FALL RIVER (AP) >> With her laptop perpetually open to ancestry.com and her dining room wall covered in index cards that bear the names of close and distant relatives, Laura Flanagan is trying to solve a mystery.
She's enlisted modern technology, traditional research and old-fashioned conversation, but still can't seem to find her birth father, despite her success in locating family members for several people she's never met.
"I need to know," said Flanagan, age 46. "The older I get, I'm more and more fearful that I'll be too late. There's this big piece of who I am that's missing."
Flanagan of Coventry, Rhode Island, came into the world as June MacDonald and was put up for adoption by her 15-year old birth mother. Her biological father, she's been told, never knew her mother was pregnant.
Flanagan's father is believed to be Robert "Bobby" Moniz and may reside in Fall River, according to Flanagan's decades of research. She is hoping that a reader might give her a clue as to where she can find this man.
Flanagan was adopted by a Rhode Island family when she was a baby and became Laura Bardsley. Her life, however, would not be easy.
As far as the outside world could see, her adoptive parents were financially secure and gave her a good life.
But there was something no one knew about her well-to-do father.
"My dad was a child molester," Flanagan said.
Flanagan was molested by her adoptive father throughout her entire childhood. She admitted that it is among her earliest memories. Although she turned him in, she did not testify in court. Years later, he was arrested and tried for molesting other children and served only a suspended sentence.
Flanagan said her adoptive parents stayed together despite him being a pedophile. She has nothing to do with them any longer.
Following the molestation, Flanagan was sent back to live with her adoptive parents and said the state never once checked in on her as far as she knows.
At age 17, Flanagan had a daughter, Liz, with a boy she was seeing. Not wanting the child to be raised in the home with her adoptive parents, she gave the baby up for adoption.
When Flanagan was 18, she was finally and legally able to search for her birth mother.
"I found my birth mother ... the old-fashioned way," Flanagan said.
She wrote a letter to St. Mary's Home for Children in North Providence, Rhode Island, where she learned some details and made a series of educated guesses. Flanagan went to the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Public Library and searched information in city directories and secured copies of birth certificates, which did not list her father's name.
Flanagan saw an image of her birth mother, Carol MacDonald, for the first time when she discovered a photo in her high school year book.
The resemblance was uncanny.
"Imagine never seeing your mother's face," Flanagan said.
She mailed a slew of letters to people who went to school with her birth mother seeking information.
"Six months later, I got a call from a classmate. They had her phone number from the reunion list," Flanagan said.
She contacted her birth mother and they set a time to meet.
"It's an awkward thing," Flanagan said. "You're meeting a stranger."
Flanagan learned that her mother had been raised in poverty, had a host of problems, and had bi-polar disorder. She told Flanagan that she wanted to have an abortion when she found out she was pregnant, but it wasn't yet legal.
"She was young and her parents had no money," Flanagan said.
When asked about her birth father, Flanagan said her mother initially said she had been raped, and then changed the story some time later.
She said her father was a young man her mother had been dating when she lived in the Riverside neighborhood in East Providence. His name was Bobby Moniz and he drove a dark blue Ford Fairlane at the time. She figured he was in his early 20s in 1968, and said he lived in Seekonk, and that his parents were from Fall River.
"She said she would sneak out her bedroom window to meet him," Flanagan said. "He was a short, stocky Portuguese man, with very curly dark hair.
"She said he never knew about me," Flanagan said.
When Flanagan first learned this information, she tried to search, but it was nearly impossible. The internet, and ancestry.com in particular, has since made a huge difference in her search for family.
Unsure if what her mother told her was correct, Flanagan took a DNA test through ancestry.com and learned that she was of Azorean descent, and that her DNA matched those of people from the Island of Sao Miguel. She said it was also clear that at least one set of great-grandparents were from Bretanha, and possibly a second set from Ginetes and Mosteiros, all in Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel.
Flanagan, a wife and mother of three grown kids, including her first daughter Liz, has been embracing her Portuguese roots, and recently made Portuguese style salted cod fish for the first time using a recipe from a Portuguese cookbook. She plans to visit the Azores.
"I'm more Portuguese than anything else," Flanagan said. "As a kid, I only knew I was German, Irish and Scottish."
In order to search for her father's family using online records from Portugal, she's taught herself to read and understand Portuguese.
"What I do with all this information is I've created a master family tree," Flanagan said.
She's enlisted cousins and strangers that she believes to be related to, to undergo DNA testing at her expense, and said she's probably spent some $3,000 to $4,000 on the process. She's met third and fourth cousins, and conversed with people all over the country who are of some distant relation, or not.
"It's kind of a fascinating journey I've been on," Flanagan said. "I'm learning so much about half of who I am."
Flanagan has generated a list of some 30 Robert Moniz's in the Fall River, Seekonk, and East Providence area around the same age as her father, but still hasn't had success in finding him.
"My biggest hope is that's he's alive and he'll see some value in knowing me as a person," Flanagan said.
Along the way, Flanagan has connected with people that are on similar paths. Through her extensive family tree of some 10,000 names she's amassed in the last five years, she's been able to help them find their lost family members.
Denise Lutz, who was born in Fall River in 1955 and now resides in California, had been searching for years for her birth mother. Flanagan learned that she and Lutz shared cousins on opposite sides of the family tree though they "don't share one chromosome" with each other.
"It's so funny how our paths have crossed," Flanagan said.
In looking at her tree and completing additional research, she found Lutz's family. Though Lutz's mother had already passed away, Flanagan discovered Lutz had a sister, Geri, and the sisters plan to meet in Fall River for the first time later this month.
The reunion comes after Lutz had turned to The Herald News, taking out advertisements and having a story written about her search, in October 2008 in hopes of finding her family.
Flanagan has also reunited a 90-year-old woman with her 70-year-old daughter. She said the mother had been searching for her daughter for 50 years and had even hired private investigators without success. Just days ago, the two, separated since 1945, spoke on the phone for the first time.
Flanagan, who put herself through college and worked as a financial adviser for many years, said she has future plans to offer genealogy services for hire. She'd like to call her service, "Suadade," a Portuguese saying that loosely translates as a longing or wistfulness for something one never had or could never be.
"I'd like to find my father first," Flanagan said.
Flanagan reconnected in 2007 with the daughter she put up for adoption. They found each other on Adoption.com, a registry for birth parents and children searching for one another, when her daughter was 21. They have since become close friends.
Whether or not Flanagan finds her father, she said her experience in learning about her lineage and helping others to connect has been a life-changing experience.
"I don't think I've ever been involved in anything like this that has been more fulfilling," Flanagan said.
Information from: The (Fall River) Herald News, http://www.heraldnews.com