A Leesville woman recently completed an arduous journey in search of her biological parents.
Deseree Smoot began looking for her biological parents two years ago without any documentation to guide her in the right direction. "I was abandoned at birth, so there are no records at all of me even being born," she said.
Born in 1969, Smoot was around eight-years-old when the couple who raised her, Jack and Carlon Andre, told her she was adopted. And though she had curiosity about her birth parents, she did not start searching for them until 2016.
"The main reason I started to search was to find out about my health history," Smoot said. "I'd go to the doctor and I couldn't answer any questions about my family health history."
With very little information to go on, she and her daughter, Courtney Owens, got started on the daunting task of finding her biological parents.
The only lead Smoot had was the name of the doctor who delivered her – Dr. William H. Knight. This clue was provided by a relative of her adopted mother. The relative had worked for Knight and was present when Smoot was born in Metairie.
The relative told Smoot her memory of a pregnant teenager in labor who showed up at the clinic at closing time. She was was accompanied by her mother and a teenage boy.
After the baby was delivered, the trio left the clinic as abruptly as they had arrived, leaving the baby behind.
The Andres, who were already looking to adopt, were notified of the abandoned child and became Smoot’s parents.
After pursuing this anecdotal information, Smoot learned Knight had died. The path seemed to fizzle.
Owens set up a Facebook page including what little information she knew of her mother's birth.
Additionally, they ordered DNA test kits from Ancestry.com and recruited the help of church friend, Beverly Sanders.
Sanders had recently used a DNA test to successfully find her birth parents.
With Facebook and the DNA results providing few leads, Sanders suggested adding Stephanie Bennett to the team.
Bennett was instrumental in Sanders’s successful identification of her birth parents.
"Stephanie just jumped right in," Smoot said. "I shared my Ancestry.com information with her and she started work on putting the pieces together."
Still they kept hitting dead ends. "It was like a connect-the-dot puzzle with lots of dots missing." Smoot said. "We had some DNA matches, but there was so much missing that we couldn't make a direct connection back to me."
Shortly after Christmas of 2017, they caught a big break. "Right around holiday time, someone said that a lot of people were giving the Ancestry.com DNA tests for a gift," Smoot said. "Just sit back and wait, and let's see what happens they told me."
While waiting, Smoot linked her Ancestry.com information to a number of DNA databases and reached out to a "Search Angel".
'"Search Angels" are experts in DNA matching and other scientific fields, who volunteer to help people like Smoot.
With the help of a "Search Angel" named Shannon living in Alaska, they found a match needed to start connecting the dots.
Through Shannon and Bennett’s efforts, Smoot learned the identity of two uncles on her mother’s side. From one uncle, she discovered he had a sister named Beryl Cusimano.
Though Smoot was fairly certain that Cusimano was her mother, it was yet to be confirmed.
The confirmation came when further DNA matches provided the name of her father – Joseph Phillip Estrada. He verified he was Smoot’s father and that Cusimano was her mother.
He shared a story of childhood sweethearts, the love of his life, and the ensuing pregnancy of teenage a girl from a devout Catholic family.
He also told Smoot about Cusimano’s untimely death at the age of 25.
Smoot's journey was completed on April 7 when she met here biological father and siblings face-to-face.
"As soon as he saw me, he knew I was their daughter," Smoot said. "He told me I looked just like my mother."