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June 22, 2014

Long scattered, adoptees search for lost families

MCCAYSVILLE, Ga. — They were adopted off-the-books decades ago, scattered by a Georgia doctor who took $100 or $1,000 or something in between to send desperate couples home with new sons and daughters. Now some of the adoptees have turned to fresh DNA testing in hopes of reconnecting with the biological families they never knew, before time runs out.

“This is our shot in the dark, really,” said Melinda Elkins Dawson, one of more than 200 newborns relocated to other states from the clinic in McCaysville in the 1950s and ’60s.

As children, their true ancestry was erased on birth certificates falsely listing adoptive couples as their natural parents. Genetic codes are the only links left.

So Dawson worked with Ohio-based DNA Diagnostics Center to arrange free cheek-swab sampling Saturday at a motel in Ducktown, Tennessee, a few miles from where the clinic was located. The adoptees hope potential relatives from the area come forward to give samples, even if they remain anonymous.

“We’re not trying to make anyone look bad,” she said. “We’re just trying to get some answers. Every adopted child has questions. We deserve some answers.”

The doctor who ran the McCaysville clinic, Thomas Hicks, died in 1972.

There is unsettled debate about whether he sold babies on the black-market, charitably helped those in need while merely recouping his expenses, or perhaps did both.

The adoptees giving new DNA samples don’t care much about his motives.

They’re looking for links that could flesh out family trees, fill in medical histories or salve the burn of simple questions: Where did I come from? What did my parents look like? Do I have more siblings?

That last one has been on Bill Palmisano’s mind all week, since he met Dawson on Monday. They grew up in different adoptive families in northeast Ohio, but records list their McCaysville birth dates a day apart, and they’ve heard from other adoptees that the written dates were sometimes slightly off.

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