Booth Girls

This looks interesting to me (I have not read this recently published book). My paternal grandmother gave birth as an unwed mother in a San Diego home in 1935. It was called the Door of Hope. After her release with my father some months after his birth, she tried to seek refuge with her cousin who lived nearby. I am guessing it didn’t go well. My grandmother returned to the Salvation Army home seeking employment and was accepted. She traveled by train to El Paso TX with my dad in tow to another home for unwed mothers where she became a helper. When I discovered a cousin, thanks to 23 and Me, with the same grandmother, she expressed surprise the Salvation Army “owned” my dad at the time of his adoption. The family story was a nice couple took my dad because my grandmother could not financially support him. I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced my grandmother into relinquishing him. Thanks to breadcrumbs she left for us in her photo albums retained by her daughter, the next youngest child after my dad, I was able to identify who my paternal grandfather was.

About the book shown above –

In 1961, my mother delivered her first daughter, my half-sister, at the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital in St. Paul. Booth was a home for “unwed mothers” and so, like most of the other young women in residence, my mother surrendered her baby for adoption. She kept the whole experience a secret until 1994, when my sister found my mother. After my mother died in 2009, I set out to learn more about her experiences as Booth girl in hopes of understanding my own as an adoptive mother. Based on oral history interviews, archival research, family history, and memoir, Booth Girls is a story about mothering through the losses and gains of adoption.

~ Kim Heikkila, author

There is an informative video posted, “Mother’s Day” watchable at Vimeo, available at Heikkila’s website (because of it’s privacy settings I cannot embed it her but I do recommend watching it !!).

Erasing History

I think if my mom was here, she’d say much the same.  When I found a cousin on my paternal grandmother’s side, she immediately noticed something that had escaped my attention – my grandmother’s name was not on his adoption papers – the Salvation Army owned him.  This is the enduring legacy of adoption and I am simply VERY fortunate I was able to track down who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were – not for lack of the powers that be trying to obscure it.

Today’s adoption story (is not my own but I can relate) –

“This is a strange life. Looking back over it now I feel that I was propelled into constructing a life that has been totally separated from who I am. This was deliberately done by the State and its agents once they had got their hands on me and my brother. They stole me from my mother’s arms and then proceeded to lie about who I was, about where I had come from about my ancestry. They deliberately falsified fundamental documents about my identity. The moment that I was born I was unborn. They removed my mother’s name and the name that she had given me from history and acted as if they had never existed when they did exist. They did so on the basis that this history was inconsequential and as such could be wiped like one wipes a blackboard clean.”

“I have had no choice but to struggle with the circumstances of my birth from the very beginning. I was thrust into a battle between life and death, truth and lies, reality and State manufactured fiction. I was born a pawn on the chessboard of the States so called battle for public morality. I was the symbol of the transgression, of the fact that sex outside marriage existed. But no one talks about this fact, no they still see adoption as that of being rescued from a mother and a family that chose not to care for you. It was no such thing. The State set in motion the theory of Closed Adoption through its adoption practices and through the whip of economic compulsion tens of thousands of mothers gave up their babies. There was no money to keep them and no public support or support from their families. All they received was righteous moralistic outrage as their pregnant daughters were sent away.”

I say I can relate because –

My paternal grandmother was unmarried and had an affair with a married man.  I would suspect she didn’t know he was married when she first started seeing him in the mid-1930s but I think she probably did know by the time she knew she was pregnant.  Self-sufficient woman that she was, I don’t think she ever told him that she was expecting his child.  None of his family knew he had any offspring until I turned up.  DNA proved to them I was actually related.  My grandmother did know who the father was.  She gave my dad his name as a middle name and put his photo next to one of her holding my dad at the Salvation Army home for women and children in El Paso Texas that employed her after she gave birth at one of their homes in San Diego California.  She applied for employment and they transferred her to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow and that is where he was adopted.

Continuing with this man’s emotional story –

“I feel tired today. I feel tired full stop. For my entire life I have been struggling to deal with the circumstances of my birth. From the very beginning my heart was wounded. When you are given away, rejected, abandoned, it is personal. It hurts. When you are forced to live in a society that acts as if the wound does not hurt, it is suicidal because there is no outlet for the pain. No acknowledgment, no sorrow, nothing but silence. Your life is built on this silence. Holding in the hurt, trying to act as if you belong when you have been permanently displaced, always blaming yourself for how you feel because the whole system has set you up for self-blame. From the very beginning no one listened to your cries for your mother. From the very beginning you were met with silence. From the very beginning your most vital needs were ignored and your heart was hurt. You were separated from your emotional needs and your heart was born under an avalanche.”

“From the very beginning it all felt like it was your fault, that you had done something wrong, as if you had had brought this situation upon yourself simply through existing. From your first breath you were struggling for your life without love. There was no beauty in your birth, instead they had turned your life into a fight for survival and no one took any responsibility. They just left you to it. And that set the pattern of your life, of the life that they had created for you, you were abandoned, rejected and left to it. No one checked on how you felt. No one asked if you were struggling. They just left you on this hard road all on your own having to work out how to survive on your own. A road populated with strangers. And you lonely and you knew what the world could do.”

“Even though nobody said anything your birth set the path that you would follow as you tried your best to come to terms with it by outrunning your hurt heart. You felt that, in the silence, that this pain, this sadness that you felt in the world always must have been a sign that something was wrong with you. And there was, but no one would tell you what it was. And so in the absence of an explanation you labelled this hurt, this feeling as meaning that there was something wrong with you and so you locked up your heart and who you were. It was clear that you had to become someone else, you had to not be the person that you had been born to be. And you were right. They did not want the person that you were born to be. They did not want your ancestry, your mother, your personality and who you were deep inside. No, they just wanted a blank slate, a void, a nothing who would be exactly what your adopted parents wanted you to be. They called this attachment. You attached by disassociating from yourself, from your thoughts, your feelings and your emotions. You were to become “as if born to” these adopted parents and their names would be writ large on your birth certificate.”

There is more, much much more.  I won’t go on but adoption hurts.  Loss of identity hurts.  No family history hurts.  It even hurts children like me who’s two parents were both adoptees.

 

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.