Local Adoptees Search for Their Birth Parents Using Genealogy Methods
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Lisa Dulcich-Suyeyasu grew up with wonderful parents who were always open with her about the fact that she was adopted. “My dad was into genealogy and had family records going back to the 1800s when some of his family immigrated here,” she says. “That always fascinated me. My parents always knew someday I’d search for my birth parents.”
And that she did. Thirty years ago she located her birth mom, Sue, using traditional genealogy methods, as genetic genealogy didn’t exist back then. The two were able to meet, and Sue has since passed away.
In 2015 Dulcich-Suyeyasu did DNA testing on herself because she was battling breast cancer and was unable to fill out the paternal side of the health questionnaire.
“When you’re going through cancer you have freak-out moments,” she says. “I was extremely upset because I didn’t know anything.”
Because genetic testing in the genealogy world was just becoming more popular, it took a while for results to mean anything. Once more people started testing, she was able to locate her birth father, Jim, who died in 2007, never having known that she existed. Still, she is grateful to have met her cousins on her paternal line, who told her that Jim had always expressed that he wished he had a daughter. When they took her to Jim’s gravesite, she sobbed.
“I was shocked by how emotional I got about it,” she says. “I think partly it was because he’s not here anymore, but also finally to have that final piece of the puzzle.”
Two years ago Dulcich-Suyeyasu, executive assistant at the Greater Avon Chamber of Commerce, started a side business that involves helping adoptees with birth-family searches and general genealogy research. To date, she has solved roughly 55 cases.
“When you decide to search, you have to make sure you’re mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for whatever the outcome may be,” she says.
Adoptees tend to get excited at the notion of a happy reunion, but that excitement is based on expectation.
“They have this expectation that everything’s going to be rainbows and unicorns, and that’s not always the case,” she says, adding that she warns her clients that not all cases end happily. Sometimes a match can’t be found. Other times the truth can be dark and sad. She’s found that sometimes birth parents, particularly birth moms, are in denial if they carry a lot of shame in their decision. Back in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, that shame kept them from talking about it.
“Some birth moms didn’t even tell their own families they were pregnant,” she says. “Now all of a sudden, because of genetic genealogy, adoptees are finding their birth parents and some of these birth families don’t want to be found.”
One day in 2020, Kim Baver stopped in at the Avon Chamber and began chatting with Dulcich-Suyeyasu. At the time Baver worked with Hendricks County Senior Services, and Dulcich-Suyeyasu asked if she would be interested in working with seniors on genealogy research projects. Baver’s ears perked up out of personal interest, as she was adopted when she was 6 weeks old.
“When I hit my teen years I wanted to know about my birth family, so I did a bit of exploring and got some info from the adoption agency,” Baver says. She couldn’t, however, obtain the birth records. She left for college, pressing pause on the pursuit, though it was always in the back of her head. When she met Dulcich-Suyeyasu, however, she felt compelled to share her story.
“She asked if I’d considered searching for my parents,” Baver says. “When I told her, ‘Yes, but I’ve never gotten very far,’ her response stuck with me. She said, ‘Remember, you’re not getting any younger, which means your birth parents aren’t getting any younger.’”
Baver decided it was time to try again.
“People who aren’t adopted don’t always understand why it’s important for us adoptees to find that missing puzzle piece of who we are,” says Baver, now a mortgage officer for Citizens Bank in Plainfield.
Dulcich-Suyeyasu suggested that she test with both the Ancestry and 23andMe services to widen the search net.
Six weeks after doing both DNA testing kits, Baver received results that she had direct matches to her birth father, his daughter and his granddaughters.
With 23andMe and Ancestry, users get what’s called DNA matches, so within their system it allows the user to message the matched person if they have that ability activated. In December of 2020, Baver’s half-sister Colleen did just that. Though Baver was happy to hear from her, she had not yet touched base with her father Gary, so she held off on responding to the message. The following day, she sent a message through the site to her birth father to let him know about her, and the fact that Colleen had recached out to her. Baver got a response from him that day.
“He didn’t know about me,” Baver says. “I was the surprise of his life. It was like, ‘Congratulations, it’s a girl – 52 years later!”
Dulcich-Suyeyasu had to dig to find Baver’s birth mother Mary. Once Baver had her birth mom’s phone number in hand, however, she had to work up the nerve to dial it. When the two finally connected, her mom said, “I’ve been waiting for your call for 52 years.”
“She said she remembered me every year on my birthday,” Baver says. “We talked about the challenging decision she made 52 years ago and she shared her story. Then we went through all of the family stuff.”
Baver reassured her birth mom that her adoptive parents were the best in the world.
“I told her that she put me in good hands,” Baver says. After that initial call, they sent text messages back and forth and made plans to meet in person in September of 2021. Then last Christmas, Mary met Baver’s adopted parents, Trent and Janet Wilhelm.
“My dad wanted to thank her for giving them the opportunity to raise me,” Baver says, tearing up at the thought.
In February of 2022 Baver and her husband Carl met up with Gary, his wife Pat, his son-in-law Joe and Colleen.
“At that meeting I experienced every emotion,” Baver says. “I was excited and so nervous, but they were fantastically wonderful.”
She was happy to get some health history information as she had never had that in her life, but they swapped fun info too. She learned that she and Gary attended the same university.
The first time Baver saw her birth father and half sister’s faces, her mouth dropped open.
“It’s weird,” Baver says. “You look in the mirror for so long and nobody looks like you, so to see that validation is pretty cool.”