What Was Lost

From Alex Haley’s Roots – orally passed down family lineage and baby naming ritual

From an article about the series in LINK>The New Yorker that speaks to my heart, being the child of two adoptees who was robbed of knowing my genetic grandparents –

“The desire to know who we are helps to explain the second of two pulls we ordinarily feel toward grandparents. The first attraction, and the one that as children we understand more clearly, is toward something easeful, generous, and amusing about grandparents, and about the way they handle us when we are around. They can be a wonderful escape from the stringent regimes of parents, with their endless admonitions about how we should behave. Grandparents allow us to grow; they like to watch us obeying something inside ourselves—something that we know only vaguely but that is completely familiar to them. Long retired from the strenuous business of shaping their children, our parents, they are often ready to coddle and indulge us, to refresh themselves in our youthful curiosities, and to enjoy our affections. They are also ready to talk a lot—about the past, about when they were young, about their own parents and grandparents. At such times, they look at us with something mildly searching and wistful in their eyes, hoping, no doubt, to see some early and fugitive version of themselves. We understand this only later, when we become aware of the second pull that these old people were exerting upon us all along; we realize that in listening to their talk we, too, were listening for some earlier and fugitive echoes of ourselves. We were drawn to them for the odds and ends of their memory, without which we would be less whole, or, at the least, left to invent a greater portion of ourselves.”

I actually have no memory of my adoptive grandparents trying to talk with me when I was a child about their own past, their youth and families. There was once though after I was well into my adulthood, when my adoptive maternal grandmother came to visit me in Missouri. She grew up here and we found her childhood home in Eugene and our great luck was that the owner allowed us to come inside. My grandmother shared with me what had changed in the house and me told stories about what it was like growing up there. We went by the cemetery where many of her own relations were buried. Memorable was a story about traveling by wagon over the Gasconade River to buy supplies in some larger town.

I certainly invented stories about my own “roots” as we knew nothing. My dad was half Mexican, left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. True, my adoptive paternal “Granny” did obtain him there. His birth mother was working there but the Salvation Army had taken legal possession of him (as shown in his adoption papers). Thanking that wonderful Granny of mine for writing his birth mother’s name in the margin of her request for Texas to issue a new birth certificate for him. That amended birth certificate had to come from California, as he was born at the Door of Hope home for unwed mothers in Ocean Beach (near San Diego).

Turns out his dark complexion came from his Danish immigrant father who was not yet a citizen and was a married man. Sadly, he never knew he had a son. I did hear stories from my dad about how he almost starved to death in Magdalena New Mexico where his adoptive parents and an aunt and uncle (she was one of my Granny’s sisters) were trying to strike it rich by digging a mine there. About the time the adults went to town for supplies and my dad brought the cow into the cabin to milk it as it was very cold and snowing. My dad shot rabbits for food.

My invented story about my mom was that she was half Black. Not true at all, though she did have a smidgeon of Mali genes in her, most likely from the paternal line’s ownership of a few slaves. I saw that detail in a will. The deceased deeded the slaves by name to surviving family members. It was found in a binder lent to me by a family historian that I met near Memphis TN, where my mom was adopted. Neither her mom nor her dad were Black.

My heart sorrows for what my genetic grandparents might have been able to tell me.

Certainly, my adoptive grandparents had a HUGE influence on me. Their culture became some part of my parents (the adoptees); and through my parents, my self as well. Not minimizing how important our close relationships with these people during our growing up years was. Just so much was also lost and there is truly no way to fully recover that.

Each Small Death

. . . is just a season where a part of us is shed to make way for a new one. ~ Jonas Ellison

This quote captured something in my heart.  When I was already into my 60s, I lost first my mom and then 4 months later, my dad, to the normal processes of life that end in one’s death.  When they died, none of us knew who their original parents were.  They were both adopted and their adoptive parents were also dead.

Turns out my original grandparents were all dead as well.

But there is “new” life in me because I now know so much more about my authentic family history.  I know there is a lot of Danish in me because of my paternal grandfather who was an immigrant.  And there is a good deal of Scottish in me because of my maternal grandmother.

On my paternal grandmother’s side is a long history that includes an ancestor who wrote a journal that is still in print.  It is considered to be one of the best records of early colonial life in New London Connecticut spanning a 47 year period from 1711 to 1758.  Yes, before our Revolutionary War.  His home is on the national register and a museum now.

That leaves my maternal grandfather.  His own grandfather was 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate Army from 1861 through 1864. He fought in the battles of Shiloh, Chattanooga and Spring Hill, as well as other less notable engagements.  There are actually Confederate connections on my maternal grandmother’s side as well.  Not that I take any real pride in that, it just is the honest truth.

All of this is “new” to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to know about these people but learning about them and meeting some living descendants has made me whole again.  Even though it was too late for my parents, losing them opened up the path for me to know these things about my family history.

All that to say, if you are in a similar circumstance by all means push ahead.  Inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites that include 23 and Me as well as Ancestry are making it possible for many people who’s past was clouded by adoption to finally know who and from where their roots are grounded in reality.


Missed Opportunities

Evelyn Grace Johnson (later Harris) at age 2

I’ve only known about this family of cousins since October 2017.  The first time I became aware of this one is because her name appeared on the back of her parents’ gravestone in Pine Bluff Arkansas.  I was at the cemetery to visit the grave of my grandfather, Jay Church Moore.  Nearby was the grave of my mom’s half-sister Javene.  I only missed her by about 2 months because she lived to a very ripe old age.

I googled and found that Evelyn lived in Pine Bluff but could not locate a phone number and so we went on to Memphis that day.  Then in May 2018, we returned to the Arkansas area to visit Evelyn’s sister, Sherry, who gave me so much insight into the family, shared so many pictures and stories that I felt as though I had lived in this, my family, for all my life.

I didn’t see Evelyn during that journey either.  I talked to her on the phone.  She said she wasn’t well but maybe when she was better we could meet.  That day, sadly, didn’t come because she passed away last Friday without us ever accomplishing that someday meeting.

I feel I missed opportunities three times now – once with Javene and then twice with Evelyn.  However, I am blessed that I even know they existed.  For over 60 years, my two parents status as adoptees meant we didn’t know our original family roots.  Now I do.  And so today, I mourn a missed opportunity – while counting my blessings – at the same time.


It’s Better To Know

Searching for where an adoptee came from requires a special kind of courage.  It might be opening up a “can of worms” has my dad always believed.  There could be disappointment.  The relatives one finds are real people with real flaws and also a kind of beauty because they are a connection.  It is better to know who you are rather than live in a mystery.

For an adoptee, the connection to one’s ancestors has been broken. That matters.  When adoption is in one’s family history, those impacted only want answers and the truth. There isn’t a desire to disrupt anyone’s life. If relatives want to meet – wonderful – those I have met have been very helpful in filling in the understandable gaps in my ancestry.  Sharing the stories we weren’t there for can help us to heal.

Loss of the most sacred bond in life, that of a mother and child, is one of the most severe traumas and this loss will require long-term, if not lifelong, therapy.  If not therapy, then answers and a knowledge of something that is real and not falsified.

Finding one’s roots does not deny the love and value that one gives to the people who were there in life thanks to adoption.  The aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in my own life are treasured and held precious even if there is no true genetic bond with these.

A life can be symbolized by a circle – birth, maturity, old age and death – completion, rebirth or heaven.  Coming to know my roots has also been a kind of completion, a bringing the arc of my life full circle.

Out From The Shadows


Later this week, I’ll be pitching my work in progress to literary agents at Gateway Con – a conference for writers and readers in St Louis Missouri taking place over this coming weekend.

It is a nonfiction, memoir style story of loss, conflict and the redemption of my roots.

How I had to quickly mature after both of my parents died only 4 months apart, in order to close their estate and cope with the legal challenges of a brilliant but delusional sister.

It is also a mystery.  I share what I had to do in order to discover who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adoptees).

There is a surprising realization for my own self at the end.  Maybe it should have been obvious but it took learning the story of my parents adoptions to understand my own humble but fortunate reality.

I think I’m probably 3 to 6 months away from completing this story satisfactorily.  Probably a couple of years away from publishing if I am so fortunate.

Considering Adoption ?

Too often adoption facilitators are more concerned with socioeconomic factors than psychological, emotional or intellectual considerations. There are better indicators for adopting a child than providing a nursery or having enough money in the bank for a college education.

What there is a need for is emotional stability, honesty, and the willingness to become truly informed about what this process means for the adopting parents and the child they adopt.

Prospective adoptive parents can help by making certain the child they are considering REALLY needs to be adopted.

~ The Primal Wound

When asking how to best raise an adopted child, the experts in the 1980s said there were no unique needs and that being adopted (though I should be told as soon as possible) would mean nothing to me.

There is no post-adoption support.

You will not know why I feel so drawn to the ocean if my original family is from Tennessee.

I will tell you that you are not my “real mom” a handful of times out of frustration and not feeling understood.

I will make you prove over and over again that you love me.

I will spend too much time with people who don’t care about me because I will not be able to stand rejecting anyone.

When I become a mother, the adoptee in me will awaken. You will be bewildered when I start talking about being adopted, missing my first mother and my interest in my roots.

When I embark on reunion, you will support me, but feel as though I am rejecting you. I will have to tell you over and over again that I am not leaving you, but regaining part of me that was left behind.

~ Letter to my Prospective Adoptive Parents in The Declassified Adoptee

Much that I have read resonates with what I have seen in my own family.  Both my parents were adopted and each of my sisters gave up a child to adoption.  Inform yourself.  Don’t create a false identity for the child you adopt.  Be prepared for perhaps the hardest choice to parent a child.  Apply love liberally.


Julie Sue Dittmer Hart
born as Frances Irene Moore

My mom had her DNA tested at Ancestry.  I know what she was trying to do, she was hoping to uncover someone she was actually genetically related to.  I had mine tested too and over the last year plus it has paid off for me in my search for genetic relatives.

My mom diligently tried to create family trees based on my adoptive grandparents.  She admitted to me before she died that she just had to stop.  It wasn’t “real” to her.  I understand.

A little over a year ago, a writer’s guild friend quizzed me.  If the adoptive family is a good one (and both of my parents were thus blessed), why does it matter ?  And I explained to her the loss of heritage and knowing who and from where one’s roots are sourced.  She understood and continues to encourage me to get my book finished (and yes, I am working on one).

So it happened in the last week or so, my mom turned up on a family tree at Ancestry that made absolutely no sense to me.  So I reached out to the person responsible for it.  Just last night she cleared up the mystery and the connection for me – the “relationship” is with my dad’s adoptive mom.

Yet, what she wrote to me in conclusion (“Therefore I would be related to you. Unless you are adopted.”) had me opening up to her in reply.  “BOTH of my parents were adopted.  So in truth, you are NOT related to my dad either nor would I be” related to you.

It DOES matter.  I now know I have more than a bit of Scottish and Irish in me, quite a bit of Danish, a smidgen of Neanderthal and Ashkenazi Jew and though it is true that DNA testing (including at 23 and Me) has informed me about all of that, the VALUE goes beyond all that.  It is that when I match a genetic relative who would not know me from Adam, I have credibility now.


A Sacred Quest

Art by Stephen Delamare

If every life is actually a sacred quest to know who and what we really are, mine has certainly been easily viewed as just that.

I feel as though the “real” me has finally emerged out of the broken family tree that once concealed my true origins.

Now I know that we never were what we were forced to pretend we were due to adoptions.

We now have family, always had family, but that family was intentionally hidden from us until I was able to discover it in only the last year and a half.

Certainly, there are shadows and unanswered questions and it may be impossible to shed light on them now that so many years have passed.

But I am grateful for what I know and the “new” family I can build relationships with now. They are no more “perfect” than the members of the adoptive family that I still consider my “relations” as well.

It’s just that I know the same blood that runs in the “new” family’s veins, runs also in mine and for that I am eternally grateful.

I feel that I have fulfilled some part of my life’s purpose now.