Lucianna Seed always knew what her mother looked like even though she had never seen Yadira Rivera’s face.
All she had to do was look in the mirror.
“My adopted grandmother would say, ‘you have your mom’s eyes. You have your mom’s smile. She was a beautiful woman,” Seed, a resident of Davis, Calif., recalled Lucille Cruz telling her time after time.
Lucianna knew she was adopted from the time she could comprehend what the word meant.
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At one point she hired a private investigator and wrote a letter to her birth mother’s aunt.
Still, it wasn’t until her 15-year-old daughter's curiosity about her family’s history led to a relative connection through the DNA service 23andme. Yadira’s children would find each other, and the loneliness Lucianna says she always felt would be replaced with love.
A family match on 23andme led Lucianna and her children Bianca and Max Seed on a journey to Ohio to meet relatives they didn’t know existed.
Those family members would send Lucianna a photo of the woman who relinquished her at birth.
“(The photo) was just ingrained in me,” Lucianna, now 53, said. “This has changed my life.”
A SISTER OUT THERE
Lucianna never knew about her younger siblings: Centerville resident Raquel Rivera-Hill and her brothers, Marcos Rivera, 51 of Strongsville, and Daniel Rivera, a 49-year-old Rivers Falls, Wisc., resident.
The Rivera kids couldn’t say the same.
“We always knew about Lucy,” Raquel Rivera-Hill, now 48, said. “We always knew we had a sister.”
Although she also has sisters from her father’s later relationship, Rivera-Hill always wondered about the girl her then 17-year-old mom was forced to give up at birth.
“I wonder if I had someone who looks like me,” Raquel said.
One of the first things Raquel asked Lucianna is if she is short.
Raquel is 4’11’’.
Lucianna towers above her at 5’7’’.
But as it turns out, Yadina’s two daughters have many similarities.
Both women are independent business owners: Lucianna is a realtor and owns Luci’s Salon in Davis and Raquel owns Boricua Fitness at 122 Westpark Road in Centerville.
They share a passion for animals (Lucianna has a charity) and were born years apart at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco.
Like their brothers, they have a similar sensibility.
Interviewed in Raquel’s home recently just after their first face-to-face meeting, the sisters said they already felt connected — though the whole thing was surreal.
Lucianna was born to a 17-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant who was forced to give her up for adoption. Her father was a 20-year-old from El Salvador whom she has yet to meet.
“She had a guardian (an aunt) who made that decision for her,” Lucianna said.
As it was explained to Lucianna, the aunt didn’t want more children in her house.
Yadira’s mother had passed away, so the girl had no other option but to agree to the adoption.
Lucille Cruz, who would end up becoming Lucianna’s adopted grandmother, was a nurse for the doctor treating the pregnant teenager.
Cruz’s own daughter, the woman who would become Lucianna’s adopted mother, could not have natural children.
Lucille Cruz was there when Lucianna was born and helped facilitate her adoption to her daughter and son-in-law.
Lucianna said she always had a close bond with her adoptive grandmother, but clashed with her adoptive mother.
“I love my adoptive parents, but I had a sense that I didn’t belong,” she said. “I always felt alone.”
Lucianna left home at age 14 and spent the rest of her childhood in foster care.
Year’s later, she found information in her adoptive grandfather’s wallet that led her to the home of her birth mother’s aunt (her former guardian).
She hired that private investigator and in 2010, wrote her birth mother’s aunt a letter.
She never received a response.
A MOTHER GONE
Raquel and her brothers lost touch with their mother’s family for a very different reason.
When Raquel wrote that aunt a letter, she received photos of the mother she lost in childhood.
Pregnant and engaged to be married, Yadira Rivera died in July of 1978 when a police cruiser slammed into a car she was a passenger in while chasing a suspect’s vehicle.
The cruiser was not using sirens or lights at the time of the crash, according to a “San Francisco Chronicle” article about the accident.
Raquel was just 8, but remembers being frightened by the events that followed her mom’s death.
She said her great-aunt tried to hide her and her siblings from their father.
The trio was placed for a time in the care of children’s services before being reunited with their dad.
He broke ties with Yadira’s family and eventually moved his kids to Lorain, Ohio.
Raquel says she remembers her mother’s bohemian fashion sense and the “Jive Turkey” shirt she loved to wear.
“She was a free spirit,” Raquel said of Yadira. “She was always real firm with us. She told us to watch out for each other.”
Though they live miles apart now, Raquel and her brothers remain tight.
The trio were celebrating this past Mother’s Day in Lorain when Daniel revealed that the 23andme test he took resulted in a hit: a cousin.
As it turned out, the hit was actually Bianca, the niece he never knew.
Bianca contacted Daniel after getting a notice from the DNA service.
The similarities in his story and her mom’s led her to believe Daniel was genetically closer to her mom than a cousin would be.
Bianca put two and two togethr.
“I called her and said, ‘I think I’ve found your brother’,” she recalled.
Emails and phone calls between the family members followed.
Daniel and his wife changed their 20th anniversary trip plans in June to visit Lucianna and her kids in California.
She traveled to Dayton last week to meet Raquel and her daughter Yadira before going on to Strongsville for a get-together with Daniel, Marcos and more family members.
Lucianna said she feels the connection that was always lacking.
“It is tragic and beautiful at the same time,” Lucianna said of her family’s story.