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Search Angels

01/09/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Reuniting Biological Families  

By Patrice Doucet 

It was never a secret kept from Veda Rae that she (and her brother) were adopted; she’s always known the story that began after her birth in 1961 when her parents picked her up from Methodist Home of New Orleans.  Life was good and her parents were loving, and even though she often wondered about her biological mother, she didn’t pursue searching for her.   That is until January 2017, when her adoptive father and husband were diagnosed with stage 4 cancers within two weeks of one another.  In a sliver of clarity, she was reminded of the unpredictability of life and the importance of knowing a family’s medical history and was compelled, for the first time, to actively search for her mother through an AncestryDNA test.  

The results brought news that Veda had a half-brother, but did not confirm the identity of her parents.  Anxious and at a crossroad, she was not sure how to use this new information to find more about her parents.

While perusing the Internet one day for helpful information, she found herself on Facebook learning about Search Angels, people who volunteer their time and resources to help adoptees search for their biological relatives.  They are especially helpful locating those who no longer live in the state in which they gave birth or were adopted, as they search through newspaper archives and public records and even interview locals who might provide information.

She recalls being impressed by comments about one particular search angel, Jalyn Plaisance.  “She struck me as the kind of person who had the head and heart for the job,” Veda recalls.

Jalyn has been a search angel in Lafayette since 2015 and has helped over 30 people find at least one birth parent, in some cases both.  A mother and active partner with her husband in the family business, Van Alan Homes, she relishes her time doing DNA detective work in the spare moments before sun up, into the late hours of the night and on weekends.  It is her passion. 

Her years in the construction business have given Jalyn a particular set of organizational skills that led her to develop an efficient and very effective method of research.  “I love the processes,” she says.  “I came up with a color-coded system to keep the information organized, so it all comes together quicker and produces more details than the basic Internet search.”  Her oftentimes-quick results make the process look easy, but there is much work entailed in navigating the confusing array of DNA. 

The turnaround time in finding biological relatives varies.  With the information from Veda’s DNA test, Jalyn found her mother in five days, yet in other cases the information may take months.

It takes persistent detective work and keen instinct to become a good search angel, but having compassion and tactful communication skills makes an exceptional one.  The initial phone call with a client is meant to help him/her look at the case from all angles, first asking if their adoptive parents are supportive of the search.  “I respect the adoptive parents and their blessing in the search,” Jalyn says.  “I also get a feel for the client’s attitude to see if they can handle rejection, which is always a possibility.” 

While some adoptees are excited to make that first call to a parent, this is the point where the experience of a search angel really comes into play.  “In my first contact with the birth parent, I introduce myself as someone who helps people find people they are looking for.  Even though some of them might not understand how AncestryDNA works, they remember giving up a child and quickly understand the purpose of the call.  At that point, I explain that my client is someone who is kind and looking for possible medical information.” 

Over the past two years, Jalyn’s heard a range of reactions from birth parents - from relief to shock.  “Some get on the phone immediately with their child,” she says, ”while others need to process the news and talk to current family members.”  

In Veda’s case, all evidence pointing to the woman believed to be her mother was, in fact, confirmed by the woman in a phone conversation with Jalyn, but for reasons unknown, the words, “That’s my daughter” would not be spoken.  

The majority of Jalyn’s clients, who live around the country, were born at Methodist Home of New Orleans in the 50s and 60s.  Their mothers were young women who got pregnant at a time when society looked down on unwed mothers.  To escape being the subject of town gossip, they were sent to institutions like Methodist Home to have their babies -- many of them from states away. “In the end, the child would wonder what their mother was like and the mother was haunted by the memory of their decision.  As babies, at the time, they never had a voice.  My goal is to let these parents know that their children are great people and thriving; they’re an engineer or a nurse; they’re healthy and have families of their own.”

Throughout Veda’s life she would periodically worry about her biological mother and what it must have been like for her as a young unwed mother in the Deep South.  “I felt like I had been placed in a loving home and had a great life and that my birth mother was the one, of my parents, who would bear the most burden.  I wanted to make sure she was OK, but be sensitive to what is best for her; I don’t want to upset her any more than she might already be.” 

Jalyn can empathize with Veda’s feelings.  Like most search angels, she too is an adoptee, although she wouldn’t come to know until she was 19 that the man she grew up knowing as her loving father was not her biological parent.  But, she took the shock in grace.  “It’s a big step in forgiveness,” she says, yet sympathizing with the mothers who felt there was really no choice in giving up their babies.  “My mother had the courage to keep me against all odds; I had to give her that same grace.  Working with adoptees and seeing every imaginable angle to a story has made me respect the decision my mom made.  As a mother myself now, I think about her making a decision with my best interest in mind.  She thought she was protecting me.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that Jalyn ordered a DNA kit for herself.  “I was having my first mammogram,” she recalls. “One of the questions they asked was whether I had a family history of breast cancer - I didn’t know.”  That prompted her to find her birth father in efforts to learn more about her medical history.  She received the results in January 2014 and didn’t find her dad until October 2015 – it was her first case.  

This past December, in the days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, AncestryDNA reported selling 1.5 million testing kits.  Presumably, more people will come to realize that they need the help of an experienced middleperson like a search angel to locate biological relatives.

Veda’s advice to adoptees who are considering using a search angel for help:  “Each search angel has their own area of expertise, but overall a good one should be curious, thorough in verifying their sources, and able to relate to both the birth parent and the child.  Maybe most importantly, pick someone who you feel could be your friend through the process. For me, that was Jalyn.”

Jalyn remains in contact with her clients today; many of them have become her friends.  This month, she plans to join a group of adoptees, former clients and birth parents for a reunion in Houston.  It’s expected to be an opportunity for them to support each other and exchange stories - like Veda’s, who’s still in contact with her half-brother and hopes for the day when her mother might be ready to reach out to her.  And Jalyn’s own story ending with “one courageous mom, two awesome dads and a loving extended family.” 

If you would like free assistance in finding a biological family member, email Jalyn Plaisance at LouisianaDNA@gmail.com 

In Print, Today Search Angels Reuniting Biological Families

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