By Jonathan Fischer
My name is Jonathan Fischer. I was adopted shortly after birth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not knowing more than where I was born, I always wondered about my origins and who my parents were. But I was also afraid about what I might find out, so for years I did nothing.
Then not too long ago I tried 23andMe. Little did I know how much it would change my life.
My decision to take the leap and explore where I came from started in a small café along Alki Beach in West Seattle in the summer of 2013. I sat and talked to a dear friend, who is also a genealogist. I told her about both my curiosity and my fears. She recommended trying 23andMe, so I did.
Right away I learned some health information, and that I was over 3 percent Neanderthal, something my wife says explains a lot. But I also found people I was related to genetically. Using 23andMe’s “DNA Relatives,” I connected with many cousins some very distant and others much closer and even received a message from one of these close cousins. Turned out he was related to me through my paternal side, and, fortunately for me, he was also a genealogy buff.
He told me that finding me — a second cousin he’d never heard of — piqued his interest. How were we connected, he wondered. Our emails finally led to a phone conversation.
Although my initial intent hadn’t been to find relatives, when he asked me if I wanted to know the identity of my biological father, I didn’t hesitate:
“Yes!” I told him.
Analyzing a family tree, he used a simple process of elimination to identify the man he thought was my father, and offered up a name.
After that phone conversation I wondered what I had just done. I had no idea what piercing the veil of secrecy would mean for me or this man and his family, but finding a name pushed me to take the next step, so I began taking a more traditional approach: filling out a form with the state of Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families asking for my adoption file. This would give me access to a redacted file of my adoption.
What I got was my birth certificate and some basic facts about my biological mother but without any identifying information. I learned that only a single parent was listed on my original birth certificate, as my biological mother had not chosen to establish paternity. Although paternity was not established, there were details from the caseworker about my alleged father. Enough detail in fact that I was able to compare some of that information to the information supplied by my newly found second cousin, giving me some confidence that indeed I had the correct name for my biological father.
So in January 2014 I took a deep breath, and wrote him a letter. The day it arrived, my biological father called four times trying to get in touch. When I got home from work, I quickly called him back and we talked into the night. It was like being born all over again. He confirmed that I was indeed his son, something we triple checked later when he also tested with 23andMe. We stayed in touch and arranged to meet in person.
In August of 2014 I met him, his brother, my uncle, and my half-brothers and sisters at a family dinner arranged for my visit. I had to muster all my courage to walk into that room. While my half-brothers and sisters were initially shocked to find out they had an older brother, they were friendly but guarded. Our relationship has grown since then.
Back when I had asked the state for my adoption file, I had also checked a box requesting contact with my biological mother. I was fortunate for how easy it was for my caseworker to find her. Because of the success with my father, I also I got my hopes up that I would get a chance to meet her too. But that was not the case, at least at first. After much consideration she declined to establish contact. For years, I’d never allowed myself to even hope I would find her, but being so close and then her declining to make contact was disappointing to say the least. I was crushed.
But I decided not to let it go at that. I still wanted to know who she was. Using the information I had from my case file, as well as information from the 1940 Census, I found her name. Although there was nothing stopping me from writing her a letter, I felt any contact that didn’t go through the state would be totally inappropriate. Occasionally I would Google my mother’s family. It was a difficult time. I worried that although I knew who they were, I’d never get a chance to meet them. Then I thought of a quote from the Book of Lamentations:
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
So I waited.
In May of 2016, I was visiting my biological dad for his birthday when I received a text from my wife. Check your email she said. There was a message from my caseworker telling me that my biological mother had changed her mind. She was ready to have contact, and my caseworker wanted to know if I was still interested in meeting her. I said yes, emphatically.
A few weeks later I went to Michigan to meet my mom, and my half-brothers and half-sister and their families. My half brothers and sister were delighted to find out that my existence was real after all.
Since connecting with them, I’ve been able to establish close relationships with both my biological parents. I talk to my mother every week and my father daily.
I’m a lucky man. I once had but one family, now I have three. My adoption experience was special and I was fortunate to have been adopted by a very loving, successful, happy and intelligent couple. After adopting me my parents conceived my sister.
Now I’ve met both my biological parents and their families, who are also filled with successful, happy and intelligent people. I’ve gone from having one sister to having ten siblings, and a passel of nieces and nephews. Not many adoptees have this kind of success finding biological relatives. I guess I would have to say that I’m a very lucky guy thanks to 23andMe.
Jonathan is a CPA living in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two kids.