Don Roark only learned about his adoption status after his father died.
“At one point I went through his personal paperwork and found my adoption paperwork,” Roark said. “Up until then I knew nothing about the adoption.”
The discovery, when he was 18, prompted Roark to begin a journey to find his biological mother. Instead, he found Mary Ryder—his younger sister.
Roark, who is 65 years old, has a birth certificate that says he is the first born child to his mother, Lillian , but Ryder’s says she is the only living child.
“So at this point in time they’re assuming I’m dead,” Roark said. “Mary could never find my death certificate, so she never gave up looking for me, and she spent over 20 years trying to find her older brother.”
When Roark started his search in 2000 all he had was his mother’s name. But he assumed after all this time she’d remarried and changed it.
So he decided to take a gamble and place information including his name, birthday and hometown on websites like Ancestry.com. He received an email in January 2015, as a woman in Cleveland, Ohio, responded.
It was Ryder. She emailed him after she noticed their mother’s name was the same. She learned they were born in the same city and only one year apart.
“After two weeks of exchanging information she came back and says ‘What is Lillian’s relation to me?’” he said. “I said Lillian is my mother, and there was total dead silence for two weeks.”
It took some time for them get over the initial shock.
“Mary was reluctant in the beginning because she wasn’t sure who I was or what I was up to,” Roark said. “Once the concern got settled we started exchanging phone calls.”
A DNA test confirmed they had the same mother and father.
Roark was still searching for his mother. After finding each other they decided to work together. A year later, their search led them to a small town, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
Their mother had died. But they discovered she’d had a son. “After contacting the cemetery, they led me to next of kin, which was her son,” Roark said. “We knew nothing about Glen until we contacted the cemetery.”
Glenn Wooten, in Tacoma, Wash., is 16 years younger than his brother and sister.
The three met face to face for the first time Sept. 11 in Seattle.
Wooten is their half-brother but to Roark it doesn’t matter.
“We hit it off so well together that as far as I’m concerned he’s my brother,” he said. “Mary was more interested in what did our mom like to cook, did she sew and did she clean house,” he said. “I was more interested in meeting my brother, who is here and now, and getting to know him. I wasn’t there really to get to know Lillian. I wanted to get to know Glenn.”
The siblings now stay in touch. Roark is excited, but wishes things could have been different.
“I don’t have a lifetime of memories that kids normally would have,” he said.