The door was open and a “frail little voice” called out for the brothers to come inside.
Sitting in a medical lifting chair was their mother, a woman in her late 80s who Martin Hauser had never known.
After 30 years searching for his biological family, Hauser, 59, finally got to meet his birth mother just a day after meeting his brother for the first time. It’s been a week since the emotional moment and the family is starting to mend old wounds.
“Not only did I come to North Carolina to see my brother for the very first time, I met my birth mother, which was totally unexpected,” Hauser told CNN this week. “Every experience we’ve had has been a blessing, has been a goose pimples, hair-raising experience of what we’ve been going through.”
DNA tests and dead ends
The journey to get here wasn’t an easy one for Hauser, who was adopted months after he was born in 1962 in North Carolina.
Hauser and his sister were told they were adopted at a young age – Hauser was adopted in Greensboro. He said his adoptive mother, who lives in Georgia with his adoptive sister, always encouraged him to find his birth family.
Hauser, a resident of Mesa, Arizona, spent his childhood in Greensboro before going to junior high school in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He and his adoptive mother moved to Tucson, Arizona, after his parents divorced.
He had to overcome obstacles as he tried to learn about his biological family.
Adoption records are closed and sealed in North Carolina. He requested family medical information from Guilford County’s child services department when he started having his own children in the early 1990s, he said. No identifying information could be released at that time.
Hauser said a social worker wrote a letter in 1962 explaining why Hauser was put up for adoption. The letter was given to him in the 1990s when he requested non-identifying information about his birth parents to learn basic things such as their ages and health history. The letter said his biological mother could not support the child without financial assistance from the father, who she said refused to do so.
The search picked up pace in 2017, when Hauser took his first DNA test. He started building out his family tree with the help of a volunteer he connected with through a North Carolina adoption search Facebook group. She spent months looking through his DNA test results, birth certificates, US Census records and more.
Hauser’s family tree search ended with a name of a woman, her birth year and a line to a baby, Hauser said. He knew that could be the name of his mother, whose birth year matched the year listed in the non-identifying information he received.
Hauser said he kept hitting dead ends until 2019, when he heard about a change in the state law. A measure passed in 2008 allowed for independent parties to serve as a confidential intermediary if a birth parent or an adoptee wanted to do a search.
In November 2019, he started working with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina to initiate the search for his birth parents. The organization would not comment to CNN on Hauser’s birth search.
While his birth mother did not reply to multiple efforts to contact her, according to Hauser, he had a breakthrough in December 2020.
The organization found his biological father’s death certificate, he said. His biological father passed away in 2008 and listed next of kin was his son, Joseph B. Shaw Jr. The brothers did not know how long the couple was together.
“It took me 15 minutes to find my younger brother on Facebook,” Hauser said. “I sent him a message that day, short little message, explaining who I am and who I am to him, and we have the same father and to call me.”
A couple weeks went by and on January 7, Shaw responded with his phone number. Shaw lives in Westfield, North Carolina, and has lived in the state for his whole life.
“The first question he asked me was, ‘Do you know who your mama was?” Hauser said. He read the name on his family tree and the hunch paid off.
“That’s my mama,’ his brother replied.
“So right then and there, we realized we had the same mother and father – we’re full-blooded brothers,” Hauser said. “We talked for three hours and then we had to take a break to tell our families what was going on.”
Shaw took a DNA test and weeks later, the results made it official: They were 100% brothers.
CNN is not naming the birth mother to protect her privacy.
The wedding brought the family tree together
Ever since, the brothers have been talking daily or texting. The more they talked, the more they realized they had in common.
Their father was a mechanic for the Ford Motor Company. The brothers are good with their hands – Shaw as a contractor and Hauser as a computer tech.
“We started to talk about how we do things and he does things the same way,” said Joseph B. Shaw Jr., who goes by Joe. “We are very mechanically inclined. He uses his hands a lot and I just knew.”
Soon Shaw told Hauser that he was engaged and would be getting married. Hauser and his wife, as well as some of their children and grandchildren, came to the April 25 wedding to meet the family.
Hauser and Shaw, 58, hugged in an emotional meeting at the airport in Greensboro two days before the wedding.
“We hugged and we kissed our cheeks and we cried on each other’s shoulder,” Hauser said. “My little brother is 6’4” and I’m 5’11”, so he rubbed me on the head and he asked me if it was good to be home in North Carolina. I said yes.”
In the moment that was just for the two brothers, Hauser wore a shirt that said “Big Brother Finally!”
“All these years, I never knew I had a brother,” Shaw told CNN. “It was very emotional. So many things going through my head and just trying to convey what was going on because it was the weekend I was getting married.”
The family tree came together last weekend when Hauser met numerous cousins and other family members at Shaw’s wedding. The brothers had their mother at the wedding, too.
“No one knew I existed because no one told them I existed. My mom told nobody. My dad told nobody,” Hauser said. “And if it wasn’t for the law changing in North Carolina and for me able to get my daddy’s death certificate, I wouldn’t be able to put the rest of my life’s puzzle pieces together.”
For Shaw, meeting his brother, getting married and having both families meet was overwhelming, he said. The wedding in Westfield was perfect and he said he felt like he already knew Hauser’s children and grandchildren, even though he was meeting them for the first time.
“I felt so blessed that he was able to be here,” Shaw said. “The only thing that bothers me was … I wish that it happened a whole lot earlier. I do have a brother now. It feels great to have one because I’m just not used to that.”
The brothers visited some more before Hauser’s flight home. They plan to reunite in Arizona.
“If our dad had still been alive, none of this would have happened,” Hauser said. “It was the death certificate that was that link.”
A surprise reunion
When Shaw was just 3 months old, his parents left him with his paternal grandmother, who lived 20 miles away. His grandmother raised him on her own and he called her his mother, he said.
“I didn’t have a real good beginning with (my mother),” Shaw said.
Before last weekend, Shaw last saw his mother 13 years ago when he helped her move from Florida to her home state of North Carolina, he said.
On the day before Shaw’s wedding, he insisted on taking Hauser out to their mother’s house.
“When we got to her house, she told me how much she loved me. She said love is not a big enough word for what has just happened,” Hauser said.
Hauser said his mother confirmed he was born in Charlotte and that she lived in a girl’s home for unwed women.
“Mama, who named me Jonathan?’” Hauser asked his birth mother. “‘Well, I did,’” he said she told him. Jonathan was renamed Martin Hauser when he was adopted.
When asked what it was like giving up Jonathan for adoption, his mother told CNN by phone that she never believed in adoption, but it was what she had to do.
“His father, well, was mean and never give me no money for him,” the mother said. “I was sick. I was in and out of the hospital about that time. I could not raise the boy. I was not able. My mother just said, ‘You can’t raise that young’un.’”
When asked about why she gave up Joey, who was born a year after his brother, to his paternal grandmother, she mentioned being born with a heart condition.
Hauser said he told his mother that it was OK when she apologized for putting him up for adoption. “You don’t have to apologize. You gave me a wonderful life,” he told her.
“I figured I would never get to meet (Jonathan) but that was God’s work to put us together,” their mother told CNN.
His mother said she would go see Shaw when he was a boy when she could.
“She even apologized,” Shaw said of her leaving him. “She said she just had to do what she just had to do.”
After the reunion, the mother said: “I was so happy, I cried.”
While Hauser is just starting to get to know his birth family, the experience has inspired him to take on another mission in life.
“I want to help other people in North Carolina help find their birth parents or siblings or their children they adopted out, because I don’t want someone to spend 30 years looking for them,” Hauser said.