The search for identity: one adopted man’s struggle to find his roots

Abstract -  ca. 2002 --- Basketball on Vacant Basketball Court --- Image by © Ellen H. Wallop/CORBIS

CSM002210 by j9sk9s, on Flickr. CC Image, Some rights reserved
Abstract - ca. 2002 --- Basketball on Vacant Basketball Court --- Image by © Ellen H. Wallop/CORBIS
CSM002210 by j9sk9s, on Flickr. CC Image, Some rights reserved

The cover story of a recent edition of Sports Illustrated begins: “Aaron Levi wanted to know who he was, where he came from, where he belonged.  From an early age he had questions about his identity…” In the faded background, a biracial man holds a black and white photograph of a young, tall African American basketball player – who happens to be one of the greatest legends of NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain.

The interview recounts the struggle of Aaron Levi to identify and connect with his biological parents and family.  Levi was born on January 27, 1965 to a single, white, 26 year- old English woman and an unnamed, single, 28 year-old African American professional basketball player.  According to papers provided by the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency, which handled Levi’s subsequent adoption, the biological father was born in Kansas and obtained a master’s degree.  He had black hair, brown eyes, bronze complexion, and was 6’10’ and 240 pounds.  Although the entirety of the statement does not match Chamberlain’s profile, the following facts remain prominent for Levi: Chamberlain was the only 28 year-old San Francisco basketball player matching that physical description who had resided in Kansas at some point; the physical resemblance between Levi as a young adult and Chamberlain was indisputable; and most significantly, Levi’s birth mother, whom he contacted in April, 2009 after obtaining a copy of his birth certificate, confirmed that Chamberlain was indeed Levi’s biological father.

Levi learned that his birth mother, Elizabeth, discovered she was pregnant shortly after her encounter with Chamberlain and was certain he was the father.  She informed Chamberlain that she planned to put the baby up for adoption as she felt unprepared to raise a bi-racial child.  Aaron spent the first six months in foster care and then, according to Santa Clara County documents, he was adopted shortly thereafter by a family in Oregon.  Elizabeth had never publicly identified Chamberlain as the biological father and she never spoke of Aaron’s birth to anyone in her family.

Chamberlain’s remaining two siblings have refused to talk to Levi.  They have no interest in submitting to DNA testing, which, without further evidence, would be the only definitive way to substantiate Levi’s claim.  Levi describes his life as dominated by the quest to discover his lineage.  In some ways, he has been tortured by this missing piece of the puzzle and hopes that his story persuades other potential blood relatives to come forward.

Levi’s story echoes the sentiment among many adoptees that the need to find one’s biological parents is essential to feeling a sense of belonging and filling a hole in their lives.  This is perhaps one of the most captivating aspects of genealogy and the root of its growing popularity.  In Levi’s case, the lack of any other identifying information about his biological father and the absence of corroboration from Chamberlain (who predeceased Levi’s search) or his remaining family members suggests that his search may not yield definitive answers.  For other adoptees, there are a myriad of resources to help determine the identity of one’s biological parents, including information provided by an adopted parent, official birth documents, a record of non-identifying information from the agency or State that handled the adoption and Mutual Consent Registries.  For Levi, the message he wishes to impart to other adoptees is clear: do not delay your search for your biological parents.


Louisa Kalish

Louisa Kalish is a lawyer and a freelance writer for online legal and general interest publications. She became interested in genealogy during a brief stint in pro bono family law. While not engaged in her writing and legal pursuits, she is an active volunteer in several charitable organizations and heads the parenting organization at her children's school. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and three children.

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