Trae Lacean Witherspoon.
That was the name I was given when I was born; the name I wouldn't see or hear for 25 years; the name that I read on May 6th, 2018 that would change my life forever.
I grew up knowing that I was adopted. It was obvious to me really. I remember asking my mother where I came from, why I didn't look like her or the rest of my family. She would hold me and tell me that I came into this life through different people who loved me so much that they wanted to give me to them. I would sometimes feel unwanted by my birth parents, but my parents knew deep down that it wasn't the case and made it clear that I was loved.
I knew that my family loved me without a doubt. I had the ideal situation at home: Loving Mom and Dad, and an older brother who would look out after me and punk me all the time (still does to this day). I had a lot of cousins that I would see all the time, grandparents, aunts, uncles, extended family, everything. We went on trips together, holidays together, church together, everything as much as we could together. I never seriously questioned if the family I was given loved me. I knew I was different but still apart of them and I will always be apart of them... but there was always... something... missing.
All I knew my whole life was the following:
Where I was born
The agency that completed the adoption
How old my birthparents were when I was born
That's it. No names, not really any photos, just a couple of letters with blotted out names, papers with vague descriptions and introductions, a whole lot of questions, and an unquenchable drive and need to find my birthparents. Because that’s all you get in a closed adoption. My mother always promised me that once I served a mission for our church and when the timing was right, she would help me find my birthparents.
The mission came and went, and although I was still longing to search, I felt like I needed to focus on education. So I found myself at school again at BYU-Hawaii. There I met this girl who I heard was adopted as well. I figured it would be nice to find out her story. As we were talking, we found out that we had so many parallels to our adoption experiences: we both had brothers who were adopted, we were adopted through the same office of the same adoption agency, we both have wanted to find out parents our whole lives, and the list goes on and on. Once again, this feeling of needing to find my parents began to grow stronger than it had previously.
About a year later, we get married.
As a Christmas present, my mother gave me an Ancestry DNA kit to determine an estimate of where my genetic makeup came from. The cool thing about this test is if you have family members who have done the test already, you'll automatically link up and can start to communicate with each other. I was really hoping I had some close enough blood relatives who had taken the test already. I was picturing a birthparent, or maybe a half-sibling if I had any. Once the results came in, I only received pretty distant relatives. Although it was really nice to see percentages of where my DNA probably came from on a map, I was a little sad that I didn't match up with my birth mom or dad, or anyone remotely close to being a close relative.
My wife and I moved three times in the first 6 months of marriage, from Hawaii where we met, to California where we were both born and raised, and finally to Valencia Spain where I was accepted to a prestigious school’s Masters Program for music. This year-long intensive program required a lot of work with many 16 hour days.
During this time I started having a hard time sleeping when I was "supposed" to, finding myself wide awake and frustrated at 3:00 a.m.The impression to find my birth family began to creep in my mind stronger and stronger each night. I had started searching a number of times before with the little information I was given only to reach dead end after dead end. My mother recently started pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Genealogy and would often tell me some of the things that she was learning about how to find names and other important records. As the nights went on, thoughts kept entering my head of my DNA test, the stories my mom would tell me, the papers and letters we've kept, and so with all of these resources I decided that I would search in a way that I hadn't have done before.
Over the next few nights I messaged everyone and anyone I could who was related to me on my Ancestry DNA website. Complete strangers all received the same message of, "Hi. My name is Josh Wallace, and I'm looking for my birth family. I was born on this date, in this hospital, through this agency. If you have any information please reach out to me any way you can."
The other thing I did was search for files on all of the genealogical websites I could think of: Familysearch.org, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. I plugged in my name, birthdate, and location in every search bar only to receive the same information I already had. I knew there was something else out there, I could feel it. I just wasn't sure of what to do next.
Then late one night I remembered visiting my family and in-laws the previous summer with my wife. We asked them to show us our adoption materials that both families keep treasured away in a safe place. We pulled out some letters and as we were searching through, I read a name that I don't remember reading before:
Four letters that was the first name my birthparents gave me. A major clue that could potentially reconnect me to my birthparents. It had never occurred to me to use a different name on the searches. I had figured my name legally was Joshua since the beginning so I assumed that I was always called Joshua. So on my next search I kept all the information the same but switched out my full name with just the first name that was in the letter. I double checked the information, clicked search... and...
Trae Lacean Witherspoon.
There it was. A copy of my original birth certificate right there on the screen. I just sort of sat there and stared at it for a loooong time, saying it over and over again (but butchering the middle name: "La-Sheen? La-Sane? La-Sain?") thinking to myself that the name on the screen, a name that I had never previously heard of before, was me. Then I looked and found out another amazing discovery:
My birthmother's first initial and maiden name.
WHAT?! I have another HUGE clue! I have two names! My name and part of my birthmothers name. At this point my jaw is on the floor and I don't know what to do with myself. I figured if it worked for me, it could probably work for my wife as well. I plugged in her information but changed the name to what we thought would be her name and... you guessed it...
We got her name with the mother's maiden name and first initial.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, I catch a few hours of sleep before church. At church I tell the news to my wife and we're both freaking out. Our whole lives we've heard stories and came up with our own theories about ourselves, and this is the first piece of real evidence about the other half of the story.
After church we both go on a crazy hunt to find out who these people are. I after some more research I found on MyHeritage.com the first and last name of my birth mother. I apply for the free trial (thank goodness for free trials you can cut off anytime before you have to pay) and saw that she was active only a few months prior. Straight away I send her a message and figure I can wait till she replies...
Or take it a step further.
I plug her name on Instagram. I thought maybe she has one, maybe she doesn’t, but it couldn’t hurt to at least try right? What pops up? You guessed it. Her account. This is when I saw my birth mother's face for the first time. Such a beautiful woman.
I'm not done yet. I start stalking every post. I see that she got her hair did at this barbershop, she has a little boy that's probably my half brother, and then...
I see a photo of myself when I was a baby.
Guys, a PHOTO of ME when I was a BABY!!!
The caption reads: "I'm looking for my brother. He was given up for adoption through [this agency]. he was born [this date] at [this hospital] in [this city]. His birth mother is [this name] and his birth name was Trae Lacean, his adoptive parents renamed him Joshua. The attached picture is one sent by his adoptive parents. Please share and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know him or if the picture is familiar.
Thank you, Alexus 12/25/14"
My whole life I had wondered if my birthparents thought about me, cared about me, loved me. All of those doubts went away instantly. Not only did they love me, they were searching for me, actively. This post was only three years ago. All I could think of now was I needed to contact them YESTERDAY!
I take this new name on the post which is apparently my half-sister and find her instagram. It's private account, plus I see that my birthmother hasn't been active on instagram for a while so I figure instagram isn't the way to go.
So I take it to Facebook.
I plug in their names, pull up their profiles, stalk like all day looking at pictures, relatives, posts, videos, anything I can see. Apparently, she made a huge sign with my info on it trying to get me home for Christmas one year! I was able to see more on my sister’s profile so I figured if I were to reach out with someone, it would be her.
Wait a second...
If I "were" to reach out? Yeah, I definitely thought about NOT reaching out to them. I got nervous and was so overwhelmed with the information that I had received already. I also started getting these thoughts in my head like, "This was back in 2014 they've probably moved on and the don't want to meet you anymore. They've gotten over you. She probably won't see the message anyway..." Stupid stuff like that. And it's moments like these where I'm grateful I married my wife because she gave me an encouraging talk about how I needed to do this. So on May 6th, at 9:28pm, I sent the following to my sister:
"Not sure how to say this, but I think I’m your brother. Today I was trying to look for my birth family and I stumbled upon your profile and [our mother’s] profile and with the information that I have everything adds up. I would love to get in contact with you sometime soon if we can talk about the story of long lost Trae and maybe tie together this story filled with unanswered questions."
Then I wait...
At 10:51pm, that same night I get a response:
"Omg can u call me"
We did a video call. I talked with My sister Alexus. She adds her (well, our sister) Ashley to the call who's staying with our mother Micheala.
"Do you know how long we've looked, prayed, searched for you?"
Micheala asks me if I wanna talk to my dad Cy. They’ve kept in touch and have remained good friends since I happened. Right away she calls him on her cellphone and I hear my own voice and my own laugh on the other line. I look him up on Facebook and pretty much get a picture of what I'll look like when I'm older. We sound so much alike. We all laugh, cry, tell some stories, and make a plan to meet up in the summertime.
July 27th came and my wife and I head down to San Ysidro to meet in person my birth father and mother for the first time. They came all the way from Indiana and Virginia, the other side of the country, just to see me. I will never forget knocking on that door, it opening slowly and seeing these two people who seemed so familiar staring back at me. Tears were shed as I embraced my father and then my mother for the first time in 25 and a half years. A memory I will cherish with me forever.
I couldn't stop staring at them. They couldn't stop staring at me. We examined each others' hands, arms, legs, feet, hair, faces, everything like it was this new species we just discovered. I love seeing my friends' parents in them with certain features and personalities passed down, and it was so surreal to me to see where it was that I came from and how much of them has been passed down.
We had a get together the next day where my parents got to meet my birth parents and some extended family. We shared pictures and took pictures, shared stories and made memories, and even had a mini concert series. We made phone calls so that I was able to speak with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Truly one of the happiest days of my life. Soon enough it was all over and everyone headed back on planes and the road back to their normal lives...
... But it wasn't enough.
That weekend flew by and before I knew it it was over and a thing of the past. Now it was time to get things ready for my wife to start her year of school. During this whole time my wife was accepted to a masters program at the same school I was going to so we were going back to Spain for one more year. After speaking with my wife and lots of planning, we decided that we would go out and visit my birthparents where they live in Indiana and Virginia before heading back to Europe. This was one of the coolest things I've ever done to date. I've never really seen the east coast before, and now I was going to experience it knowing this is where my roots come from.
In virgina we visited the house that has been in my mothers family for generations. Upon arrival, my little brother ran right up to me and gave me the biggest hug I have ever received. My maternal Grandmother grew up in that house and proceeded to tell me stories about her youth and upbringing as well as show me some genealogy. We picked crabs, ate some barbecue, took lots of pictures, and ended it all with a big group hug. Micheala is so sweet and very giving of her time. She has an amazing memory and a wild imagination.
In Indiana we were given a thorough driving tour of Indianapolis from the race track, to the war monuments, museums, and everything in between. I met my other two sisters from my dad's side and his wife. It was so awesome playing games with them, drawing, dancing, singing, and just spending some good ol' quality time with my little sisters. Cy is where I get my goofy, playful side from. He has a big personality
I had amazing conversations about who my birth parents are as people. I see so much of them in me not only with my looks but with my personality as well. I've learned so much as to who I am as a person having gotten to know them.
A scripture comes to mind about this whole experience; Malachi 4:5-6
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
Though we were separated and experienced 25 years without each other in our lives, both sides were searching, reaching out somewhere in the darkness to find each other. Our hearts were always turned toward each other and even though there were doubts and adversity we were still able to find our way back together. Now, after so much time apart, we luckily have the rest of our lives to know each other, to laugh together, eat together, and make so many wonderful memories that will last forever.
Now I know many people around me who are adopted with different experiences ands their own stories. Some are like mind, but many others can be hard and painful experiences. I want to make it very clear that this story isn't the norm of adoption stories and that this whole experience has a lot of emotional challenges for everyone. My adoption story isn't a way for me to rub it in everyone else's face that my story was so perfect and I'm better than you. If anything, I am with you and here for you if you need someone to relate with or ask questions to. I'm sure you have a lot you can teach me about that side of adoption.