How a nonprofit that reunites Korean adoptees helped a Frisco woman trace her roots – The Dallas Morning News


The black and white photo of a baby girl laying in a bed was the only image Linda Papi Rounds had of her earliest years.

Sometimes she doubted its authenticity and wondered whether she was the baby in the faded, crinkled picture.

“It didn’t even look like me,” Rounds said.

When she was about 30, Rounds was getting ready to start a family of her own when she found out why she only had one baby photo. Days after returning from her honeymoon, Rounds said she and her mother got into a fight. It ended with her mother telling her she was adopted.

While the discovery fractured her understanding of who she was, it sent Rounds, now 57, on a quest to find her birth parents and learn about her origins.

A photo of Linda Papi Rounds as a baby in the 1960s when she was in Korea, before she was adopted at 18 months.

For half her life, Rounds was unaware that she was one of more than a hundred thousand adopted Korean children who came to the U.S. since the 1950s.

Born in 1964, Rounds was adopted when she was about 18 months old.

“What actually went through my head was that I could never find my family,” Rounds said. “I didn’t have any names. I didn’t have any paperwork.”

Today, Rounds is president of 325KAMRA, a nonprofit dedicated to reuniting Korean adoptees with their birth families. The group offers free DNA test kits to anyone of Korean descent, as well as Korean War-era veterans and their families in order to develop a database and find potential matches. The organization also has a team of volunteers who help conduct genealogy research, Rounds said.

Though the organization was founded in California in 2015, members in Dallas-Fort Worth are fostering connections between adoptees and the area’s Korean community.

From left, Susie Hankinson, Bob Beideck, Cathy Pitt, Linda Rounds, Tamara Strickley, Mee-yung Woo and Mikki Brown, who are all members of 325KAMRA, during a reunion in Carrollton, TX on Saturday, July 24, 2021. (Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

More than 300 families in Korea have joined 325KAMRA’s database, Rounds said, adding that some have no records of their children.

About 41,000 people of Korean descent live in Dallas-Fort Worth, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center estimate, making it one of country’s top metropolitan areas for that population. The South Korean consulate in Dallas estimates that number is closer to 100,000.

Dallas-Fort Worth’s Korean community makes it an ideal place for the nonprofit to expand its database, Rounds said, giving Korean adoptees who are looking for their birth families a better chance to reconnect with their roots.

“The culture part is really important,” said Rounds, of Frisco. “Some of us are being adopted into the middle of Texas, and there might not be people who are Korean in the area. There is a desire to know more of your history and culture.”

Susie Hankinson described her adoptive parents as wonderful people who went out of their way to ensure that she and her siblings — also adopted — didn’t feel different from other children. But she said that, like many other adoptees, she wanted to know more about her history.

“We did not have a beginning,” she said. “Our beginning started when we were adopted; we don’t know our father, we don’t know our mother. Those of us who are adopted from Korea, we’re still looking for a beginning.”

One week after she submitted a DNA sample to 325KAMRA, Hankinson said, she was contacted about a potential match. Although she was not able to meet her birth father, who died, Hankinson said the feeling of knowing where she came from granted her a strong sense of belonging.

“I have a beginning now,” she said.

The yearning to learn their family history is a desire that brings many adoptees together, Rounds said.

When her adoptive mother died in 2015, Rounds confirmed through DNA tests that the parents who raised her were not biologically related to her. The tests seeded a curiosity in Rounds about her family history.

Rounds, who said she had been treated for breast cancer, also wanted to know more about pertinent medical history.

“It just opened up an entire new outlook — a new world,” Rounds said. “I wondered if someone was looking for me. I wondered if I could find them. I wondered if they could give me more details.”

Rounds said she would stay up until 3 a.m. scouring the internet for resources and services for Korean adoptees. She came across 325KAMRA through social media, and in 2017 started taking more leadership roles in the organization.

That year, Rounds also participated in a tour of Korea with 25 other adoptees. It was the first time that she had set foot in the country since she was adopted.

Rounds remembered how silly she felt as she visited different orphanages, asking if they recognized the child in her black-and-white baby photo.

She also recalled how the group’s members bonded through their shared experiences as Korean adoptees.

“It had not occurred to me exactly how many other people like me there were,” Rounds said. “We’re all different, but at some level can understand each other because we’re Korean adoptees.”

By then, Rounds was several years into her search and her hopes of finding her birth parents started fading. She reached a breaking point in early 2018.

“I thought that God didn’t want me to find my real parents,” Rounds said.

About 110,000 children have been adopted from the East Asian nation and resettled in the U.S. since the 1950s, said Bumguen Cho, a South Korean consul based in Dallas. Hundreds of thousands more have been adopted overseas to different countries, according to some estimates.

The local Korean consular office has its own DNA matching program, he said, but works with 325KAMRA to reach out to the community because they share the mission of helping adoptees who want to find their parents or learn more about Korean culture.

“The Korean government and community are concerned for their wellbeing and want to share Korean culture with the adoptees if they desire to do so,” Cho said.

The first wave of adoptees came to the U.S. in the years immediately following the start of the Korean War in 1950 and the armistice reached three years later.

Some have said a wave of Korean adoptees came here as a result of the economic hardships the country faced after the war. Others have criticized the practice of transracial overseas adoptions because of the industry that was created around it, including from other Asian countries like Vietnam and China.

Stephanie Drenka, a Dallas writer and activist, was adopted from Korea by an American family when she was an infant. She says she wants to educate the public about some of the exploitative qualities of overseas adoptions.

“There is a tendency of adoptive parents and agencies to be driven by evangelical Christianity and the Americanization and assimilation of adoptees, which leads to the loss of language, the loss of culture,” Drenka said.

She was reunited with her biological mother and sisters after years of searching by herself. For many adoptees, she said, the process of looking for birth families can be lonely — but it also can return some sense of control.

“The choice to search is not something that adoptees are often given in life,” Drenka said. “That was one of the first times that I was able to control some part of my adoption story and my life.”

Many adoptees, she said, have incomplete or inaccurate information about their birth families, which adds hurdles to an already difficult process.

Drenka was told that her mother was not looking for her — which was not the case.

“I learned that it was my birth father who coerced my mother into relinquishing me because he didn’t want to have another daughter; she didn’t have a say in the matter,” Drenka said. “He also would not let her tell my sisters and brother about me. So after he died, she told my sisters and they started looking for me. They didn’t even know which adoption agency he went through.”

Though she is not a member of 325KAMRA, Drenka said a DNA database could help adoptees who want to reconnect with their birth families.

“It’s very rare for adoptees to be reunited with their birth family and to have an ongoing relationship with them,” she said.

Having hit a dead end about two years into her own search, Rounds tried to move on. After all, she had a loving family of her own and was ready to drop her hopes of learning about her past.

But in January 2018, the genealogy team for 325KAMRA approached her about a potential match — a man named Gilbert Potyandy, who lived in Florida.

Potyandy’s wife of 56 years, Donna, first got the call from a 325KAMRA member about two months later.

“I answered the phone call and this lady explained who she was and she said she was trying to help someone find a relative,” Donna Potyandy said.

The Potyandys were born and raised in Wisconsin and moved to the south in the 1970s — first to Texas and then to Florida.

Before the two were married, Donna said Gilbert had told her about having a baby in Korea during his deployment in the Army. He told her that the mother of the baby had written him and sent photos after he returned to the U.S., but the communication stopped after several years.

“It didn’t really bother me that much because I had been married previously and had children, so I just thought, this is part of life — this is what God sends us,” Donna said.

She said the couple had even discussed looking for the girl in Korea, but with no official birth records, they weren’t sure where to start.

When she learned during a phone call in March 2018 that an organization was looking for Gilbert, Donna said she remembers how nervous her husband, whom she described as extremely private and reserved, was to learn about the call from 325KAMRA.

“I told him you need to call to really find out what’s going on,” Donna said.

Thousands of miles away in Frisco, Rounds said the days following the call about the potential match were a mixture of anticipation and measured excitement.

When she and her birth father finally spoke about two months afterward, she said she didn’t want to hang up.

“But I told him that I couldn’t get emotionally invested until we were sure,” Rounds said.

Gilbert Potyandy, left, and Linda Rounds, right, his biological daughter who was given up for adoption, stand in Rounds’ half sister’s house in Wilmington, North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 2021. Rounds connected with her birth father while she was helping other Korean adoptees to find their birth families. She and her extended family, including her two half sisters, Gilbert, and his wife Donna Potyandy met in Wilmington to celebrate Thanksgiving all together for the first time. (Madeline Gray/Special Contributor)(Madeline Gray / Special Contributor)

Even when they met in person several days after their first call, she wasn’t fully convinced Gilbert was her father.

“I’m looking at his face, and I’m thinking, ‘No, I don’t look anything like this man,’” she said.

Over dinner, Rounds remembered how she and Gilbert shared stories about their lives and their own respective search for each other. Though she was happy with the reunion, Rounds said she reminded herself to wait for the results of a paternity test.

As Rounds got ready to drop Gilbert off at his house and return to her hotel, she said he asked if she wanted to come inside briefly to see something. When she went inside, she said he fished out a stack of old photos from a dresser and invited her to look through them.

One by one, Rounds said, she saw a photo of a woman with a younger Gilbert and a baby that was happy and loved. Then she came across a familiar image.

“I came across the exact same 2-month-old picture that I had ― the only one that I had as a baby,” Rounds said. “He had the exact same picture.”

Gilbert Potyandy holds up a photo of Frisco resident Linda Rounds, a Korean adoptee, as a baby. Rounds found Allen, her birth father, in 2018 through the help of 325KAMRA, an organization that helps reunite Korean adoptees with their birth families.(Courtesy of Linda Rounds)

That’s when Rounds said she knew in her heart that Gilbert was her father. About two weeks later, Rounds received the results of the paternity test showing that she and her birth father were a near-perfect match.

Rounds spent Thanksgiving with the Potyandys and her newfound half-siblings, who have welcomed her as a sister. Though it wasn’t their first reunion, it was the first time Rounds celebrated the holiday with them.

Someday, she hopes to find her birth mother.


For information about 325KAMRA, click here.

(Left to right) Evan Grothe, Dawn Grothe, Carrie Lewis, Addisyn Lewis, 13, Donna Potyandy, Gilbert Potyandy, Linda Rounds, and David Rounds stand in Carrie’s house in Wilmington, North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 2021. Linda Rounds connected with Gilbert, her birth father, while she was helping other Korean adoptees to find their birth families. She and her extended family, including her two half sisters Dawn and Carrie, Gilbert, and his wife Donna met in Wilmington to celebrate Thanksgiving all together for the first time. (Madeline Gray/Special Contributor)(Madeline Gray / Special Contributor)