Once, Cyndi Lane had parents and cousins and aunts and uncles, and then she had none. Eight years ago, a cousin came to visit with Lane’s newborn son, and the two had an emotional heart-to-heart. “I need to tell you something that’s going to change the rest of your life,” the cousin suddenly blurted out. It was what Lane had always subconsciously known: she had been adopted. For decades, her dark-haired Italian family refused to admit to their suspiciously blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter that she wasn’t their biological child, even though the whole family knew otherwise. When Lane confronted them—and announced that she wanted to search for her birth parents—her adoptive family became upset. They haven’t spoken with Lane much since the blowout.
Meanwhile, the revelation launched Lane—now 44 and an insurance adjuster—on a seemingly impossible search for her birth mother, a woman she knew only by her “non-identifying information”: hairdresser, 37 years old at the time of her birth, four previous kids, C-section patient. For eight years, Lane hired multiple private investigators, poured through microfilm hospital records, and filed requests of New York’s state adoption agencies. “It was one dead end after another,” she says. Despite this, the search consumed her, and she pressed on. “I just couldn’t stop. I thought about it every day of my life.”
Knowing her birthplace, she focused on nearby towns, and thought she hit upon something when she found a hairdresser with a similar background in a small town called Emporium, Pennsylvania. Getting in touch with the woman’s daughter via Facebook, Lane realized that they weren’t her long-lost family. But the two became fast friends, and the woman soon encouraged Lane to take her fruitless search online. Lane was skeptical (“My friends are going to be like, ‘Shut up already, we know you’re looking for your mom,’” she thought), but was persuaded.
In mid-March, they set up a Facebook page titled “Are you Cyndi’s mother?" and two days later, sitting on her bedroom floor at 9 p.m., Lane was making the phone call she had been imagining for eight years.
Within those 48 hours, Lane’s photo had been shared 1,100 times on Facebook, including by the daughter of Teri Ozog, who would turn out to be Lane’s cousin. Ozog caught sight of the page, and surprised at the similarities in the storyline to her aunt, contacted Lane and put her in touch with 82-year-old Audrey Gilligan.
Her heart pounding, Lane addressed the voice on the other end of the line: “I was adopted in 1968 out of Olean, and I think you may be my mom.”
There was a pause, which Gilligan later remembered being caused by a sudden inability to breathe.
“Oh, dear, I’ve been looking for you my whole life,” she replied. They both began to cry.
That night Lane spoke to her mom for an hour. Gilligan, she soon found out, had painstakingly searched for the daughter she gave up on July 7, 1968, poring through hospital records, tracking down her doctor, and hiring a private detective. After hanging up, both admitted they didn’t sleep much that night.
“I am shaking as I type this with tears of joy pouring down my face,” Lane wrote in a note to her Facebook group, announcing the new discovery of her mother, two brothers, a sister, and 29 cousins, aunts, and uncles. A subsequent DNA test proved what the pair suspected.
Mother and daughter met for the first time in Bradford, Pennsylvania, the small town where Gilligan lives, during a weekend in mid-April. They spent the visit meeting relatives—one who drove 10 hours from Michigan—and catching up on 44 years of lost time. “By Saturday morning you would think we knew each other our whole lives,” Lane says. An unsuspecting waitress at breakfast that morning asked how everyone was doing and found herself regaled with the incredible tale. After the local paper featured them in Sunday’s edition, their reunion was talk of the town. People were coming up to offer congratulations and beaming at them on the street.
They even tacked an extra day onto the jaunt, playing hooky that Tuesday. Lane’s son—newborn at the start of the search and now 8 years old now—took an instant shining to his two new uncles. At one point, Gilligan recounts, laughing, one of her grandkids pulled her aside and asked, “Gram, are there any more out there?”
They even tacked an extra day onto the jaunt, playing hooky that Tuesday. Lane’s son—newborn at the start of the search and now 8 years old now—took an instant shining to his two new uncles. At one point, Gilligan recounts, laughing, one of her grandkids pulled her aside and asked, “Gram, are there anymore out there?”
Talking via conference call to The Daily Beast, the pair sounded like they’d never been apart. “I had dreamed that this is the way it would happen, and when it did it was hard to believe,” Gilligan says. Like her daughter, she thought about the baby she gave up every day, hoping she was OK, wondering what she was doing. “People think [adoption] is the easy way out, but it’s actually harder,” Gilligan says.
And with adoption records sealed and inaccessible without a court order, more and more adopted kids are turning to social media to aid in their search. Lane says she used to think Facebook was just a fun way to keep up with friends. Now, she makes sure to click on pictures from others asking for shares like she was just over a month ago.
This past weekend, Gilligan made the five-and-a-half hour trip to Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, where Lane lives, and the two plan on many more weekends together. They hope to arrange something this Mother’s Day. Lane pauses when asked about the adoptive family who still refuses to speak to her, but says she’s content now.
As the call clicked off, she called out affectionately, “Bye, mom, I love you.”
“Bye, I love you,” Gilligan replied.