I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1967 and placed for adoption. I always knew I was adopted. My adopted mother said she used to tell me every time she changed my diaper. I have no memory of learning for the first time, it just always was.

My sister – also adopted – and I would occasionally have unofficial contests about who our biological parents were. Sometimes they were the stars of our current favorite televisions shows, or even the characters they played. I used to imagine that Luke Skywalker was my brother (yikes, you know what that means about my biological father!). Sometimes we were lost princesses who would one day be reunited with our King or Queen. We would be famous and rich.

My own curiosity led me to snooping through my parents’ files. I found some papers about my adoption that had a physical description of each of my biological parents and listed some of their hobbies. It stated my father was of Macedonian descent. From then on, I was a Greek princess.

Ohio Changes Access

It wasn’t until I was in my mid 40s and had a child of my own that I had a chance to find out who my biological families really were. In December 2013, the Ohio passed a law that would make original birth certificates available to people born between 1964 and 1996. Original birth certificates, or “OBC’s,” are the ones with the real birth parents’ names on them. Records before and after these dates were already available. In early 2015, adoptees could request copies of their OBC’s. On opening day, long lines wound their way around courthouses throughout the state.

I lived in Florida since I was nine years old, so I wasn’t in that line. I filled out the paperwork that was available online, got it notarized, and mailed it in with the required identification. While I waited, I took an ancestry.com DNA test. The paperwork from Ohio arrived rather quickly, and my OBC listed my birth name – Samantha – and my birth mother’s name. My DNA results also posted, and I had a close match.

Connections Made

Over the next few weeks, I sent messages to DNA matches, spent hours working on my family tree, and Googled (and Googled, and Googled). I found my birth mother and sent her a letter. Over the next few months, I discovered I had a half-sister and half-brother. I spoke with a first cousin on my biological father’s side who confirmed that who I thought was my birth father probably was. Another first cousin on my biological father’s side and I met – the very first person I ever met aside from my son who was related by blood.

The journey has had its ups and downs, but it has been one of the most meaningful of my life. I have a good relationship with my birth mother and know the story of why I was relinquished. My birth father died before I could meet him. I recently connected with another half-sister – this one on my bio father’s side – who is just two months older than I am. We plan to meet soon. I feel whole and at peace with whatever surprises the future has now, knowing my story, and having found my birth families.

Update: January 2024

The past few weeks have brought several more connections. Just before Christmas, my “new” paternal half-sister and I met for the first time. We have a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company. We are keeping in touch and plan to get together again soon. And, I was reunited with some cousins who have been wondering about their family who emigrated to the United States nearly a century ago! My paternal grandparents left Macedonia for the U.S. in the early 1900s, and my grandfather left behind siblings. Though I had some names from their various immigration and other documents, I had figured I would need to go to Macedonia to find more. But, two of my grandfather’s sibling’s granddaughters took a DNA test and we matched. Messages were quickly and furiously exchanged and we fondly embraced each other virtually through emails and messages, sharing what we know, photos, and promises for more soon. I relayed much of this to my new sister, who is part of this side of the family, and we immediately agreed that we need to plan a trip to North Macedonia. Amazing!

*****

This journey led me to wanting to help others do the same – to know their story, where they came from, who their ancestors were and what challenges they faced, and the many, many cousins from all walks of life they likely have. If we all know our families and where we come from, I believe we would have much more empathy for others facing challenging situations. Surely, someone somewhere in our own families, our own grandparent or great uncle or first cousin twice removed, was in a tricky situation and would have all our love and support in whatever they faced.

We are all on a journey of discovery every day of our lives. Sometimes we feel grounded and sometimes adrift, but our circle of family and friends is often what helps us through the tough times. Whether we don’t know much about our ancestors or think we know a lot, more is ready to be discovered. We would all be better for knowing it.

*****

Here are some more stories about the Ohio state law change:

Dayton Daily News, March 6, 2015

Cincinnati Enquirer Reunion Story, January 26, 2022

Cincinnati Enquirer Reunion Story, January 7, 2016

Cleveland.com Reunion Story, December 6, 2019

People Magazine Reunion Story on Brad Watts, January 14, 2016