Tim Thornton is an adoptee, and identifies as a Korean-American adoptee (KAD). After becoming more curious about his Korean heritage, he discovered he was eligible for South Korean citizenship and decided to apply at the Seattle Embassy. The Universal Asian spoke to Tim to learn more about his KAD story, his experience applying for citizenship, and how he got in touch with his Korean roots.
Tim’s origin story begins in 1953 when he was born as a Korean war orphan, who was adopted at 5 ½ years old to parents in Washington. It was here that he grew up in what Tim calls a “white bubble.” As a result, he said, “Most of my whole life, I didn’t really have any curiosity about my Korean roots because, looking back, a lot of it was because I thought I would never know.” It wasn’t until he was in his late 40s that he became curious and “tried to contact the orphanage in Seoul.” The orphanage revealed that all of Tim’s records were given to his adoptive parents, and so he stopped pursuing his journey to find out more about his Korean heritage.
However, it was when his wife encouraged him to get a DNA test that he decided to have another go at seeking his Korean roots. “The DNA results didn’t show anything on my Korean side, but they did find my biological father, who passed away about 10 years ago,” Tim shared. From there, he discovered that he has six biological sisters on his father’s side, living on the East coast. “We’re all pretty close now. We have a lot of chats and FaceTimes and other ways to talk, and we visited them,” he said.
While he is happy to have met his biological sisters, he still holds, what he calls “this really strong desire that just keeps snowballing” to find more information about his Korean heritage. This strong passion of his started when he joined the Air Force at 23. Being stationed in the Philippines meant he often saw military personnel and their families from Thailand, Japan, and Korea, which enabled him to get to “know more and more [about] Asian culture from that.” His desire to tune into his Asian roots grows “stronger [with] the more information I get, the more excited I get about trying to find the rest of the story.”
This led to Tim finding out about South Korean citizenship, which he learned about from various Korean Adoptee Facebook groups. “[I saw] some links to stories, so I started following the stories. Then, I started researching myself, and then I contacted the Korean consulate,” he explained. For many, this may be a daunting process, yet for Tim it was the opposite. He said, “It’s not near as complicated as I thought [it would be].” Instead, the hardest part was “getting somebody to get the papers supplied translated into Korean.” Otherwise, this is something that Tim encourages other adoptees to pursue in the hopes that it may help them to get in touch with their Korean roots. He tries to “encourage the ones that are thinking about going [to Korea]. Sometimes it’s good just to get the information and know, because parents at my age level or generation aren’t around forever.”
While he recognizes that not everyone wants to pursue their background, for those that do, he shared: “You have a clock that you might regret later if you waited too long,” and he encourages folk to use different resources to find out about their heritage. For Tim, Facebook groups have served as a lifeline for him to find a lead in regards to his family. Networking with other adoptees so that they can share their stories and give advice to each other has also helped him, which is something he didn’t always have. “I would say there was [a] lack of support for me growing up, [but] with the addition of social media…it’s helped a lot because the Facebook group is how I connected with 325KAMRA,” he said.
325KAMRA (Korean American Mixed Race Adoptees) is an organization that helps adoptees search for their families through DNA tests, which is something Tim used to help him find his biological siblings. The organization has also been instrumental in highlighting KAD stories, as Tim was part of a book by 325KAMRA that sheds light on adoptees. “I helped just write my story only, and then we had people that were brought together in that book,” he explained. Tim contributed to "Together At Last: Stories of Adoption and Reunion in the Age of DNA" so that he could “give back, because [325KAMRA] were so instrumental in helping me find everything I never would have done without them,” and is happy to be a part of the book.
Though he has been able to find some of his biological family, he is still keen to search for his Korean mother, which he has a lead on. A friend of Tim’s took his records back to Korea who, via various online genealogy groups, was able to reach out to various members of the Woo clans and one of them said, “He [Tim] is one of ours.” Excited that he may have a paper trail of his family, Tim hopes to pursue that by visiting Korea in October.
Tim will collaborating with us in the event "Korean Citizenship Restoration with Tim Thornton" that will be held on May 26, 2021. Click here for details to register to join this free event.