ROCKLAND — David Bragdon’s 30-year odyssey to find his birth parents finally came to fruition this fall when he met his father for the first time.

David Bragdon Jr.

“It was absolutely incredible,” Bragdon said. “Looking at him, I knew he was my father. I felt it, too. It was surreal.”

Bragdon said it became particularly important to find his father after he lost his oldest son – David Bragdon Jr. – in the deadly apartment building fire on Noyes Street in Portland that killed six people four years ago. Bragdon’s younger son has met his grandfather.

Bragdon, 52, grew up in Rockland and learned from a childhood friend that he had been adopted.

Starting in 1988, he began his effort to locate his birth parents. He started by going to the state probate court and filing a request to have his adoption records opened. The records were opened and he had the name of his mother at the time of his birth.

He tried to locate her only to discover she had died two years earlier after having lived in Farmington.

His mother’s obituary had the name of a surviving sister and Bragdon contacted her. His aunt told him that his mother had also had a son 10 years older than Bragdon, but she did not know the identity of Bragdon’s father.

Bragdon tried to locate the brother and other family members over the years, but had hit a wall until he submitted a DNA sample to ancestry.com about 1½ years ago.

The results showed matches for second cousins. He contacted them and eventually found someone he suspected was his older brother. Bragdon eventually met that man, but he said he was not Bragdon’s brother and was likely his uncle.

Soon after, in September, Bragdon received a telephone call from Wendell Sweatt of Fairfax, Vermont, a town of about 4,300 north of Burlington. Sweatt had been a bus mechanic and later a supervisor with a bus company.

Sweatt was 16 when Bragdon’s mother, who was 34 at the time, told him she was pregnant. She left Sweatt and the two were never in contact again.

Sweatt agreed to take a DNA test and sent the sample to Bragdon to submit to ancestry.com.

Before the results had arrived, the two agreed to meet in Gorham, New Hampshire, about halfway between their two hometowns.

Even without results, Bragdon said, he knew at that first meeting that Sweatt was his father. Sweatt’s wife and other family members were there for their first meeting.

Confirmation of Bragdon’s gut instinct came when the DNA results came back early in October.

Bragdon went to Fairfax last month to visit his father and other family members, and Sweatt came to Rockland last weekend.

The Rockland man said he has met or spoken with up to 150 Sweatt relatives during his search and since his finding his father.

“They have all welcomed me with open arms. It has been incredible, very positive,” he said. “This truly is my happiest year.”

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