Weirdness

A different kind of weirdness than my weirdness . . . surprise !!

The advent of inexpensive DNA testing has brought surprises to many people today. One woman wrote –

“One of the biggest things I’m realizing today is: at least I always knew I had parents and ancestors “out there” somewhere. I knew there were people I could look for, and I knew there could be other family members too. How weird to find someone you never knew even existed? Someone that’s had a whole life without you? I might have his first grandchildren, and he never knew.” She closes with – “Adoption is a wild freaking ride.” I agree.

Another woman writes – “Ancestry DNA led me to find my half brother that my father never knew about. Its been wild for sure.” This happened for me too. It turned out in my case, the man’s grandmother was my paternal grandfather’s sister but no one in his family, including him, ever knew he had a son. 23 and Me led me to a cousin, which led me to another cousin, and it turned out that my paternal grandmother had left a breadcrumb for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in her photo album.

Here is another story – “We met my half-brother recently after our dad took an Ancestry DNA test. My half-brother was adopted almost 50 years ago. My dad never knew he existed until March of last year. We’ve since spent a couple weeks with him and his girlfriend. It’s definitely crazy to know that my half-brother existed for my entire 39 years on this planet and we never knew him until now but I’m very grateful that he wants to be involved with his birth family despite his birth/life story. I’m trying to figure out how to visit him this coming summer with my kids, his niece and nephew. What’s super crazy to me now is that while I haven’t known my half-brother very long, my kids will never know life without him. It’s been a journey of grace and compassion for everyone from our experience.”

For myself as well – thankfully !!

Artifact DNA Testing

This article in Wired actually caused me to write yesterday’s blog on the value of DNA testing. Beyond the inexpensive commercial DNA testing platforms of 23 and Me as well as Ancestry, there is another way – though it is expensive and probably not a good choice for most people. It has been used though in some paternity cases.

It was highlighted when Swiss forensic geneticists analyzed DNA recovered from postage stamps dating back to World War I to solve a century-old paternity puzzle. Renc and Arles, were the children of Dina – and maybe Xaver, or maybe not, maybe Ron was the father of Renc. Their descendants wanted to confirm or rule out that Ron was Renc’s father, as he was believed to be. So, the family offered up cheek swabs from living descendants of Dina, Renc, and Arles for DNA analysis, and some postcards that had been sent by Renc and Ron during WWI that it was hoped might hold their DNA, in the remnants of the saliva used to paste the stamps. 

Solving kinship cases is a common task in forensic genetics but this case was a little more complex than usual. The team tried to confirm the reality, but to no avail. By October 2018, they had thrown in the towel. Then, in March 2020, the family returned with more heirlooms. They had found some more old postcards that had been sent by Arles on a business tour in 1922. 

The scientists compared the DNA found under these postcards’ stamps with the DNA found on postcards sent by Renc, while he was fighting in World War I and on postwar trips. They found common Y chromosomal lineage, which meant that the two brothers shared the same father. After more than a century, the family had an end to their paternity drama: Xaver, not Ron, was Renc’s dad. 

Extracting centuries-old DNA from artifacts—a licked envelope flap, hair from an old brush—was once considered the Next Big Thing in genetic genealogy. Its promise lies in offering anybody the opportunity to gain precious insights into long-deceased ancestors and loved ones, to look further back into their family tree, and to potentially reunite with existing relatives. MyHeritage, the DNA testing company, announced in 2018 that it would be jumping into the business of commercial artifact testing.

What was once envisioned as an explosion in artifact testing has petered into more of a slow burn. A number of factors have prevented it from becoming as big as commercial DNA test kits: it’s costly, it involves tampering with or destroying potentially sentimental family heirlooms, and there is little guarantee that it will be successful.

Here’s an example why, when relying on DNA extracted from saliva, you’re taking a gamble that the sender was the one who licked the envelope flap or the stamp, which surprisingly is not always the case. There once was an old practice to wet stamps on common pads at post offices. The running joke in some artifact testing labs is that if we check all these stamps, you will see that all the children are in fact children of the mailman. LOL

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

Colorblind Idealism

There seems to have been an evolution among some citizens in the United States to realize that racially colorblindness isn’t really the answer to racism. In the evolution of adoption and in an attempt to get some children in foster care placed in stable homes, transracial adoption was seen as the answer. As some of these adoptees have reached adulthood, they are increasingly speaking out about why growing up black in a predominantly white community and school has proven challenging, even difficult for them.

Recently The Washington Post had an article by Rachel Hatzipanagos that focuses on transracial adoptees – I know my parents love me, but they don’t love my people. A few years ago, there was a Medium piece – The Myth of Colorblindness by Rosa Perez-Isiah.

For adoptees, their adoptive parents couldn’t see and rarely talked about the racism they experienced. Classmates’ racist comments about their hair and eyes were dismissed as harmless curiosity. America’s racial dynamics were explained in the language of “colorblind” idealism. 

In her Medium piece, Perez-Isiah says – Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture because we all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism. Race matters and it has impacts on opportunities, education and actual income (as well as its future potential). Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people.

Cross-cultural adoptions have been debated for decades. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong stand against the adoption of Black children by White parents. Several years later, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to address the wave of Native American children being separated from their tribes and placed with White families.

The growth in transracial adoptions from foster care in recent years has far outpaced the growth in same-race adoptions and transracial adoption is now 28% of all domestic adoptions in the United States. More recently, the national conversation about systemic racism (driven by George Floyd’s death in 2020) has cast a new light on interracial adoption and prompted transracial families to confront the unspoken cultural divides in their own homes.

For adoptees, there is a transracial adoption paradox. Growing up, they experience many of the privileges that come with Whiteness because of their adoptive parents. When they then enter the school system or move out of the family home to live independently as adults later in life, they’re confronted with the reality of being perceived and treated as a racial minority. Not so subtle is the experience of white students putting their pencils in the hair of a Black student and marveling at the way the texture makes them stay in place.

When adoption agencies take on a color-evasive approach with hopeful prospective adoptive parents, they signal to these white parents that race does not need to be a significant factor in their decision-making. Then, by extension, it is no surprise that these adoptive parents might not think that the race of their adoptees is a significant factor in raising their child. Often these parents naively hope their support will make up for racial difference, even when they acknowledge there are challenges in raising a child of a different race.

From a transracial adoptee – “I believe that a lot of people think that adoption is this beautiful, magical, straightforward process. And also when they think of adoption, that they are centering around this “White savior” image and focusing on adoptive parents more than adoptees. And/or birth, biological parents — those two seem to get left out of the narrative a lot. I also believe that adoption from a birth mother, birth parent perspective can be very intense, very complex, very emotional. And I believe that we need to lean in and listen to adoptees and birth parents more.”

Today, many adoptees have their DNA tested, either at Ancestry or 23 and Me. For an adoptee that was raised white, it can be an amazing experience to discover their father is Black and see somebody that looks like them, finally a true racial mirror. One mixed race adoptee notes – “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race … and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality. But I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as White’.”

Another transracial adoptee suggests – “I think first acknowledging that your child is not White is, like, a huge step for a lot of White adoptive parents is to, like, see outside. Because a lot of parents see their child as, this is just your kid. They don’t see them in racialized terms. But in seeing them in that colorblind way, you are not protecting them. You are not preparing them to grow up and be an adult.”

Adoption is a trauma. Every adoptee has a different response to their trauma. Often it takes therapy to understand what was experienced as a pre-verbal infant and more importantly, how it continues affecting the adult adoptee. Therapy can help an adoptee get over feeling defective simply because they were given up for adoption. It can require learning that babies are placed for adoption for a number of reasons and that none of those reasons have to do with the baby or the value of that baby regardless of their skin color. The adoptee, not the adoptive parents, needs to be the center of their own life and story. Much of the narrative around adoption centers on the adoptive parents and frames their actions as selflessness and saving a child.

One Black adoptee admits –  I longed, and continue to long, to understand why I needed to be adopted, why I needed to be shipped across the country, why I couldn’t stay in the South, why I couldn’t stay with Black families, why I couldn’t have stayed with at least my biological extended family.” And though I am white and my mother was white too, this is a universal need in adoptees. My mom’s genetic, biological family was in the rural South and she was taken by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother. For a long time, my mother believed she had been born in Memphis, a belief her adoptive mother was also led to believe by Georgia Tann, until birth certificate alterations made clear my mom had been born in Virginia which just made my mom believe she must have been stolen from her mother because things like that happened with Georgia Tann’s adoption practices.

Sadly, the saviorism of white adoptive parents is just so prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated belief that white people can take care of Black people better. I have been learning a lot about this in overall society by reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

I end today’s blog back where I started with the issue of colorblindness – Why is the colorblind narrative popular? The Medium piece notes – it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Adoption is a challenging situation regardless – add in racial differences and it becomes doubly so. It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology.

Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

The Grandfathers I Never Knew

My mom’s father with her half-sisters

And I never will know my grandfathers, or my grandmothers either, because they have all died. But I’ve seen photos and heard some stories which is more than I had for over 60 years of my life.

My mom wasn’t much inclined towards this man and showed no interest in these half-siblings. She only yearned for her mother who was already dead when she pushed the state of Tennessee to give her details as an adoptee (which they still denied her). I think my mom had a pre-birth and infant sense that her own mother felt abandoned by this man with good reason. The true reasons for their separation and why he didn’t come to her aid in Memphis, I’ll never know. I have this picture thanks to my cousin, the daughter of the younger girl in this photo.

An article in Severance magazine where the aftermath of separation is often detailed by those who have experienced it is shared caught my attention for it’s headline – The Grandfather I May Never Know. I still need to actually read it (and will before I finish this blog) but I would suspect from the headline, it is still possible for the author.

In her article, Bianca Butler writes – “As a young child, I didn’t know that my mother and her twin sister (now deceased) had been adopted in 1960. I found out in 2000, when, after nearly 40 years of silence, their biological mother wrote to the twins asking to reunite.”

She describes one outcome of their reunion – “By meeting her biological mother, my mother learned her biological father’s identity and that she and her twin are of mixed-race ancestry: African American and white. Their biological mother had been a young African American college student at the University of California, Berkeley when she relinquished her twin daughters for adoption. They were born in a time in the United States when interracial unions were not only taboo but also illegal (Loving V Virginia) and when young unwed women were shamed and stigmatized—a time known as the Baby Scoop Era, from 1945 to 1973, before Roe V Wade in 1973.”

Since the suspected father of the twins denied paternity, the author decided to get her DNA tested. She goes on to share that “The Ancestry DNA test confirmed that I’m 31% Norwegian and, through the DNA matches, that I’m related to his cousins. I sent him the DNA results, but he’s still in denial and, sadly, not open to a relationship.” She admits that – “Finding biological family and taking a DNA test can bring great joy and excitement, but it can also bring rejection and disappointment. . . . It can be very emotional opening up old generational wounds that still haven’t been healed. . . . some people don’t want to be found, especially when race and adoption are factors, and I’ve had to accept that reality. “

She adds a happier note – “On a positive note, through Ancestry DNA I was amazed to connect with a cousin on my mom’s paternal side who is close to my age and open to connecting. She moved to Sacramento from Minnesota last year for graduate school, and we plan to meet. From her own ancestry research, she was able to give me more information about our shared heritage and ancestral homeland in Fresvik, Norway, which, in addition to Oslo, I hope to visit.”

This happened for me as well (thanks to DNA testing). I have contact with a cousin in Denmark now. I have learned details about my paternal grandfather’s early life. I would love to travel to Denmark and visit the family there (who never knew my grandfather ever had any children, and he probably never knew either as he was a married man and my grandmother simply handled it quietly).

I do share this perspective with the article’s author – “As an adult, I’m doing the healing work to educate myself on intergenerational trauma, loss, and abandonment that happen through adoption.”

Vagabond, I think the man with the pipe in his mouth is my paternal grandfather.

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.

A Delicate Balance

I think it is entirely understandable for an adoptee to want to make contact with the people who contributed to their conception. With fathers, it can be a delicate balance – the how to go about it. This example illustrates some of the challenges that may be present.

I was told my biological father passed away before I was born. I have discovered that he, is alive and well. However, he is married and has children. A nonprofit found my father for me. It has been several months now that I have known and I’ve thought about it a lot. So, I sent him a Facebook message. We aren’t friends, so I know it’s a long shot he will never see it. It has been a month now. That was the amount of time I decided to patiently wait for a response. I’m torn about the next step to take. I wrote in the message that I have no intention of causing him harm in any way and I do sincerely mean that. His wife is very active on Facebook and has a public profile but it feels wrong to reach out to her. Trying to add him as a friend feels even worse. In his “about me” section, he lists a daughter but I’m reluctant to reach out to her. I have a whole lot of “who-the-hell-am-I-to-start-shit” feelings. But I am dealing with some rage. Actually, a lot of rage, though I am unclear as of yet as to exactly where that feeling is coming from.

I deeply wanted to make contact with someone in maternal grandmother’s family (both of my parents were adopted and all of my grandparents are dead, so I didn’t have such a delicate line to try and walk as this woman). I had a testy exchange once with the step-daughter of my paternal grandfather who accused my paternal grandmother basically of being a whore (though she used more polite language from a long ago public school book I had read – The Scarlet Letter). He was a married man. I don’t know that she knew that when she started seeing him.

Anyway, I discovered the lovely daughters of my mom’s youngest uncle. I did go the Facebook Messenger route and I don’t remember how long it was but literally months. I do remember when I saw a reply – it totally knocked me into bliss. They did provide me with some personal memories of my grandmother, who was they very favorite aunt, that were comforting to my heart. My parents are both deceased now but my belief that there is a continuity of the individual soul means that I do believe my parents reconnected with their original parents after death and now know more than I have discovered. It brings me some comfort.

Some of the advice the woman here received –

Messages from non-friends in Facebook can easily be lost in their labyrinth inbox system. In fact, I remember one from my nephew’s step-mother that it took me months to see. It happens and it doesn’t necessarily mean a rejection but adoptees feel a deep sense of rejection regardless from the simple fact their parents gave them up for adoption.

Another added – I would not reach out to his wife on Facebook.  It wouldn’t be fair to your biological father if you went around him.

Someone else with some success noted – I found the addresses of my biological parents using a combination of Facebook info, google searches and looking up some things on ancestry using a two week trial free pass. I think it took me two days. I hope you have as easy a time as I did.

Ancestry brought my own first real break – my mom’s half-sister (they had the same father) has only died a few months before I found her grave. I found a slide show from her memorial service and got my first glimpse of that side of my family tree including a photo of my maternal grandfather. A friend of my cousin’s posted about her mother and through her, I was put in contact with her, met her and discovered they had long wondered about my mom and hoped she would be in contact with them someday. That totally turned around my feelings about my maternal grandfather. My mom had not been very inclined towards him (I suppose feeling like he contributed to her becoming adopted which was actually true). However, that he made certain his other children knew about my mom changed my own feelings toward him. This cousin was so warm and over one afternoon, we went through the many family photo albums she left behind. I felt as though I had lived decades of that family’s life by the time the afternoon ended.

Someone added a resource I didn’t know about – True People Search is the site I usually use for addresses. White pages can be helpful as well.

The perspective from a birth mother – I would like to think that he would want to know. Maybe he wasn’t told about your existence?! Maybe he does know about you, but doesn’t know where to begin? My heart goes out to you no matter what you decide.

In support of this possibility of not knowing comes this story –  I met my birth father 2 years ago. I had been told he was a nasty piece of work by my birth mother and I should never contact him because he wouldn’t want to know me. Well turns out she never told him. I had someone on one of the lost or search for family Facebook pages help me. She located him, sent him an email once she established his email address. Now the only reason why they opened the email, is because they thought they recognized her name. She connected us. I am so thankful. From there, we did a DNA test to confirm. Then they told their 4 kids. Before the person that helped me, I had previously reached out to one of his kids, but both him and his wife both put it down as a scam. Its incredibly hard to connect with people these days because there are so many scams happening.

In my dad’s case, I don’t believe his father ever knew about his only child/son. The self-reliant woman that my paternal grandmother was simply handled her pregnancy (though she did try to keep my dad and definitely knew who the father was – it is thanks to breadcrumbs she left me in her photo album that I now know. The family has been a bit surprised to discover me – thanks to DNA matching (which really does add legitimacy when one begins to contact family who didn’t know you existed for literally decades).

An adoptee notes that the woman at the beginning of this blog is the innocent party here. It’s not her job to coddle or spare the feelings of other people. Sorry/not sorry – as an adoptee, we are told from the start to think of others before ourselves. We put our feelings and needs on the back burner and try not to rock the boat. I say rock the boat. You don’t owe anyone anything. You owe yourself peace and certainty regarding your place in this world. It’s not anyone’s job to tell you what to do or how to do it. But know first, can you go on without any contact with him. If not…do what you must.

Yet another perspective – at arm’s length but observing – in the case of my current husband… His issue was through adoption. He didn’t know his son had been put up for adoption, only that the mom had refused contact. He never told his current wife or kids about her, and so, it was a huge shock for the whole family to learn about the son. Eventually, they did build a very positive relationship. I agree that I wouldn’t contact his wife.. She’s not a party to this.

And there was this alternative approach through Facebook – my birth mother refused to respond to my contact – just left me hanging for over a year. I am firmly in the camp of adoptees having a right to know our relatives and also for them to know of our existence. So I made a Facebook group, added all my half siblings, then sent them all a carefully worded, respectful group post message. Frankly, I had nothing to lose and possibly much to gain. (They had no idea I existed.) This also prevented one person from becoming the gatekeeper, as all were told at the same time.

I will close today’s blog with this reunion story – I wrote a snail mail letter to my son, which was given to him by a search Angel that was the intermediary. (It was a closed adoption and so had to be done this way to protect privacy until release forms were signed). My son appreciated the written letter. He’s very private and so am I. Certainly, he’s glad I didn’t try to find him on the internet. This approach worked very well for us. He wrote me back. We had time to process a bit before we ever spoke on the phone. I’d keep his wife and others out of it. Go directly to him and express what you want to say with clarity and ease. I spent several months preparing mentally before I reached out. Once I did, I was ready. And fortunately, so was he.

Becoming An Ancestor

Wedding Photo – Raphael Vandervort Hempstead and Mary Elizabeth Gildersleeve on April 30 1906

I’m a family historian and a family storyteller. I believe I finally did arrive at my personal destiny – that of discovering and then sharing the true origins and cultures my family was created from. It is a feeling of wholeness that I never expected to have. It is also fascinating, I suppose, simply because it is our real identity constructs. Both of my parents were adopted – with falsified birth certificates giving them identities they were not born with.

A quiet revolution is taking place for adoptees today. More and more are finding their genetic biological families, just as I did. Only a few years ago, this would not be possible but the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me as well as social media have made what once seemed like only a dream – possible.

My parents and my in-laws are now ancestors, meaning they have died and no longer walk this earth as physical presences. My husband and I both approach our 70s. We are way to becoming an ancestor. Just yesterday, my husband went into a hours long dialog about all the choices he has made in life to arrive at this place in time with our oldest son. Too often, after our parents have died, we wish we would have asked more questions. Asking questions is not always all that easy when they are alive however and we don’t always know what to ask.

I freely share so much about my life. Someone may want to know about me. Their life might be changed by knowing that I existed. They might be empowered by knowing that they once had the same dreams I do. We’re all future dead people, and 100 years from now, someone like me will come looking for you.

Certainly, this is what adoptees are doing today. This is what I have done regarding my true family of origin. My family origins journey began in cemeteries. The cemetery in Pine Bluff Arkansas to be precise. I sat by my maternal grandfather’s grave and talked to him. Then I discovered that my mom’s half-sister had only died a few months before. Darn, I missed that opportunity to know her. But I was able to get to know her daughter thanks to something her best friend posted about my cousin’s mother on Ancestry. During one wonderful afternoon, she shared with me photos and stories from the many photo albums her mom left her. We were both sad that our mothers never got the chance to meet. Certainly, her mother always hoped my mom would show up. The state of Tennessee was not helpful, when my mom inquired. Today, it has all changed for adoptees like my mom and dad.

The photo at the top is my dad’s grandparents, sent to me by a cousin (with whom I share my paternal grandmother) who lives in Mexico, thanks to Facebook messenger.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.