Sunday Morning

I woke up this morning remembering going to church with my dad after my mom died.  Growing up, my dad never went to church with us.  He worked a lot, often double shifts at Standard Oil Refinery in El Paso Texas.  After us kids left home, he started going to keep my mom company.  Somehow it fed something in him that he continued to go after he lost her.

I don’t know what caused this photo to be taken or how it ended up in the possession of my dad’s original mother.  I am intrigued by what appear to be several bed frames in the background.  My dad was born in a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in San Diego California.  After he was born, his mother was hired as a helper by the Salvation Army and transferred to El Paso Texas.  It may be that my dad’s adoptive mother took him to visit her there.  It may be that the look on his face is a disturbed recognition of his own mother.  I’ll never know.

I know that by this point, he had been adopted for the first time.  He would be adopted a second time after my Granny kicked her first husband, an abusive alcoholic, out of her home and then married a WWII veteran.  So my dad was already 8 years old when he was adopted for the second time and had 2/3s of his name changed – again.

My dad looks healthy but not entirely happy here.  I continue to wonder what that expression on his face means.  It is serious and perhaps puzzled.

My dad simply accepted his adoption and never showed any interest in knowing about his original family.  He cautioned my adoptee mom when she was seeking a reunion for herself that she might be opening up a can of worms.  I think this epitomizes his perspective.  Maybe he was afraid of learning the truth.  I know he loved and cared for his adoptive parents.

It is a shame he didn’t know more about his origins, origins that I am fortunate to know now.  He was so much like his Danish fisherman father and they would have had a great time in a boat out on the ocean doing what came naturally to both of them.

Ancestors – I Didn’t Have Any

I once wrote an essay with that title.  That was before I discovered my ancestors.  I lived for over 60 years not knowing because both of my parents were adopted.

It may be that you don’t know who your ancestors were because you simply aren’t interested in it.  That’s fine.  You are NOT prevented from finding out about them if you want to.  An adoptee often is.  My parents were.

I envied the long line of ancestors that we had found when we studied my husband’s genealogy.

Turns out, I had an ancestor who’s home in New London Connecticut is on the National Register and is a museum.  His diary which is still in print, written between September 1711 and November 1758, is considered one of the best glimpses into Colonial life.  His name was Joshua Hempstead and my paternal grandmother descended from him.

On my maternal grandmother’s side were the Scotch ancestors that were honored with the surname Stark, which means strong, for having saved King James from a raging bull.  They came to the United States by way of Virginia early enough to fight in the Revolutionary War.

I didn’t know that my dad’s father was a new immigrant to this country from Denmark. That he loved the sea, fishing and boats, just like my dad did.  My dad died without ever knowing he came by that preference naturally.

I love history. My husband and I started our marriage sharing a love of history. I grew up not knowing these true tales of my ancestors.  Sadly, my parents died knowing nothing about them either. At least, I have that knowledge now and have shared it with my immediate family.

The old black and white, sometimes blurry, photos that have come my way are my people and knowing my true family tree is like a shiny new treasure.  Every glimpse into some new detail is an exciting thrill.  Even when I don’t know much more than a name, it is valuable to me simply because it really is mine.

Adoption does not negate nor does it create genetic relatedness.  Adoption does not make the family of origins cease to exist.  Adopted individuals ALL came from real, actual people, who came from real, actual ancestors, ad infinitum.  I didn’t have that continuum that so many people not touched by adoption do not realize even matters.

No human being deserves to have their family history annihilated simply because people outside that family cared for and raised them.

No More

No more lies, no more shame, no more hiding.
I’m done with that already.

When my parents died, our family history was full of stories that weren’t true.

My mom was stolen from her parents at the hospital where she was born in Virginia by a nurse in cahoots with the baby stealing and selling Georgia Tann.

Not true.  It was the only way my mom could explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted as an infant at Memphis.  The only fact she really had to go on was the scandal that was Georgia Tann at the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.

My dad was left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in a basket in El Paso Texas by a Mexican woman because his father was Anglo and he was conceived out of wedlock.

Partially true.  He was conceived out of wedlock and he was adopted from the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas.  He wasn’t Mexican, he was half Danish and his father was dark complected.  His mother was English/Irish not Mexican.

I was an Albino African.

Okay, so I really didn’t believe that one but I did say it on numerous occasions because I didn’t know what I was, so no one, not even myself could deny it.

Now I know the truth.  To find out that you are not who you think you are is mind blowing.  Your world tilts on its axis and nothing is ever the same again.  Even the simple act of looking in the mirror changes.  It brings a whole other element into the equation of my identity.  I am grateful to finally be “whole” after 6 decades of uncertainty.

Adoption is a strange thing that does strange things to the people affected by it.  It doesn’t matter what angle you are coming from – there’s shame and secrecy involved.  That much proved to be true.

DNA & Paternity

It’s becoming very common for people who do the inexpensive DNA testing available today, utilizing the matching sites Ancestry or 23 and Me, to discover they are somehow a “surprise”, as in their father is not who they thought he was.

During my study into all things related to my own family origins I have read two books related to this kind of discovery – one by a man and one by a woman.  In the book by the man – The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir by Bill Griffeth – he is totally into genealogy, only to discover that he is the product of an affair (or in the age of #MeToo maybe it wasn’t totally a complicit situation) between his mother and her boss.

The other book by a woman – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro – describes her discovery that the legendary Jewish heritage that she believed was hers – isn’t, when the percentage of Jewish genes she carries isn’t what it ought to be.

My dad’s mother was unwed and I thought it would be nearly impossible to determine who his father was.  A series of fortunate events uncovered him for me (after two suspects who turned out not to be him).  First a cousin tested at 23 and Me and wrote me that we had the same grandmother.  Then, another cousin through her had my grandmother’s photo albums in which she left us breadcrumbs.  Both in the headshot (shown above) with a name attached and in how she named my dad with the same name.

Interestingly, 8 month before that, Ancestry told me someone was my cousin.  He finally replied to my inquiry – “I have no idea how we could be related, none of those surnames are familiar to me”.  I gave him the “new” one and he came back – my grandmother and your grandfather were brother and sister.

My paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant.  That made my dad half Danish.  And it explained why my strongest genetic contribution was Dane.