Off-the-books adoptees hope to find family via DNA

By Lisa Cornwell

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 21 2014 2:47 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, June 21 2014 2:47 p.m. MDT

This Monday, June 16, 2014 photo shows Diane Conrad, left to right, Cyndy Stapleton, Bill Palmisano, and Melinda Elkins Dawson talking in North Canton, Ohio. A northern Georgia doctor running off-the-books adoptions in the 1950s and ’60s placed infants with out-of-state parents who paid hundreds of dollars and were listed on records as the children’s real parents. Now some of those adoptees are doing fresh DNA testing in hopes of identifying biological relatives. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Tony Dejak, AP

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About 30 people showed up at a Tennessee motel on Saturday to give cheek-swab DNA samples as people adopted through a nearby Georgia clinic hope to identify biological relatives before time for reconnecting runs out.

With no records of their birth parents, DNA testing may be the only way to confirm biological links for some of the 200-plus infants handed off to new parents in the 1950s and '60s through the late Dr. Thomas Hicks' clinic in McCaysville, near the Tennessee-North Carolina line.

Several adoptees gave fresh DNA samples Saturday at a motel in nearby Ducktown, Tennessee, while hoping potential relatives from the area might participate. Melinda Elkins Dawson, an organizer and one of the adoptees, estimated about 70 percent of those who participated could be potential relatives.

"I'm very happy with the turnout," said Dawson, who lives near Canton, Ohio. "This solidified for me that people are ready to embrace the subject and help us in our journey."

Fairfield, Ohio-based DNA Diagnostics Center will compare samples if there are indications of possible matches between the people who gave them. Testing could be done within weeks.

There is unsettled debate about whether Hicks sold babies on the black-market, charitably helped those in need while merely recouping his expenses, or perhaps did both. When it came to light in the late 1990s that there might be hundreds of "Hicks babies," the town defended him as a good doctor who cared for mothers who were young, unwed or in complicated situations with nowhere else to turn.

Some adoptees gave DNA samples then, and a few have connected with biological relatives. Adoptees say they just want answers and aren't trying to open old wounds or make anyone look bad.

"This may be our last opportunity to get answers about our heritage and medical information and connect to our birth families," Dawson said.

Cornwell reported from Cincinnati. Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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