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Finding Family: Dan’s Adoption Reunion Story

For Dan Lawlor, a search for his birth mother led to the discovery of an extended birth family he never knew. Read about how the search and reunion process transformed Dan’s notion of family and opened the door for new connections with many of his birth relatives. 

Not everyone gains a new family at age 69, but for Cradle adoptee Dan Lawlor, the spring of 2016 held answers to some long-held questions about his birth mother that were nothing short of amazing. 

Dan was adopted from The Cradle in 1948 and is grateful to his parents for giving him a good life. However, for most of his life he also hoped for an opportunity to speak to his birth mother. 

“All I wanted to do was look her in the eye and say, ‘Thank you very much for what you did. I have had a wonderful life and bear no ill will,’” Dan says. 

Starting the Search for His Birth Mother

Out of respect for his adoptive mother, Dan waited until she passed away to initiate a search for any birth relatives. When he did make the decision to look for his birth family, Dan approached The Cradle for assistance. At the time, there wasn’t much information the agency could provide beyond directing Dan to complete the required forms and authorization for the Illinois Adoption Registry. 

Years passed, and he thought he had reached a dead end. 

Late in 2015, Dan’s wife Laurie suggested returning to The Cradle. Dan met with Nina Friedman, director of post adoption support, to discuss the search process and complete some paperwork. The following March, Nina made an initial outreach and discovered that Dan’s birth mother had passed away in 1995 — but she encouraged him to keep looking for other birth relatives. 

Discovering an Extended Family and Reuniting With Birth Relatives

Dan decided to extend the search to cousins on his birth mother’s side and any relatives on his birth father’s side. Then, the floodgates opened. 

Within days, Nina received a response from a nephew of Dan’s birth mother. Dan learned that although his birth mother never married, “she was the aunt who was always there, embraced all the kids and helped raise everyone.” He also learned that while the whole family knew she had placed a child for adoption, they never knew what became of him.

Dan’s existence came as a complete surprise to his birth father’s family. Nonetheless, one of his half-brothers eagerly responded to Nina’s outreach. Dan was equally surprised to find out that his birth father went on to marry and have 10 children, seven of whom were still alive at the time. In May 2016, he drove to Wisconsin to meet a large group of relatives. 

“There was an audible gasp when I walked in the door,” Dan recalls. “The eldest brother had just died in January, and apparently I’m a dead ringer for him.” All have warmly welcomed Dan to the family.

Over the course of the following year, Dan met several cousins on his birth mother’s side and dozens of relatives on his birth father’s side. In the fall of 2016, he attended a Green Bay Packers game with his newfound siblings and sat in his birth father’s old seat. Family members have also come to Chicago from Wisconsin to visit Dan. 

Dan sent Nina a note of appreciation for her help: “Words cannot express how grateful I am for your assistance in connecting me with this important part of my DNA. These folks are wonderful, and I can’t wait to get to know them better.”  

For 100 years and counting, The Cradle has built nurturing families and provided lifelong support to people whose lives have been touched by adoption. Faces of The Cradle is a celebration of their stories. Meet more of the people who make what we do possible and all the more meaningful.

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