SPECIAL REPORT: Modern technology helps woman connect with biological family

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Mary Gillespie was adopted in Alabama over 25 years ago, and spent most of her life thinking she’d never find her biological mother.

Then, an email notification popped up on her phone last December, and everything changed.

I always knew that I was loved.

Mary Gillespie

Loved; that’s a word Mary Gillespie uses often when talking about her childhood with her adoptive parents.

“My mom saw me before she knew I was going to be hers, and she was like ‘I hope that’s our baby’,” said Mary.

Mary was put up for adoption at birth in a closed adoption that went through in Alabama.

“My bio mom was just young, she had fallen in love at Disney with a guy and they were just young.”

How Mary’s adoptive father learned he was going to be a dad:

Mary says she always knew she was adopted, and considered it her ‘normal’; she says she even had a favorite book growing up that made her think everyone was adopted.

“I had a book, it’s called Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born, and it’s basically just about this little girl and her parents go and pick her up from the hospital.”

Mary says she searched for her birth mother for years, and her adoptive parents even hired a private investigator at one point to try to find her, but it wasn’t until December 2018 that a connection was made.

“I get a notification, this is like 99.9% your biological mother and I was like ‘wait what?'”

The notification came from 23 and Me, a DNA testing service Mary had received as a Christmas gift from her parents in 2016.

Mary says she had always kept her information on public, but that her biological mom had her information on private; that is, until another familial match was made using the service’s technology.

“I ended up matching with a second cousin and then word got out and so she went and just made it public and shared the information, and that’s when it connected.”

When using a service like 23 and Me, connecting to a biological family member can be as easy as making your information public, as seen in Mary’s case. But for Indiana adoptees and birth parents, it’s also now easier than ever to connect, thanks to Senate Enrolled Act 91.

The law went into effect on July 1, 2018, and unsealed adoption records from before January 1, 1994.

Full interview with ISDH on unsealed adoption records:

Hilari Sautbine, ISDH Director of Vital Records, says over 4500 Hoosiers have requested adoption records between July 1, 2018, and Nov. 14, 2019. Sautbine says there’s currently an average wait-time of 5-6 months before people receive their records and have a chance to contact their biological family members.

For Mary, the contact was made shortly after the connection on 23 and Me, and Mary was able to finally meet her birth mom in January.

“I drove out to their house, and my heart was beating really, really fast. I’d seen pictures of her, so I knew what she looked like at this point, but it was so surreal to see someone who looked like me in person.”

Mary says the initial nerves quickly went away.

“The awkwardness stopped within like two minutes.”

Then, in March, Mary went on her first vacation with her newly found family, which includes five half-siblings.

It was so surreal to see someone who looked like me in person.

Mary Gillespie

“We’ve gone to Disney, we’ve gone on a Disney cruise, we’ve gone to the lake, they come here.”

Mary says she has a lot in common with her birth mom and her new siblings.

“We were in the Bahamas and apparently I made this look, and my brother Wyatt was like ‘you look just like Mom, she makes that face'”

And Mary says she shares a love of soccer with two of her siblings, including a younger sister she says she is very close with.

As for Mary’s adoptive mom, Mary says she has been very supportive of the new relationships in Mary’s life. Sadly, Mary’s adoptive dad never had the chance to watch Mary find her family.

Mary with her adoptive dad, who she says people always told her she looked like. Mary says he passed away before she made contact with her birth mom.

“My dad passed away before he was able to know that his gift brought me my family, but I’m really happy and he would’ve been so happy because that’s why he got it,” said Mary. “He was always so supportive, so he would’ve been really happy to know, and he would’ve been really happy that I finally got to be a big sister.”

Mary says she’s grateful for the modern technology that connected her and her birth mom, and feels lucky to have the story she has; being loved all along, and now in new ways.

“When you are looking, you just have to be aware that you might not like what you find, but there’s the possibility that you will love what you find,” said Mary. “I know my family loves me, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t blood, it wasn’t anything, but I also know that my blood family loves me too, and it’s so amazing.”

There is no fee involved with a request of one’s adoption records, but there is a government issued ID requirement as well as other eligibility restrictions.

To view forms required during the process of requesting adoption records, click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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