The Joy and Pain of Locating Biological Parents

The Joy and Pain of Locating Biological Parents

Over the last 20 years I have personally witnessed some of the most emotional moments of my clients’ lives, through reconnecting adopted adults with their natural parents and vice versa. However, as I tell each and every client that comes to me with this request, it can bring them great joy but often total heartbreak – and sometimes both – so please beware and proceed cautiously.

I am about to tell you three true stories of recent cases we handled over the last couple of years. I wouldn’t be surprised if these stories bring you tears of joy and, unfortunately, the sadness they brought to us and the parties involved. The names and locations of course, for the most part, have been changed.

Case #1: Amanda and her mother, Nancy

In late 1979, Amanda was adopted at birth from a New Jersey hospital into a loving family in Connecticut, who she grew up loving deeply. Amanda knew from an early age that she was adopted, however her Connecticut parents did not know the identity of her biological parents, or the circumstances of the pregnancy or adoption. Amanda was a happy child but had always wanted to know more about her biological past. Her adoptive parents encouraged Amanda to find who her biological parents were, however they simply had no information regarding their identity.

When Amanda entered college in the early 1990s, she began her quest in earnest to locate her biological parents but hit roadblock after roadblock. Then, in 2015 at the relatively young age of 36, Amanda began experiencing some medical issues that are often genetic in nature. Thanks to recent changes in New Jersey law for adoptees, Amanda was able to petition for, and obtain, the release of her original birth certificate which provided the names and address of her biological parents. Jackpot, right? Not so fast, however, as their listed address was an apartment building that was torn down in the 1980’s; her birth certificate listed only the parents’ ages, and not full date of birth; and their last names were very common – Johnson and Smith. So, our client faced the prospect of searching for a female named “Nancy Smith”, aged between 60 and 61, who at some point in her life rented an apartment in Newark in 1979. It was a hopeless task.

Amanda approached me in 2017 and asked us to locate her mother. I warned her of the impossibility of the case, but also strongly cautioned her – as I always do – regarding the possibility of rejection. There aren’t many positive reasons why mothers gave up their newborn babies for adoption in the 1970s, and family rejection, rape and/or incest are a possibility. Hence, I always caution against going down this path unless my client is fully aware of the possibility of rejection. Just because my client has longed for her natural mother her whole life, it does not mean that feeling will be reciprocal.

We explored every lead, ran every database imaginable, interviewed people of relevance and gradually began whittling down the list of possible candidates from initially over 500 possibilities. Of course, 1979 pre-dated electronic databases; “Nancy Smith” was not married in 1979; Amanda’s birth certificate named her father to whom Nancy was not married; and “Nancy Smith” – if that was even her real name – had probably married maybe once or twice – and now almost certainly had a different name.

To cut a long story short, we ultimately took a different tack and finally located Nancy’s boyfriend – which was a remarkable feat in itself. We interviewed him at his house and despite his initial shock, he told us that he knew Nancy had a baby in 1979, but that he, the boyfriend, was not the father and they had broken up as a result of her “infidelity” when he found out Nancy was pregnant. The boyfriend did not know who adopted the baby and only remembered that Nancy had subsequently moved east, to Massachusetts. He did, however, remember that Nancy’s birthday was in December, around Christmas, as he recalled buying two presents at the same time, one for each event. He said he had also heard that Nancy had married an Asian, but didn’t know what country – he hadn’t spoken to Nancy or heard from her since they parted ways in 1979.

To investigators however, this information was critical. Now we could use our databases to locate any person with the first name “Nancy” who was exactly 60 years of age, who resided in Massachusetts and who also possibly had an Asian last name. The pool of candidates shrank and after an extensive game of elimination, we ultimately zeroed in on one woman who fit the above criteria, but who had resided in Maryland for the last 26 years. We visited her home in Maryland, only to learn from neighbors that incredibly, she had moved out just three weeks before – after 26 years of residence in Maryland. (It is hard to believe, I know). We ultimately located Nancy at her new home in Brookline, Massachusetts where we visited and, remarkably, Nancy was not surprised at who we were. “I knew you’d find me eventually and I’ve been waiting a long time”. That day, for the first time in 39 years since the day of adoption, we connected Amanda with Nancy and they spoke on our investigator’s cell phone in Nancy’s living room. Tears were shed by all, including our investigators. Nancy and Amanda met a couple of weeks later and gradually caught up with each other’s lives. It was a very joyous time for them both.

We learned that Nancy had given Amanda up for adoption because in 1979 she was a young, unmarried drug addict who had had relationships with several men, whose religious parents would not accept her if she had a child out of wedlock. Unfortunately that was not an uncommon scenario for the time. Nancy had always regretted her decision to give Amanda up for adoption and Amanda spent her whole life wondering who her real mother was.

Sadly, Amanda and Nancy do not have an ongoing relationship. Nancy had become a devotee to an extreme religion and Amanda had become an atheist, hence Nancy would not accept Amanda for who she was and what she believed in – or didn’t believe in, as the case may be. Sadly, their relationship slowly deteriorated and they no longer communicate.

This case involved some of the most remarkable yet, at times, frustrating investigative work we have ever done. However the initial joy ultimately fizzled to pain. An even sadder fact is that Nancy provided us with countless letters she had written to New Jersey authorities over the years, instructing them and giving authority to release her identity to Amanda if ever Amanda made inquiries. Incredibly, Nancy’s letters and Amanda’s requests – totaling over 20 letters between them – were never matched up and the connection was never made. If they had made contact earlier in their lives, who knows how different the outcome may have been.

Case#2: Bob and his father Francis

Bob is a terrific guy – humble, hard-working and devoted to his wife and children. His mother had to give Bob and his three brothers up for adoption when they were small, as she had psychological issues and she could not cope with raising them. Bob kept in touch with his mother, who has resided in assisted living facilities since that date, but she had very little information regarding Bob’s father, indeed, her four sons were borne of three different men. But she remembered his first name clearly, as well as some other aspects of his life.

The prior year, Bob and his brothers had petitioned the State to determine the identity of their youngest brother, who had been adopted into a family when he was two. But Bob always wanted to know who his father was and, just as importantly to Bob, Bob wanted to know if he had Italian heritage, as he hoped – not knowing where you are from can be a lonely concept.

I took on the case in a pro bono basis for many reasons, but principally because Bob was and is such a kind and genuine man.

Faced with many of the same challenges outlined above, using complex database searches and associations, we were able to whittle the list of possible candidates down to less than ten, and again, soon zeroed in on one particular individual named Francis. However, Francis had virtually no electronic footprint such as driver’s license, voter registration, properties owned, credit cards etc. In my experience, this is usually indicative that the person has either: been in jail much of his life; is mentally or physically challenged; has lived predominantly overseas and/or in the armed services; or believe it or not, of extreme wealth and/or standing (think Royal families, major celebrities etc).  

In this case however, we determined that Francis had resided in assisted living facilities for at least the last 20 years. With this information, I pressed Bob as to whether he was certain he wanted to proceed, as the possibilities of his father’s condition might be difficult for him to acknowledge and deal with. Bob was certain, so we planned a strategy to make contact.

I visited the assisted living facility and spoke with the supervising nurse and owner. My concern was that I did not want to cause Francis any emotional distress, and was also anxious to ensure that this was handled with the full authority and knowledge (and in the company of) medical personnel. The supervising nurse and owner of the facility were surprised that Francis could have a son, but felt that he could handle it and believed it would be a positive in his life, if true.

The nurse and owner of the facility brought Francis to the dining room area and immediately I knew he was our man, as his appearance was identical to his son, Bob – it was actually a remarkable resemblance. We sat down and I told Francis the whole story. In about half an hour, the reality began to set in and his initial shock, surprise, trepidation and ultimately gave way to delight and happiness. He agreed to talk with Bob. They spoke for the first time in their lives – in 38 years – on my cell phone in that dining room. We all cried.

This is one of the happy stories – Bob and Francis have become good friends and Francis now spends time and special holidays with his “new” family and two grandchildren. Oh, and yes, Francis’ parents were born in Milano, Italy, and emigrated to Brooklyn in 1933. They keep in touch with me regularly and I cherish the photos they send me.

Sue and her mother, Gretchen

This is a story of utter sadness and rejection. Sue came to me many years ago and wanted to locate her biological mother. She was adopted at birth and grew up in a loving family in West Hartford, Connecticut, however she longed to know the identity of her “real” parents. Through investigation that was almost as complex as those outlined above, we ultimately located Sue’s biological mother, Gretchen, in Boca Raton and soon learned that her third husband had recently died. In the process of her marriages, her own successful career and ultimately the death of her last husband, Gretchen had become a wealthy woman. Our client, Sue was thrilled but insisted that she, Sue, be the one to make contact with Gretchen, against my wishes.

It went badly and Gretchen made it clear to Sue that she wanted nothing to do with her – in fact she was furious that she had been identified and contacted. Gretchen explained that Sue was borne of a rape while Gretchen was in college. Gretchen told Sue that she wanted to forget everything about the experience, which, through the adoption, she had managed to do. Sue was devastated and wrote to Gretchen many times, with no response. Sue sent Gretchen photographs of her children and cards at Christmas, all with no response. In what Sue deemed as the ultimate betrayal, Sue received a letter from Gretchen’s attorneys advising Sue that she was not to contact Gretchen and that if Sue persisted, Gretchen’s attorneys would proceed with legal action, including restraining orders, and would initiate civil litigation and criminal proceedings. The last time I spoke with Sue a few years ago, she was still devastated and did not think she would ever be able to get over the feeling of despair and rejection. The truth can really, really hurt.

So as you can see, this whole area really is the ultimate Pandora’s Box of emotions and I caution you strongly before proceeding. For every story of joyous reunification, there is a story of rejection and sadness. But armed with this information, if you’d like to proceed, give me a call and we can discuss the options.

860-779-5588

rob@artusgroup.com

Preparation and Patience: The Reality of Family Investigations

Up until about eight years ago, I shied away from handling divorce, matrimonial, custody and infidelity cases (which I will collectively refer to as “family” investigations), since I had presumed they were messy. The corporate world was so much “cleaner”.

Then one of our corporate clients asked me to become involved in a very difficult family situation. I knew that many in our industry were not comfortable handling family matters since: a) there is too much emotion involved, and; b) the results can be bad news – and no one wants to muddy a strong corporate relationship with a messy, emotional family matter.

And boy, they were absolutely right!

But what I learned in the process is just how valuable the information, if gathered responsibly, can be. Fast forward eight years, and providing high-end family investigative services has become a staple part of our business. But it takes great care, preparation, experience and patience to do well, so I’d like to take some time to share my thoughts on some aspects of our family work which I hope will provide value:

Custody

It may surprise you, but custody issues account for over half of all family investigations we handle. Many clients have safety concerns regarding mom’s new boyfriend or dad’s new girlfriend, and rightfully so. In shared parenting relationships, parents want to know who their children are spending time with and we routinely provide detailed background checks on new spousal partners. As you can imagine, a history of drugs, violence, prostitution, gambling, alcohol or financial issues is a very real concern for parents of children who will be around new partners. A solid background check can put their fears to rest, or as in many cases we’ve had, allow them to petition the court with the information they need to help ensure a safe environment for their children.

Some parents have real and genuine concerns about their children’s activities while they are with the other parent and we often conduct discreet surveillance to observe those activities. We’ve seen very young children left unattended for long periods each night, including one woman who left her three children, all under the age of ten, alone while she spent several hours every night satisfying a $5,000-a-week scratch off lottery ticket addiction. That one surprised even me.

Cohabitation

Under the terms of dissolution, there is often a cohabitation agreement in which alimony or other payments are dependent on the recipient living alone, that is, without a live-in partner. We have conducted dozens of cohabitation investigations and proving cohabitation all boils down to the threshold the attorney feels is sufficient to go to bat. That is, it’s not up to you or me.

For example, one attorney may feel that three consecutive nights of cohabitation is sufficient to prove cohabitation, while another may feel that nothing less than five nights of any consecutive seven is sufficient. We had one case where a male friend stayed over every Monday and Thursday, and on Saturdays when the ex-wife did not have the children. Is that cohabitation? Point is, it all depends on the attorney’s threshold, not my opinion or yours.

We generally use vehicles to prove cohabitation, with additional surveillance to provide evidentiary support. That is, if a subject’s vehicle is present at an address at 10:00 pm and then is still there at 6:00 am, then he or she is generally deemed to have stayed overnight. Subsequent surveillance video on one or more of those mornings showing the subject entering his vehicle and departing the residence provides the evidentiary support. One major obstacle of course is when the layout or a long driveway, tall trees, or other obstructions prevent being able to view vehicles from the public domain. In those cases, proving cohabitation does not become impossible, it just becomes more time consuming, as longer term surveillance is required on each evening and morning, rather than just activity checks.

Infidelity

We’ve followed subjects through towns, cities and states, on trains, highways and planes. Successful infidelity surveillance involves extensive preparation, intensive coverage, hard work and usually a deep budget. Anything less and it’s amateur hour, so beware.

Pornography and Casual Encounters

One of the more distressing components of modern life is the ubiquitous availability of free pornography and casual sexual encounters through free and subscription websites and databases. The ability to view pornography and to arrange a sex meeting on a phone within minutes is a curse of society which is tearing relationships apart. Each situation is different and our investigation may involve computer or phone forensics, surveillance, undercover stings and/or other research. We are familiar with them all and we understand the distress and uncertainty this problem can bring to a relationship.

The above topics are by no means the extent of family matters we investigate. We identify hidden assets; conduct fraud investigations involving family and other caregivers for the elderly; conduct computer, DNA and handwriting analysis; investigate theft of intellectual property; research property disputes – you name it, it all happens between spouses and family. But if you have a sensitive family issue I do have some advice:

  1. Get several opinions regarding investigative strategy – a financial investigator wants to follow the money; a computer investigator wants to analyze the computers; and a surveillance expert wants to follow. Sometimes you need all three, but get different investigative perspectives before initiating any investigation.
  1. Never work outside of your attorney’s direction and always let him or her lead the charge. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to gather information yourself, or to obtain it from an unknown source. Information and the way it is gathered can hurt you and your case.

Family investigations are, by definition, difficult, emotional and time consuming, and they need to be handled with care and sensitivity. But I’m glad I became involved with family work years ago and if you want to get my opinion on your situation, please give me a call – I get it now.

Case Study: IP Investigations

A client learned that pirated software was being sold in the US though a company in Rhode Island which was registered as a Delaware corporation. The client requested an investigation be conducted to identify the source. The only evidence provided to Artus Group was an old invoice for a software purchase, which revealed a Rhode Island fax number at the top of the document. The investigation revealed the fax number was in fact forwarded to an electronic hub line in Las Vegas, which then automatically transmitted the fax in the form of an email to an email account. Artus Group discovered the billing address for the fax line was associated with a company in London, which was determined to be the registered agent on record with the Delaware Secretary of State for the Rhode Island company.

Undercover contact through the email address revealed the source was a company in Croatia, which was also the parent company of the London business which paid the Las Vegas fax line invoice. The investigation revealed the identity of the manufacturer and the client proceeded with international litigation to cease and desist operation and distribution of the counterfeit software.