How a New Zealander found his Russian birth parents – and now helps others too
The 2018 FIFA World Cup isn't the only reason this man travelled to the Motherland. Born in Russia and raised in New Zealand Alex Gilbert documented his trip home to find his birth parents and is now helping others to do the same.
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Growing up, Alex Gilbert had always known he was adopted. His parents Mark and Janice Gilbert were honest with both Alex and Andrei (the Gilberts' other adopted son) about the fact that they were once orphans.

At the age of 2, the boys were chosen by the Gilberts from among 23 others at an orphanage in the Russian city Arkhangelsk.

"They've always said... you two have been adopted. They told us since I could remember," Alex said. 

But unlike Andrei, Alex wanted to know about his family roots. 

"As I was growing up I was always curious to know where I was from before I was adopted and who are my birth parents."

Using the information he had about his life before his adoption, which included a passport, the name of his biological mother and the address of the orphanage in Arkhangelsk, Alex used Facebook to track down his birth mom. 

Social media detective

It wasn't long before he had a lead. "This lady goes... 'This is definitely your birth mom, she moved to Rybinsk after you were born.' And it was great, it was like opening a door." 

Alex contacted birth mom Tatiana, speaking to her for the very first time on her 40th birthday, and the two arranged to meet. 

"I think she was very shocked. She was quite emotional about it, she probably never [expected] her son to track her down."

He was still on record as a Russian citizen, and all Russian males between the ages of 18 and 27 are required by law to serve in the army for a maximum of 1 year. But in 2013, risking conscription – and rejection – the 21-year-old travelled over 10 000km to meet his biological mother in Rybinsk. 

"I had a sleepless night just thinking about it... if I get into the airport and they're like, 'Right, you got to come with us'... What do I say to my mom and dad?" 

Finding answers

When they met, Alex learned that Tatiana was 18 when she had him, has had no other children since, and was herself raised in an orphanage. 

She also revealed her pregnancy had not been planned and that his father – then a soldier – had never known about him. "They just met, I think it was just a one-day sort of thing, they didn't even go out." 

Alex also found out why he was given up for adoption. "She said it was the norm... the thing to do. In the situation they were in at the time it wouldn't have been easy." 

Tatiana also told Alex she's made contact with his biological father, Mihail, who lives in St. Petersburg, and gave him his contact details. 

A father, a half-sister and a step mom

In St. Petersburg, Alex met Mihail, Liana, Mihail's wife, and their baby, Sophia, Alex's half-sister. 

"We bonded right away... he's a lot like me, he just speaks Russian." 

Mihail (or Misha, as Alex calls him) admits that he was sure that he was being pranked. And had he known of his birth, he would've raised Alex himself.

Visiting his Russian family remains a regular occurrence for Alex, who spent most of July 2018 in his birth country. 

Helping others

The experience of searching for and finding his blood family has been so impactful that Alex has created a website where others like him could do the same, equipping adoptees from around the world with the same tools he used to reconnect. 

I’m Adopted is a free platform where adoptees can share their stories and information about their past that could help track down lost relatives. I'm Adopted also has a Facebook page which is another way the team provides free assistance and guidance to reconnect families. 

Watch the full emotional story below: 

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