[If this is your first time reading my Adoption Story, it is a fascinating journey told in pieces. For your best experience, start from the beginning at: Adoptee with a Note]
Over years and decades, I engaged in a cyclical pattern where I would renew my birth parent search only to then put it to rest again when I hit the same dead ends. The laws remained strict and no new information or doors opened. In one act of frustration, I hired an investigation agency who specialized in adoption searches. One year later, they resigned from my case stating that there was nothing but dead ends. My only hope, according to them, was to appeal to a court of law in New York. These cases were usually only successful, however, when biological history was needed to save one’s life or understand more about a rare genetic condition. I had no such health crisis to plead.
Family trees and genetic history applications became more popular and the information available on the internet intrigued me. I became proficient at creating family trees and histories on Ancestry.com. I found it amazing that I could create family stories, supplemented with photos, newspaper articles, government documents, immigration papers, boat manifestos, etc. I created extensive trees and family stories for my adopted family, my ex-husband’s family, and my husband’s family. My parents and my children were impressed and intrigued by their historical family history. It brought me joy to create these histories for them, but it also brought me sadness as none of the information answered the personal questions that persisted in my heart.
In the Spring of 2017, I reconnected with a friend on Facebook who lived in Rome, NY (my birth place). I was shocked to learn that she was connected to Catholic Charities. I shared my adoption history with her and she excitedly offered to help uncover new information for me. However, that last little spark of hope faded after she hit the same decade-old dead ends and sealed files. In her disappointment, she suggested that I take the DNA test in Ancestry.com stating that an adopted friend of hers had taken the test and it led her friend to discovering birth family members. I discussed it with my husband, Steve, and we decided that I had nothing to lose. A week later, I spat in a tube and sent it off in the mail. Several long weeks later, I received an email from Ancestry.com that my results were in and I could see my matches the next time I logged in to my account.
Needless to say, I didn’t wait five minutes to log in. Approximately thirty-two names came up on my DNA match page. They were categorized as: 1st or 2nd cousin, 3rd or 4th cousin, 5th or 6th cousin. I had three matches in the 1st or 2nd cousin category. To protect privacy, Ancestry DNA matches are displayed using the cryptic and anonymous userId of the Ancestry member. From first glance I could only tell if they were male or female based on the icon next to their userID.
The other piece of information I could see right away was my ethnicity. It confirmed my ethnic heritage as being Italian and Scandinavian (Danish). No surprises there. In addition, I could also see the ethnicity of my DNA matches. This meant that I could tell if the match was from my birthmother’s side (Italian) or my birthfather’s side (Danish). The three matches in the 1st or 2nd cousin slots were Italian.
After taking some deep breaths to calm my racing heart, I sent a message to each of the three closest matches through Ancestry’s message center. I didn’t reveal my adoption status or that I was searching for birth family as I didn’t want to scare them away. I simply stated that we matched with DNA and I wanted to try to figure out how we were related. I sent the messages off and turned my focus on my investigative skills and began to dig.
Within 10 minutes, I found key information! One of my cousins started a public family tree, which meant I could see it. I wrote all the names down and created my own tree (a private one) for my research. The first thing I discovered was the surname Verde*, but more significantly was the discovery that the Verde family lived in Binghamton, NY!