In today’s society, we place a very high standard on origin stories. Even though America is known as the land of opportunity, where we came from seems to be the predictor of where we’re headed in life these days.
That notion was especially hard for Janet Barnicoat to swallow when she learned she had been abandoned as a child and left in a grocery bag next to a dumpster in an alley. So she set out to find out why her life had begun in such a lonely way. What she found when she started digging into the past changed the course of her life forever.
In 1981, a young woman in Lawndale, California, called the police to an alleyway. She had discovered a baby in a paper grocery bag next to a dumpster there. Just hours old, the newborn was wrapped in a towel with her umbilical cord still attached. That baby was Janet Barnicoat. Janet was eventually adopted and grew up in a town about 100 miles away. But that moment haunted her for most of her life.
“I got really mad and angry [at my birth mother], and I held onto that for quite a long time,” Barnicoat told ABC News’ “20/20.” “How do you leave your child in a paper bag in an alleyway? It felt like, you know, she tossed me away. You put me next to a dumpster. It was tearing me up inside.”
“There was questions of, ‘Do I have siblings? Who are my parents? Why was I adopted? Why didn’t they want me?’” Barnicoat added.
Barnicoat grew up and joined the navy, co-owned a barber shop with her father, and later began a family of her own.
“Once having my own children, you know, you figure out what that natural, true love is. And I just couldn’t understand how she didn’t have that for me,” Barnicoat said.
Barnicoat turned to Ancestry.com for answers, and she quickly got a match.
“I was checking my email, and it said that I had a possible DNA match,” Barnicoat recalled. “It said that, ‘You have a DNA match, close family.’”
What she found was not her mother, but a half brother, Dean Hundorf. He flew from Lacrosse, Wisconsin, to meet Barnicoat at a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in November 2014. “It was like we had known each other forever and … like we never skipped a beat,” Hundorf, 29, told “20/20.”
“It was a brother hug, and going [30 years] without having any siblings, it was nice to have that connection and that bond,” Barnicoat said. “For me, it was pretty much like we had never not been together, you know?”
Hundorf had also been abandoned as a newborn baby just days before Christmas in 1986.
“I always, you know, was wondering, where I came from, who my parents were. I maybe tried to push it aside just to forget about it. But you know, it was always there,” Hundorf said.
Barnicoat was shocked to find that what happened to her had also happened to her newly discovered half-brother. “I think I got more angry at the situation when I found out about Dean,” Barnicoat said.
Barnicoat and Hundorf had to find their mother. The two enlisted the help of CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist whose specialty is abandoned babies. She used Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com, and FamilyTreeDNA.com to help find answers. What she found was yet another half-sibling. Julie Hutchison was also abandoned at birth.
“I just want to know, you know, like how was their life growing up adopted? Did they have the same thoughts, you know, as I did growing up, like, ‘Who was my mom? Who was my dad?’” Hutchison told “20/20.”
ABC News’ “20/20” arranged for the three to meet for the first time. “These three people were so much alike. They had the same sense of humor. They were cracking each other up,” Moore said of the meeting. “There is something about biological and genetic bonds that survives any sort of separation.”
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