A copy of the photo on Thomas F. Liott's book...

A copy of the photo on Thomas F. Liott's book cover with Thomas being held by parents Eileen F. Liotti and Louis J. Liotti, who adopted him. (Jan. 25, 2012)

Frail, sick and angry that his son was moving him to an assisted-living facility, Louis Liotti said something at the end of his life five years ago that he could never take back.

"You are not my son," Liotti told the man, then 60, that he and his wife had raised since infancy.

Something in the way the ailing 91-year-old said it made Thomas Liotti, a Garden City lawyer and Westbury Village justice, know that it was true. The news sent Liotti on a mission to find himself and to learn about the birthparents he had never known.

"I had to reconceive who I really am," Liotti said in a recent interview. "Everything I thought I was was suddenly pulled out from under me."

This month, Liotti published a book about his search called "The Secret Adoption." The book, which he self-published through iUniverse, is available through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

By Liotti's own account, the December 2007 revelation that he had been adopted sent him into a tailspin. After all, he had been president of the Columbian Lawyers' Association of Nassau County, a professional group for lawyers of Italian heritage. Now it appeared he may not have been Italian at all, but Irish and maybe English.

"When you find out you're adopted, there's a longing and search for identity," said John Pessala, a 30-year friend of Liotti's and a retired Nassau Family Court judge who often speaks publicly about his own adoption. "You are searching for your identity: religious, national, psychological and, of course, medical. Simply stated, it's who you are."

The obvious people for Liotti to ask about his past -- his adoptive mother and father -- were little help. His adoptive mother, Eileen, 88, was already suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease in 2007 and could neither fill in the blanks about his past nor explain her own motives or feelings about it.

Louis Liotti, the son of Italian immigrants and a World War II veteran, said little about the reason he and his wife had adopted, Thomas Liotti said. Louis Liotti said his wife suffered as many as seven miscarriages.

"I think it was really shattering for both of them," Thomas Liotti said.

At last, the elder Liotti told his son that they were approached by the superintendent of their Brooklyn apartment building, who said he knew a young woman who was pregnant and looking to give her child up for adoption.

But Louis Liotti did not recall the woman's correct name and offered little that would help his son trace her. And within a year of Louis Liotti's life-shaking revelation to his son, both he and his wife had died.

It was then that Liotti, who is married with three adult children, set out on a quest, petitioning to open his file in the Nassau County Surrogate's Court and hiring a private investigator to uncover details about his adoptive parents and why they had given him up.

As Liotti began to question all things in his past, including his spiritual beliefs, he even consulted a channeler, he said. The channeler said he believed Liotti's birth father had been a lawyer, and that there had been a scandal in the family.

But none of the information the channeler offered could be confirmed, and Liotti was still left wanting.

At last, Liotti gained access to his court file and found out his birth mother's name: Anne Ferguson.

He gave her name to an investigator and was able to learn only the barest framework of her life: That she was of Irish descent, about 35 when she gave birth. She had moved to Port Washington in 1977 and lived there -- just minutes from Liotti's Westbury home, until 1997, when she moved to Cleveland. She died in 2000, Liotti said.

Liotti never learned his birth father's name, but he believes he may have been English.

Liotti's youngest daughter, Francesca, said her father was deeply affected by his search for identity.

"For my dad, I can imagine feeling confused, finding out his biological mother was living a few towns away from us throughout his whole life," said Francesca Liotti, 22.

Even before his parents died, Thomas Liotti made peace with their decision to keep his adoption a secret, and felt grateful to them more than anything else.

Liotti said his father, during his last days alive, apologized for the rash way he had revealed the adoption.

"He said, 'That was when the devil was in me,' " Liotti said, adding that his father encouraged him to write the book. Liotti, in turn, said he did his best to thank his adoptive father in the last days of his life.

"They devoted their whole lives to me, a stranger," Liotti said. "I tried to articulate how much I loved him and how grateful I was."

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