Adoption, Law & Ethics

Two years (2017-2019)

“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” Dorothy Allison

by Michelle Riess

This week it has been two full years since I made the unexpected discovery that I am adopted after getting a DNA match to one of my three full biological sisters. I was forty years old at the time and had never been told that I was adopted. This was obviously a very shocking thing to discover about yourself as an adult, especially when you grew up believing you were an only child and wishing for siblings. (you can read about my adoption discovery here)

I can’t believe it’s been two years already! It feels like it was a lifetime ago and just yesterday all in the same breath. I feel like I’ve known my family forever even though we only met each other for the first time two years ago. I still can’t believe all of this has happened–I don’t think I will ever be able to fully process it all because it’s just so extraordinary. The number of times we’ve been told that our experience is like watching a movie or reading a novel is well into the hundreds at this point, so I know I’m not alone in my utter disbelief. Lol!

Just a quick recap of the timeline of events: I got the initial Ancestry DNA match to my sister, Jamie, on September 11, 2017. That was followed by about four days of uncertainty between Jamie and me as we tried to make sense of things. By the fifth day I already knew the truth in my heart. Finally, I received verbal confirmation from the adoptive family on September 17, 2017 after directly questioning them about my origins. The entire process lasted only one week.

Now at two years since this discovery, I’ve had time to process more of the facts surrounding the adoption, and the people involved, with a much clearer mind. I have absolutely no regrets for any of the decisions I’ve made and continue to move forward with my life. However, a few things still trouble us deeply. For example, we do not understand why the extended adoptive family wasn’t more aggressive in encouraging the adoptive parents to do the right thing. Also, why didn’t the State of New Jersey ever follow-up with my adoption, especially after the indictment/conviction of the attorney who arranged it for the adoptive parents? It’s incomprehensible how so many people knew the truth, but all seemingly believed that I would never find out–even long after sites like Ancestry.com came around. It’s honestly mind-blowing, especially since the adoptive parents knew I was heavily involved in genealogy and that I had even done DNA testing. The DNA testing alone should have been cause for them to finally tell me the truth (albeit about three decades too late by that time!) I don’t know if it was arrogance or pure stupidity, but clearly the adoptive parents were out of touch with reality in regards to my adoption and their long-term responsibilities as adoptive parents.

I’m not going to dwell on the negative, especially since there is an abundance of happiness in my life today. I really want to take this opportunity to ask people to be more honest with the people in your life, to be fully accountable for your own actions, and when you do mess up to accept the consequences with grace. Also, if you know someone in your life is harboring major secrets or is actively deceiving others for their own personal gain, do not just let it go—confront them. Be understanding, but also be direct. Firmly state that what they are doing is wrong, especially if it involves deceiving a child or someone entrusted with their care. Encourage them to do the right thing, to make better choices, and to make positive changes in their life. Eventually, the truth will find it’s way out, as it always does.

“Anything is better than lies and deceit!” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For four decades, almost two of which I was a minor, I was lied to, manipulated and programmed to believe completely fabricated “facts” about myself and, by default, misled to believe I couldn’t be anything other than their biological child. Yet we’ve never felt that the adoptive parents truly regretted their actions; only that I found out the truth and haven’t kept quiet about it. I do not believe any reasonable, informed person would disagree that the highly questionable circumstances of my adoption, and the fact that I was never told that I am adopted, were unethical and should have been handled very differently. If you cannot agree with this, then you are probably part of the larger problem that I am referring to. No amount of money, gifts, fancy vacations or material goods bestowed upon me by the adoptive parents in any way excuses their choices or their behaviors in regards to my adoption. There is no justification for any of it.

I wrote this statement last year in a different post, but it is definitely worth repeating:

“All adoptive parents have a moral obligation to be open and honest with the child they adopt about their own genetic origins. To intentionally withhold this information from an adoptee of any age is selfish and unethical. If you are not able to follow through with these clear moral obligations, you are not ready to adopt.”

There is no legitimate reason for any adoptive parent(s) to withhold the fact that a person is adopted. While some details about the adoptee’s background could be very upsetting and might be best to withhold until they are age-appropriate (and ideally with the guidance of a licensed therapist) the fact that a person is adopted should never be withheld, under any circumstances. It is never too early to start talking about adoption and is something all adoptive parents need to be prepared to talk about openly over the years; it should never be viewed as a one-time disclosure and then never discussed again.  [Relatedhow to talk about adoption with your child]

On a much more positive note, my family and I have been enjoying getting to know each other better and building a relationship with a strong foundation rooted in love, honesty, openness and mutual respect. It brings me so much peace and joy knowing we are together now and that nothing can ever separate us again. I am continually blown away by the power of genetics and the striking similarities between us all despite the fact that I grew up without them or even knowledge of their existence. It really is amazing. My three children love spending time with our family as well, though I do wish we could all get together more frequently. Life is very busy for all of us, but I definitely need to find more time to spend with them on a regular basis. I feel so at peace knowing my children will always have the security of our family even long after I am gone, and the same for their children. That is a level of security that I have never known until this discovery and is something that money and material wealth can never alone replicate. It is so empowering knowing the truth and knowing where I really come from, especially since there were always major discrepancies between what I was told by the adoptive parents and what I felt inside. I feel completely at home with myself now, which is kind of a foreign feeling to me, but I welcome the change. I am constantly working to deprogram myself from the beliefs I was trained to accept, versus reality. It’s a difficult process, but I am making great progress and living a very happy, peaceful and fulfilling life.

Thank you to everyone–my children, family, friends, co-workers, other adoptees, other birth mothers, and even complete strangers from all over the world–for your continued support and enthusiasm. My family and I are always blown away by everyone’s interest and how moved people are by our story. We feel so fortunate that our story had such a beautiful ending despite having to wait four decades to get here! We will continue to share news, stories and updates on this website and on our Facebook page. I’m also hoping that my mom, Hollie, and my sisters might write about their experiences here as well. So many people have also expressed their desire for us to write a book about our story, so that is something that might happen in the very near future as well. There may also be some other exciting things coming up in the new year, too…. Stay tuned!

Love,
Michelle

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

 

Adoption, Law & Ethics, News & Media

Newspaper articles about Michelle’s 1976 adoption

If you would like to read some of the newspaper articles regarding the case against the attorney that illegally arranged the adoption, you can view them HERE. In some of the articles, Michelle is the adopted child referred to simply as the December 4, 1976 “incident.”

Many of these articles include statements taken from Kent’s court testimony that contradict Hollie’s experiences, including his heavy involvement after Michelle’s birth. They also contradict information given to Michelle in 2017 by her adoptive father. We will make a separate post about these inconsistencies at a later date.

So far, our research has produced about 12 articles from a variety of newspapers including the Courier-Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The New York Times. We will add a few new articles to this page at a later date.

VIEW ALL OF THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLES HERE

 https://ouradoptionreunion.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1981convicted.jpg

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess/ Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

‘Adoption lawyer’s’ term suspended (1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: October 17, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By RENEE WINKLER
Of the Courier-Post

CAMDEN – A Willingboro attorney, convicted in July of illegally acting as an intermediary in three adoptions, yesterday was given a suspended jail term and placed on probation for one year.

Before Edward Kent, 55, was given the sentence he made an emotional speech, criticizing the law that makes it illegal for persons to help in the placement of unwanted children.

Kent, who lives in Edgewater Park, praised Deputy Attorney General Nancy Singer, who presented the state’s case against him, and Superior Court Judge Peter J. Corruzzi, who convicted him after a non-jury trial, commenting that both were complying with the law.

The state law requires all private adoptions to be supervised by the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

Kent had contacted clergymen in several Burlington County municipalities after unmarried pregnant women came to him looking for adoptive parents for their children.

Kent, who specializes in matrimonial and family law, is an opponent of abortion.

He objected to a statement by a Camden County probation officer who commented that he had helped in the adoptions because of a profit motive. No allegations were made that Kent charged excessive fees for the adoptions and his defense lawyer, Carl D. Poplar of Haddonfield, argued that he had given hundreds of hours of unpaid work to help in adoptions.

Kent, who began to sob before sentence was announced, said that his average fee for an adoption was $500. “I charge $1,000 or more for a divorce, an act of destruction, compared to this, an act of construction, of building a family,” he said.

With tears in his eyes, he said that “the years over 50 won’t be golden for me. Now I’m a convict. I’m going to pay for the rest of my life because the system wasn’t fair.”

“If I ever thought that calling up a priest or a rabbi would have gotten me into a prisoner’s dock, I would have been better off going into the garment district,” he said.

Corruzzi, who suspended a six-month term in the Camden County Jail for Kent, said he would not comment at length “because I’m afraid I might agree with some of the things you said. But the statute exists prohibiting assistance in the placement of children for adoption.”

Kent still faces disciplinary action by the Ethics Committee of the state Supreme Court. That action could be suspension of his license to practice law or disbarment.  

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Divorce lawyer convicted for adoption assistance (June 1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: June 25, 1981

Continue reading

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer indicted on adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The New York Times
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

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Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer accused in 3 adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By Francis M. Lordan
Inquirer Staff Writer

A Burlington County lawyer has been indicted on charges that in 1977 he illegally assisted in the adoption of three children in Camden County, Thomas J. Shusted, Camden County prosecutor, said yesterday.

Edward Kent, 52, who has a law office in Willingboro, was named in the eight-count indictment issued Thursday by the grand jury. No hearing date has been scheduled.

The parents and the children who were adopted were identified in the indictment only by their initials.

The indictment also charged Kent with obstructing justice by asking several of the parents not to tell of his involvement and asking another person to mislead investigators, indicating that she would “receive money if she was to mislead the investigators.” It also charged that he gave false information to a former county prosecutor.

If convicted on the eight counts, all of which are misdemeanors, Kent could face a maximum penalty of 24 years in jail and an $8,000 fine.

Shusted said that, according to state law, only authorized agencies may handle the placement of children for adoption.

Two of the children were placed in foster homes in Cherry Hill, and the third in Berlin, he said.

Shusted said Kent was the first person indicted by a grand jury on adoption-related charges since he took office six years ago.

During that period, Shusted said, evidence had been presented to the grand jury on about 10 such cases, including two that involved lawyers. But the grand jury did not indict because it did not find “criminal intent,” Shusted said.

Two years ago, Shusted said, he had sent memoranda to the Camden County Bar Association and the Camden County Medical Society asking them to remind members not to assist in such adoptions.

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer indicted as a middleman for adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: April 14, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By RENEE WINKLER
Courier-Post Staff

A Burlington County lawyer who specializes in matrimonial matters was indicted Thursday by a Camden County grand jury for illegally acting as an intermediary in the adoption of three children.

Edward Kent, 52, who has a law office in Willingboro, also was charged with obstruction of justice in the eight-count indictment. None of the children or the couples who wanted to adopt them is named in the indictment, although it specifies that their identities are known to the grand jury.

It was not immediately known if any of the adoptions have been finalized.

Reached at his law office in Willingboro late Thursday afternoon, Kent had no comment on the charges.

According to the indictment, Kent agreed to assist in placing children of three women with families. Knowing that papers later would have to be filed in county court for the adoption, Kent allegedly instructed the mothers to deny that he participated in the placement.

He later induced persons receiving the children to withhold information about his involvement in the placements, according to the indictment.

The indictment also charges that when Kent learned that the Camden County prosecutor’s office was investigating circumstances surrounding the placement of the children, he tried to convince one of the mothers to mislead investigators and withhold information. It further charges that Kent offered to pay the mother if she lied to investigators.   [Note from the Riess Family – now read this article]

The indictment covers incidents between Dec. 4, 1976, and May 7, 1977.

It charges that in February 1977, Kent wrote to former Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Archibald Kreiger and lies about his participation in the adoptions. That letter was in response to questions from Kreiger.

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

After 40 years, family is reunited with daughter lost to an illegal adoption.

“Deception may give us what we want for the present,
but it will always take it away in the end.”
–Rachel Hawthorne

On November 30, 1976, a baby girl was born to a young couple in New Jersey. A few days later, without their knowledge, she was placed with a married couple through an illegal adoption scheme.

For the next forty years, they had no idea where their baby was, if she was safe, healthy or even alive. Over the years they searched for her through adoption registries and reunion websites, but were unable to find her.

For the same forty years–and only a few miles apart–their daughter was manipulated into believing that she was the biological child of the couple who adopted her. This continued until 2017 when an unexpected result on an Ancestry DNA test shattered their web of lies.

Michelle 4 days old

Michelle – December 1976

This is our family’s unbelievable adoption story.

PREGNANCY – 1976
In spring 1976, a young woman named Hollie discovered that she was pregnant. At the time of the pregnancy, Hollie and her boyfriend, Rick, were teenagers in high school. Despite Hollie’s desire to raise their baby, her parents made the final decision that the baby would be placed for adoption; primarily due to their young ages. However, the decision to place the baby for adoption was not made entirely of their own free will.

Throughout the last months of the pregnancy, and immediately following delivery, the doctor caring for Hollie offered his advice–heavily slanted towards adoption–and pledged to help the family during their time of distress.

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Rick & Hollie in 8th grade

The reality was that Hollie’s doctor had an agreement with a local attorney who was arranging newborn adoptions on the side–despite this being an illegal practice in the State of New Jersey. The doctor’s role was to convince the young mother (and more importantly, her parents since she was a minor) that adoption was their only option; then refer them directly to the attorney for placement.

At the time, and being under great distress, Hollie and her parents were completely unaware of these details or that they were being targeted.

EARLY 1976: BEFORE THE PREGNANCY
About eleven months prior to Michelle’s birth, a married couple met with the attorney that had this agreement with Hollie’s doctor. This couple (Michelle’s future adoptive parents) wanted to adopt a healthy, white newborn without the hassles and wait times associated with legal adoptions.

In early 1976, they hired attorney Edward Kent to find a healthy, white newborn for them to adopt. Kent was not authorized, nor qualified, to arrange adoptions in New Jersey. In fact, it was illegal for him to do so–something he would have known as an attorney. It’s not clear why this couple, or the other adoptive parents involved in a 1978 indictment against Kent, chose to adopt using his services when this was not his area of practice. There were many red flags in the attorney’s adoption process that should have alerted any potential adoptive parents that something wasn’t right.

In the months following their brief meeting, there were no pre-placement investigations made in preparation for a child potentially being placed in their home. Kent alone determined who was approved to have a child placed in their home based on minimal information the couples provided to him, and after accepting their initial payment. As of mid-2019, we have not been able to find any evidence that Kent took any steps to verify information the potential adoptive parents provided to him, or that he conducted even the most basic investigation into their backgrounds or their potential fitness to adopt.

After their brief meeting, Kent informed Michelle’s future adoptive parents that he would be in touch if he found a baby for them. For the rest of 1976, they didn’t hear back from him with any news, updates or information–until approximately eleven months later, a few days after Michelle was born.

MICHELLE’S BIRTH – NOVEMBER 30, 1976
On November 30, 1976, Hollie gave birth to a healthy baby girl. For delivery, the doctor opted for complete sedation despite this being an outdated delivery practice in late 1976. There was no medical reason provided to Hollie or to her parents–who were not allowed in the delivery room–as to why this took place (ex. an obstetrical emergency.) To this day, Hollie has no memory of Michelle’s birth, what happened immediately following delivery, or any explanation as to why she was sedated to the point of unconsciousness.

Shortly after Michelle’s birth, the doctor notified the attorney and plans to proceed with the adoption were quickly initiated.

Together, Hollie and Rick named their daughter Michelle Lyn Riess. They gave their daughter Rick’s last name (Riess) because they already knew they were going to stay together for the rest of their lives. They also wanted to make sure it would be easy for Michelle to find them in the future.

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Hollie and Rick  shortly after Michelle’s birth in 1976

THE ATTORNEY TAKES OVER
The following day, the attorney called the married couple (Michelle’s future adoptive parents) out of the blue to inform them he had a baby available if they were still interested in adopting. They hadn’t communicated at all since their initial meeting almost one year earlier, and the couple was not aware of Hollie’s pregnancy until after Michelle had already been born. The attorney told them if they were interested in this baby he would need a decision from them by noon that day, or he would have to offer her to the next couple on his list.

The couple quickly agreed, and the attorney gave them some basic information including the telephone number of the biological family. He told them to call the biological mother (and her parents) to seek their approval to place her baby with them. He also gave them very specific instructions on what they should say to the biological family and what they should not say. During these telephone conversations with Michelle’s family, the potential adoptive parents used fake names and provided other false information about themselves in order to conceal their identities from Hollie and her family.

The attorney met with Hollie and her parents in the hospital. He told them some details about the couple who would be calling them. He told them they had been thoroughly investigated and would provide a good home for her baby. However, in reality, the attorney had not conducted any investigation into their backgrounds beyond their short meeting almost one year earlier. There were no pre-placement screenings conducted. The only documentation he requested from them were some financial statements, and those were only utilized after Michelle had already been placed in their home and after DYFS conducted a pre-scheduled interview with the adoptive parents.

Meanwhile, the same doctor that had pushed Hollie and her family into choosing adoption and delivered her baby, continued to aggressively reinforce the adoption at a very sensitive time when adoptions can “fall through” due to women changing their minds. In other words, they are choosing to raise their own child, which is every biological parent’s right (obviously in the absence of abuse, neglect, etc.) The doctor made sure this was not allowed to happen by separating Hollie from her baby, and insisting that she had a moral and legal obligation to give her baby to this couple since she had already informally agreed to choose adoption. In other words, she was being instructed that she couldn’t change her mind. Much of this coercion took place without her parents present (she was a minor.)  (read more about birth parent rights)

At some point soon after this, Hollie’s parents informed the attorney that they would agree to place Michelle with this couple based on their telephone conversation, and based on the information the attorney and the doctor provided to them about the couple. They were unaware that they were being lied to from all parties involved.

At this point, the attorney became heavily involved with Hollie (who was a minor at the time) despite not legally representing her, and provided her with very specific directions on how things would proceed. He also met with her numerous times while her parents were not present. All of this contradicts information taken from Kent’s testimony during the trial surrounding his involvement in the adoptions. (view newspaper articles)

HANDING OVER HER BABY
On December 4, 1976, Hollie was to be discharged from the hospital. Everything was happening quickly and often without her parents present. It was at this time that she would be required to hand her four-day old daughter to the couple hoping to adopt her. As she was instructed by the attorney representing the adoptive parents, Hollie reluctantly handed Michelle to the couple with his promises that the couple had been thoroughly evaluated, and reminded her that she was doing what was “best for her baby.” Today, this would be called a predatory adoption or a coerced adoption, and would not be granted by the court.  (read more)

On December 4, 1976, the adoptive couple, still using fake names, took immediate possession of Michelle without any pre-placement investigations into their background, family, finances, physical health, mental health, or their home–the attorney literally could have been sending Michelle home with anyone. He followed the same procedure with at least three illegal adoptions he arranged in the 1970s though he likely arranged at least six adoptions.

ADOPTION ATTORNEY INDICTED
In 1978, after an investigation by the State of New Jersey, Edward Kent was indicted for his illegal involvement with Michelle’s adoption and two other adoptions he arranged. He was convicted. This was not the attorney’s first ethics violation. In 1963, he was reprimanded by the Supreme Court of New Jersey for violating professional ethics in an unrelated case.

“His conduct is dishonorable and brings the profession into disrepute.”  –a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice referring to attorney Edward Kent in 1963

THE YEARS AFTER THE ADOPTION
In the years following the adoption, Hollie and Rick finished high school. They had been together since they were thirteen years old and were in love. After Michelle’s birth, they went on to complete high school, were married and had three more daughters together–Jenni, Jamie, and Jodi–Michelle’s
three full biological sisters.

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Hollie & Rick in high school after Michelle’s birth and adoption

Over the years, Hollie tried locating Michelle through adoption reunion websites and other directories, but she never received a response. She also tried locating her using telephone directories, but since she had been given fake names by Michelle’s adoptive parents, she was unknowingly searching for people who didn’t even exist. Sadly, Hollie assumed this lack of response from Michelle over the years meant she did not want to find her biological family, or that perhaps something had happened to her, which was devastating for her. This was not the case.

Despite the promises and clear moral obligations of the adoptive parents, for forty years THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS NEVER TOLD MICHELLE THAT SHE WAS ADOPTED. Despite statements they made in 1976 and 1977, they never followed through and clearly never intended to.

For four decades, Michelle grew into an adult who had no idea she was adopted, or that she had another family out there (in fact, very close–the two families lived about 15 minutes apart for most of their lives!) It was a significant deception by the adoptive parents, and was contrary to promises they made to Hollie, Hollie’s family, and all of the information they had provided during the legal phase of the adoption.

Here are two excerpts from a 1977 DYFS report following a scheduled interview after the placement: (the plaintiffs are Michelle’s adoptive parents. ‘Christina’ is the name Michelle’s adoptive parents assigned to her)

“The plaintiffs state that they will explain the child’s adoption status to her when she is old enough to understand the meaning of adoption.”

and

“The plaintiffs express a healthy, open attitude toward adoption. They plan to begin explaining adoption to Christina as soon as possible.”

In the span of forty years, they never followed through with this moral obligation all adoptive parents must undertake, and clearly never intended to.

SEPTEMBER 2017 DISCOVERY
In September 2017, Michelle was a 40-year-old woman with three young children of her own. She grew up as an only child with no cousins and a very small immediate family, so she knew she wanted her children to have siblings–something she always wished she had as a child.

For about fifteen years, she was very interested in researching her maternal grandmother’s unknown family’s origins. A few years earlier, she took a DNA test through Ancestry.com to learn more details about that part of her family, especially since she had been told since her early childhood that this was the branch of her family tree that she looks like (read about red flags.)

Her initial Ancestry DNA matches did not provide any clear links to her family tree. Most of her matches were in the 4th cousin to distant cousin range and did not share any common names or common geographic locations of origin (ex. Greece, Italy, Ukraine.) At the time, Michelle assumed this simply meant their common ancestor must have been so long ago that they really couldn’t be helpful to each other in their research. It was very frustrating at times, but Michelle figured the right people just hadn’t tested yet, and that she needed to be patient. So she periodically checked her DNA matches to see if there was anyone new.

In September 2017, Michelle checked in on her Ancestry DNA matches. She was very surprised to see a new match at the top of the list labeled “Immediate Family” with a woman’s name she didn’t recognize.

Michelle grew up as an only child with a very small immediate family, so she didn’t understand how this person could be so closely related to her, yet she had never heard of her.

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Michelle sent a message to the woman asking if she knew how they might be related, but the other woman, Jamie, had no idea. None of the family names they shared with each other were familiar, and they couldn’t find a common link in their family trees. Michelle mentioned to Jamie that her family was from Italy, Greece, and Ukraine, but Jamie indicated her family was German, British and northern European. Both women were very confused about how they could have such a close DNA match based on the information they shared with each other.

However, when the women shared some photos, they were shocked to see they had a strong resemblance to each other. It was immediately evident to both that something unusual was going on, but they weren’t sure what it was, or who might be involved.

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Full sisters Jamie (L) and Michelle/Christina (R) meeting for the first time in 2017

Over the next few days, Michelle and Jamie went back and forth with their theories on how they might be related. Adoption was considered, but neither believed they were the one who had been adopted, or that there was some other explanation for their DNA match.

A few days later, Michelle contacted Ancestry.com to discuss the specifics of their DNA match. After speaking with Ancestry, Michelle learned that there were only three possible scenarios for their match based on the high levels of DNA they share: 1) parent/child, 2) grandparent/grandchild, 3) or full siblings (not even half-siblings!)

After processing all of the information provided by Ancestry, doing some additional research into the specifics of their DNA match, and some deep reflection, Michelle came to the difficult realization that she must be adopted.

She felt very strongly that this was the case but still needed final confirmation from her (adoptive) father, which she received a few days later after directly questioning him about her origins.

“A lie cannot live.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.

ADOPTION CONFIRMED
In the days following the adoption discovery, the two women–now confirmed as full biological sisters–talked about their lives and found surprising similarities. Despite their complete shock, they were both very excited to find each other.

The next step was to inform their parents, Hollie and Rick, about this very unexpected discovery.

Jamie met privately with their mother, Hollie, and told her about their unbelievable DNA match on Ancestry.

Hollie was shocked and overjoyed hearing the news but confused and angered to learn that Michelle had only just discovered her adoption the previous day because there was a clear understanding that the adoptive parents would tell her about her adoption status from the beginning.

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Photos of Jamie & Michelle at around the same age

OCTOBER 2017: FAMILY REUNION
Almost immediately, plans were being made for the two young parents and their three daughters, Jenni, Jamie, and Jodi, to be reunited with Michelle (who was called ‘Christina’ since her adoption in 1976.)

On October 7, 2017, they all met for the first time in 40 years. It was, unquestionably, a very happy reunion that continues to this day. 

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Hollie, Rick & Michelle (“Christina”) meet for the first time since her birth in November 1976

 

PHOTOS OF THE RIESS FAMILY’S ADOPTION REUNION (photos in random order)

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The Riess family would like to thank Danielle of Digital Danro Photography for capturing this reunion. Some photos included in the slideshow are cell phone images taken by the family, but the rest are by Danielle. * Be sure to listen to Michelle’s interview and bonus podcast on Scott Fisher’s Extreme Genes (episode 276) *

 

Related Content: Could you be [secretly] adopted? Red flags that could point to adoption

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