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An illegally adopted Gainesville man finds his biological family after decades-long search

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - After a decades-long search, Robert Lightner finally found his biological family.

He was one of hundreds of babies delivered and sold by Miami doctor, Katherine Cole, on the black market.

“I sent a letter to the birth records department in Tallahassee. I said I just found out I’m adopted, I included a copy of the birth certificate, and this wonderful lady called me on the phone and said ‘I know who you are, kinda sorta, you’re a Cole Baby,” said Lightner.

It’s one of the most widespread cases of illegal adoption in Florida, leaving so many with unanswered questions.

Lightner said growing up he never knew he was adopted, and his parents raised him as their own.

He said he now knows his adoptive parents were afraid of being caught by the police.

“They hid me away and I was sent to boarding school and I think they didn’t want to lose me.”

In his younger years, Lightner attended boarding school in Wallingford, England adopting a lifestyle much different from the one he knew.

“I would’ve had a terrific life playing baseball like all my peers in the U.S., instead I had to play cricket and I learned to fence.”

He said he longed to come back to his life in the states, and eventually finished high school in Miami.

In a quest for answers, Lightner created a Facebook group where he met hundreds of other Cole babies online.

“It wasn’t until my wife saw a TV commercial for Ancestry.com and she says ‘why don’t you get one of these kits and see if that will help?’”

Lightner said it took four DNA tests to eventually find his half-aunt.

“I did some further research and found that I probably had a half-sister and so I wrote my half-sister a letter.”

And it turned out to be true, finally making the discovery he had been after for decades.

“She picked it up and gave it to her two sons and said would you read this, and they said ‘oh my god you have a half-brother.’”

The discoveries didn’t stop there. Lightner came to realize he actually attended high school in Miami with his other half-sister named Sue.

“I got out my yearbook and saw her picture and said ‘oh my god I’m glad I didn’t date her.’”

Lightner said his adoptive parents had already passed away when he learned of his biological family.

“They had taken the secret to the grave... I’m sure they had their reasons, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

After years of research, Lightner gained whole new family.

He said his half-sister, Linda Crosby, is planning a family gathering for him to meet his relatives.

“It is beyond my comprehension or ability to put it in words. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have some answers.”

He said he hopes more people use DNA testing, because you never know who’s life it could change.

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