An Interview with Lisa Townsend, The Adoption Specialist

In your search for an Adoption Specialist we are sure that you are looking for someone who understands the emotions that you have about looking for your birth family. In this article, we interview our owner, Lisa Townsend, about her personal experiences, her motivation behind The Adoption Specialist, her process for searching, and her belief that everybody has a right to know their birth family.

How did you become an Adoption Specialist?

I first started out by looking for my biological father, who I found in my early twenties. I had always heard that he had another daughter after my parents divorced, with his girlfriend who gave up the baby for adoption. About ten years after meeting my biological father, around 1998, I decided to go and look for my half sister. 

First, I had to track down her biological mother to hopefully get some information, for example my sister’s date of birth, where she was born, what maternity home the birth mother was staying at etc. My sister’s birth mother was not at all open to helping me look for her daughter at first.  The birth mother told me that she felt her daughter had been placed into a wonderful adopted family and did not want to “open up a can of worms.” I respected how she felt, however, she is my sister and she and I have the right to make our own decision on whether or not we could have a relationship with each other. In the end, her biological mother gave me her date of birth and told me where she was born. The state where my sister was born is considered a closed state, meaning the state will not share any information about the adoptee such as their name, who adopted them, etc.

After spending countless hours on the Internet and running myself in circles, I found a company that I paid a fee to give me a list of the 16 females who were born on my sister’s date of birth and who were currently living in the state she was born in. I went onto the Internet and looked up each person’s name and hopefully a phone number so I could call and see if any of these people could be my sister. About the 6th phone call, my sister answered the phone not knowing that on the other end of the call that she was about to be questioned to confirm her date of birth, her name and if she was adopted. She confirmed all 3 questions and then she said, “Who is this?”. I was shocked, like “wow, is this really my sister?” I explained to her who I was and that I was looking for my half sister. A couple of more questions and answers went between the two of us and we realized we were indeed sisters. We had an immediate connection on this phone call. Within a few weeks, I flew out to meet her and her family.  We immediately had instant connection. Even though we were raised completely different, we had the same interests, personality and mannerisms. Our voices sounded so much alike that her husband was in the other room listening to our conversation and came out and said he couldn’t tell which one was his wife talking.  

I became very compassionate and felt like everyone deserves to know their birth family and let the decision be theirs to make whether they would like a relationship or not. From here, I started searching for my personal friends who were adopted, their birth families. I enjoyed the searching so much and saw all the joy it brought and decided to make a business doing these searches full time.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about looking for their birth family? 


Talking to your adoptive parents first 

Some of my clients feel, out of respect for their adopted parents, that they will wait until they have passed away to search for their birth family. However, some adoptive parents are very supportive and have called and hired me themselves to find their child’s biological mother, many of them want to thank the birth mother for giving them such a wonderful gift of a daughter or son. Additionally, a lot of my clients have felt very comfortable talking to their adopted parents and have explained that they are not here looking for a new mom and dad, that their adopted parents are their parents and always will be mom and dad.

Medical History

I just did a search the other day and unfortunately, the birth mother had passed away from colon cancer at age 48. The birth mothers sisters knew that their sister had given up a baby many years ago and agreed that it was important for my client to know her biological mothers medical history. Now my client can share this information with her doctor and be given a colonoscopy before she has to wait until she turns 50.

When you’re adopted, you don’t have any current medical history. You have what was taken down at the time that you were born. Your birth parents may have been high school students, or in their early 20s, when there’s no medical history recorded at the time because more often than not, everybody’s healthy at that point in their lives. It’s important to find out if anything happened after that.

What is your process when searching for a biological parent?

Firstly, I help my client to apply for the non identifying information on their birth family if they do not have this information already. While we are waiting for this information to come back, I start working on the search by using my own resources, whether that is pulling part of the birth parent’s name and/or working through the Ancestry DNA.
 

What information do you need to start a search?

As little as the adopted person’s name, date of birth and where they were born and I can take it from there. Most of my clients that come to me know absolutely nothing about their birth parents. In some of the states that are considered closed adoptions I can pull birth parents names and other information. If I can’t pull that information, I have my client take the Ancestry DNA test and I build out the family tree from there to figure out who the biological family is.

Do you have access to more information as an Adoption Specialist and Private Investigator?

About eight years after finding my sister, I got my private investigators license which gives me access to certain information that a person who does not have their private investigator license can access.

Does social media help with your searches?

Yes, what I love about social media is when I have completed the search and I now have names of the birth family, 85% of the time, I am able to find their pictures through social media and share these pictures with my client.

How long does a birth parent search take?

Every search is different, some searches take a week or two, some take a few months. A lot of this depends on what information the client already has on their adoption. Another factor depends on the state and county where the adoption took place – every state is different. Most of the agencies in the country give a pretty detailed background report of the birth family such as ages of the birth parents and grandparents, ages of the aunts and uncles and what they did for an occupation. This all helps in a search because when I’m looking for a family, I know all these extended family members’ ages are going to fit in with who I am looking for. 

I started using Ancestry DNA in the last four or five years and it has been so wonderful, especially if my client came to me from a state that is closed, like Nebraska for instance. Previously, clients from a closed state like Nebraska, who knew nothing about their biological family and had no names I would have had to say “sorry, I can’t help you because I can’t pull a name there”. But now with Ancestry, I ask them to take the DNA test so that I can get their background history and then figure out who the birth family is.

Is it the same process searching for former classmates, past relationships, lost family members or military friends? 

It’s a bit easier because I have full names that I am working with from my client and an age range.

Do you also provide an Intermediary Service?

Yes. After I have emailed my client their report and we go over it together explaining who everyone is and where they are currently living, we then discuss how they feel about making contact and if they want to make contact. Sometimes my client isn’t ready at that moment to reach out, they need some time to process it.  The advice that I give is to mail your birth parent a letter and send pictures of yourself and any information you were given from the agency that handled the adoption. I think it’s less shocking than to call somebody – you might hear something odd because you’re putting somebody on the spot, but with a letter, it gives the person a chance to take it all in and consider their reply.

I will make the phone call if my client would rather not write a letter and wait for a response. I have made hundreds of phone calls to birth parents/family members over the years and 8 out 10 times it goes very well.

Which other countries are you able to search in? 

I have contacts in Canada and Germany that I use and they help me with searches. It’s different though in Germany – Germany’s privacy laws are very strict and they cannot give out the information until the person has given written permission that their name be released to make contact.

Canada in comparison is different, they do not need the birth parent/family member to give written permission to release their information.

Would you like to spread out further than the United States?

No, I really just rather stay in the United States. I know how every state works and I feel like I’m an expert in my field. I know how to streamline everything for my client. A lot of my clients will call me and they’re overwhelmed. They’ve been doing this on their own for years, getting nowhere with it, getting the runaround and running themselves in circles. Clients can hear it in my voice and say, “I know that you know what you’re doing, I can tell by talking to you”.

Have there been any exciting moments as a Searcher?

Oh yes, all the time. I recently did a search for a client and I was able to pull her birth name that her birth mother named her before her adopted parents named her. I contacted my client and told her that her biological mother gave her the first name of “Shane”, which is an unusual name to give a girl because it sounds like such a boy’s name.  My client said, “Oh my God, my son’s name is Shane. I named my own son Shane!”.

What do you love about being an Adoption Specialist?

I know from my own experience when I was searching for my sister how hard and emotional it was. I feel blessed to be able to give my clients the information and closure that they have needed for so long. I can’t imagine not doing these searches – I jokingly say that if I won the lottery, I’d still be doing this, but from my yacht!  I feel grateful that my calling in life is able to be my occupation.

The Adoption Specialist can help you find your birth Family

When searching for your birth family, it’s important to remember that you are not alone.  Lisa Townsend can guide you through the process, every step of the way.For more information on how to find your birth family or child, fill out the Search Request Form or Locate Your Child or Sibling Form.  You can also call on (562 438 6589)  or email at adoptspecialist@gmail.com

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