When Times Were Different: My Search for My Biological Family

In this post, a WACAP staff member shares her story about growing up adopted and the search for her biological family. More than 60 years after her adoption, she’s found some of the answers she was looking for and invites us along on her journey.

Grayscale photo of Karen as a child next to picture of Karen today

(Left) Karen as a child; (Right) Karen today (Image Source: WACAP Staff)

My Search for My Biological Family

By a WACAP Staff Member and Adoptee

Wondering If There Was Family Out There

As an adoptee I found myself wondering many times if there was family “out there.” Even an aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather. Did they know about me? Why had they never searched for me?

I was adopted in 1951. I came to my mom and dad when I was six weeks old. Mom was 37 and Dad 43.

They’d tried to have children for years with no luck and their being able to adopt me was truly an answered prayer.  Due to some health issues, they could not adopt again.

What My Mother Told Me, and What She Didn’t

I knew I’d been adopted from a very young age, but it was not something my mom wanted to discuss nor did she want others to know. She was terrified that someone would come take me away and due to her insecurities, she told me that my mother had died in childbirth and that my father had been killed in the Korean War.

It wasn’t until I was near the end of my pregnancy with my first child (1977) and having some health issues related to the pregnancy, that my mother finally told me my biological mom had not died in childbirth, so that I could tell my doctor. (She never said anything about my father.)

Behind Curtains of Shame and Fear

My mother was so ashamed that she had lied but still so scared that I would find my bio mom and fall “in love” with her. It was a sad, but true worry she clung to. As a result, I never did much searching for family members out of respect for her wishes and her fears.

I am sure she felt inadequate not being able to bear a child and on top of that, she didn’t want others to know that I was, as some would have called me, “illegitimate.”

Times were different then.

Looking for Something

Time didn’t stand still, however, and neither did my desire to know more about my biological family.

In the late 90’s, I did do some internet searches, but I came up blank.

Mom passed away in 2006. I still felt I needed to honor her wishes that I not search for my bio mom.

However, in 2008, I began working for WACAP, where I heard stories about adoptees’ birth family searches, and helped answer questions about WACAP’s search and reunion services. After a few years, I learned about the at-home DNA and ancestry testing kits that were becoming so accessible and thought they might help me piece together parts of my story. In late 2016, after much debate, I finally sent in a kit through 23andMe.

I’d been able to obtain an original copy of my birth certificate with my bio mom’s name on it and waited eagerly for news of a DNA match that might tell me more. For months, I heard nothing encouraging.

Finding a Match

In February of 2018, I received notice I was a 23 percent DNA match with a girl who was likely my niece. I was in shock.

Lo and behold, when I contacted her, she knew my biological mom’s name, where my bio mother was from, and announced I had a brother and three sisters, all living in Colorado.

Sadly, I learned my bio mom had passed away in 2016.

There was still some uncertainty about who my father was, but my niece convinced her great uncle to do a DNA test as well. He was my uncle. His brother was my bio mom’s husband and my bio dad.

He’d passed away in 1997, but I had found him.

Uncovering Stories From a Different Time

Since both of my bio parents were deceased, it was evident that neither my siblings nor I would ever know the full story of why I was put up for adoption.

Since my bio mom had only been gone for just over a year, at first, I wished I had searched sooner. But apparently, my niece was also trying to honor her grandmother’s wishes for privacy, and had not done the DNA test until after her death. I wished for what I could know.

I learned that my bio parents were married about two months after my birth, and they went on to have four children together in seven years that followed.

I have since been in contact with all my newfound siblings and discovered that, though their mother told several of them she had given a child up for adoption, she gave them very little information beyond that.

They knew the child was a girl, they knew my birth date, and that I was born with club feet. My bio mom feared this condition was due to her binding herself to hide her pregnancy, and she’d made it clear to my siblings that she didn’t want to discuss anything further about this.

Times were different back in the 1950s for an unwed mother.

The Good and the “Weird” of It All

People who know my story are always asking me how I feel about all this. My initial response: “weird.”  I am sure that seems like an odd thing to say, but there is still so much going through my mind regarding my story’s twist and turns.

For one, the siblings I’ve gained “welcomed me to the family,” but at least for right now, they don’t feel like family.

Next, we were raised in very different circumstances. We share “nature” (DNA) but not “nurture.” As an only child I know I had many opportunities they never had. How different would my life have been if I had not been put up for adoption? Would I have been able to attend college? It is likely I would not have traveled as extensively as I did.

Furthermore, there is some current tension between the siblings that, thankfully, I don’t have to deal with.

Yes, it is all very weird.

Beneath the Desire to Know

Some might wonder what I was looking for. It’s true I didn’t know what I would find, and also that I was content in my life as it was.

So, then, why did I search?

On the surface, a main reason was to learn about my family’s medical history. I was tired of doctors asking me, “Is there a history of (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) in the family?” and me having to say, “I don’t know, I was adopted.” I believe this has caused me to have several medical tests that I might have avoided had I just had some family medical history. My siblings have been great at providing me some of that.

But, deep down inside, there are other reasons; some instinctual curiosity has always been there.

If there was family out there, I had questions:

  • What was my ancestry like?
  • What education did my parents have?
  • What career, if any, did my bio mom pursue?
  • What personality traits do we share?
  • Where did my daughter get her red hair?
  • Who does my 6’ 2” son get that height from?
  • Does baldness run in the family?
  • The list goes on.

Search and Discovery

Although my mother was worried about what would happen if I sought answers to some of my questions, I can honestly say that I have not regretted or resented being adopted for one minute, nor do I hold any ill will against my bio mother and bio father for putting me up for adoption. To me, it would be silly to have regrets. As the expression goes, that’s “water under the bridge,” a past I can’t change.

If I could, I would love to be able tell my bio mom what a gift she gave my mother and that I never for even a moment felt unloved. Over protected, maybe, but not unloved. (I am not sure my new siblings fully understand that.)

Time will tell whether or not my siblings and I will stay connected or if this unusual relationship will fade away.

For now, I am delighted to have the contacts I have made, especially with one of my sisters, and grateful for all the information they have provided me. It’s all a little weird still, and there still questions without answers.

But times are different today, different for me, and perhaps too for the family that knows I’m here.

WACAP believes in providing lifelong support to families before and after adoption. Learn more about WACAP’s Social Services and its search and reunion services

About WACAP’s Home Study Processing Coordinator: Karen joined WACAP’s staff in 2009. Helping families across the U.S. during their home study process, she also assists executive staff and WACAP’s Family Finders team. She’s committed to helping children find families and loves the people she works with. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, likes crafts including crocheting and rubber stamping, and enjoys gardening and attending theater productions with friends. “Can you tell I am not one to sit around and do nothing?” she’s known to ask colleagues with a smile.  


WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents) is one of the largest and most experienced international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies in the United States. Since 1976, we’ve placed over 10,000 children with loving adoptive parents and provided food, medical care and education to more than 200,000 children around the world.
This entry was posted in Adoptees' Perspectives, Adoption, Domestic Adoption, Staff/Board Spotlight, WACAP and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When Times Were Different: My Search for My Biological Family

  1. Jody Smith says:

    I to was adopted, in 1948. My mother was not in favor of giving any information about my adoption to me. I have wondered many things over the decades. The medical is as you say. The doctors questions are always answered the same, I was adopted.
    Last year I did a dna test with Ancestry.com. I really just wanted to know my nationality. I did find my mothers name.she had already passed a few years before. The best part of this was, I have a full blooded sister, just like you. It is so weird, but nice. We compare alikenesses. We also have a half sister in Iowa. We have all met. My full sister and I have met five times in the last year. I to wish my mother would know, I am never giving her up as my mother. She raised me. I’m hers. It is a wonderful experience that dna tests can be done. For those that are adopted and are not interested in knowing their biological past, I say. Try it, you may like it.

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