Finding family in the information age


Focus on Adoption magazine

To make technology work for you, harness your kids' skills

If someone told me ten years ago that I’d find my birth family online, I would have laughed. Ten years ago, we thought Y2K would spell the end of the internet. I never suspected this information superhighway would become my road to finding my sisters. But here I am, on the edge of my computer chair, on the brink of reunion.

Six months ago, my daughter signed me up for Twitter and Facebook. I protested, "Why do I need my face out there anyways? How will it help me find my birth family? Look at me. I’m in my sixties. I promise you, your aunties are not tweeting!"

But my daughter insisted we try, promising me we’d find something. "It’s like panning for gold, mom. You remember that from your gold rush days, right?"

It had taken me a long time to get here. In my twenties, after giving birth to my first daughter, I had applied to unite through the usual routes. But when my information arrived in the mail, it included an apologetic cover letter. My birth father was deceased, and my birth mother had signed a no-contact declaration.

The letter did include some details. I received non-identifying information about my birth relatives, and found out that I had two older sisters. At the time, it seemed as though reunion was not possible.

Things changed in 1996, when BC updated its Adoption Act. Under the new rules, I could request a copy of my original birth order. This would provide me with my original birth certificate, which included my birth name and the name of my birth parents, and their place of birth. To receive this, I had to sign a document promising not to contact them.

When the package arrived, it felt like a dangling carrot. "Here you are. This is the name they gave you. Here is your birthplace. These are your parents. But you can’t touch them." The names were uncommon enough, and their hometown in central BC was small enough that it wouldn’t have taken much to track them down.

I set the paperwork aside for over ten years.

My daughter took on the role of guardian for my reunion records and we agreed that she would let me know when my birth mother passed.

Two years ago, my daughter broke the news to me that my birth mother had died. In respect of my sisters’ grief, we waited. While biding my time, I struggled with how best to reconnect. What if they don’t want to see me, either? My daughter always balanced my fears, "Mom, they might love you! And families talk. They might know already. They might even be looking for you."

So six months ago, I sat back and let my daughter restart my search.

After exhausting Facebook groups, Google, online obituary records, and message boards, my daughter finally hit paydirt on "Mom! Look at this!" Someone out there had posted a family tree with my birth mother’s name and years of birth and death on it.

My daughter was ecstatic. I learned my sisters’ names. Both had families. They had daughters, and sons, and grandchildren. We logged on to facebook and found some family members in my daughter’s generation. I searched their one-inch profile pictures for any signs of resemblance. "Look, he’s got your nose, Mom! Hey Mom, am I supposed to feel jealous that my cousin’s prettier than me?"

We peeked into their lives, feeling just a twinge of voyeurism. When I found a niece whose hair was the same amber colour as my daughter’s, my mouse hovered over the "add as a friend" button. But I couldn’t bring myself to click.

It didn’t seem right, reconnecting over Facebook. I looked at my daughter, "What would you say if a random stranger introduced themselves as your long lost aunty?" "Good point, Mom. I’d soooo block them!"

Instead, we applied for the contact information of the tree’s creator, and were emailed the full name and address of my oldest sister. Finding her home phone number was easy. Dialing her number was not. In the end, I found the courage to make the call.

I introduced myself as a relative, and warned her that my story might sound crazy. After a bit of awkward silence, it soon felt like I was talking to an old friend. I assured her I didn’t want money or an invitation to Christmas dinner, but I did want the opportunity to start a relationship and go from there.

We talked for more than an hour. We were so caught up that my sister burnt her pot roast, and I forgot about dinner entirely. We made plans to visit each other in the new year. Before the call ended, I asked how she got interested in genealogy. She admitted to finding adoption records in our mother’s safety deposit box. It wasn’t until a year ago that she made the decision to post the family tree online. "We knew you were out there," she admitted, "and we hoped that somehow you’d find us."