one of my non-governmental birth files and discovered my birth mother’s identity. Unfortunately, my birth mother, a registered nurse, wanted no contact whatsoever, including any medical information.

I was, however, able to cajole my birth father’s name from my birth mother in 1999, or so I thought. She gave me the name “Harold Erricson.” I searched for Mr. Erricson in earnest beginning in 2008. I hired SearchQuestAmerica (SQA) to locate Mr. Erricson. We kept finding false leads. I even did a Y-dna test with a man that was a supposed brother but it was not a match. Relative finder matches were not yet available. The most effective thing that SQA did for me was to call my birth mother and ask questions about my birth father. Although my birth mother did not really provide any meaningful information during that call, I think it rattled her a bit to be asked. 

Meanwhile, North Carolina changed its adoption laws to allow intermediary searches. I contacted CHSNC and asked them to do a search for me. The social worker admitted that all she had was my birth father’s name and that it did not match the name “Harold Erricson” that my birth mother had previously provided to me. She told me that my birth father’s name was very common and so it would be impossible to locate him. So the social worker also called my birth mother for additional information. During that call, my birth mother confessed to the social worker that she had lied to me about my father’s name.

I stewed over my birth mother’s lie and the fact that I still did not have the right name until about 6 months later. I wrote my birth mother an angry email. I asked her why she had lied, told her it was cruel, etc. Although it was not, she took my email as a threat to expose her “sins” to her family and finally gave me my birth father’s correct name.

Now I had my birth father’s real name but still had no idea which man by that name he was or whether he was alive. I checked the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and could not find anyone deceased who fit his known stats. I was hopeful my birth father was still living. About this time, I discovered that DNA testing for bio-relatives was available at a nominal price. My first DNA test was through 23 and Me. . Their test was informative and it was fascinating to finally know my real ethnic background. However, in my list of cousins, there were none that were very close relations. From my CHSNC non-identifying information, I knew that my birth father was of French descent. I was thrilled to find quite a few French names in my relatives list and that many of my distant biological relatives are still residents of Qu├ębec.

The closest relative match that I found was a lady with a French name with an unusual spelling. She was a 3rd to 5th cousin. I emailed her and after a long wait, finally received a response. I started an email conversation with the lady’s daughter who lives in Toledo, OH. This cousin that I matched did know my birth father but had not seen him in many years. She did not know whether he was living and if so where he lives.

Not long after I received these results, I also tested on Family Tree DNA. On there, I matched with a second cousin who lives in Monroe, Michigan, not far geographically from my other cousin match from 23andme. I asked my supposed 2nd cousin, Dave, if he would give me the names of his grandparents. Logically, I knew that if Dave and I were really second cousins that our connection would be shared great grandparents. Fortunately for me, Dave trusted me enough to give me that information. There have been many coincidences in this search but the date on which I found Dave and got his information was August 2, 2013. I would later discover that this was my birth father’s birthday.


I took the names of Dave’s 4 grandparents and created a family tree for him in Ancestry.com. By now, I knew that my birth father’s family was from the Toledo, OH/Monroe, MI area. There is a settlement near Monroe that is called Frenchtown Township. Considering my French ancestry and the location of my cousin matches, this made perfect sense. I quickly ruled out Dave’s Mom’s family as our connection. They were originally from Tennessee and that didn’t fit my information. I trace Dave’s Dad’s family but his grandfather had been a Dutch immigrant who came to the US in the late 19th century at a time more recent that our connection.

That process of elimination only left Dave’s grandmother as the suspected common relative. I did a family tree for his grandmother. She was a middle child in a large German Catholic family from the SE Michigan area. As I expanded Dave’s grandmother’s family tree, I realized that her oldest sister, Henrietta, had married into a family with the same last name as my birth father. Quickly I was able to create Henrietta’s family tree and realized that she was my grandmother. Her husband was my grandfather Alton and my birth father and aunts and uncles were all there in Ancestry. I found my Uncle Alton’s obituary on Ancestry that listed my birth father, his wife, their state of residence, and the same information for all my other living aunts and uncles. 

In the early morning hours of August 5, my birthday, 3 days after I found my cousin Dave, I got a message on 23andme.com. I had a new relative match. His name was Steven and he was a theoretical second cousin. I prepared to email him but got a message from him before I even had the chance. The email told me that he saw in my profile that I was a searching adoptee and that he was pretty sure that my birth father is his Uncle Harold. He put me in contact with his Mom, my first cousin Linda. Linda and I quickly became good friends and she acted as intermediary with my birth father for me.

I have been in reunion now with my birth father’s family for a year and a half. The connection with them is deep and profound. I cannot imagine life now without them and I am sure that they feel the same. I regret that it could not be that way on my birth mother’s side but that is her decision. I’m extremely happy being reunited with my birth father and his large, loving, accepting family. 

DNA testing made it possible.

2 comments:

  1. So very happy you were successful in finding your family! Congratulations! It is a shame you lost money to a professional search company (bloodsuckers, all of them!) and that you did not know about Search Angels like me who would have happily helped you for free. What I see here is a sad story of exploitation and "intermediary" interference and undue control over your life and search that unnecessarily stymied and stalled your progress. I hope others will be forewarned by your frustrating experience trying to find and connect with family.

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  2. I am really surprised and dismayed that your birth mother wouldn't even provide a medical history. She is a nurse of all things! That's pretty controlling. I am glad you found acceptance with your father's family. I have one bio-sibling on my birth mother's side I have a relationship with but I was rejected by my birth mother. My father's family is accepting and welcoming too.

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