Like most kids before Christmas, 10 year-old Paul Fronczak was eager to learn what presents would be waiting for him under the tree. As he ducked into the crawlspace, he discovered boxes that had been tucked away towards the back. His anticipation grew as he began to peer into the boxes, imagination wild with what he might find. What he uncovered stored in those boxes was a family secret that would change his life forever.
On April 27, 1964, Dora Fronczak rested in her hospital room in Chicago next to her newborn son, Paul. A nurse entered the room and informed her that it was time to move the baby to the nursery (commonplace at the time), scooped up the baby, and left. A few hours later, a second nurse visited Dora’s room to take baby Paul to the nursery. Confusion turned to horror as a mother’s worst fear was realized: her newborn baby had been stolen.
Though the kidnapper had only a few hours to escape, they were never seen again, but authorities never stopped looking for baby Paul. A year later, a small toddler-aged boy was found abandoned outside of a store in New Jersey. DNA testing was not yet available, and blood tests were inconclusive. It was the shape of the child’s ears that caused authorities to believe the baby could be Paul Fronczak. The toddler was eventually sent to live with the Fronczaks in Chicago, and the case was considered closed.
It was this secret that 10-year-old Paul had uncovered that day in the crawlspace. As he took in the numerous cards, letters, and newspaper clippings displaying his name in large, bold headlines, he knew that he had uncovered something big.
Paul recounts that the conversation he had with his mother after discovering those headlines was quick, consisting of, “Don’t snoop around the house. How dare you do that! You were kidnapped, we found you, we love you. That’s it. Don’t talk about it again.”
Respecting his mother’s wishes, Paul kept his thoughts on what he’d found to himself, but he never stopped wondering. He says, “I didn’t look like my parents or my brother. I was drawn to things that I was never exposed to, like music and acting, and all these different things. All these traits of my personality that weren’t learned from the family. So, I did have questions. And the big question was, out of all the people in the world, how could I be found in Newark, New Jersey, and be a kidnapped child from Chicago years earlier? I just thought it was too big of a gamble that it could actually be true.”
A Journey Begins
Though Paul moved upwards of 50 times in his life, he kept those newspaper clippings with him, their words needling his curiosity. It wasn't until 2012, when commercial DNA testing became more popular, that Paul had the means to answer the questions that had been swirling in his mind for years.
Paul had been living in Las Vegas when his parents came to visit him. On a whim, he asked them to take a DNA test, and they agreed, though they had second thoughts the moment they returned home to Chicago. They called Paul, begging him not to submit the tests. Though he relented at the time, he did eventually submit the tests and they confirmed his suspicion: he was not his parents’ natural born son.
At first, Paul hesitated to tell his parents what he had found, but he felt immense gratitude to his parents for giving him a wonderful life. He wished to repay them by finding the son that had been taken from his mother’s arms. He wrote them a letter with the results so that they could read it at their own pace and process what he had written.
Unfortunately, they reacted with anger. “My parents weren’t really big on long conversations,” Paul recalls. “They were pretty much very, very, very angry that I did this. And instead of seeing the reason why I did it, they took it that I wanted to find better parents. And that I wasn’t happy with them. So it was anger. They called me a couple of names and hung up. We didn’t talk for almost 2 years.”
A Partnership Forms
Investigative Genetic Genealogist, CeCe Moore, says their reaction is not uncommon. “I’ve seen that in adoption a lot. Where, when the adoptee wants to search, sometimes the adoptive family takes that as a type of rejection, and it’s never that. It’s always just the self-identity questions. It’s certainly not trying to replace parents, but I think it’s not that uncommon that there’s this type of reaction.”
CeCe got her start in genealogy as a hobbyist. “[I have] always loved genetics. So, when I discovered that DNA was being used for the purpose of learning more about your family tree and your heritage, that was a great marriage of two of my interests. When 23andMe introduced autosomal DNA for genealogy, I just saw that there was a huge potential. That we’d be able to do incredible things with that. So, I dropped everything else that I was doing, jumped in with both feet, tested about 40 of my family members.”
Investigative Genetic Genealogist, CeCe Moore
The testing of her family members led to the creation of a blog, where she shared the data she found, the family comparisons she discovered, and the real data that hadn’t been available up to that point. As her blog grew in popularity, she became more and more involved in the genetic community, and what began as volunteer work led to her becoming the first person with the title of Professional Genetic Genealogist.
It was readers of her blog that first introduced CeCe to Paul’s unique case. “It really was a wide, wide open field at that point, and people started asking me if I could help with their family mysteries,” she remembers. “So, although it was early on when I first heard about Paul’s story, enough time had passed that people began sending me interesting stories and asked if I could help him.”
After doing research into her own family, CeCe knew that she could. She reached out to him on his Facebook page to offer assistance, but at the time, Paul’s focus was on working with a local reporter to get his story out in the media. It worked, and he was inundated with messages from people sending tips, information, and potential leads. Unfortunately, CeCe’s note slipped through the cracks.
A year later, the television show 20/20 became interested in airing an episode on Paul’s case. Having worked with CeCe previously, they asked her if she would be willing to help, which, of course, she was. 20/20’s producers told CeCe that they’d already located Paul’s second cousin through the databases, so they envisioned the case would be solved quickly, in time to air the following month.
Unraveling the Mystery
CeCe began researching Paul’s second cousin and immediately hit a roadblock. His second cousin had been adopted, and without his family tree, it was impossible to figure out Paul’s true identity. Paul’s remaining top matches were Ashkenazi Jewish, and were not as closely related as they originally appeared. While they looked to be third cousins, CeCe explains they may have been fifth cousins eight times over, which meant starting over.
The first step was to upload Paul’s DNA to all three databases that were available at the time (Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTree DNA). CeCe points out that the databases were much smaller at the time than they are now, with less than a million people in all three combined. The next step was for Paul to have Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing done. With testing completed, CeCe examined Paul’s ancestral origins. She noted that he has a unique combination of ancestral lines containing Jewish, Southern European, and Northern European roots.
Paul’s case was one of her most difficult to unravel. After working on her own for several months, CeCe later enlisted a team of volunteers to help, including Carol Rolnick, Michelle Trostler, and Allison Demsky. Altogether, over two years was spent pouring through Paul’s family tree.
CeCe notes, “We were dealing with the endogamy of the Ashkenazi Jewish population. We were dealing with the lack of representation on the Southern European branch of his family tree, which turned out to be Italian. And then even with our Northern European matches, we had a challenge, because they were from a small town in Tennessee, and we were dealing with extreme pedigree collapse. These founding families of that town intermarried over and over and over again. So, we were dealing with two different population groups where we had to reassess the matches and figure out is this really a third cousin, or is this a fourth cousin twice removed and also a fifth cousin.” Still, CeCe points to the power of databases today, stating, “We could probably solve this case now in a matter of days.”
A Name Revealed, but Another Mystery Begins
Paul was at work when he received a text from CeCe that read, “You need to call me. It’s important.” When the call connected, she said, “Well, the whole team’s here. What do you think of the name Jack?”
Paul thought for a moment and then responded, “That’s a good name. It’s a strong name.”
CeCe replied, “That’s your name.” Before Paul could process this, she continued, “You had a twin sister, but she’s missing.”
The team had solved one mystery but had uncovered another in the process. According to CeCe, “As often is the case in these types of searches, we’ll answer one question, but we’ll open up a whole other list of questions or a whole other mystery. I had to admit that it was a shock to realize he had a missing twin and that they were named Jack and Jill. And that he was 6 months older than he believed himself to be. It was one difficult surprise after another when we were finally at the end of that part of the search.” Though they pulled newspaper records from the time when Paul was first found to see if they could locate another foundling on the east coast, their search came up empty.
While Paul’s twin remains missing, his Facebook page once again played a vital role in propelling his story forward. A tipster wrote about a man in Michigan who could possibly be the real Paul Fronczak. Comparing DNA from one of Paul’s cousins to a woman who was potentially the real Paul’s daughter allowed CeCe to confirm that they had located him after all these years.
Watch the full interview with Paul and CeCe!
In this interview, Ann MacPhetridge (Promega) speaks with both Paul and CeCe to learn more about the case, including what it was like for Paul and his family to navigate these revelations, challenges in discovering his true identity, and what is next for both of them.
Looking to the Future
While genetic genealogy continues to be a powerful tool for those looking to answer questions about their identity and law enforcement solving cold cases, it is not without its critics. Last year, at the 30th International Symposium on Human Identification, the Department of Justice announced new interim policies on genetic genealogy. While CeCe says cases involving a living person who uploads their DNA to various databases will not likely be impacted, she could see how law enforcement may be limited in the future by additional legislation.
To that end, she has made it her mission to educate both the public and law makers about how genetic genealogy plays a role in criminal cases. Her new television show, The Genetic Detective, is set to launch on the ABC network on May 26th.
Each episode will feature what CeCe calls her “monologue” where she will describe how the suspect was identified. She says, “For those who are interested in knowing all the details, it should give them a lot better idea of what type of information we’re using and what we’re not using. Once I’ve gone through the matches, I really don’t go back to the DNA much. Once I know how much they share, and I predict what that relationship would be, I’m not delving into the genetics. I’m turning to that family tree immediately, and I’m looking for information to construct that family tree both backward and forward. That takes public records. That takes obituaries. That takes newspapers, and social media, and census records.”
As for Paul, while has been working to solve his own mystery, he has also been helping others around the world through his website (www.foundlingpaul.com). Paul says one of the most positive outcomes has been the people who write to him saying he inspired them to start their own journey. “To me, that’s what it’s all about. If we can help someone else live a better life, then I feel like I’m doing my job. You have to live your true life, and if you’re living a lie, you’re not living at all.”
When Paul is not working his case, he enjoys getting out on his motorcyle. He's been riding since the 80’s, starting with a Yamaha 650 Special, and then moving on to BMW’s and Harley’s. Some of his favorite places to ride are the Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas.
He says, "Whenever I come across a roadblock in my case, I just jump on my bike and ride. There’s something undefined when you’re on the road; just you, the bike, and RUSH on the sound system ... it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey. It clears my head and I almost always come back home with a plan, solution, or my next move."
To those who are in a similar situation and may be looking for a lost family member, CeCe recommends uploading their DNA profiles to the consumer databases and waiting. “It’s really just fishing. You have no way of knowing whether that person will ever take a test or their children or grandchildren. But it’s always a possibility.”
CeCe has also created a Facebook group called DNA Detectives for those looking to answer questions about their identities. With over 130,000 members, she describes it as, “a place where people can join to ask questions and get guidance.” She continues, “It’s really inspiring to see all the amazing stories. We worked really hard for a number of years without a whole lot of successes. Now, you can scroll through the group’s feed all day long, and you can see picture after picture of family reunions. And, of course, not everything turns out perfectly. Not every family welcomes a new member with open arms, but we see an incredible number that do, and in the vast majority of cases, at least one member of that family will want to connect. But, even if they don’t, the fulfillment of getting answers, and just knowing they have that closure is also really powerful.”
Paul and his daughter
Paul agrees, saying that even his mother has come around and is now glad that he began this journey. He muses, “Around all these tragedies, the miracle is my family’s really strong, and we’re back together. That’s really all that anybody can hope for, right? Because family’s the most important thing.”
Paul’s passion to continue his own investigation has yet to subside, and he plans to continue searching for his missing twin sister and to one day track down the individual who stole the real Paul Fronczak from the hospital. He says, “This has been my motto: leave no stone unturned. If you have any questions or doubts about your life, or where you are, or your identity, start knocking on doors, start asking the tough questions, and don’t let anybody else tell you that you can’t do it, because I’m living proof that you can do whatever you want to do if you’re tenacious. Don’t give up, and just be prepared for anything.”
Paul and CeCe will be delivering the keynote address at the 31st International Symposium on Human Identification this September. Be sure to secure your registration, because Paul’s story is nowhere near done, and you’ll definitely want to hear what comes next.