It included little things like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, volunteering for a day, and getting a massage.
“These are mostly things I have never done, things I have needed to do, and a few that I haven’t done in a long time,” Adam wrote across the top.
These were modest endeavors for a man facing his 40s, who wanted to spend a little time savoring what’s around him, take better care of himself, and maybe have some fun. But if you saw the list, you’d wonder why it took Adam until number 27 to include the one thing that he was always curious about – start researching who his biological family was.
“I always knew I was adopted but I never did anything about finding my natural parents,” he said. Adam knew that he was born in San Diego, he was adopted when he was 4-months old, and that the foster parents called him Mike. “I really knew nothing more,” Adam said. Then Adam’s partner, Steve, gave him a 23andMe kit for Christmas. Little did Adam know, it would open up an entirely new personal history. From his 23andMe results, Adam found many DNA relatives including a few second and third cousins who sent him messages. They exchanged messages, but quickly realized it would be hard to determine the source of their DNA connection because of Adam being adopted. “I had nothing to offer them,” he said. “No surnames. No history. Nothing at all.” When Adam had just about given up on 23andMe and his search for his birth family, a bizarre string of messages changed his life.
Authorities believe Lisa was kidnapped as a toddler and held by a man until she was five. The man who took her was convicted of murder for killing a woman and sentenced to prison. He later died in prison without revealing where Lisa came from.
Now 30 years later, detectives from the Crimes Against Children Detail of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department are working with genetic genealogist and DNA expert Barbara Rae-Venter to find Lisa’s biological family. Lisa, whose name is being withheld to protect her current identity, was too young at the time of her abduction to know or give any information about her biological parents or where she is from. Authorities are not even sure in which state or country she was abducted; her abductor had been in Quebec, Canada and all over the United States from the New England states to California.
They are not even sure when Lisa was born, but estimate it was about 1981, based on Lisa’s dental development at the time she was recovered. They also believe she was younger than two when she was abducted.For more information on the case or to learn how to help, email Barbara Rae-Venter at GenealogyConsult@gmail.com. Barbara is a retired patent attorney who specialized in biotechnology. In addition to a J.D., Barbara has a Ph.D. in biology, and before attending law school, taught biochemistry and endocrinology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston,Texas.
A profile had appeared on his list of DNA relatives that wasn’t there previously. It listed Lisa as a likely second or third cousin. He started receiving messages from a woman named Barbara Rae-Venter who was working with Lisa, and she asked Adam to “share genomes”. She told him she was a volunteer with DNAadoption, and asked him to send his response to the DNAadoption website query line and that she’d in turn be able to put him in touch with a volunteers who could help him in his search.
Even after sharing genomes, Adam was suspicious about the strange messages. He thought it might be a scam or ploy to get money from him. So after not replying to some of her messages, he got a long message from Barbara. She explained that she was working with a deputy from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to help Lisa – not her real name – learn who she is and try to find her own biological family. As a toddler, Lisa had been kidnapped and was held captive for several years. After a few years, she managed to escape. Her kidnapper was later arrested and put in prison, where he later died. Unfortunately, he never offered up any information about Lisa’s origins, and as a result, the authorities could never identify Lisa’s biological parents to reunite her with her family. Now more than 30 years later, with the help of expert researchers and genetic genealogists, as well as advancements in DNA testing, they are trying to help Lisa finally find answers. (See the sidebar to learn more about Lisa’s story and the effort to help her.)
At first the story they told seemed so awful that Adam had a hard time believing it. “It was like something you see on a Thursday night TV crime show. This type of stuff doesn’t actually happen to real people,” Adam said. They asked Adam for his help.
He quickly shared his birth certificate and adoption records with Barbara, which included his adoptive mother’s maiden name and his birth date. This information would allow Barbara, with the help of an adoption search angel, Diana Iwanski, to obtain information from his original birth certificate through a reverse look up microfiche. Within a day, Barbara and Diana had obtained Adam’s mother’s maiden name, his half-brother’s name (Robert), as well as the name Adam was given at birth – Michael Richard Kravan. Although the deputy asked Adam to wait before trying to contact any family members until he could confirm the information on his birth mother by obtaining a copy of his original birth certificate from San Diego County, that didn’t stop Adam from looking online. Within minutes of learning his birth name and the name of his half-brother, he quickly found his profile on Facebook. It was there that Adam found pictures of his birth mother.
“When I saw them I just started balling my eyes out,” he said. “It’s hard to describe, being in your 40s and your whole life not knowing anything about your birth family and then all of a sudden, you see them. It all happened so fast. I went from getting a crazy email about a kidnapped girl to finding my birth family within a few days.”
All those emotions were mixed together when the deputy got back in touch with Adam a few months later and gave him the OK to contact his birth mother, Patti. When they finally spoke on the phone, they were both overwrought with emotion. He tried to put her nerves at ease by explaining that he held no judgement, just joy for giving him life.
“I told her I had a great life and am very happy. I am very grateful that she put me up for adoption versus one of the alternatives.”
Patti and Robert only lived a few hours from Adam’s home in Oakland, California. He drove up to meet Robert first, then met Patti a few weeks later. The three met several times in those first few months and spent many hours together talking. Adam started getting answers to the holes in his past, and his mother was able to explain to Adam why he’d been given up for adoption. “She had three children – all with different men,” Adam said. “She was a troubled young woman at the time; lots of drugs and alcohol and unfortunate situations that made raising a child tough.” She in turn told him that he had another older brother, who she hadn’t seen for decades. Now Adam has put finding his oldest brother on his list of things to do in the coming year. “Now that I’ve started learning about my birth family, I want to learn more and more,” Adam claimed.
His own search led to finding an uncle, Aaron, who is a half-brother of his birth mother, whom she never knew about before. Aaron’s father, Adam’s maternal grandfather was an actor in the 70s and 80s, and shares a striking physical resemblance to Adam. DNA testing of Adam’s birth mother confirmed that Adam was connected to Lisa through his biological father. Based on the family tree that Barbara built for Lisa and DNA information, both Lisa and Adam are connected to a man who was one of each of their closest matches. Through that connection Barbara identified the family she believes also include Adam’s father. DNA testing of a member of that family identified him as likely an uncle of Adam’s. But the definitive answer about who his father is, is still being sought. It’s another piece of his and Lisa’s puzzle they are trying solve. He still can’t help but feel heartbroken by his cousin Lisa’s story.
“She deserves to find her family too,” he said. “I owe her so much and I look forward to the day I can meet her and thank her in person.”
The whole experience has brought peace to Adam. He always felt a disconnect with his adoptive family; they didn’t always get along and had very different personalities and interests. Now, finding relatives who are outgoing and creative like him, not to mention share physical and character traits, gives him a sense of belonging he didn’t have before.
“This entire experience has helped explain why I am the way I am,” he said, “and I am forever grateful.”