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‘The Locator’ Troy Dunn keeps working to reunite, rebuild families

SHARE ‘The Locator’ Troy Dunn keeps working to reunite, rebuild families
Stop apologizing that you love being married or that you have kids or that you like hanging out with your kids. Ignore the crazy mass media attack on the family because family is where true happiness is. I’ve never found the exception to that. – Troy Dunn

Troy Dunn has worked to reunite more than 40,000 people with their families during the past 25 years.

It began when Dunn met an adopted man who had recently found his biological family. Inspired to help his mother find her biological parents, Dunn asked the man for help, and the two spent five and a half hours on a Saturday morning at the library doing family research. They walked away with the phone number of Dunn’s mother’s mother.

“I’m holding a piece of paper with your mother’s phone number on it,” Dunn told his mother over the phone that day.

“She was really quiet and then just began to sob,” Dunn recalled. “It was that proverbial life-changing moment for me. I hung up and was in tears.”

After reuniting his mother with her biological parents, Dunn decided to help others reunite with their own families. He created a company called International Locator Inc., which was changed to BigHugs.com when the Internet was born. The website allowed people seeking help to reach out to Dunn and share their story. Ancestry.com acquired BigHugs.com in 2002, and shortly after, television producers contacted Dunn.

The result was a TV show called “The Locator," which featured Dunn and his team working to reunite separated family members. It ran for five seasons on the WE network. Dunn said the show was a rewarding experience.

“It’s an extraordinary feeling to have someone invite you in to such an incredibly sensitive, vulnerable part of their life as looking for a loved one,” Dunn said. “When you set out to search for someone who has been a big part of your life, it’s really unclear how that will turn out. It’s a huge risk for pain and rejection but also an opportunity for healing and forgiveness, which I believe a lot in. It’s that part of the journey that is most fulfilling and exciting to me.”

Dunn's latest series, “APB with Troy Dunn,” currently airs on TNT.

“The TNT show has essentially the same purpose, reuniting people with long-lost loved ones, but more difficult cases,” Dunn said. “My team worked harder than I’ve ever seen them work.”

Dunn has put the experiences and knowledge gathered from helping reunite and rebuild families into a new book, “Family: The Good F Word” (Bird Street Books, $25.95).

“If you do something 40,000 times, you begin to see patterns. There have been 40,000 people that have passed through our records,” Dunn said. “It’s amazing what repetition does, and that’s what I’ve learned in relationships: what draws marriages apart, what causes people to stop speaking, what myths do people believe in that are just not true. The finding of the family is rewarding, but honestly, the rebuilding-of-the-family portion has been the most rewarding, hands down.”

Dunn will be in Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 to sign copies of "Family: The Good F Word," which is designed to help mend struggling or broken families.

“I attempted in this book to be as real and raw as possible. I didn’t sugarcoat any situation. I didn’t hint around any issues,” Dunn said. “I went straight at them head-on because I feel like the people who are fighting at adversity, struggling to hold the relationship together, don’t have time to play games. They need urgent, real-world advice. And this is as real world as it gets because this is information I have harvested from these thousands and thousands of families that have passed through my world.”

Dunn has confidence in the ability of families to rebuild connections, even those who think it’s a lost cause.

“They’re going to recognize themselves and their spouse in the book,” he said. “I went after the most common warts in marriage, so people are going to read this and either laugh or cry at how close to home I’m going to hit. The closer to home it feels to them, the better success they are going to have with the solutions proposed in the book.”

Dunn said his passion for improving families made writing the book easy but difficult to finish because there was so much to say. He hopes to be able to change the world by helping others mend their families.

“That’s my ridiculously lofty statement, but I believe that the world is easily changeable because I believe that the family is truly the center of our earthly world and, therefore, everything else is a spoke that comes out from that hub," he said. "So if I can impact someone’s family in a positive way, I know I will have impacted the community that family lives in. And if I’ve impacted that family, then I’ve impacted the city. If the city, then the state. If the state, then the country. If the country, then some part of the world. I actually believe that I can change the world a little bit with every family that I rebuild.

“My goal is to bring cool back to the word 'family.' Our society has … attacked on the concept and belief of family. … Some think mundane married life is less than what they could be doing, but in fact, it’s the greatest thing they can be doing. Stop apologizing that you love being married or that you have kids or that you like hanging out with your kids. Ignore the crazy mass media attack on the family because family is where true happiness is. I’ve never found the exception to that.”

Dunn served twice as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said that while he never felt he had a balanced life between his LDS Church calling, work and family, the key is to focus on one thing at a time.

“When I’m in the office, I’m all bishop. When I’m in the living room (of another person), it’s all about that person,” Dunn said. “When I’m at home, I’m hard-core, aggressively, anxiously engaged in playing and laughing and tickling and loving as I can possibly be.”

Dunn advised taking family history off the hobby list and making it a priority.

“Anyone who’s … never done any family history likely has no intention of doing any family history, and that’s because they believe it will be either one, difficult, or two, boring,” he said. “And I will say from my experience and from watching the light go on in the eyes of others, it is neither difficult nor boring. It is simple and extraordinarily exciting. … Today it is a real-live, action-packed adventure filled with discovery of so much more than names on a piece of paper. The digital world has turned family history into a treasure hunt … that pays off every single time. There is no possibility that you will do family history and not uncover treasure. No possibility.”

Dunn was born in Kansas but moved often as a child. He lived in Oklahoma during high school, where he met his high school sweetheart and future wife, Jennifer. They have been married 26 years and have nine children.

If you go ...

What: Troy Dunn book signings

When: Saturday, Oct. 4, noon-1:30 p.m.

Where: University Village Deseret Book, 1076 S. 750 East, Orem

Also ...

When: Saturday, Oct. 4, 4-6 p.m.

Where: Fort Union Deseret Book, 1110 Fort Union Blvd., Midvale

Amber Clayson is a BYU communications graduate and currently writes for LDS Church News and Mormon Times. Email: aclayson@deseretnews.com.