Facebook Finding Families

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Love it or hate it, social media has changed the way we live. Facebook and Twitter or LinkedIn and YouTube, now help us connect to millions of other social media users and often band together for a greater good. By example, Twitter has helped millions of victims communicate after natural disasters, from fires to hurricanes to the recent Haiti earthquake.

Consumers now have the option to participate in a true cross section of sharing tools, community websites, blogs, audio and video tools and more to create truly rich social media experiences. And that can have profound implications in our personal lives, as the dramatic story below points out.

My web site designer, 46 year old San Francisco Bay Area resident Mark Elster, is adopted. Mark always knew that, being told his birth parents died when he was young; his father in a car accident and his mother while giving birth. Becoming more inquisitive at around 19, Mark began to scour police records and death certificates for information on his deceased parents. Hitting nothing but dead ends, Mark eventually gave up the hunt.

In 1999 Mark’s first son was born, and the doctors began asking questions about his family and medical history. At about this time his adopted parents, thinking him old enough, told him all the details surrounding his adoption. They also gave him the adoption papers and told him his birth mother was still alive.

So Mark now knew where his adoption had been finalized. And five years ago he used the information to enlist the help of groups such as The Florida Search Angels and Finding in Florida, who helped him find out his birth mothers name and where she lived. Still he made no contact, until another Doctor visit last month raised more questions about his background, and prompted an idea.

As a web site developer, Mark routinely advises clients to connect on Facebook for a business advantage. So Mark plugged his birth mothers name into Facebook. Amazingly, after a twenty-seven year long search, he found her profile.

The very next morning he sent her an email asking if she was in Miami at the time of his birth. When she said that she wasn’t sure, Mark took matters a little further, something he says he doesn’t advise people to do. He scanned the court papers from his adoption and sent her a piece of them as an email. He asked if those papers rang a bell and she responded with “yes, that’s me”.

From that point on, everything around Mark stopped. He says from that initial moment of confirmation “it was like I was brain dead. You try and prepare for this emotionally and you spend years searching to reach this moment and when it’s here you shut down.” He was out of commission for a few days and unable to focus at work, until he decided it was time to find out more.

The first thing his birth mother had said to Mark via e-mail was that she was very sorry she had put him up for adoption and that she hoped he didn’t hate her. But since he never had the chance to know her, Mark responded that he “wasn’t able to pass judgment and after so many years was just glad to know that she existed”. He had lived most of his life thinking she was dead and it was enough to know she had done what she could to give him a better life.

Through the next series of e-mails and wall posts, she began to tell him more. She told him about his three sisters, his brother, his uncle and the handful of nieces and nephews. His broken little family tree had turned into a grove of people. Mark began connecting with his new family on Facebook, sending and receiving messages, comments and wall posts that said things such as “oh, by the way, I’m your brother.” And his sister writes, “I can’t wait for the family reunion”. These new relationships have yet to move beyond the computer screen, but Mark says he and his birth mother are preparing for the first phone call, and after that, maybe that family reunion.

Mark says he is not angry with his adopted parents for keeping him in the dark for so long. They are now involved in the process and seem as eager to find out more about his other family as he is. “Even though my birth-mother carried me for 9 months, my adoptive parents have been carrying me for 46 years. Through good times and bad, they have been there for me and I do love them very much for all they have done and taught me.”

His next step is to share this story with his children, because “it’s important for them to know where they came from because while growing up, I never did.” And “to anyone searching, make sure to keep focus on what is important to you and never give up.”

Consider this. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third largest. Makes you wonder how many other stories such as Mark’s there are out there.

(Brian Banmiller is a National Business Correspondent for CBS News Radio, and Chairman of Fizwoz, the on-line marketplace for selling pictures and video to news outlets worldwide. He can be reached at brian@brianbanmiller.com)