Search Ends: I Found My Biological Father

My search is over. A DNA test has confirmed the identity of my biological father.

I was beyond thrilled when I got the email from a woman I suspected was a close relative based on countless hours of detective work. She had taken a DNA test at my request.

“Tom, I found my father,” I told my husband, who was under the covers at 6 a.m. “Congratulations,” he murmured.

The 1960s: Secret Era of Adoption

I was adopted in the 1960s when adoptions were deep secrets. As a late discovery adoptee, I did not discover the truth until I was 38. Without going through an adoption agency, my parents, both in their 50s, worked quietly with a doctor from Chicago’s northern suburbs who may have been a baby broker.

A door to my secret past opened in 2011, when Illinois unsealed original birth certificates. Up until then, I didn’t have any documentation related to the adoption. Once I got my birth record, I had to dig around to find out who my father was. My mother was listed, of course, along with an address in Northbrook, Illinois, but my father was “not legally known.”

After spending four years on and off combing genealogical records and comparing snips of chromosomes from distant DNA matches, I felt proud and satisfied to get the truth. To finally have a name, photos and some details about my dad and his family made the tedious, often frustrating effort worthwhile. I felt relieved, having unraveled a mystery that’s burdened me for years. I felt complete. I had roots like everyone else. My family history is coming together on both sides.

I was on top of the world but the high didn’t last. I crashed quickly.

Learning About My Biological Father

My father, Stephen, a skilled auto mechanic and co-owner of a gas station, was living on King Court in Wheeling, Illinois with his wife and two daughters when he got to know my troubled mother, Lillian, who lived a few miles away on Alice Drive in Northbrook with her husband and four young children. Lillian was an alcoholic who suffered from bipolar disorder. Her children, my half-siblings, often had to fend for themselves since Lillian wasn’t there when they needed her. Like my mother, Stephen was a drinker and carouser. Did Lillian and Stephen meet at some suburban watering hole? Maybe it all began when Lillian brought Stephen a menu at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress or at the service station when she brought the car in for a tune-up. Did they have a fling or was it something deeper? Did they share a bond over their rural roots?

My biological father, Stephen, in 1954
My biological father, Stephen, in 1954
My birth mother, Lillian, was a married mother of four when she had me
My birth mother, Lillian, was a married mother of four when she had me

I have a million questions. What brought my father, the son of Arkansas farmers, to the northwest suburbs of Chicago? I know he served in the Navy. In 1950, at the age of 22, Stephen married a young woman from Arkansas. They tied the knot in Cook County, Illinois.

My biological father served in the Navy
My biological father served in the Navy

I never met Lillian, who died of breast cancer at the very young age of 48, long before I even knew I was adopted. Sadly, I will never have a chance to meet my father either. During my search, I thought it was possible my father never knew I existed and once I found him, he would welcome me into his life and it would be like a fairy tale ending. No such luck. I’m sure Stephen knew about me and never attempted to find me. That hurts. We will never have a chance to get to know one another. At the age of 75, Stephen died of lung cancer in 2003 in Scranton, Arkansas, about 20 minutes from the tiny town of Paris, where he was born. He was a recluse living in a one-room tin shack at the time of his death. Writing about this brings tears to my eyes.

At the kitchen table, I spent a couple of hours perusing family trees on I think Stephen was the youngest of eight or nine children. I felt sad seeing the names of his brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles who are all deceased. I’ll never have the opportunity to get to know them, to learn what it was like to grow up in a big farm family in the early 20th century in rural Arkansas, so different from my childhood in Chicago.

Spending too much time on genealogy can be dreary. I had to get away from my dead relatives so I shut down the computer and went downstairs to fold laundry. In the kitchen, I ran vinegar through the coffee maker. I worked up a sweat vacuuming the living room rug. I walked to the farmers market, the hardware store and the bodega to stock up on groceries and household stuff. I needed distractions.

Connecting with my biological family

But the dark truths I uncovered are lightened by other discoveries. I am overjoyed to have found Stephanie, Stephen’s oldest daughter, who understands and respects my need to know where I came from. In my first email to Stephanie, I introduced myself as a “new family member,” possibly a cousin. I didn’t mention the possibility we could be half-sisters. I explained my search, shared the date and year when I was conceived and where my mother had been living at the time. I told Stephanie my father might have been a golfer, of Irish or English ancestry, a man with blue eyes like mine. I attached a recent photo of myself, noting the strong resemblance between the two of us. Stephanie and I both have thick, coarse hair, fair skin and big, light-colored eyes.

The next morning, Stephanie’s email left me stunned. The year when I was conceived coincided with the break-up of her parents’ marriage, said Stephanie, who was in first grade at the time. After separating, her parents got back together but ultimately divorced. Stephen, who never remarried, moved back to the same rural area of Arkansas where he and his brothers and sisters had grown up.

Years later, when Stephanie was a teenager, she would learn from her mother that Stephen had fathered another child, a boy, with another woman. So Stephanie knew she had another sibling, a half-brother. Except for the baby’s gender, all the other facts seemed to point in one direction.

On the phone that night, we made a connection. Stephanie is a lovely and thoughtful person. We talked for nearly an hour. She agreed to take a DNA test. Wouldn’t it be great to have Stephanie as my new sister, I thought after hanging up.

I was very happy when the Family Tree DNA Family Finder test confirmed it. Stephanie and I spent more than 90 minutes talking on the phone. Stephanie, her daughter, a college student, and I want to meet in person either in the Big Apple or near St. Louis, where Stephanie lives. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities.



19 thoughts on “Search Ends: I Found My Biological Father

  1. Lynne, this is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing your journey and courage to find the truth. You should write a book!

  2. Lynne, I’m so glad you’ve reached a goal you’ve sought for so long. I hope there is a measure of peace in that place. Congratulations.

  3. Lynne, I am so happy your persistence paid off. You worked so hard on this. The truth was painful to learn but you found some great new relatives. I think all adoptees should have this knowledge.

  4. Thank you, Dan. I feel closure. It’s satisfying to have family history like everyone else.

  5. Lynne, I am so sorry for your pain, but so glad that you finally know. Thank you for sharing your story with us. <3

  6. Thanks for the support, Chris. It’s been a long and often times frustrating journey and I’m glad to know the truth. It gives me closure.

  7. Lynne what a journey you’ve been on! Great research and great findings. I can’t wait to hear about when you and Stephanie meet. Also, how’s your sister doing? Is she researching her family history?
    So happy for you — and Tom and Jake. This must be a big moment for your entire family!

  8. I agree with Christine — this is totally book-worthy. As a complete outside observer, I’ve found your story fascinating. I’m not surprised by your diligence; I’m impressed at all of ways — both modern and good old fashioned foot-work — you’ve employed to put the puzzle together. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Thank you for the kind words, Lynn. I’m happy my work has paid off. I take it you are not an adoptee or an adoptive parent? Thanks for reading.

  10. Thank you, Lorri. I am looking forward to meeting Stephanie but I want to give her time to get used to the idea of having another sister. Tom has been very supportive and encouraging. Jake is mildly interested. I appreciate your taking the time to read my story. Miss you!

  11. Thanks, Valerie. Yeah, having my truth means a lot to me and I can handle the truth. Thanks for reading.

  12. Lynne,
    I have been doing family trees for over 20 years. When my wife and I married 9 years ago I started working on hers. Her grandfather was adopted and brought to Chicago from Liverpool England when he was 3 years old. It took me many years but I found the descendants of his father living in Yorkshire England. We have confirmed all the records. We now email often and share photos and family stories.

  13. Dear Lynne,

    You have undertaken this quest with a lot of courage and tenacity. I’m glad that you have found the answers you sought and hope that it gives you some comfort.

    Thank you for sharing your poignant story with friends and other adoptees.


  14. Lynne, as your friend I am so happy for you.

    As a former newsroom colleague, I am in awe of your dogged, diligent, determined reportage throughout this search. (Please forgive me; I can’t think of any more appropriate adjectives that begin with the letter D right now.)

    I am so hopeful that you and Stephanie will be able to establish a fulfilling, long-lasting sisterly relationship. You surely deserve that after all this time and effort.

    I look forward to the next chapter of your inspiring story.


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