Adopted Woman Traced Her Birth Family, Then She Made A Life Altering Discovery

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“Adopted woman traced her birth family, then she made a life-altering discovery. Who doesn’t love daydreaming about a happily ever after? And no one knows the longing for a fairy tale better than Sarah Culverson. Adopted as a baby, she grew up with a lot of questions. Were her biological parents successful, rich, happy? Well, her search led her down a path that astonished her and the world.

Sarah Culberson had been adopted into a new family when she was just one year old. Obviously, she had no memory of her birth parents or what they were like. And though her adoptive mom and dad were kind and loving, she always wondered about the people who brought her into the world.

There was another aspect to her search too. Culverson’s adoptive parents were white, but she herself was biracial. She was actually one of the very few non-white people in the Morgantown community where she was raised. And that led her to wonder all the more about where she came from and what her background was.

As she grew older, Culberson felt compelled to find out. She had a lot of questions, and the only way she could answer them was by tracing her roots. Her adoptive parents couldn’t tell her much as the adoption had been a closed one. But they were very supportive. So, they also didn’t know the stunning secret of Culberson’s heritage.

There was nothing in Culberson’s past to indicate what kind of revelations awaited her. But she often struggled growing up as a biracial kid in a white family. And in her 2009 memoir, published after her fascinating story caught the attention of the world, she wrote extensively about her childhood.

“Even as a one-year-old, the day I left foster care and arrived at my new home, a neighborhood child asked my older sister, ‘Is she black or does she just have a really good tan?'” Culberson wrote in her book. “Instead of black or white, I felt like the brown girl who didn’t match. But I did everything I could to blend in and look like everyone else.”

The young Culverson spent a lot of time worrying about that sense of never matching. She wrote, “Most of the time in my classes, I was the only non-white student. Never wanting to disappoint my adopted family, I somehow came to the conclusion that I must be the representative of all biracial and black people in my predominantly white town. Somewhere in another back pocket of memory or still tingling in my cells from foster care, I knew how good I had it with my adopted family.”

Culverson continued, “Whatever happened, I wanted to be good enough so that the Culversons, with their two older biological daughters, would never send me back.” Culberson added that when she told her adoptive mom this, she laughed, hugged me, and said, “Honey, where is back?” I buried myself in her arms and said, “I don’t know, but I don’t want to go there.”

But as the young girl grew up, that would all change dramatically. “Adopted two days after my first birthday, it might seem strange, this fear of going back,” Culverson mused in her book. “How can a one-year-old remember anything, much less the memories of an infant before her first birthday? And maybe children don’t remember things, only feelings. A sensation of safety or one of dread and abandonment. Had Culverson actually been abandoned? She wondered this a lot. One day at school, she watched an educational video about adoption, which showed a mother giving up her child, and it had a huge effect on her.

“I felt physically ill for this woman who had to give up her child,” she later wrote. Rapid-fire questions shot through my mind. Where was the father in the video? Culberson wondered at the time. Where was my biological father? Why couldn’t the father in the movie help? Did my father ever help my mother? Did my father want to stay with my mother? Why didn’t my birth parents want me?

She desperately needed to know. A tearful Culverson asked her adoptive mother about the circumstances of her adoption. Her mother embraced her and provided all the details she could. Culberson had spent the first nine months of her life with her mom named Penny before she went into care, and Culberson’s original for name was actually Esther.

Culverson worried about what effect a search for her birth parents would have on her adoptive ones. “Guilt crept up my spine,” she recalled. “Maybe these questions about my biological parents hurt my mom. Why should I care or wonder about my biological parents when I have my mom and my dad and my two older sisters?” But Culverson learned a little more from her mother. She was told that her father was from Sierra Leone, Africa, and that he was from an important family. Her birth family apparently had the most dignified presence. But that was about all the information there was about him.

Culberson found her biological mom first, but it was too late to build a relationship. The woman in question had passed away due to cancer more than a decade ago, Culberson revealed. “I think this should have devastated me, as it was the first time I actually heard of my biological mother’s death. But deep down, I always considered the possibility that my birth mother was dead.”

This was obviously tough news to hear, but there was a silver lining. Culverson was able to meet some of her biological mother’s family and get to know a little bit about her. She got to see a photograph and learn what her birth mom had looked like. And she was also able to visit her gravestone and lay flowers. In a 2021 interview with Fox News, even after Culverson discovered her true heritage, she talked about where her journey had gone from there.

On the subject of her birth father, she said, “I realized I still had so many questions and little answers. I had made up this theory in my head, but then I began to wonder, what happened?” Culverson had other things going on in her life beyond the search, though. She gained a Master of Fine Arts degree at the American Conservatory Theater and moved to Los Angeles to start working as an actress. She’s gone on to have roles in the shows “Boston Legal” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” among others.

For a long time, Culberson felt fury towards her biological father. But she told Fox News that eventually, “I decided to let go of my anger and walk in his shoes for a moment. I was afraid that he didn’t want to meet me. But I realized that it was easier to be angry than to address my fears. I had to let go. I had to meet him. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late.”

So, Culverson hired a private eye, and before long, he had the information she needed. He gave her the address of her parental aunt and uncle, who lived in Maryland. She sent them a handwritten message, wondering at the time if she’d get an answer. She did, and it was a world-changing one. Culverson’s father, it turned out, was a man named Joseph Conia Possoa, and he was from the Mendy tribe of Sierra Leone. But there was more. He was royalty of the Mendy tribe, as the grandchild of a paramount chief. Culberson was a Mahaloy and thus a princess of her people.

Just weeks after that, Culverson was finally able to talk to her birth father via phone. She told Fox News, “The first thing he said to me was, ‘Please forgive me. I didn’t know how to find you after you were placed for adoption. Your name changed. Everything had changed.’ And I said, ‘No, please forgive me because I’ve always believed you didn’t want me in your life.'”

He explained everything to his daughter. He told her that after she was born, he and her mother decided they simply weren’t able to care for her, so they gave her up for adoption in the hopes she would have a better life. Culverson reassured her father that she had a wonderful childhood with her adoptive family.

Not long after that phone call, Culverson was able to meet her father and her people face to face for the first time. In 2004, she traveled to Bombay, Sierra Leone. This was a thrilling and highly emotional experience for her. “It felt like coming home,” she told Fox News. “I remember traveling through bumpy roads and then arriving in this village with hundreds of people singing and dancing.”

Culverson continued, “We’re preparing for Sarah,” they chanted. “My father gave me a green dress, and he wore a matching shirt. All the women who came forward were wearing the same green dress. The matching clothes were a tradition in the village, a sign of honor and community for an arriving guest, and the women had crossed the border to Guinea in order to get material to make them.”

“I was just pinching myself. It was overwhelming,” Culverson recalled. “But it was like a dream, and I didn’t want to wake up from it.” Despite everything, though, there was still a melancholy side to Culverson’s time in Pompeii. At the same time that she’d been growing up in America, a terrible civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone, and the ramifications were still clear for all to see. Buildings, including schools, had been ruined.

“It was overwhelming,” Culverson told NBC News in 2020. “The reality wasn’t just ‘I’m coming to meet my family, and everything’s perfect.’ It was a reality check. This is what people have been living through. This is my family. How is this princess going to be part of this community and make a difference in the country? I could feel in the air that people were nervous and trying to protect themselves.”

Culverson continued, “Even though there had been peace for two years, people were still on guard.” She still carried a crushing sense of responsibility. Even when she returned to the U.S., people from the village would call her up at night and ask for assistance. So, Culverson decided she’d help. First, she founded the nonprofit organization Sierra Leone Rising, which rebuilt Bombay’s high school and began advocating for better education, health, and female empowerment.

The foundation then partnered with Rotary International to build more wells for drinking water. Culverson outlined her goals during an interview with NPR in 2007. “I really see the foundation being a source for other projects,” she explained.

Even after we pass away someday, that the foundation will keep going and sourcing other projects in West Africa, in Sierra Leone, in other parts of Africa, to keep things moving forward. Because, you know, this is where everything started. They’re us, and we’re them. There’s no difference,” the princess added. “If a part of our world is off balance, it affects all of us. So, I really feel like the foundation is going to keep moving forward with whatever comes next.”

Since then, Culverson has thrown herself into her royal duties. Her foundation’s been working on improving education in the area, setting up computer hubs, and employing teachers. And when the global pandemic hit in 2020, the foundation launched a campaign called Mask On Africa, encouraging people to wear face masks.

Culverson’s adoptive family were deeply impressed by what she’d done in Bombay. Her father, James, a professor of neurobiology, told NBC in 2020, “Sarah was an outgoing, people-meeting one-year-old when we adopted her. She is still that same outgoing person who genuinely loves and enjoys almost everyone she meets, almost.

From her first visit to Sierra Leone to meet her father, she saw her princess role as one involving trying to find some way to help, James continued. “She certainly recognized her close connection to a family and chieftain and country. Her work to improve life there has demonstrated tremendous personal growth in many areas.

Culverson herself told NBC, “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this. I’m willing to do the work, whatever it takes.’ This nonprofit has brought all of us together in such a wonderful way. My birth father and I have done a lot of work together with the foundation, along with my brother.”

Yep, Culberson also got to meet her biological brother, Hindo Pessoa. There are still big things ahead for Culverson and both her families. The Disney corporation, always interested in princesses, read her story and secured the rights to it. A movie based on her book, “A Princess Found: An American Family, an African Chieftain, and the Daughter Who Connected Them All,” is set to be aired on Disney Plus in the near future.

And Culverson’s thrilled about the movie idea. She told CNN in June 2021 that she believed it would be a wonderful way for kids to learn about culture, adoption, and the power and impact of forgiveness. And having people get to know about different cultures that we don’t know about, like Sierra Leone.

But as you can no doubt tell, she’s definitely not the kind of princess who’s only there for the dresses. “The title of princess means responsibility,” she told Fox News. “It’s my responsibility to make sure our people are okay and our communities are operating in the best way possible. My adopted parents raised me as educators, so I grew up knowing the importance of always learning and growing. So, it’s now my duty to give back.

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