#52Ancestors: Different DNA, but Same Family History — My Parents

My 13th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 13 is — Different. What ancestor seems to be your polar opposite? What ancestor did something that seems completely different than what they “should” have done or what you would have done?

Colleen Mom Dad Wedding
My parents, on their wedding day.

My 13th ancestors are my Mom and Dad, with whom I have (as far as I know) completely different DNA.

Since my last two posts have focused on the new search for my biological family, I thought it appropriate to focus on my parents (my real parents) for this post.


As a refresher, I was put up for adoption at birth, in a public closed adoption in Los Angeles County, California. I am the poster child for everything that can and should be right about adoption. Just a few months after I was born (I had been hospitalized for a while due to being two-months preemie), I was adopted by my parents — my real parents (I hate when people call them adoptive parents).

These are the only parents I have ever known. The parents who really really wanted me. The parents who have loved, nurtured, protected, guided, and encouraged me my entire life. The parents who have caught me every time I have fallen, figurative and literally, then helped me get back up on my feet again.

I mentioned in my previous posts about my adoption, and I have always told family and friends, that finding my birth parents has never been and never will be a big deal to me. I don’t feel a sense of missing identity. I don’t feel I was ever unwanted (my birth parents were just kids who had no business raising a kid). I don’t feel that I have been cheated out of my family history. I do know adoptees who do experience these feelings. I just am not one of them. I was blessed with the best parents and the best family possible. My childhood and adult life are filled with happy cherished memories.

Oh, and, despite what my parents say and my siblings say — I know that I am my parents’ favorite child! Yeah, I realize that my parents can’t ever actually admit that, or it would make them seem like bad parents, choosing a favorite kid. But I know I am their favorite kid. And I have never had a problem pointing that fact out to my siblings.

Nor have I refrained from searching for my birth parents due to some fear of hurting my real parents’ feelings, or of possibly being rejected by my birth parents. My real parents know that I love them, that I will always love them, and that they will always be my parents. My birth parents are simply the egg and sperm that made me; it won’t hurt me if they don’t want to meet and have a friendship with me.

So this post is really just about taking a breather from the whirlwind birth-mom-journey I got plunged into less than one week ago, and sharing the love I have for my real parents.

Colleen Robledo as Toddler with Mom
Me as a toddler with Mom, in my grandparents’ pool. We spent a lot of time in that pool as little kids! The man is not my dad; he was a friend of my parents. Dad was probably taking the photo.

Why Adoption?

My parents tried to have children naturally after they were married, but Mom’s doctor determined that she couldn’t get pregnant. They decided that biology would not prevent them from being parents, and they filed for adoption. Both wanted the first baby to be a little girl (lucky for me!). They have told me many times about that moment when they received “the call” congratulating them on becoming parents, and asking them to come bring their baby home.

From my baby book and childhood photo albums, it is obvious my parents thought the sun and moon revolved around me. My brother’s baby book and photo albums have far fewer photos…just sayin’ :-).

Adoption Poem from Dear Abby
A famous adoption poem that Mom clipped from Dear Abby when I was a baby, to put in my baby book.
Adoption Poem by Mom
A poem that Mom wrote to me when I was a baby or little girl.

Mom and Dad had already started the paperwork to adopt a second child, when Mom found out she was pregnant. Shortly after, my brother was born. I call it an accident, my brother likes to call it a miracle. I tell him that I was chosen, and he was just a “whoops!” kid.

After my brother was born, Mom and Dad made sure that no further accidents could happen.

Then six years later, we as a family decided that we wanted a little sister. So my parents adopted my sister, shortly before her third birthday. She was also a closed public adoption.

Our family was a bit unusual, with the biological child sandwiched between two adoptees. So much so that a documentary maker did a film about my brother (don’t know whatever happened to that film), chronicling his experiences as the lone biological child in the family. You can bet I was none to happy about someone wanting to star my brother in a documentary. I was, after all, going to be a future Broadway star.

I think that little bout of jealousy (one of many many many such fits of jealousy) only hits the point home that we were a perfectly normal imperfect family, despite none of us kids being biologically related. We fought like normal siblings, we played like normal siblings, and no other kids were allowed to mess with our siblings. We all sassed and disobeyed our parents, and our parents punished us all equally for any bad behavior. They also loved us all equally (well, except for me being their favorite).

Robledo Family, Camping, Late 1970s
One of many family photos, from one of many summer family camping trips. This must have been before Dad got a camera with a timer, because he is taking the photo. And I think it’s the late 1970s, shortly after adopting my little sister (on my lap).
Robledo Flanagan Family - ca 1984
Our immediate family, 1985, on a family summer vacation camping trip. I can tell the date by my hair and outfit, which I sported my freshman year of high school. Why do most of us look miserable? Because my parents would make us pose over and over for the camera timer to capture family photos…on every summer family camping trip.

Family History vs. Genetic History

When I refer to my family history, I am distinctly referring to my real family. Because it is family history. Genealogy is the pursuit, the study and the profession. Family history is more personal…at least for me. Now that I’ve added my bio parents and my own autosomal DNA into the mix, I refer to that as my genetic history.

I know adoptees are all over the board on this. Some research both their real and bio families’ histories. Some do just their real family history. Some do just their bio family history, because they insist this is their history. To each his own.

But to me, my family history focus will always be on my real family.

Because it is the people (the ancestors and relatives) from this family, my family, that shaped the extended family universe that I have known my whole life — my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, great aunts, great uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Their life experiences, their culture, their traditions, their memories, their success or failure as parents and spouses, their hopes and dreams. Their sense of love and sense of family. I may not have the same DNA that predetermined physical appearance (although people always say I look like my Mom..ha!), medical history, or particular traits (THANK GOD I could not inherit Mom’s tone deafness gene!), but that stuff doesn’t matter to me.

Family and family history are not defined by biology.

Colleen Robledo & Dad Graduation
Preparing to leave for my undergraduate graduation ceremony. Dad was the first in his family to graduate college.
Colleen Robledo and Mom
Drinking and dining with Mom. Thanksgiving about 6 years ago.
Colleen Robledo and Mom - Bridal Shower
With Mom, at my bridal shower in a Victorian tea house.
Colleen Robledo Bride and Mom
Mom looking on while I touched up my hair and makeup in between my wedding ceremony and the reception. Shopping for wedding dresses with her is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Colleen Robledo Bride and Dad Aisle
Dad walking me down the aisle, something he dreamed of since I was a baby. I knew he’d lose it (crying here). I kept squeezing his arm telling him that I loved him.
Robledo Colleen Bride and Dad Aisle.jpg
My very favorite photo of Dad and me, before my wedding ceremony. He was still pretty emotionally with-it at this point. Dad is a model husband, father, and grandfather. I am blessed to have married someone like him.

Adoption Search Angels Help Me Find My Original Birth Name & Birth Parent Surnames Overnight

This past Wednesday, I blogged about finally caving and testing my autosomal DNA to learn about my ethnic origins and see if I get connected to any genetic cousins (I was adopted at birth). I also explained why locating my biological parents hasn’t and isn’t a big deal for me.

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test.

I am still waiting for AncestryDNA to process my DNA sample, however I have already had a significant breakthrough in this quest. I have a strong candidate for my birth mom. Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Angie Bush, a genetic genealogist.

Search Angels

After reading my blog post on Wednesday, Angie sent a message asking if I knew about Search Angels — a generic term for volunteers who help adoptees identify and find their birth families, often able to identify birth parent surnames within just an hour or two. She steered me towards Search Squad, a closed Facebook group where people seeking biological family members (adoptees and others with unknown parentage) can get help from these volunteer Search Angels. This group runs a sister Facebook group specifically for California and Ohio adoptions, which is where I posted my query. These particular Facebook groups do not allow just anyone to join; a group administrator will contact you with some questions prior to admitting you as a member. This is to help cut back on looky-loos.

I posted a query at 8:13pm on Wednesday, March 25th, with what info I knew about my birth and adoption: my legal birth name, birth date, birth county, mom’s maiden name (my real mom, not bio mom), that it was a public adoption at birth, and ages of bio mom and dad (from my adoption letter). By 8:25pm, a California specialist volunteer had claimed my case. This volunteer then messaged me on Facebook to let me know that she would have her volunteer team start on the search in the morning, and should have information about my birth parents the next day.

By 9:37am the next morning, my Search Angel had my original birth info!

These Facebook groups are not the only place one can find Search Angels. Several websites provide listings of Search Angel volunteers, usually by state. Search Angels do not charge for their services; some only for copies of actual records that they might retrieve on your behalf for a repository. They pay for various database subscriptions — genealogy, public records, yearbook sites, etc. — out of their own pockets, and do not pass those costs on to the people they help. Search Angels are located all across the U.S., some even in other countries.

My Birth Names

As I mentioned above, by 9:37am the morning after I posted my query, a team of Search Angels had found my original birth information. My California specialist messaged me asking if I was ready to meet myself!

I was named Kerry M. at birth, on my sealed birth records, as evidenced by the California Birth Index, 1905-1995. My Search Angel tells me that because my biological parents were not married, but because my birth mom chose to identify my birth father, I am listed twice, once under each bio parents’ surname: as Kerry M. Rought, and as Kerry M. Deleon. Since my adoption letter states that my bio dad is of Spanish and French descent, we assumed Deleon was his surname. Rought also jived with the German and Duch ethnicity the letter attributed to my bio mom.

Kerry M. Rought - Birth Index - Ancestry
California Birth Index, 1905 – 1995, entry for Kerry M. Rought. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.
Kerry M. Deleon - Birth Index - Ancestry
California Birth Index, 1905 – 1995, entry for Kerry M. Deleon. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

The Process

It is important that I clarify that none of these volunteers have access to the original unsealed birth certificates or adoption records. Being a public adoptee from California, my original birth certificate and original adoption records (which would clearly identify both birth parents by name) is sealed. It is illegal for these volunteers to access these records. It is illegal for me to access them, unless a superior court judge rules to release these records to me due to a compelling reason. I am only allowed to request birth records with non-identifying information, to protect the identity of my birth parents.

So how then did the Search Angels identify my original birth information and the surnames of my bio parents?

By starting with the California Birth Index (for births prior to 1995). Anyone can access this index, even within California, since it is public record.

I should define some terms here. This terminology is the jargon used among the Search Angels/adoptees circles. I would need to defer to Judy Russell for confirmation or clarification of the legal terminology.

  • Unredacted Birth Certificate: Original birth certificate, sealed and replaced with an amended birth certificate. Includes names of both birth parents (if a birth father was named), and name given at birth of the adoptee.
  • Amended Birth Certificate: Legal birth certificate, which replaces the unredacted one. Reflects the legal name if an adoptee undergoes a legal name change (upon adoption). Lists the legal (adoptive) parents.
  • Amended Birth Index: Birth index that includes listings from amended birth certificates. I am told this is the public records version accessible within California.
  • Unamended Birth Index: Birth index that includes listings from unredacted birth certificates. I am told this is no longer available for access or sale within California.*

My Search Angel team — based outside of California — did a search on the amended California Birth Index for my legal or amended birth certificate entry (I can’t access my amended post-adoption entry on the Ancestry version). This entry provides my birth certificate ID#. My Search Angel team tells me that California does not issue a new ID# when the unredacted certificate is sealed and replaced with the amended certificate — both versions of the birth certificate use the same ID#. This team has access to the unamended birth index and simply looked for the same ID#, gender, birth date, and birth county to locate the index entry for my unredacted birth certificate, which provides my original birth name(s) and birth mom’s maiden name.

Once I understood that process, I immediately hopped on my Ancestry subscription and searched for myself using my birth name(s). Bingo! I instantly pulled up both entries (see screenshots above) — under my bio mom’s surname and again under my bio dad’s surname. Note that Ancestry’s version of the California Birth Index does NOT include birth certificate ID#s. There is simply no way I would have ever known these records were mine. Los Angeles County is a big place…there were probably many female babies born that same date. That birth certificate ID# was the key.


I love this sort of detective work!

Birth Mom Candidate

After sharing my birth name and the surnames of my biological parents, my lead Search Angel asked I wanted help researching likely candidates. I thanked her, but declined, explaining that I am a librarian and genealogist who will enjoy the search process. We did both agree that my best bet was to work on the bio mom, since Rought is a less common surname than Deleon…at least in Southern California.

This particular Facebook group of volunteers posts the findings on one’s original query, to let other Search Angels know that the case has been closed. Within minutes of my Search Angel doing that (literally, 4 minutes later!), I had other volunteers immediately start tracking down birth mom possibilities based on maiden name, the age stated in my adoption letter, and residency in Los Angles County. While I planned to do all of this myself after getting home from work, who am I to reject immediate research assistance from others?

Throughout the entire day, this group of volunteers kept sharing more leads, identifying two sisters as the most likely candidates, and agreeing upon the oldest sister as the top Birth Mom Candidate. They tracked down a Facebook profile for her, as well as for her two children.

And throughout this flurry of discoveries, I was supposed to be able to concentrate on my job???!

That evening, I started constructing a family tree for Birth Mom Candidate, based on records I found in Ancestry and Been Verified, as well as information I could glean off of publicly viewable information from Facebook.

I also sent a private message to her Facebook profile (paying the $1.00 to make it show up in her inbox, since we are not Facebook Friends). The message introduced myself, and explained why I was contacting her. I asked if she could please confirm if my hunch was correct, to please excuse the intrusion, and that I would welcome a friendship (if our relationship was correct) or would respect her wish to not establish a friendship.

That was Thursday night. Here it is Sunday afternoon, and no word yet. If she is like my own (real) Mom, Birth Mom Candidate doesn’t check her Facebook messages. Based on her Facebook Profile, I’d say Birth Mom Candidate doesn’t even use her Facebook Profile much. I do have some phone numbers from Been Verified, but I’d rather establish contact digitally than by cold calling.

And my parents’ reactions to all of this? They’ve been very excited following every bit of progress. A lot of text messages have been flying between the three of us this past week.

Next Steps

My head has been in a whirlwind since Thursday morning. As a work colleague told me on Friday, it figures that someone who has had no interest in learning about her birth parents would get so much information so fast… had this been something that bothered me most of my life, we would have turned up with zilch.

What I need to do now:

  • Try to wait patiently for Bio Mom Candidate to check her Facebook messages and reply to me — even if to confirm her identity, but to say she does not want to have any type of relationship. I can deal with that.
  • File for my non-identifying birth records with California and/or Los Angeles County.
  • Wait for AncestryDNA to process my autosomal results, and see if any matches pop up with the surnames of Rought or Deleon, or the collateral surnames I have already associated with this Bio Mom Candidate.

What I will not do is try to make contact with Bio Mom Candidate’s children — even though I can see that they are on Facebook quite often. As much as I would like to reach out to them, in the event their mother hasn’t told them about me (or even worse, the Search Angeles and I identified the wrong candidate), it is not my right to break this news to them and possibly disrupt their lives. If we have identified the right candidate, it is her right to decide if and when she will tell her other children.

*Note: I have asked my legislative analyst husband to do some research on this whole California birth index access issue, and the legislative history behind it. Is it illegal for California residents and institutions to actually own or possess the old unredacted version of the index? Or is it simply no longer available for sale from the state of California (only the amended version)? Were California repositories and residents required to return the original unredacted index? Or are they still able to include it for public access in their government documents collection if purchased prior the state making it unavailable for sale?

#52Ancestors: Beginning the Search for My Birth Mother, with Whom I Share Half the Same DNA

Colleen Robledo, Baby
Me at just over one year old, four months after my legal adoption.

My 12th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 12 is — Same. What ancestor is a lot like you? What ancestor do you have a lot in common? Same name? Same home town?

My 12th ancestor is my birth mom, with whom I should share half of the same DNA.

I have known my entire life that I was adopted. My parents always told me, and celebrated that fact. My birth announcement reads: “I wasn’t expected, I was selected!” Mom says they would tell me that word long before I could understand its meaning, and then they explained it to me when I was old enough to start understanding. I was put up for adoption at birth, and came home to my parents a few months later, after a very brief stay in a foster home and a hospital incubator due to being born two months premature.

This post is particularly timely, because Monday was the anniversary of the day I came home with my parents. My legal adoption became final six months later.

What I Know About My Birth Parents

My adoption was public, through the County of Los Angeles. I am told I was born at St. Anne’s home for unwed mothers, in Los Angeles, California. In California that means my original birth certificate, with my birth parents’ names, was sealed. All I know about my birth parents is contained within the following letter that was given to my parents when they brought me home on 23 March 1970.

My birth mom was just 16, and my birth father was just 19. They wanted me to be raised in a two-parent married Catholic home, by parents who could better care for me and who of course would love me.

According to the letter, it appears I was predestined to love the outdoors and hiking!

The question I have always wanted an answer to is… if they were 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, how the heck did I end up only 5 feet 1 inch tall??? I should be a few inches taller.

Colleen Robledo, Adoption Letter
The letter that accompanied me home with my parents on 23 March 1970. Our adoption became legal six months later.

Why Haven’t I Cared to Look?

As I mentioned before, public adoptions in California require that the original birth certificate and records be sealed. An adoptee is allowed to request access to these, once of majority age. Yet even then, a judge has to agree to release identifiable information (birth parent names and details); an adoptee is only guaranteed non-identifiable info.

I am well past majority age, yet I have never bothered with the cumbersome process of requesting my records. Because it just hasn’t ever really mattered to me. I can honestly say that I have no curiosity about my birth parents, no big desire to know their names, and don’t feel any sense of missing identity. I have always felt incredibly loved, and a powerful blood-like bond to my immediate and extended family — including our ancestors. Quite simply, I have the best parents in the world. I am the poster child for how adoption is supposed to work.

What is Different Now?

While I still confidently say that I don’t care if I ever find out the identities of my birth parents, something has changed. What has changed is a growing sense of compassion for what my birth mother went through 45 years ago. I attribute it to just getting older, having helped raise a child (my oldest niece), and becoming a wife and stepmom five and a half years ago. Because these feelings never really crossed my mind until a handful of years ago.

I have come to recognize and respect that putting me up for adoption was probably the most difficult decision my birth mother ever made. It was an incredibly brave selfless act. Every December 20th on my birthday, I imagine that my birth mom is thinking about the baby girl she gave up, wondering if she did the right thing, if her baby was safe, if her baby was loved. I can’t imagine carrying a child and nurturing it in the womb, and then having the emotional strength to give that baby up to others. Having grown up to a point where I can truly appreciate that sacrifice, I would like to be able to assure her that her baby was and is loved as much as is humanly possible. I was blessed with the very best parents and family possible.

And then there’s that whole genetic genealogy thing…

Until very recently, I have not jumped on the genealogy DNA craze. Mostly because my family history is not in my DNA. But early last year, I caved and tested Dad through AncestryDNA in the hopes of breaking through my Robledo surname brick wall. But at RootsTech and FGS last month, I learned about how DNA was being used by adoptees to find birth families. That caught my curiosity. I have always loved solving puzzles. This sounded fun, like a great learning opportunity, and like a great case study to put under my research skills belt.  Getting introduced to and hooked on new friend Michael Lacopo’s Hoosier Daddy? blog intensified this interest.

So last week, I took an autosomal test from AncestryDNA. And started a biological family tree.

My Next Steps

Aside from impatiently waiting over the next 4 to 8 weeks for AncestryDNA to process my autosomal DNA results, which I will of course also upload to Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch, I have some next plans of action already in place.

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test last week.
  • I joined the DNA Detectives group on Facebook last week.
  • I just enrolled in the May 8th session of the Working with Autosomal DNA online course by DNA Adoption.
  • I plan to enlist the services of my new DNA consultant friend Angie Bush, a brilliant molecular genealogist, to teach me what to do with this data, and how to calculate relationships of those who share my DNA.
  • I am attending DNA Day at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in June, especially CeCe Moore’s DNA and adoptees session.
  • Being the kick-butt librarian that I am, I will continue researching everything I can about genetic genealogy and how to analyze the DNA results.
  • I guess I need to also finally fill out and send in the notarized forms asking the County of Los Angeles to open and release my adoption file. Paper records still count!

My mom, who works in adoptions, has always been very supportive of me tracking down my birth family (so has Dad). But as Moms always do, she continues to try to protect me and shield me from disappointment. Mom has gently warned me that I need to be prepared to accept that my birth parents might not want to be found. She encounters this regularly in her work. Both biological parents have most likely gone on with their lives, marrying others and possibly having more children. They might not have told their new spouses and children about this incident from their past. They might not want them to know. They might not want to be found.

If so, that’s okay too. Like I said, finding them has never been important to me. It won’t hurt me. And having taken Judy Russell’s Ethical Genealogist session at FGS, I understand that while it is my right to know, it is not my right to force others to know, or to blow someone else’s secret.

At the very least, this remains a great learning opportunity and case study for my portfolio. Perhaps it will equip me to help give back to the adoption community by being able to assist others seeking to venture into this same journey.