She turned to a search consultant, one of a small cadre of people who conduct searches based on the shreds of information available to birth parents and adoptees. Like private investigators, search consultants use public records such as marriage, death and birth certificates; property records; probate information; old phone books, and city directories to find a child or parent. They talk to neighbors, employers and colleagues to find a family that has moved.
Critical to a search is ascertaining the child's new first and last name, said Cathy Wolfe, who is certified as a search consultant by Independent Search Consultants, a nonprofit corporation based in Costa Mesa. The rest is creative thinking and a bit of luck, she said.
"Luck has a lot to do with it. You can be knowledgeable in search and you can be creative in search, but sometimes it's just being lucky enough to say, 'This is where we have to go now,' " said Wolfe, who did not conduct Roberts' search.
Birth parent organizations and search consultants are reluctant to disclose specific details about their methods, fearing that authorities may restrict access to the records still available. Birth certificates, which are amended and sealed upon completion of the adoption, are particularly difficult for them to get. But some public agencies and private sources are helpful, they said.
Children and adults can also find each other through a computer registry in Carson City, Nev., and one kept by the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Assn. in New York, which was founded in 1971 by Florence Anna Fisher, an adoptee who spent years looking before finding her natural mother. With 600,000 names in its registry, the association has arranged nearly 22,000 reunions, Fisher said.
Roberts will say only that a first search consultant, to whom she paid $250, turned up nothing. But a second one, to whom she paid $300, returned with her daughter's name and location. Regina Martinez, age 18, lived in Oceanside.
Roberts' elation was uncontrolled.
"Here she is an hour away from me!" she exclaimed. "She's not in New York. She's not in Florida. She's an hour away from me. . . . It was incredible, the thought she was right there."
Roberts planned to wait. She planned to think about the havoc she might raise when she contacted Gina. She planned to write a thoughtful letter to Gina's parents in an attempt to start out right.
Call a Revelation
Instead she waited five minutes and picked up the telephone to call Gina's parents. Saying she was an old school friend, Roberts learned that Gina was living in her own apartment and working in an Oceanside deli. She picked up the phone and dialed her work number.
The call shattered Gina Martinez's world. Her parents had not told her that she was adopted.
"I couldn't believe it," Martinez said. "I was hysterical on the phone. I was screaming and crying on the phone."
Roberts acknowledges that "I just really blew it when I did this." She fabricated an excuse, telling Gina that she must have made a mistake. Maybe it's my mother you want, Gina responded. She knew that her mother had been adopted.
But in reality, this was not the first time the thought of adoption had crossed Gina's mind.
"I had thought a lot about it growing up," she said. "I didn't look like anybody in the family. People in school would ask you if you were adopted."
But she had never pursued the issue. "It was a happy home," she said. "They loved us all the same."
Roberts called Gina's mother, who at first denied the adoption, Roberts said. Later, she said she would discuss the matter with her husband and get back to Roberts, Roberts said.
"I'm so naive. I waited," Roberts said. "I waited to be arrested. I saw myself doing time in prison" for violating the agreement not to search for Gina.
When she had waited long enough, Roberts began to write letters to her daughter in care of the Martinez home. She wasn't sure they were getting through, but she kept sending them. Finally, she did get a Christmas card to Gina. Gina called the next day, and they had a long conversation on the phone.
"It was like talking to someone I've known all my life," Roberts said. "This was only the second time I'd heard her voice. She sounds like me. She thinks like me. And I'd never even seen her.
"I'm walking on a cloud, thinking, 'I've always known this child.' You may have put all these years between us. I may not have raised her. But she's definitely my daughter."
Roberts went out and bought her daughter a Christmas card for every one of the years they had been separated.
Gina said: "Later on, I started realizing it was true, piece by piece. I talked to my cousins and they started to say it is true." She confronted her parents, who told her the truth.
"I felt like I didn't know who I was," she said. "I felt, gosh, I'm a part of somebody I don't even know. I was angry. I just rebelled against everything."