published Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Hicks babies: The hunt for mom goes on with DNA collection set for today in Ducktown

Diane Conrad, left to right, Cyndy Stapleton, Bill Palmisano, and Melinda Elkins Dawson sit for a portrait in North Canton, Ohio, in this June 16, 2014 photo. A northern Georgia doctor running off-the-books adoptions in the 1950s and ’60s placed infants with out-of-state parents who paid hundreds of dollars and were listed on records as the children’s real parents.
Diane Conrad, left to right, Cyndy Stapleton, Bill Palmisano, and Melinda Elkins Dawson sit for a portrait in North Canton, Ohio, in this June 16, 2014 photo. A northern Georgia doctor running off-the-books adoptions in the 1950s and ’60s placed infants with out-of-state parents who paid hundreds of dollars and were listed on records as the children’s real parents.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: DNA collection to match "Hicks Babies" with their biological parents

Where: Ocoee River Inn in Ducktown, Tenn.

When: DNA will be collected between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Fifty years ago they were sold and scattered across the country by a North Georgia doctor, but today the "Hicks Babies" are coming together not far from where they were born to collect DNA they hope will link them to their lost families.

"This is our last chance," said Paul Payne, a Hixson resident who is one of more than 200 newborns illegally adopted from a McCaysville, Ga., clinic in the 1950s and 1960s.

Women from across the region came to the well-respected Thomas Hicks, who ran the McCaysville clinic 70 miles east of Chattanooga, to discreetly hand off their babies. Some were college women from Chattanooga and Atlanta. Some were rich and prominent. Some were poor or in complicated situations. Many wanted to avoid the taboo of pregnancy outside marriage.

The adoptive parents came from all over, especially from Ohio, where word spread among rubber workers that babies could be bought for between $100 and $1,000, no questions asked.

Records show that when Hicks gave the babies to their new parents, he lied on the children's birth certificates, naming the adoptive parents as the birth parents and making the identities of the true parents impossible to find among official records. Hicks died in 1972, and everyone who worked at the clinic also has died. His one surviving daughter lives in seclusion in North Carolina.

Without DNA samples from birth mothers or the mothers' family members, most of the "Hicks Babies" have never found their biological families. Only a handful of matches have been made since the story of the black-market adoptions broke in the late 1990s.

But today, several adoptees will travel to a Ducktown, Tenn., hotel to give cheek-swabs in their first attempt at a mass DNA collection in the region. They hope locals and those from surrounding areas will come forward to participate and say they have no judgment for the mothers who chose to put them up for adoption.

Payne said he isn't looking for a relationship with a new family. He loves his adoptive parents. He simply wants to know where he comes from.

Melinda Elkins Dawson, an adoptee who is organizing the DNA collection and working with an Ohio-based DNA diagnostic center, told The Associated Press she doesn't want anyone to look bad.

"We're just trying to get some answers," she said. "Every adopted child has questions. We deserve some answers."

Many of the mothers and fathers would be in their 80s and 90s today, Payne said.

So time is running out.

Contact staff writer Joan McClane at jmcclane@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.

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