It was an inauspicious start: Joseph Wood was discovered as an abandoned baby in a shoebox during a Chicago snowstorm in 1965. Today, the Arkansas resident’s Christmas wish is to give his birth parents two words.
“It’s something I’ve longed for, just to say ‘thank you’ to them,” Judge Wood said. “I’m here because of them.”
Now 56, Judge Wood has been elected twice to be Washington County’s judge — the first Black county judge in Arkansas’ history. As county judge, he also is chief executive officer of the county government. And he is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in next year’s election.
He made his parental search public this month in a last-ditch holiday effort to locate the birth family that has eluded him for decades.
He was about five days old when he was discovered near Marquette Park in southwest Chicago on March 20, 1965. Assigned to an orphanage, he was adopted by a construction worker and a teacher who had been unable to have children. But he grew up longing to find his birth family, despite his adoptive parents’ worries.
“They just wanted to provide safety and protection because they didn’t know what I would find,” Judge Wood told The Washington Times. “I didn’t understand that until I became a parent myself.”
Judge Wood has taken DNA tests and retrieved his original “foundling child” birth certificate from the now-defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital and Infant Asylum in Chicago to connect with his birth family.
Eleven years ago, he connected with the Korean War veteran who found him as an infant and took him to the police.
“We’ve spent years together, and he’s had me to his family reunion,” Judge Wood said.
But his searches via Ancestry.com, Catholic Charities and other avenues so far have yielded nothing more.
“I think truly they wonder if I made it and if I’m OK,” the judge said.
He said he is taking his search public in the hope that his birth family will recognize the details of his story and reach out.
He celebrated his 50th birthday at the old St. Vincent orphanage, now run by Catholic Charities, where he lived until age 10.
Married 29 years with three daughters and three grandchildren, he said his family supports his search today.
As Thanksgiving and Christmas loom, the judge said they’re hoping for a holiday miracle, even though he recognizes his birth parents may be long dead.
“As a Christian, I think hope is what keeps us going,” he said.
Judge Wood took office in Washington County in January 2017, the first Republican to win an election for the seat in 40 years. He won a second term in 2018.
He previously served as the head of international recruiting and staffing for Walmart, which has headquartered in Arkansas. The job led him to move with his family to the state in 1997.
Judge Wood insists that the public search for his birth parents, launched during the National Adoption Month that then-President Clinton inaugurated in 1995, is an honest, heartfelt attempt to reconnect with his lost family.
“This is not a ploy or a stunt,” Judge Wood said. “This is my life.”