Jan 6, 2021 - Stories

23andMe Helps Adoptee Find Birth Family


It wasn’t until she was 30 that Bonnie dared to search for the details of her birth.

An adoptee with loving parents and a brother and sister she adored, Bonnie said she never asked for more information about her origins because she thought she couldn’t.

“I didn’t ask questions because somewhere along the way, I think I was taught not to ask for too much,” she said. “Or maybe I was afraid.”

So Bonnie waited until after her first son’s birth to track down her birth certificate. On it, she learned of her biological mother’s name but nothing more. It would take almost three decades, two more sons, and a lucky connection on 23andMe before Bonnie filled in the details. She learned how she came to be born and found the links to establish deep relationships with newfound family.

“It was a surprise when it happened,” said Bonnie, who never expected to find any relatives.

Lucky Coincidence

The first surprise came a few years ago after she opened up her 23andMe results. She’d purchased a kit with the hope of finding more about her health, but within a day of getting her results, she instead found a half-brother on her birth father’s side. It turned out her brother had tested at almost the exact same time as Bonnie. She took the lucky coincidence as an omen that waiting all that time was all meant to be.

Both Bonnie and her brother were shocked by the connection, but he was more so because he’d always thought he was an only child.

It turned out their father — who died many years before Bonnie and her brother connected — had had an affair with Bonnie’s birth mother. Bonnie was born and put up for adoption, a secret kept from him.

Nature and Nurture

While her brother didn’t have the details, he shared with Bonnie more about their father, a learned man interested in art. That explained a few things for Bonnie, who has a BFA in drawing and photography. She was also part of the first generation in her family to go to college. In addition to her path toward higher learning, her sons also have an academic bent. One is a medical doctor, the other a patent attorney, and her youngest son is a computer science major at Ohio State University.

“I can go into nurture versus nature quite well now,” Bonnie said. “Religion and politics: taught. Sense of humor, talents, intelligence: inherited.”

She believes her interest in art may have come from her father, who was somewhat of an artist himself.

“These inherited traits are why I mentioned the success of my children,” Bonnie said. “I always gave my husband credit for our kids’ intelligence, but now I know it is inherent on both sides!”

Putting it Together

Connecting with her brother opened up the door into her paternal side. Still, that initial conversation with him also gave Bonnie little bits of information — places and names — that helped her piece together her mother’s identity. Within a few days of that initial conversation, Bonnie connected with her birth mother and found out she had two sons, two more half-brothers for Bonnie.

“The oddest thing about the off and on ‘search’ for my birth mother through the years is that her name never came up in it,” Bonnie said. “I looked through vital statistics for hours to no avail. But the day I found a birth brother on 23andMe, I suddenly found a trail to her.”

After the initial connection, Bonnie spent time cultivating relationships with both sides of her family. By chance, her birth mother and birth father’s family lived not far from each other in California. Their proximity has allowed Bonnie to visit both sides of her family and, over the years, build authentic family connections.

Mother and Daughter

She’s learned more about traits she shares with her mom — mannerisms, a love of books and learning, and she now understands more about what led to her adoption. There was never any question they were mother and daughter. The two look almost identical. They also share many of the same mannerisms, even some of the same likes and dislikes.

Bonnie said the connection helped her, but it has given her birth mother solace. Her birth mother was just a young college student when she became pregnant. She’d been alone and fearful. She never told her parents or her siblings about what happened. She also had to sign an agreement that she wouldn’t look for her daughter after the adoption.

“She struggled that year,” Bonnie said. “She loved my father and lost him, lost me, got married, and moved.”

She never forgot about Bonnie, and she sometimes agonized over giving her up.

“She had some healing to do,” Bonnie said.

When the two met in person the first time, Bonnie brought a small picture book. In it, she’d included photos from her life, her family, and her history to show her how happy she was.

“It helped,” Bonnie said.


Meeting in person and meeting Bonnie’s sons also eased her mind that she’d made the right decision.

“It especially helped to meet us all and know that it had to be this way (her giving me up) to make the family I have,” Bonnie said.

Her birth mother had told her two sons when they were in high school about giving up a daughter, so they knew they had a sister out there. When Bonnie found them, they bonded.

“They accept me with love,” she said.

Bonnie has also bonded with one of her nieces, Ashlee, and continues to stay in touch with her brother on her father’s side. Bonnie’s siblings have also grown to embrace this bigger family.

“They know how happy I am that I got to grow up with them because I tell them all the time,” she said.

Bonnie said she felt so lucky not just to have the family she grew up with but two mothers, and two more families who opened their arms to her.

“It would have been nice to have this birth family relationship more years ago,” said Bonnie. “But maybe …  I wouldn’t have had the peace and joy that I do now. (And), hey, 23andMe wasn’t around back then to help me.”

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