Saturday, October 09, 1999

Online 'search angels' help people find loved ones




BY ANNA GUIDO
Enquirer Contributor

        WEST CHESTER — Tina Johnson anxiously awaited the noon arrival of the woman who had given birth to her 36 years earlier. When the doorbell rang, Mrs. Johnson fumbled a little to get the video camera working, then paused for a few moments before opening the door.

        Two women stood at the doorstep. One asked, “Tina?” Mrs. Johnson replied, “Yes, I'm Tina.”

        And the two embraced. Mother and daughter stood back and looked at each other, then embraced again. The mother exclaimed: “Oh, you're so pretty!”

        She reached again to hug the daughter she gave up for adoption.

        The emotional reunion last month ended a search that Mrs. Johnson began six years ago. Just when she was nearly out of hope, an Internet “search angel” came to her rescue.

"Kind, caring people'
        “Search angels” help people find loved ones. The expense involved is minimal, and in some cases free.

        Mrs. Johnson's “search angel,” Lezli Adams of Evansville, Ind., said it doesn't cost her much more than time.

        “I usually just pass the cost of using various data banks on to the searcher, and have even absorbed the cost myself at times,” she said.

        Mrs. Adams said everyone she knows who does what she does are “very kind, caring people,” and she doesn't begrudge those who charge fees because it's their occupation.

        Like many, Mrs. Adams herself was once in search of a loved one. Thirty years ago, she gave a daughter up for adoption and recently found her with help from several “search angels.”

        “This past Christmas, I got a computer. One of the first nights I was online, I decided to type adoption in keywords and see what would happen,” she said. “I was delighted to find that after all these years of grieving alone and thinking maybe something was wrong with me for being so obsessed with my birth daughter, that I was not alone at all.”

        Mrs. Adams said her reunion was great, which is why she signed up with the Volunteer Search Network.

        According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, between 2 and 4 percent of all adoptees searched in 1990 for their birth parents. And a survey conducted in the late 1980s estimated that 500,000 adult adoptees were seeking or had found their birth families.

        Most adopted children who search for their birth parents, including Mrs. Johnson, do so because they want to know where they came from and who they look like.

        When Mrs. Johnson moved from Henderson, Ky., 18 months ago to the Cincinnati area where she was born in 1963, her curiosity was heightened. In March, when Mrs. Johnson gave birth to twins, she felt even more compelled to find her roots and learn of her bloodline.

        “I'm so different from my adoptive parents — my mannerisms and the things I like,” she said. “It's not that I haven't had a wonderful life — I just can't find my identity in them.”

Minds set at rest
        After last month's reunion, Mrs. Johnson says, she feels “very blessed.”

        “A mother's love is unconditional, and she loves me as if no time had passed,” she said of her birth mother, who didn't want her name used.

        Mrs. Johnson said she feels lucky to have two mothers who have the same magnitude of love for her.

        Her birth mother, who said she gave up her baby daughter because of social pressures then on unwed mothers, said: “I wanted this to happen a long time ago. It's something I've had on my mind and in my heart all these years — knowing that I had a daughter out there someplace, wondering if she was well taken care of.”

        Lottie and Thomas Woodward of Madisonville, Ky., Mrs. Johnson's adoptive parents, supported their daughter's search.

        “I think it's wonderful,” Mrs. Woodward said. “I just wish we would have done it when she was 18 — maybe then it would have saved her mother a lot of heartache. I just thank the Lord she gave her to me.”

        Mrs. Johnson now plans to help others as she was helped — by becoming a “search angel” on the Volunteer Search Network.

        “I feel like my family has expanded 10 times right now,” she said. “I want to help others find their roots, too.”

       



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