Ever since Bethany Fraser came to speak at Activism in Adoption about her birthparent search and reunion story, we've been fascinated with how the intersection of research, investigation, and consumer DNA tests are bringing new levels of transparency to the adoption landscape, so we are very pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Jay Rosenzweig, an award-winning California private investigator. Jay graduated with honors from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. His introduction to the investigation business came in 1982 when he was hired by a warehouse to go undercover and find renegade employees stealing from the company. In 1995 Jay was named "Investigator of the Year" by the California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI). Jay was elected President of CALI in 1997. The following year, he served as their Chairman of the Board. During his presidency, Jay established a volunteer program for licensed investigators to assist a nonprofit group in their efforts to locate missing and abducted children.
Jay started BirthParentFinder.com, and since it's inception, it's been recognized as one of the leading national online companies for finding birth parents and biological relatives. His work has been featured on KTLA News in Los Angeles for his role in successfully searching for Morning News Anchor Chris Schauble's biological mother and the rest of his birth relatives. The news story received national attention, was nominated for a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award and on January 24th, 2015 it won a Golden Mike Award, which is given out by the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California. In July of 2015, the news story received a SoCal Journalism Award from The Los Angeles Press Club. In June of 2021, Jay received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the California Association of Licensed Investigators. Jay was recognized for his volunteerism over the years and also for his successes in locating and reuniting biological families. Jay has helped thousands of people over the course of his career, working numerous cases pro-bono.
Jay is currently the Chairman of the Board for the California Association of Licensed Investigators (since 2020), and we are grateful to him for taking the time to speak with us about the work he is doing in birthparent search and reunification.
How did you become a private investigator?
It's interesting because this career isn’t something I planned. I graduated college with a degree in Political Science, and in 1982 I moved to California to be with my sister. She invited me out to California, to try it, and see if I liked it. I had no intentions of being a private investigator. My intentions were to get into politics and back in 1982, you had to have a lot of money and you had to know the right people for a political career. I didn't have that, so I answered an ad in the paper that read; undercover investigator - no experience necessary. I was able to read, write, and analyze - and I had a car - so I passed that test and I passed a polygraph, and ended up working as an undercover investigator for three months. It worked out really well, so I stayed in that field, doing investigation work for law firms.
I liked it. I liked getting the facts, getting details and writing the reports. I did that for eight years, and then opened my own company.
What prompted you to niche down to adoption, and finding birthparents?
I've located thousands of people during my career, but those were litigants and witnesses. The concept of locating people doesn't change whether it's a birth relative, a witness or a defendant. You basically use the same methods to locate a birth parent. Even better now, we have DNA test sites!
In the early 2000s, my niece Maggie, who had been adopted and was about 20 years old at the time, was on her computer, and when I asked her what she was doing, she replied, I’m looking for my birthmother. And I told her she was going about this wrong and asked to take over her computer, and using her first name and where Maggie was born, found her birthmother for her. They ended up having an in-person reunion with her birthmother, along with her other children. They were all invited to Maggie’s wedding years later. Maggie asked me, why don’t you have a separate company that locates birthparents? I loved the idea and formed Birthparent Finder in the fall the 2006.
It was basically just a branch of J R Investigations and I never thought it would go to the next level, but then in 2013 I was asked by KTLA producers to help news anchor Chris Schauble find his birthparents for a story they were working on. It wasn’t easy, because the adoption was out of Florida, which was a closed adoption state. However, through the proper channels I discovered his birthfather had died and helped reunite him with his birthmother.
It got so busy after that story aired that I had to hire more people to help, and then DNA testing took off. Then, millions of people started taking DNA tests to find family, so I brought in genetic genealogists.
We are arguably the number one company in the country that does what we do, and what we do is threefold: we find out who your birth family is, we get their contact information, and then we reach out on your behalf. I can’t think of another company that does all three of those things for clients. I really get along well with, and have great relationships with, birth mothers; they trust me. That's my expertise. My expertise is not DNA – I have a team that are experts in DNA. My expertise is getting people to understand that they can trust me. I want to help them.
What are the challenges in doing birthparent searches?
There's a lot of challenges and honestly, in general, the hard part is when I can’t find them, because the information I’m provided is not accurate. Another difficult part is when we contact the birth family and helping them understand that this is not a scam. You had a child born in a certain year and that child is trying to reach out through me, and all they want are certain answers for themselves or their children, whether it's medical history, or an adult adopted person who is just saying thank you for giving me life. They want to reach out and thank you because their life is wonderful. If it wasn't for you, they really wouldn't be where they are today. You put them in a good family.
We are careful about who we work with. Our clients have to be over 18 to contract with us. The person searching must be in a healthy place for us to work with them, with a valid reason to search, like getting medical history, or maybe hoping for reunion, or to find siblings – they have to be “in a good place” before we will help.
When we find birthparents, we tell them, we're not looking to interrupt your life. We don't know if you’ve ever told anyone, and we just want information for our clients. Medical information they don’t have. And like I said, those are the challenges but in general, the majority of our cases are fairly simple to solve.
If we don't think we can solve a case, we won't take it. If it's a DNA case with zero information and no clear DNA matches – maybe third cousins or more – and no family tree, we are not going to take that case. We tell the potential client instead to go ahead and monitor their DNA results. Maybe take another test with another company, to see if there's closer matches. And if a closer match comes along, we may take the case, but we’d have to evaluate the data first. Sometimes we take a case that's not solvable for a couple of years. But generally, most cases are solvable, sometimes very quickly, and other times, in a few months.
Is everybody findable?
Most people are. A very high percentage of people are findable. When they are not, it’s often because we don’t have good information to go on. For example, if we find an NPE – a non-paternal event – in the DNA, which means that the presumed father is not the biological father. But DNA isn’t the only tool we have. We do the research, find people who knew the adopted person when they were little, find people who might have answers, put that information together with potential names, and often they say, Oh, we remember that guy. And then we put two and two together, and it's mostly done through connecting family trees. It's not easy though.
We’ve also been able to help some international adoptees, depending on their country of origin. We always have a free consultation with potential clients, and for South Korean born adoptees, the first thing I tell them is, take a DNA test, because you might have DNA relatives in the United States. If you were born in the 1950s or 60s, you might have birth relatives who came here after the Korean war. If you have a first or second cousin here that we find via DNA, we might be able to find your birthmother.
But just because someone could be locatable, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to take on a case to find them. We don’t search for anonymous sperm donors, for example. There are registries that work in that field for donor-conceived people, where you can connect with siblings from the same donor, but we tell our clients that an anonymous sperm donor is not their birth father, just a donor. There's a difference between a father and an anonymous donor. We’ve only broken that rule once, with a client who didn’t know they were donor-conceived until they were an adult, and we were able to help her get paternal medical information.
What makes this work so rewarding for you?
We like to solve puzzles and we like a challenge. And we just love it when it works out for our clients.
We love to see the expression on our client’s face and on their birth parent’s face when they finally meet. That that is the most rewarding thing; putting a successful adoption reunion together.
There are different versions of successful, and there are different types of success, but we prepare clients to have realistic expectations going into it. Maybe it ends in a reunion, or maybe it ends with just finding out who these people are, what their family history is, and what the circumstances of the adoption were. Maybe it’s finally getting accurate medical information, or maybe it’s just getting some form of closure with the information we can provide. We can help make things better by connecting a client to their birth family, getting them answers they just didn’t have before they came to us. We take cases that have a possibility of reunion, and when it happens, and adult adopted people meet their birthparents, or biological siblings, its so heartwarming. Our clients tell us the work we do for them makes their lives complete, and that’s the most satisfying thing anyone could ever say to me.
When we can’t give people answers, we don’t feel like we did our job, and there are some cases I lose sleep over because they are unresolved, but we don’t close a file until we get the answers our clients are looking for. But we work with our clients’ expectations, and they know we are going to get them as much information as we possibly can.
Do you also work with birthparents to find the adult adopted people they have placed?
Yes! That’s probably about 20% of the work that we do. But that adopted person has to be an adult for us to agree to find them. And sometimes, the adopted person isn’t ready to meet their biological family, but we can still give them a little information. A photo, or a little about their life, and some reassurance that they are doing well.
To learn more about Jay, his team, and the work they do, visit them at BirthParentFinder.com, or find them on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn. You can find the work he did with KTLA here, and here. Jay has been a guest on Angie Martinez' podcast, IRL, been featured on CBS, and in the Washington Post.