“Family” is far more than a shared dinner table, and no one knows this better than adopted kids. They understand that love, patience, and loyalty are the glue that keeps a family together. Adopted kids especially know the importance of identity and background, two things the rest of us often take for granted.
One woman spent her entire childhood believing that she was her parent’s biological daughter. But when she found out the truth, the search for her own identity and background resulted in the most unusual discovery — one that would change her life forever.
Throughout Hillary Harris’ childhood her parents wrestled with a secret — one they feared would hurt their little girl. There were so many things that could go wrong if Hillary knew the truth: she could feel heartbroken, angry, and deceived…
When she was a teenager, they knew it was time to tell her their secret. She was adopted. She’d been left by her birth father at an orphanage when she was a year old, and at first, Hillary was shocked.
She took the news remarkably well, but the older she got, the more she wondered about her biological parents. She tried to move on and eventually got married and had a baby. Still, even after her own family grew, she felt like something was missing.
She yearned to learn more about her background, so she looked at her adoption papers for the first time. These papers were her only connection to her real past. She rifled through them, hoping to find something to go by.
And she stumbled upon extremely valuable information: Names. She found out that her biological father’s name was Wayne Clouse, but the real shocker came when she found out that she had a half-sister named Dawn Johnson. Hillary was stunned.
Hillary knew she had to find her, but she had no idea where to start. She visited her old orphanage in hopes of finding out more information about her biological father and family, but her hopes were soon crushed.
The orphanage had been abandoned! But she didn’t allow herself to feel discouraged. Instead, she searched the name “Dawn Johnson” on Facebook and spent countless nights scrolling past hundreds of “Dawns,” trying to recognize a face.
After awhile, Hillary started to lose hope in the search. Meanwhile, a new couple moved in next door to the Harris family. When her new neighbor introduced herself as “Dawn,” Hillary didn’t think much about it.
But then Hillary found out that her new neighbor came from a town called Greenwood — the same town that had been highlighted in her adoption papers. Finally, Hillary knew something was up. There was a reason for hope after all.
The numbers kept adding up, except Hillary didn’t know if her neighbor’s last name was “Johnson.” This one piece of the puzzle nagged at her for weeks. It was the one thing separating her from her potential blood relative.
Though Lance encouraged her to be honest with Dawn, Hillary just couldn’t get up the courage to ask about her last name. But one summer morning, Hillary was just going about her business when she noticed something unusual in her neighbor’s driveway.
It was a large package of shingles. She glanced over at the package — and her jaw dropped. The name “Johnson” was on the package. “I was floored,” Hillary said. “I was almost speechless.” But even with such compelling evidence, Hillary was terrified.
Dawn could reject her as a sister or even just as a neighbor, or she could simply not be the “Dawn Johnson” she was looking for. Hillary had put years into her search, and she didn’t want it to be for nothing.
She and Lance knocked on the Johnson’s door intending to ask the question, but Hillary was speechless while she stared at Dawn’s face and curly hair. Questions blew through her mind: Did they have the same eyes? The same hair? The same smile?
The awkward small-talk ended, and Hillary still had not confronted Dawn. Dawn went on a trip soon after, but Hillary couldn’t keep what she knew to herself any longer. More nervous than ever, she sent her neighbor the oddest message.
”Were you the Loyal Corn Fest Queen in 1983?” Hillary asked, using one of the tid-bits she had learned from her adoption file. Would Dawn think she was crazy, or worse — creepy? She waited anxiously for her phone to buzz.
When Dawn saw the message, she was puzzled, to say the least. “LOL, why are you asking me that?” she wrote back. Hillary knew it was finally time to ask Dawn the question. “Who is your birth father?”
Dawn told Hillary that her father had died in 2010…and that his name was Wayne Clouse. Everything finally added up. Hillary immediately called Dawn, who cried, “You and I have the same dad, don’t we?!”
They did. ”I could hardly believe it, since I was never made aware I had a sister out there,” Dawn said. The next day, Dawn went to Hillary’s house with flowers and photos of their father. Dawn greeted her with an excited, “Hey, sis!”
For Hillary, Dawn is like the mother she’d lost all those years before. “She fills so many voids in our lives, she’s like a big sister and mother to me,” Hillary said. Dawn also gained a niece in Hillary’s young daughter.
Finally, after years of searching without answers, Hillary found what she was looking for in Dawn. Her advice for fellow adoptees seeking answers? “Keep looking. Look everywhere. Go look next door. You don’t know what you’ll find.”
This was a lesson that, Genevieve Purinton could’ve used in 1949. She was 18 years old, dating the love of her life, and just about to finish up high school in her hometown of La Porte, Indiana. There was only one problem.
Genevieve soon found out she was pregnant. While never the most welcomed news for a young girl in high school to receive, Genevieve felt comforted knowing the father of her child was a good man and they would raise this baby together.
As her pregnancy advanced, she eventually came to the decision that she needed to leave school once her belly started to show. Unfortunately, with the bump of her belly came a major bump in her plans.
Her baby’s father revealed to Genevieve he was actually married and he planned to take her baby and raise it as his own — without her. The young mom-to-be was horrified. She was out of school, out of favor with her family, and now suddenly out of hope as her relationship came to an abrupt end.
On May 12th, 1949, Genevieve checked herself into St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital in Gary, Indiana, to deliver her baby. As she lay in the hospital alone, she thought of a teacher she had in high school, Margaret Ann, who was thriving despite a polio affliction. If she had a girl, that would be her name.
The hospital staff asked Genevieve to sign some papers she was made to believe were a directive in the event that she died and/or could no longer care for the child. So, of course, she signed, and shortly after Genevieve gave birth to a baby girl.
Moments after delivering Margaret Ann, Genevieve was confronted with the worst news any new mother could face: her baby had died. The world became black. What had hardly even begun was now over, and Genevieve once again was wholly alone. Or so she thought.
Between the years of 1945-1973 (the year of Roe vs Wade), many thousands of women were tricked or forced to give up their newborn babies when it was believed they were not suited to be mothers. Genevieve, alone, young, and out of wedlock was deemed unsuited.
May 12, 1949, was the day Margaret Ann’s life began, not the day it ended. Those “directive papers” that Genevieve signed were actually consenting to have Margaret Ann put up for adoption. The day her bereaved mother walked out of the hospital was the day Margaret Ann was sent to an orphanage.
She wasn’t there for long, though. Baby Margaret was soon adopted by a couple from southern California who renamed her Connie. Despite her tragic start, Connie grew up in a happy home in Santa Barbara. That was, at least, until she turned five.
Her adoptive mother was diagnosed with cancer and soon passed away. Following that trauma, her adoptive father re-married to a woman who was abusive to little Connie. What’s worse, her dad was soon diagnosed with a chronic heart condition.
Before she was a teenager, Connie lost both of her adoptive parents. It was during this time, as she felt unhappy, she started searching for her birth mom. Every birthday wish was a wish that this year was the year they would find each other.
But with only a name, Connie’s wishes never came true. She grew up to become a nurse, marry, and raise a daughter who eventually gave her two beautiful grandchildren. Life was good, but she never stopped thinking of her birth mother and if they would ever meet.
Then, for Christmas in 2017 Connie’s daughter gave her mom, now 69-years-old, a DNA test. The kit was through Ancestry.com and Connie could hardly wait to receive the results of what she hoped might give her some answers about her mysterious origins.
Several weeks later, Connie finally got the results! She found out she had a living first cousin, and what’s more, that cousin even reached out to introduce herself. Of course, Connie really just had one question to ask: “Do you know a Genevieve?”
Connie didn’t have to wait long for an answer; her newly-found cousin immediately replied, “Oh, that’s my aunt, and oh, by the way, she is still alive.” It was almost too good to be true. After all these years, she finally tracked down her mother.
Connie’s cousin promised to write a letter to Genevieve giving her Connie’s contact information. Soon after, on one fateful Sunday morning, Connie’s phone rang. She picked up, and a quivering voice said, “I think I’m your mother.”
Connie remembered, “you could have heard pins drop.” The two stayed on the phone for hours that day. The connection was immediate. After all, they had nearly 70 years to fill each other in on!
It wasn’t long after that initial phone call that Connie got on a plane in her home of Richmond, Virginia, and flew down to Florida to meet her mother for the first time. Genevieve who was now 88-years-old and living in an assisted living center told her daughter she would be using a walker.
And that was the only description Connie needed, as she walked in the doors she immediately spotted her mother. “It was like looking in a mirror” She recalled. We walked to each other, hugged, and then it was just “a total cryfest.”
Despite, their cruel separation and trying to forgive the many decades they would never get back, this reunion finally completed Connie’s and Genevieve’s family.
Families help shape you as an individual, and they’re always there for you, no matter what. At the end of the day, it all comes back to one thing: the bond you share. But what about those like Connie who never feel at home in their own family unit?
Denice Juneski of Eagan, Minnesota, always felt out of place—even among her own family. Why did she feel like she was a stranger? She carried these feelings around for years until one day she couldn’t resist: she finally took a DNA test courtesy of 23andMe.com.
Denice told her family that she was taking the test in order to learn more about her health and well-being. But she secretly hoped it would prove that her suspicions about her place in the family were right…
When the results of Denice’s DNA test returned, she was relieved that she was not suffering from any serious illnesses. However, that wasn’t the only thing she discovered. She finally confirmed what she always knew: she didn’t share DNA with anyone in her family!
Denice decided to take the test again just to be sure—and she got the same results. Those who 23andMe listed as her closest relatives were all complete strangers. Though she suspected this, Denice was still in shock. What she didn’t know was that another woman not too far away was going through a journey very similar to her own…
Hammond, Wisconsin, resident Linda Jourdeans never felt right in her own family, either. She tried to shake the feeling for years, but couldn’t quite manage to keep her unease at bay. There were a litany of reasons she felt like the odd person out.
Growing up, Linda (bottom, right) was often ridiculed for being the only member of the family to have red hair. Linda’s mother, a brunette, was the only other one who stood out in a family of blondes, but that wasn’t enough to make Linda feel less alone. She was singled out constantly.
The differences didn’t stop at hair color, either. Linda was athletic, playing sports like softball into her fifties. Everyone else in her family hated sports of all kind. It was just another difference that made Linda feel isolated and alone growing up.
On the surface, these differences weren’t huge, and Linda knew that her family loved her very much. However, she just couldn’t shake the feeling that she didn’t belong. Meanwhile, back in Hammond, Wisconsin, Denice was still dealing with the fallout from own discovery…
It was tough news to process: “Either 23andMe made a mistake, or I was switched at birth,” Denice said. “I was really supposed to be another person.” It was the kind of news you can never be prepared to receive, but that was only the beginning—these two women would soon realize they were connected…
The two women’s paths finally crossed when one of the people listed as Denice’s relative was discovered to be Linda’s niece. When the niece shared the news of her DNA match with her cousin—Linda’s daughter—Linda wondered if she ought to take a DNA test, too.
For years, Linda and her daughter, Michelle, wondered why she didn’t look like the rest of her family. In fact, Michelle once checked her mother’s birth records at City Hall just to be sure!
When Michelle learned that her cousin had found a new relative in Denice, it was all Linda needed to hear to convince her to take her own test. Without knowing where it might lead, Linda sent her DNA sample to 23andMe…
When Linda received her results, it confirmed all of her suspicions. Next to the word “mother” was a name she’d never seen before: Marianne Meyer. This meant a woman named Marianne had sent her DNA for testing through 23andMe and the site had linked mother and daughter. But who was Marianne?
Marianne (below, left) was the woman who raised Denice! Through 23andMe, Linda and Denice made contact and quickly set up a meeting. Both women were eager to try and sort out how the mix-up came to be. The story was almost too much to believe.
It turned out, both Denice and Linda were born at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 19, 1945. They were born only 31 minutes apart and somehow were switched at the hospital. Unfortunately, all of the doctors and nurses at from that day were long gone, and no true record of events existed that could explain the mix-up.
Although the women would never learn how this switch came to be, they didn’t mind at all. In fact, they were grateful to be presented with a whole new family they never expected! For Linda, the discovery was even more touching because the woman who raised her died tragically when Linda was just 17.
Incredibly, Marianne had no idea about the switch that took place at Bethesda Hospital those many years ago. At 99 years of age, Marianne finally got to meet the daughter she gave birth to!
Linda and Denice reacted to their circumstances in the best way possible: with open hearts! The two women, though not related by blood, knew they’d always be linked by their life-altering experience.
The first meeting between Linda and Denice gave them the opportunity to sort though all kinds of memories and discuss all the ways they’d felt like outsiders. That, in itself, was a satisfying conclusion to their story…
After they made their shocking discovery, both women decided to organize a massive family reunion so that their respective families could meet and get to know each other for the very first time!