Lost and Found

by | Dec. 29, 2008


For nearly twenty years Troy Dunn has been helping people reconnect with lost loved ones, and each case is unique: adopted children seeking their birth mothers, Vietnam vets looking for their war buddies, siblings searching for each other after being separated by foster care, and the list goes on. "Life is a series of reunions--births, deaths, high school reunions, missionary reunions, and so on," Troy says. "There's something about this concept that rings true for each and every one of us. I like to believe half the world is looking for the other half." To date, Troy has reunited more than forty thousand people in thirty-two countries. But his first search began at home.

*The First Search*

"My mom is adopted, and I grew up listening to her talk about finding her birth family," Troy recalls. "One day I ran into a gentleman who was adopted. For medical reasons, he located his [birth] family and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I went through my mom's scraps of paper from her efforts in searching. In five and a half hours we were able to locate her birthmother." The experience had a profound impact on Troy. "I called my mom and said, 'Mom, are you sitting down? I'm holding your mother's phone number in my hand.' There was silence for a few moments, and then she started to cry in a way that I'd never heard before. From then on, we focused on helping anyone missing a loved one." Katie Dunn, Troy's mother, has played a key role on Troy's investigative team from the beginning--despite the fact that her dream of reuniting with her birthmother was quickly shattered: her birthmother rejected her. "Her rejection was about as ugly as it gets," Troy recalls. "She said, 'If I knew it was going to call, I might have aborted it.'" The experience was painful for Katie, to say the least, but with time she gained a new perspective. "She rejected the idea of a painful past coming into her present life, and I was a part of that past, I suspect," Katie says. And though her birthmother refused to meet her, Katie was later reunited with two brothers. "I wouldn't trade the experience. It is such a blessing in our lives." As the mother of her own adopted son, now a twenty-five-year-old Iraq veteran, Katie knows that someday he may want to meet his birthmother. "Being an adopted child, it seemed natural to adopt," she says. "He hasn't expressed any interest in searching, but he has the information, and we made our information known to the birth family years ago. There's a part of my heart that wishes he wouldn't have a need to do this, but whatever his needs are, I'll be the supportive parent. This kid has enough love in his heart for ten moms. [His birthmother] gave us the best gift in the world. I hope she has found joy in her life."

*The Big Decision*

With Katie's help, Troy turned his knack for finding lost loved ones into an extremely successful business. Now commonly known as "the Locator," Troy has made more than five hundred television appearances since 1990 on shows like Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, and Good Morning America. Those appearances recently led to an offer for Troy to have his own show on the cable network WE tv, but he wouldn't accept until he discussed the show with his wife and seven children. "When the offer came, our FHE discussion that night was to lay out the deal," Troy recalls. "I said, 'If you guys say no, we're not doing it.' I told my attorney we would talk about it with the kids and take a family vote. He couldn't believe I would let my television series be decided by my children." Jennifer, Troy's wife, was concerned about having anything on the show that made the family feel embarrassed or awkward. But those fears were put to rest when WE tv granted Troy moral censorship abilities. "We all share in the ownership of this experience," Troy says. "The whole family appears in most episodes." Troy says he is thrilled that WE tv is so supportive of his family and his beliefs. "I want to bless lives by reuniting families, but I won't change who I am."

*The Locator*

After filming all summer, Troy's show, The Locator, debuted on WE tv in September. It was the highest-rated show in the history of the network. "Not everyone was convinced that a family-friendly show could survive in today's society," Troy says. "I was really hoping that good friends in the LDS community would support it, and they have." One of the dramatic stories featured on the show this season is the reunion between Debra Hall, her brother Jerry Schloop, their mother, and their long-lost baby brother, Michael. Alongside their mother, Debra and Jerry searched for their half brother, Michael, for decades. The family was separated when their mother was hospitalized. Debra and Jerry, then ages six and five, were sent to live with their birthfather; two-year-old Michael was taken by his father to live in Salt Lake City. Eventually Michael's whereabouts became unknown, and the family never saw him again. "I'd been looking for Michael for about twenty years," Debra says. "When Troy found him, he didn't know about either one of us." When the family was reunited in Indiana this past April, they instantly hit it off. In fact, Michael plans to move to Indiana to be close to his new-found family. "Unfortunately, this year the holidays aren't going to happen, but next year we'll be with him for every little holiday there is," Debra says. "He fits with us. He belongs with us." To help Michael get to know his family better, his mother sends him family photo albums. The two also talk on the phone every night. Debra says the reunion was "like a miracle." She recalls, "We never really expected it to happen. I can't even describe the feelings. And Troy disappeared so fast . . . we still haven't had a chance to thank him." In fact, viewers of the show find that Troy's disappearing act is a regular occurrence. As soon as people are reunited, Troy quietly slips away and lets them enjoy the moment. "I'm uncomfortable with the 'thank you' part," he says. "I don't want to be there to take credit for something that a lot of other people were involved with. And I don't like to cry in front of people." In addition to working on his television show, Troy serves as a bishop in Fort Myers, Florida. With his time in such high demand, he relies heavily on Jennifer for support. "The real hero of the whole thing is my wife. She sustains me as I travel around the world doing things for other people," he says.

*Troy's Favorites*

Of all the different cases Troy is involved with, he says he is most motivated by medical emergencies. "I recall one particular instance when a family was in car accident. Their adopted daughter needed a donor for a surgery." He continues, "One of the nurses contacted me, and we did an emergency search for her birthmother. We found her in the wee hours of the night. She came in for the procedure, recovered at the other end of the hospital, and flew back home. To this day, the girl has no idea that her birthmother came in and saved her life." Some of Troy's other favorite cases include informing people that their long-lost relatives have not passed away after all. "It's always exciting to bring people back from the dead that way," he says. "It's also fun to tell someone that they have an identical twin." But while Troy is willing to help in most circumstances, he says there are certain scenarios he doesn't support at all. "I won't take cases from minors, nor will I look for a minor," he says. "I believe [locating someone] is an adult decision."

*Troy's Tips*

After eighteen years of reuniting people, Troy has learned a few things about human nature. Here are his top tips to share with LDS Living readers: 1. Start Today "A lot of people talk about it--just start!" Troy urges. "Sometimes I locate loved ones and have to tell clients that the person they were searching for has passed away. Don't wait. . . . You never find peace until you find all the pieces. I really believe that." 2. Be Discreet Troy advises people not to put too much personal information on the Internet. "Give less information than you think you should," he cautions. "That way, when someone does call, you'll have a couple of questions to verify that the person is who you are looking for. Unfortunately, there are evil people who will seize upon information and use it for their advantage." 3. Be Considerate "Don't go barging into someone's life," Troy says. "Instead, make a gentle phone call." What if the person doesn't want to reconnect? That question cannot be answered until a person is found, but according to Troy, nine times out of ten the reaction is positive. "I thought a lot of people wouldn't want to revisit the past," he says. "But time seems to heal wounds, and curiosity grows over the years." The Locator airs Saturdays at 9 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. Visit wetv.com/thelocator or troythelocator.com for more information. _In Addition . . ._

*Preparing for a Reunion*

Thinking of reuniting with someone from your past? Here are some things to consider before you make this important decision: _Identify your motivation._ Why do you want to find this person? Is in hopes of turning back the clock or suddenly playing a specific role in someone's life? According to Troy and Katie, these are not good reasons. "The decision to search is the biggest decision of all," Katie says. "We want to make sure people get a reality check before beginning the search." _Have realistic expectations._ The person you are looking for isn't going to be perfect. If you've built him or her up in your mind, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. And don't expect all of your problems to disappear when you are reunited. "We discuss several possible outcomes with people," Katie says. "Sometimes people have fantasized about how important a person was, or how great a reunion would be." _Take it slowly._ Remember, when you are reunited, you are still strangers--you just happen to be connected somehow. Be patient and take time to build a lasting relationship.

*Together At Last*

By Carolyn Campbell

In October, 1929, nine-year-old Bob Roberts' grandmother handed his baby brother to him and spoke urgently. "Take the baby outside and hide him." Moments later, a social worker caught up with him. "Give me the baby," she commanded. His mother echoed the request. Bob's parents were divorced, and both suffered from alcohol abuse. It was also the beginning of the Great Depression, and his mother struggled to financially provide for the children; she contacted social services out of desperation. The seven Roberts children were separated that year when six of them were placed in foster care. The baby, Wallace, was surrendered for adoption. The six older children saw each other during periods when they lived with their mother or were placed in the same foster home. Yet they all longed to know what happened to Baby Wallace. Bob felt that he had let his brother down and failed to keep him safe after the social worker literally peeled the infant out of his arms. Katie became passionate about Bob's story and spent a lot of personal time doing investigative work. She says, "No other story will ever touch or change my life as profoundly as this one did." The day she found Baby Wallace, who was then seventy-five years old, Katie recalls, "I fought to keep my composure because I didn't want to spook this lovely man by being hysterical, delirious, and otherwise so happy I thought my heart would burst." In 2003, when Bob heard that Katie had found his brother, his eyes filled with tears. Happily, all the siblings--now in their 70s and 80s--were alive and anxious to see the brother they had missed for three-quarters of a century. They met Baby Wallace, now called Bud, on September 27, 2003, for the first time in seventy-five years. The siblings hugged and cried. Their celebration cake read, "Welcome, Lost Brother." After the reunion, Bob said, "Now it's okay for me to die." Two siblings have since passed away, but Bob and Bud are both still living. Bob, who joined the Church in 1996, is eighty-eight years old; Bud is seventy-nine.

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