LUMBERTON — Tracey Jordan knows her father has black hair and green eyes and is 5 feet 8 inches tall. She knows he was born in the spring of 1950, completed the 10th grade and worked as a carpenter.
But she doesn’t know his name.
Tracey, who lives in New Bern, is deep into a four-year search to find her biological parents, a search that time and again has led her to Robeson County, where she believes her birth father is from.
“I have so many trees on ancestors. I have trees with every possible person I’m related to,” the 46-year-old mother of three said. “… I feel like his name is probably already on that tree somewhere but I just can’t connect him to me.”
Tracey has always known that she was adopted soon after being born in Florida in February 1970. But it wasn’t until her adoptive mother passed away about four years ago that she really became curious about her family tree. Since then, she and her oldest daughter, Sage, have been sifting through online records, sending in DNA samples and working to unseal protected files in search of her birth parents.
Tracey has been provided with what’s called “non-identifying information” on both of her biological parents, and the Florida Department of Children and Families has made attempts to contact them both. So far, her birth mother, whose name she also does not know, hasn’t chosen to make contact with her directly. Attempts to reach her birth father have been unsuccessful.
According to Tracey, her adoptive and birth parents arranged her adoption prior to her birth, although she has been told her birth mother was “forced” to give her up. According to information provided to the state of Florida, she still loves Tracey’s birth father and they keep in touch. Both have had other children.
Tracey knows her birth mother was born in the fall of 1949 in a southern state. She has brown eyes and brown hair like Tracey and was described as of English and German descent. She was a senior in high school and was planning to complete high school when Tracey was born. She enjoyed sewing and horseback riding.
Their research has shown that Tracey’s mother probably wasn’t from Robeson County, but they believe her father was likely from this county or just across the border in South Carolina. According to information the mother provided to the state of Florida, he is American Indian. Tracey’s father signed the adoption papers, but she believes other people on his side of the family may not know about her.
The search has produced a tangled web of family history — mapped on a whiteboard in Tracey’s office.
Via DNA testing, Tracey has found that “90 to 94 percent” of the people she is related to are from Robeson County or Dillon County in South Carolina, and she is part American Indian. Common ancestors she has been able to trace via online ancestry searches include Ebenezer Cooke and Telatha Miller, Joel B. Hayes and Anna Missouri Hill, Kenneth Morgan and Dolly Sparkman, and Solomon Hill and Alice Adams. Other surnames likely familiar to most Robeson residents have come up her search: Spivey, Church, Arnette, Bass.
Tracey and her daughter are following a well-worn path.
Ancestry.com, which brings in about a third of internet ancestry searchers, has 2.7 million paying subscribers with access to 60 million family trees, according to a 2015 report by Europeana, a Netherlands-based company that aggregates digitized collections worldwide.
According to a 2014 article in The Guardian, searching for one’s ancestor’s has become the second most popular past-time in America after gardening. Ancestry sites are the second most frequently visited on the internet, the story says.
“You get sucked in every time you get a new piece of information,” said Sage, 27. ” … We wait for her to get days off so we can spend all day on it.”
Leah Tietje-Davis, who teaches genealogy workshops at the Robeson County Public Library in Lumberton, says she thinks ancestry-research has steadily been popular in America. But, the internet and star-studded TV shows, like “Who Do you Think You Are?,” have made amateur ancestry research more accessible than ever. The library holds its workshops on the third Friday of each month.
Tietje-Davis says most people who come to the Robeson County Public Library’s genealogy room, which boasts more than 2,000 books as well as newspaper archives, are looking to fill in parts of their family histories that weren’t passed on before relatives died.
For Tracey, she’s looking to find her place in this world. She grew up in Michigan as an only child. Both her adoptive parents and grandparents have passed away. Her three children have questions about where they come from.
“I was kind of curious about what my actual heritage is in regards to nationality,” said Sage, the only one in the family with dark hair and green eyes. “The big story always was that my father was Native American, that sparked my interest as a culture.”
Tracey said she isn’t necessarily looking for a close relationship with her birth parents if that’s not what they want. She wants to find her roots.
Sage has cross-referenced obituaries, phone book listings and voter registration information for men born in Robeson County in the spring of 1950 in an attempt to track down her grandfather. Once, she was sure she had found him, but when reached by phone, the man and his family said he did not put a child up for adoption. She has contacted other people via social media, careful to explain her purpose and be understanding of the fact that whoever put her mother up for adoption may not have intended to tell people about it. It can be an awkward conversation.
“At this point it’s a lot of hoping and praying and searching for people,” Sage said.
For Sage, the details unearthed by the search can be “heart wrenching” — knowing her grandparents were in love and that her mother has siblings out there somewhere. She can begin to picture her grandparents’ faces, but only so much — there are too many pieces missing from the image to form a bond. She gets emotional speaking about how badly she wants her mother to find her parents.
“Those are the things I think every person has the right to know and I wish she had that,” she said. “It would be healing I think for my mother to know her story.”
Despite the moments of heartbreak, she does feel closer to answer than when their search began four years ago.
“Before the search we didn’t know what our mixture was at all, genetically. Now I can stand here and say we’re German, we’re Swedish, we’re Portuguese. We have a general idea. We do have it narrowed at least on my mother’s side,” Sage said. “I think the biggest thing for my mother, even if she doesn’t make contact with people, it would be enough for her to say this is my grandmother and I have her eyes — something so trivial that people take for granted.”
Anyone with information that might help Tracey Jordan with her search for her parents can reach her at 810-265-2121, 810-766-3484 or TJordan2170@gmail.com.