Kelly Franco's path to find her birth mother has been a 52-year meandering and seemingly futile route. But this year, with the help of DNA testing service 23&Me, it finally became a reality.
The Livermore woman had been searching on and off for her birth mother for years, but it was only after a new "sleuth" on her side, using 23&Me in conjunction with online research, that she was able to connect with her long-lost mother in Oklahoma.
"She's an amazing woman, greeted us with open arms, and bouquets of flowers," said Franco, who works as a Realtor in the Tri-Valley. "It was just wonderful. I was nervous, but yet so excited I couldn't stand it. After 52 years, finally, finally, finally -- we get to embrace, you know?"
Franco and her twin sister Kristy Beveridge were born in Los Angeles in 1966. Given up for adoption, they grew up in Southern California, though Franco has moved around California since.
She started seeking her biological mother early on. She recalls visiting the Sacramento courthouse as a child, and then hired a genealogist for help in the 1990s -- to little avail.
She moved to the Tri-Valley in 2016, which is where, through her boyfriend, she met Steve Kirk -- a self-appointed genealogy detective who would ultimately find her birth mother.
Kirk's interest in genealogical quests stemmed from his own family members finding long-lost relatives of their own, and seeing how the discovery impacted them: his mother, in particular, was able to connect with her biological father. He mentioned these instances to Franco at one point, who in turn told him that she didn't know her own mother.
"When he heard that I was adopted, and that I was on 23&Me, and all of that -- I could just see his eyes get big," Franco recalled.
Kirk's sleuthing began in March, using some fragments of information from Franco herself. She and her sister Kristy were born May 12, 1966 in Los Angeles, and thought the name of her birth mother was Susan Rose Fenske and father N. Diamond.
"I also knew that because she was born in Los Angeles didn't necessarily mean her birth parents ever lived there," Kirk said. "The only thing I could actually verify, through LA County birth records, was that her birth father's surname is Diamond, and her birth mother's maiden name is Fenske."
He got to work piecing together the Francos' family tree. A twist in the story came when Kirk discovered that Diamond had changed his name in his 20s, and was actually born in 1939 as "Robert Myron Mason."
Kirk then moved to 23&Me, which has features allowing users to connect with other encountered relatives. Franco had been on for about four years, and hadn't had much luck with her closest relations, but they did find a few helpful third cousins and discovered the names of her great great grandparents -- Carl and Paulina Fenski, born in Germany in the 1860s.
His sleuthing eventually led him to Dorothy Fenske, living in Owasso, Okla., and Kirk and Franco reached out to Fenske through Facebook messenger, not wanting to shock her with a sudden phone call.
"The reasoning is that while Kelly has been searching for years, building up to this moment, she has been preparing herself mentally," Kirk said. "For Dorothy, a sudden call without warning could be very shocking -- with no opportunity to process the overwhelming event or the flood of emotions that would surely take place regardless of her desire to connect/not connect."
They called Fenske on July 13. Kirk made the call, with Franco a little ways away, in case the conversation went awry.
It took a few questions before he and Fenske arrived on the same page -- he first mentioned Franco's name and then that of the German Fenski's, both of whom she didn't recognize.
Thinking the conversation would not end well for Franco, he then asked Fenske if her grandparents were Gustav and Hilda Fenske, and when she assented, asked about her parents, brother, and birth in Rocklin, Illinois, with Fenske growing increasingly excited as she confirmed each of his queries.
Kirk then asked her, "Does May 12th, 1966 mean anything to you?" She said yes, and started to cry.
Franco then came over to speak to her biological mother, in an emotional and tear-ridden phone call. Her sister Kristy would also later speak to Fenske over the phone that day, and both sisters visited her in Oklahoma in August.
"No matter what the circumstances were, way back then, it doesn't matter," Franco said. "Because here we are, whatever they were, she did it for us. I know that must have been a heartbreaking situation."
Fenske herself had been looking for her daughters, but her search had been focused on Southern California, where the girls were born. She had left California years back, moving to Texas and then finally settling in Oklahoma.
"I love both of them to the moon and back," Fenske said. "I'm still speechless."
The story made the front page of the Owasso Reporter in early September, and since then Fenske has had friends and strangers alike coming up to her to congratulate her on the happy news.
"I am just tickled to death ... I can die in peace now," she said.
Fenske also sent the girls' adoptive mother, Sharon Costello Butler a letter thanking her for raising two wonderful daughters. The two women met over Thanksgiving when Fenske came out to California.
Kirk was also able to locate Franco's father -- and they've since discovered that the twins in fact have nine other half-siblings. While they've connected, Franco said she's more focused on getting to know her mom.
Now Franco talks to her birth mother all the time. "It's like we've never not known each other," she said. She'll be returning to Oklahoma for the holidays.
"If there's other adopted people out there, if you're searching and coming to dead-ends, do the ancestry and 23&Me, and just don't give up hope," Franco said. "I did it, and as it worked out, there was a happy ending."