Wayne Grow couldn’t imagine finding the family he waited nearly 65 years to meet.
He’d looked into hiring a private investigator decades ago. Even then, the cost would have been more than $3,000. It wasn’t an option.
Grow’s birth mother hadn’t signed up for New York State’s adoption registry. So, the only clue on record was a birth certificate, spelling out the day, time, and location of his birth.
Dorothy Thompson recalls that day in mid-February, just before 3 a.m. It was 1954 and she was still in high school.
“There was no way I could support him, so I had to let him go for adoption,” she remembers. “I always wondered where he was, if he had a good home, what he was doing…the normal things you think about, and I’d keep thinking you know, I wish someday I’d see him.”
Later, she would move across the country and back…before settling down with two daughters.
“When we were young, we were told very little and it was never discussed all these years, never brought up – ever,” says Deborah Fox.
Eventually, it appears Thompson forgot she’d told her daughters about the adoption…about the baby boy she had named Gregory.
But, Laura Shelter quietly picked up the search for her older brother. She knew her mother had lived in Georgetown, NY around the time she gave birth.
“I was told one time that he was adopted by a plumber, so I tried to call every plumber in Georgetown and I got nowhere,” she says. “It was like it was a dead-end.”
Their big break was a fluke. Wayne’s family was curious to know more about his ancestors and a $79 sale on a DNA testing kit through Ancestry.com sealed the deal.
He never realized the results would come back with a list of DNA matches, including first and second cousins. A connection to his birth mother was as close as a little courage.
After a few e-mail exchanges, a cousin he’d never met passed along Thompson’s phone number.
“I’ve got the number. I’ve got the name. I’m just going to do it. I’ve just got to do it. I’m not going to think about it,” Grow remembers telling his wife. “It rings and each ring seems like about two years between a ring.”
Thompson missed the call. It was January 18th. She had no idea about the DNA test or the cousin connection. The message on her phone was a complete surprise.
Heartbroken, she prayed that night, hoping he would call back. The next morning, she was speechless.
“There was this long pause on the other end and she says, ‘You’re him!'” Grow explains. “She goes like this, ‘You’re my son!’, and at that point we both lost it.”
Grow, who lives in Oneida, discovered his birth mother was in nearby Canastota. She’d moved over the years, but settled in an area where the two may have unknowingly crossed paths many times before.
After waiting so long to meet, he asked his birth mother to dinner – that night.
“She opened up the door and she just flung her arms around me, and I did around her, and we didn’t even say anything,” he says. “We just cried.”
He felt blessed, knowing adoption reunions don’t always end with tears of joy.
Quickly, one meeting led to another and another. Suddenly, Grow had two more sisters, besides the one he grew up with.
“A hole in my heart has been filled,” Shetler says. “It’s like, just a peace has come over me. I’m a different person, just overnight.”
“She tells me that she had a son and that he found her and it was like…I had to hang up. I couldn’t talk to her. I couldn’t hear her. I was just crying. I was just so happy for her,” says Deborah Fox, Dorothy’s other daughter. “I can’t even imagine. All those years, and to think that he was just down the road.”
Thompson is still waiting to meet most of Grow’s family. With her three children together now, she has seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren – with two more on the way.
“I’m happy. I feel more alive. My family is complete,” Thompson says.
“We have a ton of catching up to do…I mean, to put it lightly,” Grow adds.
An unexpected reunion made possible with a $79 DNA kit, a little luck….and some courage.