The Foundling by Ann Leary

“The Foundling: The true story of a kidnapping, a family secret, and my search for the real me” by Paul Joseph Fronczak, New York:  Howard Books, 2017

The Foundling by Ann Leary

Paul Joseph Fronczak first learned of his murky paternity as a 10-year-old after stumbling over yellowed newspaper articles describing the kidnapping of a 1-day old infant from his reputed parents, Chicago couple Dora and Chester Fronczak.  After being cautioned by adults not to ask probing questions, young Paul then set out to become “the detective of my own life”.           

As an adult, Paul lives a very disjointed, nomadic lifestyle of multiple moves, multiple job changes, and two divorces.  In The Foundling, he has become a middle-aged baby boomer on a quest for his origins after being abandoned as a small child and adopted into the Fronczak family, whose biological child was kidnapped from the hospital by an unknown woman posing as a maternity nurse.

The search for the Fronczak baby played out in the media for almost 2 years starting in 1964, before Dora and Chester adopted Paul, who had been found abandoned in his stroller at a public shopping venue in another state.  At the time, genetic testing was so rudimentary that the Fronczaks could not be assured that the young foundling was the same baby that had been kidnapped from them.

As a teenager, Paul felt increasingly distanced from his adoptive parents and their younger biological son, whom he perceived as being the favored child.  After becoming a parent himself of a young daughter, Paul initiates a search for his identity via commercial DNA testing.  He soon establishes that he could not be the kidnapped child of his biological parents, but that leaves the mystery of why his own birth parents chose to abandon him and who they were.

Paul receives the help of celebrity genealogical researcher Cece Moore and her team of experts and is able to establish his birth name and that he was the result of a multiple birth.  Then comes the further mystery of what happened to his biological twin and what really became of the Fronczak’s stolen baby.  Were either still alive and well?

This is a fascinating memoir because of the aspects of family history, new technology, and true crimes.  Some puzzles remain unanswered at the end, but a quick Google search after reading this whodunnit will answer with some new information that has been revealed in the five years since this book was published. 

This memoir was written with the assistance of a print journalist and represents a fascinating jaunt through the many aspects of what we might call “identity and the search for self”.

Lisa Kobrin is the Local History and Reference Librarian at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at lkobrin@alamancelibraries.org