At the age of 66, Loren McDonald, an electric vehicle analyst from Danville, California, found the answer to a question that bothered him all his life — who was his father?
Since he was a little kid, Loren knew he was adopted, and that his birth parents were of Swedish origin. “The question of who I am was a big part of my childhood,” he says. “99% of the people on earth can look at their parents, see the physical resemblance, see the traits and habits — both good and bad — that they inherited from their parents. Adoptees generally do not have this option. They live with a big question mark.”
A dramatic letter at the age of 25
In 1982, when he was 25 years old, McDonald received a 3-page letter from the county social services agency that handled his adoption process as a child containing many non-identifying details about his biological family. “The letter contained fascinating and insightful information about my biological parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents,” remembers Loren. “From the letter, I learned that they were all of Swedish origin, though with a little Lithuanian on his birth mother’s side. Although my biological mother was born in the USA, my father was born in Sweden. I learned that my father served in the U.S. military, spoke 5 languages, and was in college at the time of my birth, and was considering attending law school. But there was one line in particular that got my attention: ‘…slightly introverted and with interests in literature and a desire to write.’ Those words just jumped off the page for me and resonated with me as I had always enjoyed writing since I was very little,” says Loren.
Through the letter, Loren was able to learn how his parents met: “He and my biological mother met in NYC. My mother was 25 years old when she got pregnant and was not married.”
At that time, says Loren, society did not accept women who had children out of wedlock. “These women had two options: marry the man who got her pregnant, or go to a shelter and give birth, often far from home, and place the child, without anyone knowing, for adoption. In the letter I discovered that my mother had left New York and arrived in Oakland, California, where she stayed for several months and gave birth to me in a home for unwed mothers. I was placed for adoption at the age of 10 days.”
In 2015, based on some new information that suddenly appeared in a genealogical source and piecing things together through additional online research, Loren found his maternal family and confirmed the match through a DNA test with a cousin. Unfortunately, it was too late: his birth mother had already passed away about 6 years earlier.
When it came to his father, Loren had made almost no progress in his search. The DNA test he took that confirmed that helped him find his birth mother, did not produce any meaningful matches on DNA or genealogical sites. But hours and hours of research did lead to finding a near 90-year-old man still alive and living near Stockholm. He fit so many clues from the social services letter, Loren was 95% convinced that he had found his birth father. “I found his address, sent him a letter, in 2015 just before I found my birth mother. I never heard back and between a busy career and life moving on, I procrastinated and didn’t follow up or continue my search. Life goes on.”
Then, in late February 2023, everything changed.
Loren was corresponding with his cousin from his birth mother’s side, getting some more photos and asking additional questions. He shared with his cousin the disappointment that he wasn’t able to find his birth father. And that while he continued to see a growing number of DNA matches on her side of the family, almost no matches and nothing of any significance emerged on his father’s side. She shared with Loren an article about the challenges of finding DNA matches with relatives outside the U.S., such as in Europe due to privacy laws and the use of different DNA services. Loren then sprung to action and uploaded his DNA file to MyHeritage.
That advice, the article, and Loren’s decision to use MyHeritage turned out to be a life-changing move.
After uploading his raw DNA data to MyHeritage, Loren patiently waited for the site to process the DNA and find matches. Loren left the browser tab of the MyHeritage page open, and every few days would anxiously refresh it hoping to find the results.
“On Saturday March 5, I woke up and checked MyHeritage and immediately discovered that I had a 9.9% match with a man from Sweden. I immediately knew that it was from my father’s side, and that I was very close to finally finding my father. I was in shock and I almost fainted.”
The father’s name appeared in the family tree
Loren quickly discovered that he could access the MyHeritage family tree of his newly-found cousin in Sweden, and began to explore the names and connections. “I saw that my cousin’s mother’s maiden name was the same as the one I was given at birth, before being adopted,” he remembers. “I immediately realized that the user’s mother is probably my biological aunt. In the tree I saw, the name of a man: Goran, born in 1932, the year I estimated my father was born. At that moment I realized that I had very likely just found the identity of my birth father, though unsurprisingly to me, he had already passed away. I sent a message via MyHeritage to my new first cousin and waited for his reply.”
Loren was so excited, he barely managed to sleep that night. ”I woke up in the middle of the night — about 2:30 a.m. — and saw that I had coincidentally just received an email message from my new first cousin — ‘So fantastic to hear from you. Yes, Goran is your father’ were the opening lines of the email.”
Loren and his cousin began emailing frequently, with the cousin sharing photos of Loren’s birth father and textbooks he wrote, stories about Goran, and even letters and emails. A few weeks later they had a web conference call. “My newly-found cousin said that he had been waiting for this call for 40 years, as his uncle had told him when he was young that he had a child. He shared that a few years earlier he took a DNA test primarily in the hopes of finding me!”
Goran’s nephew, who was very close to Goran much of his life, told Loren the life story of his father, who became an English professor at various New York colleges. He was married three times, but did not have any more children. Loren learned that his father lived not only in New York, but Ohio, Hollywood, Mexico, Paris (while in the military), Puerto Rico, Florida, and finally, the Philippines where he eventually died of cancer.
Greetings from the past
Loren’s new cousin from Sweden had a particularly exciting surprise for him: a seven-page letter that Goran wrote to him in 1980 when he lived in New York. Written in Swedish, the MyHeritage team helped translate the letter into English and delivered it to Loren — by special coincidence — on his 66th birthday. The letter is both humorous and sad, and beautifully written — offering Loren a glimpse into the soul of the father whom of course he never got to know or meet in person. Following is one colorful passage from the letter:
Then I travelled to Hollywood to become a movie star. Factory work was far too horrendous, I thought. Well, you already know that I didn’t become a movie star. In Hollywood I worked as a waiter in the evenings and a bank teller during the day.
I took two jobs to pay back the Riksbank loan. That way, I did not have time to socialize with my peers, so I was still alone, mostly at least: I remember I had a wonderful girl in Los Angeles, and that was very lucky. Suddenly the American border police kicked me out because my visa was no longer valid.
I didn’t have enough money to get back to Sweden, so I ended up in the neighboring city of Tijuana in Mexico, a disgusting place. It took much longer than I expected to get a new visa – several months. When the money ran out, I was able to live for free in a brothel: I was almost bitten to death by lice.
I begged for food from tourists, mostly sailors from San Diego, and went hungry often. Nothing particularly romantic in all this. I did not feel like an adventurer. When I finally got back to Hollywood and the bank, I decided to enlist in the American army. They sent me to France, near Paris.
For Loren it was, as he said, the highlight of his birthday. “I laughed out loud at various passages in the letter, but parts were also a bit sad, as it was clear to me that my father spent most of his life searching for something,” he says. “It’s a fascinating letter, though I was disappointed that there was no mention of the relationship with my birth mother or my existence. But who knows, maybe part of what he was searching for was me, like I was searching for him.”
“We could have written a book together”
A week later Loren received yet another gift. “My cousin in Stockholm sent me the 335-page finished, but unpublished, manuscript of my father’s novel. It is a fascinating read, and though it is a novel, it is clear much of the main character is based on aspects of my father’s life. As I read each page, I’m left pondering if something I just read was a real event in my father’s life, or simply fiction or perhaps an exaggeration of reality,” Loren says.
“I’ve always enjoyed writing and it formed the foundation of my entire career that started in public relations and migrated to marketing. From a young age I realized that I enjoyed writing, and I promised my adoptive mother that I would write a book one day. Today I understand more how much it’s in my genes,” explains Loren.
Although he never met or knew him, Loren misses his birth father. “I’m hugely disappointed I didn’t get to meet him, as I think we would have really enjoyed being together. Based on what I’ve learned about him, I think we would have been like two peas in a pod. And who knows, maybe we would have written a book or screenplay together?”
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Source: My Heritage
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