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DNA tech, unsealed adoption records lead to family reunion for Fairfield HS grad

Posted at 7:18 AM, Apr 18, 2021

FAIRFIELD, Ohio — Talking with his birth parents wasn’t the primary goal for a Kettering, Ohio man who was adopted 58 years ago, but his research has uncovered results far exceeding his expectations.

Fairfield High School graduate Pat McCoy’s lineage search has included “a wild last four months” and “it only gets better.”

He has talked with his biological mother, met her daughter and shared stories with his birth father’s family, the latter of which never knew he was born.

Findings like McCoy’s and Centerville resident Beth Miller, who was adopted at birth, are becoming more common with DNA technology and an Ohio law unsealing adoption records, a state adoption executive said. One study shows the vast majority of birth parents who were contacted after similar laws were passed wanted reunions.

“I went into this thing with no expectations whatsoever and here I’ve got a whole new family,” said McCoy, a retired police officer who started his search with a concern for family medical history.

McCoy found he was born in Toledo out of wedlock, as he suspected. He also discovered his birth mother’s name and that she never named him, he said. The original birth certificate also did not include a father’s name.

Emotional phone call

McCoy has since talked with his birth mother, Loretta Fejes of Florida. He also recently met her daughter — his half-sister, Cheryl Sottile, also of Florida — after sending a letter in December that prompted her call.

He met them in Fairfield last month.

“It was probably one of the most emotional phone calls I’ve ever had in my life because…she asked right from the start ‘Do you want to have a relationship? Because I do.’…It was a no-brainer,” McCoy said.

The phone call lasted four hours, he added.

McCoy said Sottile told him “growing up as a little girl, I had heard that you existed,” but Fejes never confirmed it.

McCoy also sent a letter to Fejes, who called him several days later.

She was “pleasant. She was cordial. Very shocked” and said adoption workers “told me you would never find out who I was.”

McCoy learned his birth father, Gordon Shakotko, died in the early 1990s.

The majority of attempts in recent years by adoptees to connect with birth parents or other children they have had are successful with varying results, said Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland.

“Sometimes people hit it off and find commonalty and form an ongoing relationship and others they share history and medical information. Maybe they don’t have as much in common,” Norris said.

Around 7 million Americans are adopted, according to the U.S. Adoption Network’s website.

Through registries and data collected in states and countries where access to previously unsealed records has been legislated, 95% of birth parents who were contacted wanted reunion, according to the American Adoption Congress.

Finding peace

Those numbers are consistent with the Adoption Network Cleveland’s experience, Norris said.

“For most birth parents I think it’s reassuring and helps put their mind at ease,” she said. “Hopefully, it helps them to be more at peace with their decision they often kind of felt forced into during past time periods due to circumstances and social attitudes.”

Beth Miller expressed similar thoughts.

The 53-year-old Centerville woman was born out of wedlock in Cleveland, but has met with both her birth parents in recent years.

Miller recalled the first time she spoke with her biological mother, who lives in Los Angeles.

“It was like someone had taken so much weight off me. It was amazing, in that one moment of talking with her,” she said.

Since meeting her in 2017, it’s been “an interesting evolution,” Miller said.

They have stayed in touch “and kept a pace she was comfortable with,” becoming “very good friends,” Miller said.

They last talked on Sunday, she said.

Empathy, respect keys

Miller’s experience with her biological father – Bruce Taylor of New York City - has been different.

Upon calling him, “the first thing out of his mouth was ‘If this is true this is the best call of my life,’ which was nice to hear,” she said.

A paternity test came back 99.9% positive, and Miller and Taylor have met a few times.

Those meetings have answered some long-stirring questions about shared traits. Miller described it as “that face-to-face thing where you see the face of where you came from and you start to see similar gestures and ways of communication and ways of thinking through things.”

“It’s just been amazing for me to see that nature vs. nuture…concept,” she said.

Both Miller and Norris cautioned adoptees seeking to locate their biological parents to approach the issue with caution.

“You need to be respectful about how that will impact the other person and be as sensitive as you can be in how you make that contact,” Norris said.

Showing empathy is an important factor, Miller said.

Initially, her biological mother “was afraid to meet me because she thought I was going to be looking out for revenge,” Miller said.

“When in truth I was looking out for some kind of answer to my story: Why my nose is shaped the way it is? Why am I allergic to this? Why do I love to be outdoors all of the time?” she added.

McCoy said in his early correspondences he tried to be sensitive and express sincerity about his goals.

“I know how lucky I am with this,” he said. “I’ve heard people reaching out to their birth families and getting a stone-cold shoulder. So I fully appreciate how lucky I am in all of this.”

By the numbers

•7 million: Americans are adopted.

•140,000: Estimate of children adopted by American families each year.

•95: Percentage of birthparents contacted who wanted a reunion.

•65: Percentage of American adolescents who wanted to meet their birth parents.

Sources: Adoption Network, American Adoption Congress, Maine Department of Human Resources Task Force on Adoption

This story was originally publishedby WCPO 9 News partner, the Journal-News. It is republished here with permission.