Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

The Loss Of What Could Have Been

In the early 1990s, the Georgia Tann baby stealing and scandal re-emerged into the national consciousness.  She had been dead 40 years and narrowly escaped criminal charges when the complications of cancer took their toll.

60 Minutes did a feature on the scandal.  They introduced a woman named Denny Glad who lived in the Memphis Tennessee area and was doing her best to assist Tann’s victims in relocating the families they had been taken from.  At this time, adoption records were closed and firmly sealed behind the power of the state and kept from even adult adoptees.  My mom did reach out to Mrs Glad and was only able to receive some minimal information which was still more than she had before.

My mom took the next step and contacted the state.  They promised to do everything in their power to locate the parents my mom had been born to.  It was a lie.  There was definitely bureaucratic laziness in their less than motivated efforts.  My mom’s father was 20 years older than my mom’s mother when they married.  He had been dead 30 years at the time my mom made her effort to get her adoption file.

All the state did was inquire of the Arkansas Driver’s License about his status.  In the adoption file, it is indicated that he signed a separate set of surrender papers after a sheriff showed up at his mother’s home in Beech Grove Arkansas with those papers along with a subpoena to Juvenile Court in Memphis for the very next day – not much time to prepare – and anyway, I’m certain he was told the mother had already signed these and if he did too, he would not have to appear in court.

Had the state of Tennessee confirmed he was no longer living when my mom inquired, she would have been given her file.  She had at least 2 uncles and 2 aunts still living on her mother’s side and half-siblings on her father’s side.

My mom was devastated when the state of Tennessee told her that the woman who gave birth to her had died several years earlier.  It ended her hopes and dreams.  My mom was never told when the state of Tennessee decided to release the adoption files to victims or their immediate descendants in the late 1990s.  Thanks to that change in the law, I finally received her adoption file in October of 2017.

If Not For DNA Testing

If not for DNA testing, I would not have revealed so much so quickly about my original family cultural roots.  Certainly, my mom being adopted in what later turned out to be a baby stealing and selling scandal gave me a quick start.  Because of that scandal, Tennessee was eventually pushed to open their sealed adoption files.  And my mom’s was rich with details even if Georgia Tann was a known liar and I did uncover some lies in that file.  Thankfully, there was enough true information that it opened up a world to me that I never expected to know nada about.  Yay !!

Both of my parents were adopted.  On my dad’s side it was trickier.  His mother had been unwed and his adoption came through The Salvation Army.  Ancestry was a big help in revealing enough details to what I already knew that The Salvation Army was then willing to reveal a tiny bit more.  23 and Me was the big breakthrough there, when a cousin received her results and contacted me to tell me we had the same grandmother.  That led me eventually to another cousin thanks to Facebook.  She had the final breadcrumb keys that my grandmother had left for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in a photo album.

Interestingly, almost a year before I received the breadcrumbs, Ancestry had identified a cousin.  He didn’t reply to my inquiry right away.  When he did, he apologized for not having a clue how we were related.  By then, I had some details about my paternal grandfather.  The man was able then to tell me that our grandparents were brother and sister.

Yes, I do believe in DNA testing and for adoptees given that half of these United States continue to refuse to unseal their adoption files, DNA matching may be the only way to learn your true cultural identity.  Today, I read another story about how this helped.  I will summarize.

The daughter of a Jewish patriarch gave birth, out of wedlock, to this person’s mother.  That fact remained a secret within the family.  This person’s mother died knowing none of this, much like both of my own parents. She was raised by another couple, just like my parents were. In the case I was reading about there wasn’t even a formal adoption or paper trail.

So it took DNA testing for this person to discover his ancestry. Thanks to that testing he discovered relatives, leading him to even more new discoveries.  That is how it was for me too.  I know of living relatives for 3 of my 4 grandparents.  With my paternal grandfather, he had no more children but he did remarry.  Thanks to Ancestry and Find-A-Grave, I came into contact with what I will call a step-cousin, who could give me some details about his life.

It is said that a recent survey showed about a quarter of the people who take these tests find some kind of surprising result.  That sometimes leads to a book about the story of those discoveries.  At the end of December, I completed the story of my own.  I am now in the process of seeking a literary agent.  May 2020 prove successful in my quest.

For more about the Jewish story I mention in my blog today, you can go to this link – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-a-dna-test-revealed-the-family-i-never-knew-2020-01-10/