Saturday, October 11, 2008

How to search for your sperm donor father

[See also How to search for your sperm donor father - Part II....for information about using Classmates.com and the Birthday Database to find your donor, and see How to search for your sperm donor father - Part III....for information about how a girl used Myspace to find her donor]


Since most people who read my blog regularly know that I'm currently getting my masters degree in Library and Information Science I thought I would share an "information awareness essay" I've written for one of my classes that pertains to donor conception.  The purpose of the assignments each week are to write about a specific information "gap" in our current knowledge state and discuss what we did to find the answers to that knowledge gap.  This was an essay I wrote that outlined how I painstakingly search the internet for answers and what I hope to do with them if I find any.

************************

As I mentioned during my introduction in class last week, I was conceived by an anonymous sperm donor and I write a blog called “Confessions of a Cryokid”.  On my blog I discuss issues related to donor conception from the eyes of those of us who are most affected by it, but I also discuss and chronicle my own personal search and give advice and resources for others trying to search. 

There is such a huge degree of variance in what information offspring have in regards to their donors – many older offspring who were conceived in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, prior to cryogenically frozen sperm and large-scale sperm banks, all they may know is a doctor’s name or a clinic and nothing else.  Those of us conceived in the 1970s and 80s might have information such as hair color, eye color, height, and possibly ethnicity or occupation.  The lucky ones might have a donor number, which is imperative for offspring to find siblings and possibly their biological father on donor conception registries.  Today children conceived by a donor may even have the ability to know his name upon turning 18, but others who still have anonymous donors have personal intimate information and even pictures of their donors, depending on how much money their parent(s) wanted to spend.

I was one of those lucky ones with a donor number, but only after five long years of searching.  Once I had the donor number (found in my mother’s medical records as a “vial number”) I was able to contact the sperm bank and get more non-identifying information on my biological father.  “Brown hair, green eyes, 6’0, and was a senior in college in 1982 when he began donating.”  The sperm bank also told me he donated until 1989.  What I was not expecting was to receive his birth date!  Even though I don’t know where he was born, the sperm bank is located in Augusta, Georgia, and therefore he was likely a student at Augusta State University (called Augusta College at the time), since that’s where the majority of donors were recruited from in the early years and graduated in 1983.

That was eight months ago, and since then I have routinely searched the Internet far and wide to try and find more information.  Not only am I registered on every available registry, but I have gone through several DNA tests and have my X chromosome information in a Donor Gamete Archive database, where they cross your X chromosome inherited from the donor to all the other females (Y chromosome for males) in the database for sibling matches, as well as the donor.  However, probably the most intensive and grueling task is combing the web for my biological father, or at least potential men who could possibly be my biological father.  Since it’s time consuming and complicated (and obviously has yet to reveal anything of substance), I only attempt this once every few months.  Last week I attempted it again and I’ll describe the steps that I most typically take to do this. 

  1. I first do a basic Google search with the phrase “born February 12, 1961” (the birth date identified as my biological father’s)

41 hits found

Hit 1:

(http://www.downingfuneralhome.com/ob/obituary.php?id=197)

A death notice for a Dr. Gerald Reagan, born February 12, 1961, died September 3, 2006 in Bethlehem, PA.  “He attended Penn State University and graduated from Life University, Georgia with a Masters in Sports Medicine and a Doctorate of Chiropractic.”

This is a possibility (albeit a sad one since he’s now deceased), so a further search on Life University in Georgia tells me that it’s in Marietta, Georgia.  Doing a Google map search for the distance between Marietta and Augusta shows me it’s approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes apart.  While plausible, highly unlikely for a college/graduate student to travel nearly 6 hours 3 times a week to make a donation for 7 years straight.  

Next hit:

(http://www.genealogy.com/users/n/e/l/Ross-Nelson-MN/FILE/0006text.txt)

A page on Genealogy.com for the descendents of Joseph Patterson.  Using the cached feature on Google I’m able to find exactly where the phrase “born February 12, 1961” is.  It turns out it’s a woman, so that’s definitely not the one!

Other hits include:

 An American actor and stand-up comic, Brian Haley (http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Brian-Haley), but it’s noted in the biography that he was in the US Army from 1980 to 1985, so that knocks him off my list.

A lawyer, Douglas Crisman (http://www.lawyers.com/California/Palo-Alto/Morgan,-Lewis-and-Bockius-LLP-2748058-f.html), who was born on February 12, 1961, but received his BS from Indiana University and his JD from Cornell – not possible distance-wise.

Others are foreign people, other women on genealogy websites, other famous people, as well as several hits directed to my blog where I have his information posted.

  1. My second Google search is typically one of the other bits of information I have about him – such as “Augusta College 1983”

16 hits found 

Hit 4:

The educational background of a lawyer Mark Wortham, who graduated from Augusta College in 1983 and graduated from Georgia State in 1986.  It’s probably unlikely, since he graduated from law school in 86, that he would continue donating until 1989 since it says he was admitted to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1987.

The other searches were immediately not what I was looking for and were not further investigated.

While a more in depth search may have included many other search terms, this is a general idea of how I go about this.  Even though I may not have found my biological father, or even a man I would consider a prime candidate, it has given me excellent research experience in maneuvering the web, and how to search in the most unlikely ways.  It has given me experience in going through genealogy websites, which will be beneficial for what I want to specialize in.  I will continue to complete this task until one day I might chance upon someone who could possibly be my biological father.  What I would do at that point I have no clue.   

13 comments:

damianhadams said...

Hi Lindsay
great stuff, it's amazing what you can find out if you just know where and how to look. The problem is that you need some small bits of information to start with, something many of us don't have. The more that you have the more you can find out or narrow down the field.
Cheers
Damian

Lindsay said...

Hey Damian,

You're right, it's definitely a lot harder - and maybe even impossible without those bits of information. I wish it were as simple for many of your guys as it was for me to find my donor number and some "non-identifying information". I think for males it's helpful b/c you can trace him (potentially) with Y-chromosome DNA testing. Have you ever looked into that? I know it's expensive, and probably more-so down under, but it would probably be your best shot!

~Lindsay

damianhadams said...

Hi Lindsay,
yeah I have looked into the y-chromosome testing and have spoken to the people that conduct it (my major at uni was also molecular biology so i can follow this stuff pretty well). The problems with this testing are many;
1) they provide a region and link to an ancestral home based on DNA - sometimes this can be a big miss as those with a documented history have no link with that region to which they were assigned
2) they provide a suggested ancestral family name - this is all well and good provided that no-one in the past has been "unfaithful"
3) the results are highly dependent on others related to you being in their database and having reliable information that can be drawn from.
4) when paternity is unknown you are actually better off with the second to most markers test to provide a little ambiguity.
The larger the database the better and it will improve over time. At the moment it would appear as though it is a better avenue for those in America as not that many from other places around the world are on the database although the british isles are improving which is good for me.
For myself the odds are that it wont show anything at all, but it may help point me to the right ballpark. And because of that I will probably give it a go.
The damn stock market crash has really hurt the Aussie dollar and it it now about 30% more expensive than it was a couple of months ago.

Lindsay said...

Damian,
You're right about the limitations of the Y-chromosome tests, but at the same time it might be a possibility, at least for the future. I suppose it would be more helpful if you had at least a little information - like occupation.

I wish I could be more helpful, but things like that make it very difficult.

What about getting in contact with the alumni association of the university - I forget, was it a university's medical school where the donors were pulled from?? Maybe their quarterly newsletter could publish a story on your search.

Lindsay

Anonymous said...

Hello. What company would I use to have Y-chromosome DNA testing done? Any suggestions? -Lee

damianhadams said...

Hi Lee,

I am leaning towards FamilyTreeDNA. While it may not be as cheap as some, they have an extremely large database which is what you want when doing something like this. This is important for me as not many from Australia have done this sort of thing (mainly Americans and British Isles), so it gives me a greater chance of finding a "suggested heritage".
There are plenty of others out there that do that type of testing.

Cheers
Damian

Carissa said...

Hi Lindsay,
Great site -- I'd like to ask some advice. When I was 13 my mom told me that my dad is not my biological father and that it was some anonymous sperm donor instead. She told me it was a dark secret that almost no one knew even within our family and that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone else. I'm 28 now, so I've gotten past the secrecy, but it was never mentioned within my family again by me or anyone else. My mother is no longer around and my dad seems to have forgotten a long time ago that we aren't blood relatives. I don't have any particular desire to meet my mother's sperm donor, but I would like more information or at least the ability to gather more information, and all I know currently is what hospital I was born at and that the man was white and had blue or green eyes. Do you happen to know if places that did artificial insemination in 1980 would still have patient records of any kind?

Lindsay said...

Hi Carissa,

Sorry for the late reply. My computer's hard drive died, and I don't always get comments on old posts for some reason.

If you wanted to email me privately we could discuss this more in-depth, but from my experiences most clinics from that era did not keep their records long. If it was a OBGYN's office in which your mother was a continuous patient, then there is more luck of her medical records being still available, however if it was a special clinic that she only went for inseminations then it's more unlikely for those records to still be present.

There is also still the possibility based on your age that it could have been sperm from a sperm bank - Xytex opened in 1979, California Cryobank (CCB) in 1977, and Cryogenic Laboratories Incorporated (CLI) in the early 1970s.


Lindsay

Anonymous said...

Hi Lindsay,
I was wondering if it is only posible to find out your birth father's name once you're 18? And how do you do that? I am under 18 and have no father figure in my life, I feel as though part of me is missing and am hoping there is a way to find out who my father is sooner.
Thanks

Lindsay said...

Hi Anonymous,

It's hard to say, depending on where you live, when you were conceived, what sperm bank/clinic you were conceived from, and what the status of your donor was, you may be able to learn his identity at age 18 or you may legally never be entitled to that information. Currently there are no legal arrangements where offspring can LEGALLY know their donor father before age 18, though if you are able to track him down and identify him the law cannot stop you from contacting him.

If you want to email me privately (lindsaymarie85 at gmail dot com) I'd be happy to try and further answer your questions and give you some direction.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lindsay,
After both my parents died, my stepdad whom I had a bad relationship with told me that my father was not my biological father. Devistated, I began searching for information and I began to see it was a big secret that no one would talk about. Finally my aunt told me I was a donor baby, but that was all she knew. I have tried searching but I have hit walls after walls. My moms OBGYN doctor had passed by time I knew and all records were destroyed. I petitioned the court to see if there were any records, but nothing was found. I joined donor sibling registry, but I have no information. Do you have any ideas where I can start. My mother was artificialy inseminated in around May of 1969 and I was born in 1970. I have called every sperm donor facility in California and they have no record of my mother or of Doctor Vaughan. I have no siblings and I would like to find my father and possibly any siblings. I appreciate any information you may have.
Thank you Ali

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Do the initials on the sperm vial mean anything? The vial I have has the initials, RDT the date and the donor #073
Thanks

Rhiannon Greywolf said...

Hello Lindsay,

Your story is very inspiring. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one out there who deals with the frustrating struggles of not knowing where your other half came from.
I was curious as to if you had any ideas/advice for me in terms of finding out who my father is.
I am 19 years old, and it wasn't until recently that I decided to stop sucking up to the fact that my father anonymously donated. I'm determined to find out his name at least!
The only information I have so far is that he was a medical student at Yale.
Any suggestions?

Thanks,
~Rhiannon