Neal: 00:01 He didn’t really remember very much about my biological mother and that’s a, that’s a search that continues to this day. Um, and sort of like, uh, everything that was fast and relatively easy about finding my genetic father and his family has been difficult about trying to find my genetic mother.
Voices: 00:35 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:47 This is Who Am I Really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis. And on today’s show is Neal. He called me from right here in Rockville, Maryland. Neal search didn’t take off until he was 66 years old. He got a DNA kit for his birthday and within months he was in touch with his paternal family. Ohio’s open original birth certificate policy, helped him learn his birth mother’s name, but he couldn’t find a single maternal connection during his search. This episode was just about to end when Neal circled back to share some big news. This is Neal’s journey. Neal was raised in bay shore, New York on Long Island. He figures his parents must’ve done a good job with helping him to feel okay with his adoption because he always knew and his parents openly pointed out friends in the neighborhood who were adopted too. He had one younger sister also adopted and his parents selected a special day to commemorate their adoptions.
Neal: 01:50 Valentine’s Day became sort of our day to commemorate uh, our adoption of me and my sister. And uh, we just kind of, they just kind of made a big deal about it and uh, they were actually greeting cards at the time that, uh, I had a message about being accepted as an adoptee.
Damon: 02:15 Oh really? That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. That’s kind of cool.
Neal: 02:19 Yeah, it is.
Damon: 02:21 Neal says he and his sister got along fine when they were kids, but they kind of realized in adulthood that they were different people and they went their separate ways. In terms of inquiring about their adoptions Neal said his sister was much more into peppering their parents with questions about her adoption than he was about his. We agreed that sometimes young men just aren’t as interested in their adoptions as young women are. So that begs the question, when did he take an interest in understanding his roots?
Neal: 02:50 Things, things moved along? Uh, college marriage, kids and that whole thing. And uh, my mother died in the year 2000. My father passed away in 2012. And uh, my youngest sister died last year in 2017.
New Speaker: 03:18 Oh I’m sorry.
Neal: 03:18 and at that point I realized, Oh wow, I’m like the only person left from my immediate family. And it just, you know, the feeling was different and that’s, that’s when I started to think about it. And a, a friend of ours who had gone to a, a little bit ahead of me, had gone through and was going through a similar experience, uh, and it was positive for him and he told me about it and he urged me to have my DNA tested.
Damon: 03:56 So you were just generally curious. It wasn’t even, it wasn’t even, doesn’t sound like a burning passion for you at that moment, right?
Neal: 04:04 Not really. But I was curious and being the only member of my immediate family, my, it definitely got stronger.
Damon: 04:16 What did you think about that in terms of being the only member of your immediate family? I mean, that’s a a fairly solitary feeling, I would imagine, out of it’s, it’s a stark reality when you start to look at, you know, look back at your life and I’m sure as you reflect on your own children and them going forward, you know, what kinds of things did you think about as this, this lone family member left?
Neal: 04:42 Well, I, I just found myself more frequently thinking about things that happened in the family and time I spent with my parents and different things we did. I just find myself thinking about them more.
Damon: 04:57 Yeah, I understand. That reflection sort of breeds curiosity sometimes.
Neal: 05:03 Very much so.
New Speaker: 05:04 Neal’s wife gave him an ancestry DNA kit for his 66th birthday in December. In May, He went to his computer to find thousands of DNA matches
Neal: 05:14 here are all these thousands of people and I don’t know a single one of them.
Damon: 05:18 Thank goodness they were arranged in order of his strongest matches to the most distant. A woman named Norene was his closest match. Kelly was the next closest match. Neal sent both women a message, but it took Norene awhile to write back. Kelly responded almost immediately. She admitted she didn’t know much about genealogy, but her mother had been doing it the old fashioned way since high school. Kelly said
Neal: 05:44 she, she looked at the little, a photo of me and ancestry and I remember she said, honestly, you resemble my grandfather a little bit. And that was my first indication that we, I think we may be on to something here. And, and, and in talking about, uh, her dad and her grandfather, uh, she referred to him as, uh, my genetic dad, she referred to him as parenthesis and maybe your dad too in a later email and that was another indication that, uh, it’s because it’s happening very fast and it’s becoming real. She told me that her dad, who she was pretty sure was my half brother, was planning a family talk to talk about, well about me because they had no idea about this. And how to deal with their dad about it. And uh, a couple of, I started to communicate, email with a couple of other family members and uh, they welcomed me into the family. I’m thinking, wow, this is, this is really going very well.
Damon: 07:06 Within a few weeks a few more family members had taken DNA tests and they had figured out a fair amount about his genetic father’s family tree.
Neal: 07:14 I do have a half brother who told me he had always wanted a brother but he had given up.
New Speaker: 07:21 Wow. That’s funny.
Neal: 07:23 There was, there was a lot going on and we were finding out a lot, a lot of stuff. And I just sent him a message and said, Hey, this is, this is really exciting we need to talk about this. So we got on the phone and we just, we just talked for awhile about, you know, who was, who in the family and you know, welcoming me to the family and what’s going on.
Damon: 07:49 Did he tell you about your dad?
Neal: 07:52 A little bit.
Damon: 07:53 What kinds of things do you remember that he may have shared in those first conversations?
Neal: 07:57 A lot of it was, he kept telling me, you look more like my dad, then you look like me. I think it’s true.
Damon: 08:09 Email communications continued with his two sisters. One is near Cleveland, Ohio, the other in San Francisco, California. Neal said it’s been wonderful to have a brother and he and his wife talk with his brother and his wife weekly. He talks about meeting his brother and meeting his birth father.
Neal: 08:27 We’ve met them twice. The first time they were already planning to come here for the 4th of July weekend. They wound up spending time with us.
Damon: 08:37 Oh Nice.
Neal: 08:38 Which was really nice. And then we extended our summer, on our way home from summer vacation we extended it for a day and we had dinner with my brother, his wife, their two children, one of them being Kelly, the one I had made contact with. And then the next day, uh, we met with my biological father.
Damon: 09:06 Wow. Where was he? Did he live at home?
Neal: 09:08 he lives in a senior facility in Cleveland?
Damon: 09:11 The senior facility. Okay. And how was it?
Neal: 09:16 I, I, I would admit I was, uh, we went into the sort of like a meeting room. One, one of the people with us went, went to his room to get him and I just started feeling very nervous. But he came out and it, I thought it went fine. He’s very talkative. He told me a lot about different things that he remembered. He didn’t really remember very much about my biological mother. And that’s, that’s a search that continues to this day. Um, and it’s sort like a, everything that was fast and relatively easy about finding my genetic father and his family has been difficult about trying to find my genetic mother. But we had a good meeting. Just so much had happened. I was just almost overwhelmed.
New Speaker: 10:22 Yeah, I can imagine
Neal: 10:24 it went well.
Damon: 10:25 How did you greet each other? Handshake? Hug?
Neal: 10:27 Yeah. We had a hug
Damon: 10:30 man. How did that feel? You’re already nervous.
Neal: 10:34 It felt good. I, um, I started to relax.
Damon: 10:39 Neal’s father is about 91 years old. He’s pretty strong, gets around okay with a walker and is pretty willing to talk. When they were face to face, Neal could see their strong family resemblance.
Neal: 10:51 I remember thinking, so is this what I’m going to look like when I’m 80? That wouldn’t be too bad.
Damon: 11:00 When Neal spoke of his resemblance to his brother, he said,
Neal: 11:03 it’s not quite as strong a physical resemblance, but we have, we have some, we have some subtle similarities. Uh, we both married women with very, very similar personalities, which is kind of amazes me at times. That was probably the biggest, one of the biggest surprises in this whole a series of events
Damon: 11:27 is that your wives are so similar to each other?
Neal: 11:29 Yeah.
Damon: 11:30 That’s pretty comical actually.
Neal: 11:33 I know
Damon: 11:34 his birth father didn’t remember much about his birth mother at all. Neal was able to ask specifically about her because Neal was born in Ohio, where as you may know, the state has some great open adoption records laws. He had already done some research at the Ohio Department of Health where he found a place to apply for his original birth certificate. He mailed his application with a $20 check and two weeks later he received his original birth certificate with his birth mother’s name. What was that like to see that information for the first time, through your own eyes?
Neal: 12:08 It was exciting. A little, it felt a little, it felt a little strange. It’s just different emotions. I don’t even know if she’s alive. I thought that would be relatively easy to find, but nope, it’s not.
Damon: 12:25 Neal hadn’t made contact with any genetic maternal relatives when we chatted. He had lots of first cousin connections, but unbelievably every one of them seem to be a paternal connection. Neal knew at the time of our interview that his birth mother had a bit of a career as an actress and a singer. Neal thinks his birth parents met singing at their synagogue in Cleveland, but I found it so odd that he hadn’t found a single maternal relative. He said he wanted to engage with DNA detectives to see if he could find something. Anything. He says he keeps running into adoptees during his search and he’s even gotten some help from people whom he doesn’t have a genetic match with their administrators of the accounts for folks he is related to. Neal just keeps looking for info.
Neal: 13:11 Uh, actually within the last two weeks I made, this has nothing to do with my genetic family, but I made a major discovery in my, uh, adoptive mom’s family. I discovered a whole branch of the family tree that I never even knew existed and it’s almost like finding a new family.
Damon: 13:31 That’s so fascinating. Neal said his adopted mother was really into genealogy and would have loved ancestry DNA. So I asked him, how do you think your parents would have felt about your search?
Neal: 13:48 I’d like to think they would have been okay with it. I think they know how, why, that I’m that I’m a curious person and given that and my mother’s interests, very strong interest in genealogy, I like to think she would’ve, they would’ve been okay with it. I’ve talked about it with several cousins and my mother’s and father’s family and they’re very interested, as are anybody that I talk with about it. Um, they’re very supportive. So I mean, no one’s told me. Oh, your mom wouldn’t have liked that. No, that hasn’t happened.
Damon: 14:32 So tell me then, how does it feel now? You went from being the lone remaining member of your family, standing by yourself in this life to discovering an entire biological paternal family. How, how has that been? You’ve got a brother, you’ve met your father. How has that been for you?
Neal: 14:57 It’s amazing. Some days I wake up and I think to myself, I have a brother and two sisters and a father who’s still alive. I’ve been blessed. I don’t know any other way to describe it. Um, we have, uh, the weekly or so phone calls with my wife and I and my brother and his wife are a lot of fun. Uh, we just have a great time being with each other and talking with each other. It’s been very positive. It’s I’m, still getting used to it and uh, I’m hoping to find out more.
Damon: 15:42 Yeah, I think the DNA detectives or some search angels will be just absolute allies in your search and I certainly hope that you’ll reach out to them soon, you know, cause these things move fast and you don’t want to miss an opportunity so you’ll do it?
Neal: 15:58 Yeah.
Damon: 15:58 Excellent. Excellent. Very good. Neal, I’m really happy for you man. I’m glad you found your people. I’m glad you got to connect with your father and your brother.
Neal: 16:10 No, very, this group that I met with, last fall, it was very interesting. I mean everybody’s story was different, but I felt like we could all relate to what everybody else was saying.
Damon: 16:25 Nothing like that genuine connection.
Neal: 16:27 Absolutely.
Damon: 16:29 Well, I appreciate you taking time to call me today, Neal. Thanks so much for sharing your story, man. All the best to you. Okay.
Neal: 16:35 Okay. And uh, if I find something significant happens, uh, I may give you a call.
Damon: 16:41 Yeah, do that. I’d like that. Keep me updated. And he did. Neal emailed me in February, 2019 with news recall that ancestry told Neal he had dozens of distant cousins, most of which were clearly identifiable as paternal relations. The others, he needed more info on. He took a lot of advice from myself and others and he expanded his search, downloading his DNA file from ancestry and uploading it to jet match and my heritage. On my heritage, his highest match was a woman named Linda whose name he didn’t recognize. They have a very strong DNA match in the first or second cousin range. Neal’s brother and his wife didn’t know who Linda was either, so it was looking like he was on track to find someone in his maternal connections. He got busy during the holidays in 2018 then got back to sleuthing around after the turn of the year. He emailed Linda, highlighted that they have a pretty high DNA match and they started exchanging information. Then she asked him an interesting question.
Neal: 17:48 This is where it gets interesting, as we were exchanging emails she says, she asked me, Neal, do you have any relatives around bay shore, New York? And bay shore, New York is my hometown, so that’s a pretty major coincidence and she gives me two names. One of them, I don’t know, the other is her last name, which all of a sudden makes sense to me and I realize, Oh yeah, we knew. I knew these people a little bit. They had a store in town. My parents knew them. They had an older daughter that I knew a little bit, not alive, but like the name was familiar, became familiar to me when she mentioned this. That was a pretty amazing coincidence.
Damon: 18:42 Yeah, that must have been a shocker.
Neal: 18:44 Still kind of in awe about that. So, and there’s more, it turns out she was related to and knew fairly well, my biological mother. She was able to tell me that she had passed away about two and a half years ago. So she, well she knows the family, it’s her family, so she knows them. She knew the people quite well.
Damon: 19:09 That must have been astonishing. wow.
Neal: 19:11 It was astonishing.
Damon: 19:13 Linda and Neal had a great phone conversation and they figured out that Linda knows other people in bay shore that Neal knew even better. She began to tell her family members about what they had discovered, but nobody knew anything about Neal. He realized the error of his search. He had been looking for his birth mother Selma, who he thought was born in Cleveland and he was even gathering information about a woman named Selma who at least met that criteria.
Neal: 19:42 She did, she did get married later on and she and her husband changed their name.
Damon: 19:51 They did?
Neal: 19:52 They did. He was a lawyer. And for some reason that’s what they wanted to do. That’s what he wanted to do. And they also moved around a fair amount. Never had children. So guess who’s the only one like me
Damon: 20:12 is that right? Whoa.
Neal: 20:14 And I was looking at a family tree in, uh, my heritage and from this sort of subset of the bigger family, I’m like the only person still alive.
Damon: 20:29 Linda’s been sharing the news with people in the family and they’ve been surprised but supportive. Most of the family members on his maternal side live in Florida, so they’re thinking of getting together to do something as a family in winter 2019.
Neal: 20:43 So that’s my exciting news.
Damon: 20:46 That is really cool. Did she tell you anything about your mother? Did she tell you about how she died or what kind of woman she knew her to be or anything like that?
Neal: 20:54 She did tell me. She did tell me a little bit about her. She, uh, was 89 when, when she passed away, her last, she said her last couple of years were difficult because her health was, was not good and just, just a lot of problems. I saw one, um, she did send a picture to me, which was nice.
Damon: 21:20 What did you see in that picture?
Neal: 21:22 Maybe, well, maybe a little bit of resemblance.
Damon: 21:26 Fascinating. Wow. How old is she roughly in the picture? Is she like twenties? Is she seventies?
Neal: 21:33 My mother, she’s, uh, probably around her mid eighties, maybe mid to maybe early eighties.
New Speaker: 21:40 Oh Wow. Well hopefully somebody else in the family that you meet little later, will have an earlier picture of her. It’ll be interesting to see if you can see a piece of yourself in her younger days too.
Neal: 21:56 Yeah, it was. It was very easy. It was very easy with my dad because it was so strong.
Damon: 22:01 Neil said he’s definitely interested in meeting his maternal family in Florida. Since our first conversation, a lot has changed for him. I initially wondered what he felt like as this lone member of his adoptive family who had found his paternal tribe. Since he found his maternal connections, I asked him, what do you feel like now? You’ve, this is a puzzle that you wanted to solve, but you weren’t sure that it was going to be solved, and in fact, surprisingly it has. What do you feel like now?
Neal: 22:33 Ah, I feel like we’ve accomplished a heck of a lot. I don’t think I even could have imagined this a year or two ago. There’s this, there’s this certain sense of fullness, completeness. I just have a good feeling about it.
Damon: 22:52 That’s amazing, man. Congratulations. I’m really happy for you. That little piece of closure, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re thankful for what you do get, like you said, just even meeting your father.
Neal: 23:02 I know there were some people in the group and I know that people out there that had been looking for months looking for years, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. So, um, it sounds like I said, it sounds like my mom’s family is, well they didn’t, they didn’t, it was a big surprise. They didn’t, nobody knew about it, but there were, there were, it sounds like they were acceptive.
Damon: 23:31 That’s really awesome. Very fortunate. Not everybody gets that either.
Neal: 23:37 I know, I know. I read some of these, uh, messages on Facebook. Uh, and um, what happens to some people is, is, is really, really a tough thing to deal with. Uh, I’m happy. So, um, there’s lots more to find out, hopefully, uh, more people to see, which I’m, I am looking forward to.
Damon: 24:04 Thanks for sharing the update. I appreciate it man.
Neal: 24:07 You’re welcome.
Damon: 24:08 Take care and all the best. Good to hear from you again. Okay.
Neal: 24:11 All right. Bye. Bye.
Damon: 24:12 Take care, Neal.
Damon: 24:17 Hey, it’s me. Can you imagine getting a DNA test kit on your 66th birthday and it leads to your brother, sisters and father. I can’t even imagine what it was like for Neal to hear his brother say he looked more like their father between the two of them and to be able to hug your 91 year old dad. That’s just priceless. I left our first interview hoping for the best for Neal to find his maternal connections because he didn’t even know whether his birth mother was alive or not. He contacted me right before I produced this episode and I was so glad to hear that he learned about his birth mother’s Selma and he had been welcomed into their family too. His search just goes to show you that you have to be diligent about downloading your DNA file and uploading it to other DNA analytics platforms.
Damon: 25:09 I had the same exact look when I uploaded my DNA to jet match and found my birth father after six years in reunion with my birth mother. I hope the same luck falls to you in your search to. I’m Damon Davis, and I hope you’ll find something in Neal’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really? If you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit WhoAmIReallypodcast.com/share you can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your journey or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/WAIreally, or follow me on Twitter at WAIreally, and please, if you like the show, you can support me at patrion.com/WAIReally, you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there, it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.