A few weeks ago I saw a status update on Facebook, from my friend Tim, suggesting that he had recently discovered that he was related to the outlaw, Jesse James. I figured he was using Ancestry.com or something like that and like many that responded to his update, took it with a grain of salt. A little over a week ago, Tim posted another status update informing us that he was adopted and had learned of the whereabouts of his birth mother and a sister. This was followed with another update that he had spoken with his newly found sister, and then that his mother was coming to Los Angeles so the two could meet. Two days ago, Tim asked me if I would meet them at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and photograph the reunion. Naturally, I was extremely flattered to be asked and readily agreed to be there this afternoon for the reunion.

As I was walking the dogs this morning, I thought about the upcoming reunion and decided I would ask Tim if he would mind if I told his story as I am sure there are many others out there in his situation and I felt his experience might be of help to them. Tim immediately agreed, saying, “I want to give props to the people who helped me.” This is his story.

Tim is 44 with an 11 year old daughter; when he was 7 he learned he had been adopted. He tells me that he immediately wanted to find out more about his birth mother. About 15 years ago he began putting some real effort into finding his parents but soon became discouraged because the adoption records had been sealed. Since he does have a daughter, he felt that he needed to find out more about his heritage and any health risks that he or his daughter might be facing. Besides, his adopted mother had died 20 years ago and he wanted his daughter to have a grandmother. He had considered getting a DNA test done, but found the cost of $1,500 each to be more than he could really afford, especially because he was not very confident in what the results would provide.

In December he was surfing websites and came across an advertisement for a $99 DNA test through 23andme.com, a center that does genetic testing for health, disease and ancestry through a DNA test done with your saliva. On December 19, he sent in saliva samples from him and his daughter. A few weeks later he received his results. Although the test results did not provide any information about his natural birth mother, it did discover 930 genetic cousins in their database. Being very Internet savvy, Tim set out trying to track down some of these new relatives. He got in touch with one that lives in Uruguay that directed him to a Yahoo DNA group, a group designed for people that were adopted or had put children up for adoption to discuss their DNA results. It was there that Tim met Diana.

Diana is what the Yahoo DNA group calls a “Search Angel.” While there are businesses set up to try and provide information about one’s family based on the DNA results, these services can cost upwards of $5,000; with no guarantees. Search Angels like Diana do the hard work of searching through public records and do it for free. Tim provided Diana with the little bit of information he had gathered from the DNA test and talking to his new cousins and within a few hours she provided him with the name of his mother, sister and an uncle.

Tim tried to initiate contact with them the old fashioned way, via telephone numbers that were all disconnected. The report that Diana provided included some leads via Facebook, so Tim sent out a friend request to his sister, Debbie, and she accepted. He tells me that it took a few days of talking to her online before Debbie agreed to tell their mother that Tim had found them. Tim’s mother decided that Tim’s new nickname would be Cat, because “the cat was now out of the bag.”

Tim told me that talking to them online was surrealistic in that, “When I started talking to my sister, it was like I had known her all my life we like all the same things and talk every day; same with my mom.” It was decided that his mother, Patty, would fly back to California today and his sister will come out in a couple weeks for their reunion. When I watched them meet for the first time you could see the love in each of their eyes; Patty could not take her eyes off her son and newly discovered granddaughter. Everyone was very happy.

I spoke with Debbie online this morning and asked her what she thought of the experience. She said, “From my perspective, I believe in miracles and this is one.” I think Tim definitely had an angel in Diana that was looking over him. I want to thank Tim, Patty and Debbie for allowing me to be part of this very personal event.

The logo on these photos are donated to the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation who is having their first annual Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Day on February 2, 2013 for patients with Rheumatoid Disease previously known as Rheumatoid Arthritis.

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