Social media helped a Sacramento area resident find her birth family, and now, it has turned Courtney Hardy, 27, into something of a minor cybercelebrity.
Hardy, an account executive at Fox40 (KTXL), recently published an online post about tracking down her birth parents. Carried by The Huffington Post and Facebook Stories, the written narrative has prompted massive reader response.
According to Facebook officials, the post has been a popular post on its one-year-old Facebook Stories site.
"I don't know how people are seeing this story," Hardy said. "I just thought it would be something fun for my friends to see."
Hardy said she first discovered she was adopted 12 years ago following a particularly memorable biology lesson at Folsom High School.
The first day back from winter break, her sophomore-year science teacher was teaching genetics and used eye color to illustrate the properties of dominant and recessive genes, Hardy said.
"She said that with two blue-eyed parents, it would be very, very rare for them to ever have a brown-eyed child," Hardy said.
The statement had a particular resonance for Hardy, who has brown eyes. Both of her assumed-to-be-birth parents, however, have blue eyes.
Hardy said she related this seemingly humorous classroom anecdote to the parents who had raised her since birth.
Hardy's parents then proceeded to tell her that she had, in fact, been adopted.
After having a "little 20-minute teen reaction," which included escaping to her bedroom, Hardy said she came back downstairs and discussed the news with her adoptive parents.
"They told me everything that they knew and said they were never going to lie to me if I asked them like I did that day," she said.
In her Facebook story, she wrote: "My parents only had limited information about my birth family. They knew that my birth mother was Wanda Gardner, and that I had brothers living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The decision that I'd be given up for adoption was made a few weeks before I was born, and my adoptive parents were there waiting at the hospital. They named me. Their names are on my birth certificate. I am their daughter."
It was seven years later that Hardy first launched the search for her birth parents.
Hardy said she got the idea to track down her birth family while waiting tables at a Black Angus restaurant in Folsom.
At work, she happened to come across a government worker, who told her she could write to the state and receive information about her biological family. Hardy did so, but she said the result was non-identifying background information.
Believing that she would have to hire a private investigator if she wanted to connect with her birth family, Hardy said, she decided to postpone the search.
Two years later, a friend brought up the idea of looking up people's names on an online public records database.
Hardy ran a search on the name she had for her birth mother, and learned Wanda Gardner preferred to go by her maiden name, Wende Moten. By searching with this name on Facebook, Hardy was able to locate a birth relative, Sarah McIlroy, who was then 18 years old.
Hardy said she immediately sent McIlroy a Facebook message explaining the situation.
"I literally did the Macaulay Culkin jaw drop, hands on my face, in total shock," McIlroy said.
McIlroy responded less than an hour later with the simple message, 'What's your number?' "
Hardy spoke over the phone with McIlroy that night,and with her birth mother the following night.
Two months later, in January 2011, Hardy flew down to San Diego and saw her birth mother's family in person.
In her Facebook story, Hardy wrote that her birth mother explained she wasn't in a stable period in her life when she gave her up for adoption, and that her birth father never knew about the pregnancy.
In February 2011, Hardy was able to locate her birth father, Emmanuel Cullen, in Ireland. A 12-day trip to the Emerald Isle went so well that Hardy decided to live there for roughly four months last fall.
Hardy said that while across the pond, she met a friend, a Facebook employee, who encouraged her to share her story.
"It was something that I always wanted to write down anyway," she said.
Hardy never anticipated the blog post would attract such a large following.
She admits that having the story go viral has had some downside. Commenters, for example, have criticized her adoptive parents - who were supportive of her search efforts.
"I don't look at it as a negative thing that they didn't tell me that I was adopted until I was older at all," Hardy said. "My relationship with the parents who raised me is the exact same it was before, if not better."
She added that there have also been benefits to having her story reach a large audience: Hardy will be helping a former classmate find her birth father.
Hardy said she has no plans of making money from her story but joked she wouldn't decline an invitation to appear on the "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
"I don't know if she will have me, but I would totally love to meet Ellen," she said.
Call The Bee's Kurt Chirbas, (916) 321-1030.