Finding family: a reporter shares her personal story of adoption and reunion

Kaomi Lee is one of the many Koreans who was adopted as a child, brought to a new country and raised by parents of a different race. She still doesn’t know her biological parents, but her decision to share her DNA result brought a surprising discovery. Lee, a reporter at Twin Cities PBS station TPT in Minnesota, shares her personal story.

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  • Michael Hill:

    On this thanksgiving weekend, we have a story from Minnesota's Twin Cities PBS station about finding family.

    This past summer reporter Kaomi Lee shared her personal story. Like many of the more than 200,000 adopted Koreans around the world, lee was adopted as a small child, brought to a new country, and raised by parents of a different race. Lee still does not know who her birth parents are — but a decision to share her results from a DNA test brought a surprising discovery.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    With most of the state in drought conditions and half the state in severe drought…

    As Almanac's Greater Minnesota reporter, I usually report on stories from around the state. This story is a little different.

    This is actually when I became a citizen.

    Fifty years ago, I was adopted as an infant from South Korea and sent to a Lutheran pastor and his wife in rural Minnesota. I thought I left Korea with just a name, a presumed birth date and the clothes on my back, with no hope of finding family. Little did I know I also had something very powerful my DNA, and I'm not alone.

  • Kellie Pickler:

    Well, Ben has spoken to his half brother Jeff, but they've never met face to face until now. Ben, are you ready?

  • Ben:

    I'm ready.

  • Kellie Pickler:

    Jeff, come on out.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    Commercial DNA tests have been connecting relatives to each other for the past 15 years. For Korean adoptees who often can't access records or birth identities, the tests have been a game changer.

  • Jhuliana Cintron:

    Right now we have over 12 million customers and about 80 percent of those customers have found a third cousin or closer. I think a lot of this information is really invaluable for everyone, but specifically for adoptees, especially because typically adoptees don't have family history, whether it's their ancestry or health, and actually certain ancestry can put you at a higher risk of developing certain diseases. And so we've heard from so many customers, it's impacted their lives tremendously.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    I took 23andMe's DNA test five years ago. I shared the results and some other databases. And then this spring, I got a message. Someone in Denmark thought they were my half sister or niece, and like me, she was also a Korean adoptee. You know,

  • Lisa Beck:

    I think, oh, you just take a day at a time.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    We did more tests. All signs pointed to half sisters, but after Denmark opened to visitors, I decided to fly and meet Lisa Beck, but I was still nervous. How would it feel to meet a previously unknown biological sibling for the first time? Would we get along? Would we have anything to talk about? Would meeting her help me better understand myself? Then the moment happened.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    Did you wait a long time?

  • Lisa Beck:

    Yes, and I was getting nervous!

  • Kaomi Lee:

    We got a chance to sit down together, face to face. I learned that Lisa decided to do a DNA test on a whim.

  • Lisa Beck:

    Early morning, I lay in my bed and I was very tired and I just took my phone out and then, oh what? I have a sister. I was so confused and excited at the same time. Yeah.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    What was going through your mind when you saw me?

  • Lisa Beck:

    I was amazed. I was surprised because I can see the similarities, but I can't put a finger on it, you know, exactly what it is. But I can see we look alike, you know, nose, mouth, teeth and so on and so on.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    I can see it in the eyes.

  • Lisa Beck:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I can see we look similar.

  • Kaomi Lee:

    Lisa and I don't know who our birth parents are. Finding each other through DNA feels like beating all odds. Our story was even featured on national Danish TV.

  • Lisa Beck:

    We did it!

  • Kaomi Lee:

    We also met with Korean adoptees in Denmark. Like Minnesota, there are thousands here. Lisa and I had fun getting to know each other during the short visit. But instead of answering questions, meeting Lisa created more.

    Now that I know about you, it just makes me start to go down the rabbit hole of, who was our father? Is he still alive? Do we have other siblings out there? I'm also very aware that many adoptees do not get this opportunity, and that helps me to know how special it is that we did find each other.

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