Friday, April 27, 2012

What does "ancestry" mean to an adoptee?

Jane and Family on White House Lawn
On April 9, my grandchildren, ages six and nine, my daughter (their aunt) who lives in Washington and I participated in the White House Easter Egg Roll. About 35,000 people attended the event which has been held annually since 1878.  Easter Egg Roll participants come in groups of several thousand and stay for two hours. Because our tickets were for the late afternoon, we did not see the President or the First Lady, who were there in the morning.

The event was much like a neighborhood festival held in a local park.
After going through security, we were entertained by a high school band. Then volunteers directed us to the various activities, an egg hunt, egg dying, picture painting, and the event’s namesake, the Easter Egg Roll. At the Roll the children lined up in groups of about ten and were given an egg and a wooden paddle which they used to guide their egg down a short incline. Wandering through the crowd were Snurfs, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Dora the Explorer, the Cat in the Hat and other characters popular with children. As we left, the children were given a commemorative wooden egg with Bo’s picture etched on it. Children and grown-ups were given jelly beans and Peeps.

FAMILY HISTORY
While in DC, I visited a cousin from my mother’s side of the family who has done a fair amount of genealogy. During our visit she showed me a copy of my (seven greats) grandfather’s James Johnston’s 1826 petition to the Virginia legislature for a pension for his service during the Revolutionary War. Johnston stated he was a member of the Virginia militia and, among his many exploits, he fought the British in Yorktown, Virginia, the decisive battle of the War, and was shot in the knee. Growing up, I had heard about Johnston but this was the first time I saw documentation.

During my first visit with my surrendered daughter, Rebecca I told her that an ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, thinking that she would be pleased, perhaps proud, to know of this connection. I added offhandedly that she could join the Daughters of the American Revolution. She gave me a cold stare and said, “my ancestors came up the Mormon trail,” referring to the forebears of her adoptive parents. I was stunned but quickly apologized for my arrogance, and we discussed ancestry no more. (According to Rebecca, her adoptive mother believed that when Rebecca was baptized in the LDS Church, her DNA changed to that of her adoptive parents.)

I’ve wondered whether adoptees like Rebecca are actually eligible to join the DAR. According to its website “Any woman 18 years or older who can prove lineal, bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence is eligible to join the DAR. She must provide documentation of each statement of birth, marriage and death.…” This would bar adoptees born in states which do not allow adoptees access to their original birth certificate from even applying.

WHAT DOES ANCESTRY MEAN TO A PERSON ADOPTED AS AN INFANT?
Americans eschew the idea that ancestry determines our status in society; we are created equal. Our Constitution prohibits Congress and states from granting Titles of Nobility.

Even though our status is not—nor should not be--determined by our pedigree, Americans love genealogy. We flock to websites such as Ancestry.com and tune in to NBC’s Who Do You Think you Are? where experts help celebrities explore their origins. Both Edie Falco and Rosie O’Donnell have been featured celebrities; both are adoptive parents. On a show several weeks ago, Falco learned that one of her ancestors in England was orphaned as a girl of ten and taken in by another family. While Falco clearly was fascinated by her sea captain ancestor--part of the story takes place on a boat similar to the one he would have captained--and this young girl, the captain's daughter, Falco did not register that her adopted children might wonder about their own natural ancestors--not hers. Instead, she related the orphaned ancestor to her bringing other children into her family.

On the February, 2011 show, Rosie ODonnell learned of a branch of her family she knew nothing about and had a “wonderful reunion” with them. She also learned that one of her forebears and his family immigrated from Ireland during the potato famine in 1854. Rosie visited the dismal workhouse where the family stayed before embarking. Being there brought tears of emotion to her eyes. She was deeply moved. The promo for the show tolds us: 
“Imagining the suffering of her forebears is horribly sad but it’s also given Rosie a brand-new perspective. She always felt that her mother’s death [when she was 10] was an unlivable tragedy, but now she realizes that the reason her mother was alive in the first place is owed to the suffering and pain of the family who came before her. The journey has been a life-changing gift. …Rosie can’t wait to get home to share the story with her kids—about the fragility and impermanence of life. The Murtagh side of the family is alive and well in Rosie, and their gift includes the choice to leave suffering behind and focus on redemption.”
“Wait a minute, Rosie” I wanted to shout as I watched the show. “Three of your kids are adopted and the fourth other was born to your then lover through artificial insemination. The Murtagh family may be alive and well in you but there’s not a spec of Murtagh DNA in your kids. Your ancestry cannot be grafted on to them.”

On the other hand, perhaps they, like Rebecca, consider their adoptive parents’ ancestors as their ancestors.

Still, shouldn’t Rosie’s kids have the right to decide for themselves whether to find their blood kin and fashion their own meaning from what they find? Rosie’s answer is apparently “no.” She has never supported the right of adoptees to learn their ancestry. Her brother, Daniel O’Donnell, a New York legislator, has been an outspoken opponent of legislation which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

President Obama and his Kenyan relatives

Thinking of ancestry took me back to the White House. President Obama’s father, who was born in Kenya, left the family when Obama was two and Obama never really knew him. Obama has sought out his Kenyan relatives even though as New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in 2008 “Enemies of Senator Obama [may] seize upon details like his grandfather’s Islamic faith or his father’s polygamy to portray him as an alien or a threat to American values.” Clearly in spite of the possible fallout, the President needed a connection to the paternal side of his family.

Kristof went on to write: “But snobbishness and paranoia ill become a nation of immigrants, where one of our truest values is to judge people by their own merits, not their pedigrees.”

Yes, we must be judged on our own merits. But knowing our history through the generations gives us a sense of connection to the tree of life and a piece of ourselves that we can gain though no other means. If our true heritage were not so intrinsically important in a way that cannot be explained logically, genealogy and these shows would not be so popular today. To borrow from The Locator Troy Dunn: you can't find peace until you find all the pieces. 

Genetic ancestors may help us know where those merits (and demerits) come from.
___________________________
Obama's Kenyan Roots

Who Do You Think You Are? is on Friday night, 8 p.m., EST. 

32 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Stephanie:

    I assume you mean Rosie?

    Yes, that is the take away from the show--that her ancestry is meaningful, even highly emotional, but about her adopted kids? Not so much.

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  3. I have / will do all of my family trees - all four of them. They all mean something different to me. They are all important in their own ways. To deny either set is to deny who I am in totality.

    I am kind of angry - ancestry hyped the census release for April 2 that will allow me to do my final tree - but last I checked they still do not have the state/states I need indexed. To scroll through every single page of the census in a state is unrealistic, and that is what I would have to do without a clue as to the city or even which state they could have resided in, in 1940.

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  4. As an adoptee, I value my actual (genetic) heritage. While I think my adoptive parents' family trees are interesting, I do not feel a part of them. (For one thing, my ancestors are not from Scandinavia.)

    In fact, let's face it: adoptees won't even be included on many adoptive family trees,and even fewer family trees would include adoptees'offspring.

    Our society obviously values heritage. Yet, adoptees are often taught to disregard their own. We receive such mixed messages. Heritage is important. Blood is thicker than water--just not if you're an adoptee.

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  5. I'm one of those adoptees who thinks that while it's interesting to hear about my adoptive family tree, it's not mine. While I find the stories interesting, I don't feel any sort of connection to them. They mean a lot more to my parents but my ancestors didn't come here from Ireland. Not one bit.

    Finding out about my ancestry was one of my favorite parts of reuniting. I went from being the kid who didn't know anything to the person who can now proudly proclaim that I have ancestors who were in the US prior to the Revolutionary War. I've traced my ancestry back to France in 1419. I find that all really neat and I am proud of my own heritage. It may not be the same as my adoptive parents, but that's OK. I don't share their genes which I'm fine with.

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  6. Wow,one more reason to dislike Rosie! I thought I had plenty of reasons already.

    I really hope Rosie is not typical of adoptive parents. I can't imagine how anyone could possibly be against open birth records or access to original birth certificates. My children are adopted from Russia and we have their original birth certificates. We have extensive family information. I've even contacted a search company that specializes in Russia. My son says, about looking for his birth mother "I'm not ready". That's his right. But I would never deny him the resources and my energies to help him if/when he's ready. Including making sure now that my kids know how to speak the language of their home country, even though they were adopted before they were verbal.
    I've told my kids that my ancestors are Irish, but theirs are Russian. It doesn't mean that their grandpa isn't their grandpa (just like I'm their mom), but it does mean simply that they're of Russian ancestry. Not Irish. Seems pretty simple to me.....

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  8. I'm so glad you raised this issue.

    Just yesterday in the grocery store I said something to my daughter about my grandmother making homemade pickles when I was a little girl. I told her, that I bet her grandmother--her biological one--made them too, then paused.

    She definitely sees my mother as her grandmother (which she is, of course) but my mother sure as heck doesn't make pickles. Also MY grandmother was a hateful woman--a racist homophobe who, before she died, never acknowledged my [African American] children adopted to my [white] self and [white] female partner as part of her family.

    Frankly, I don't think she deserves my kids as descendents, though if they want to claim her as an ancestor, that's their choice someday.

    I just felt a little guilty for a minute for not saying "your great-grandmother made homemade pickles" but I think I would have felt just as bad if I had said it.

    This is one of those things where adoptive parents need to collect and archive all they can about their little children's family history and hold it in trust for their older children and their adult children to make their own choices about.

    I'd love to hear what more adult adoptees have to say about the topic. (The one whose "ancestors" came on the Mormon trail is absolutely entitled to those ancestors, but that also sounds a bit like protective talk for the imagined benefit of the adoptive parents. I really hope my kids grow up with the full and deep knowledge that they need never, ever "protect" me in that way.)

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  9. I have a very proud old family of the Southwest, Pennsylvania and other states... but our family in the Southwest, the branch that I come from directly, is one of the most distinguished of their time. What my daughter thought? I have no clue other than she didn't seem to care about it at all.

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  10. Oh brother, I am of two minds on this issue.
    OTOH, I absolutely believe that every adopted person has the right to consider himself part of his AP's ancestry even if they aren't blood relations. I always enjoyed learning my adoptive family history and no adopted person should be denied that. We understand that these are not the people who came before us in history whose genes we carry but we are still part of the family. And it is cruel to deny those adoptees from the closed era who have no idea who their bio-relatives are the opportunity to feel a part of their adoptive family's ancestry.

    OTOH, I know with 100% certainty that I qualify as a member of the DAR. I checked their website and sure enough there was the ancestor that I am descended from. The website states that adopted persons are welcome to make application as long as they are descended through bloodlines and not adoption. However, I am not able to get any documentation that proves my ancestry. I was both born and adopted in closed states and from the information I have gathered I don't think my natural father is listed on my OBC anyway. I qualify for DAR and a whole host of other lineage/genealogical societies through my paternal line. The surname of my ancestor on the DAR website is what would have been my maiden name.

    It is not even a question of whether or not I would want to join this or that organization but it does infuriate that my adopted status makes it impossible for me to even be considered. I should mention though that some of these societies will not accept you if you were born on the wrong side of the blanket. To those I say, "Don't worry, I won't let my *shameful* existence darken your doorstep".

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  11. Robin:

    Do tell which of the high falutin' societies do not accept you if you were born on the wrong side of the blanket, as you say. What about all the kids today born to unmarried women? Some of them must have DAR/Colonial Dames potential in their bloodline?

    Maybe you just join and not mention the "adopted" part, but I imagine that, unless you hated your adoptive parents, you would not want to do that.

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  12. Jane,
    What a well-written, thoughtful post. As an older adoptee, I consider my genetic ancestors my true ancestry, although I don't know nearly as much about them as I would like to. I loved my adoptive parents and grandparents very much and felt entirely accepted as family, but I knew from very early on that their family tree was not my family tree. I wrote a post on this theme on my Family Ties blog called Living History Day. In my mind, the case for honesty and transparency in adoption is just so strong, but it's attitudes like Rosie O'Donnell's and her brother's, I guess, that thwart the progress.

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  13. My surrendered daughter considered both families and ancestors "hers," I am quite sure. The fact that her natural father and I were writers, that my brother is an art director, certainly appealed to her, and her sense of herself. When she was able to go to college in her thirties, she discovered there that she was a good writer, and I know that her true heritage meant more to her as she found this ability in herself. Both of her daughters found their way to the arts as a career choice.

    But I also heard my daughter Jane tell me with pride about her adopted relatives, revealing her sense of connection to SOME OF THEM beyond her immediate family. But some of them she disavowed, a luxury you cannot do if you are related to them by blood. You can dislike them, or what they have done, but you can't X them out of your life.

    I know an adoptee who has done a whole family history of her adopted family--when no one else in the family has taken up the task. The one person who knew who her natural parents were died without telling her. She had asked; she knew he knew; he refused. How cruel is that?

    Yet I know other adoptess who, upon finding their biological families, immediately relate to them as truly theirs. "Think of that--I'm not German Jewish, I'm French and Irish" a close friend told me. I met him before he found his biological family, and he did not practice Judiasm.

    Some birth mothers find it strange that adoptees think of a family history that is not related to them by genes as theirs, but so it is.

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  14. Only each adoptee can say what ancestry means to them, and that the answers are likely to differ.It is not for either adoptive parents or natural parents to insist that the adoptee define her ancestry the way they prefer.

    What helps some to convey family information like revolutionary ancestors, funny stories of grandma, or any family history is to not confront the adoptee about "your" grandma or "your" ancestor, but rather tell the story about "my ancestor" etc. For some this makes it easier to hear without feeling pushed to declare allegiance to either family.

    Children and grandchildren know what the relationship is, that you share common ancestors, that your mother is their biological grandmother, but sometimes it is easier to convey information without pushing that point.

    As mothers I think we need to take a cue from the adoptee and what they are comfortable with, how they prefer to hear about or refer to family. If your adoptee loves to be included and told about "your ancestor", refer to her that way, but if it raises defenses, make it "my ancestor" and go on with the story. Sometimes that smooths it over and makes it acceptable, and the information you want to convey gets heard rather than rejected.

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  15. I'm guessing that some adoptive parents don't want to create a "them" and an "us", we're a family, so there's only a "we". But, "we" has to include the child's original heritage. That's my best guess. No (mentally stable)parent, natural or adoptive, wants their child to feel isolated. Although I know it's not the purpose of this blog, it's discussions like this that make parenting adopted children easier.

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  16. Why thank you, Barbara.

    If anybody is trying to reach us through forumfirstmother@gmail.com there is a glitch right now and I cannot access that account. I can be reached through Facebook all the time.

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  17. Well, besides being a first-mom, I am also the daughter of an adoptee...my mother. I loved my "adoptive" grandmother no question, but she was a family history buff, and she traced her family tree back to the beginning of time! lol She was also a member of the DAR. It bothered her that my Mom couldn't be a member, but my Mother actually had little interest in it because it wasn't HER bloodline, and she didn't feel she belonged in that group. She wasn't angry, just more like not interested. Even before I became a "first-mom" I loved hearing about my (a) grandmother's ancestors, but knew they weren't REALLY mine. I definitely felt a connection to my Dad's ancestors, but there was a different feeling about my Mom's adoptive side. The blood connection was just always important to me, but it didn't lessen my feelings for my Mother's (a)parents...my grandparents.

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  18. You can totally disavow your blood relatives. Many people do. Haven't you heard the expression "You're dead to me"? It's often uttered to a bio-sister or brother or even a parent. Let's face it, there are rotten people in the world and they are bio-related to somebody and that somebody could be you. X-ing them may be the most real thing you do.

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  19. Anon: You're dead to me, I never want to see you again, whatever, but those undesirable relatives are STILL relatives, related by blood and family history. Maybe you have someone in your family you hate but you can't undo biology. Sorry.

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  20. @sticklerfortruth, I am perplexed by your comment. No one suggested you can undo biology, but clearly how one determines its "merit" or worth is an individual choice.

    It would seem based on this post and the comments thereof that there is a mixed bag of experiences so to speak; some valuing their bio. ancestry above all others, some weighting both their adoptive and bio. heritages with equal status and some relating only to their adoptive branch.

    I find myself right in the middle. Curious to know a bit more about my bio. line but equally attached to my adoptive branch.

    @maryanne, I think your heart is in the right place, encouraging the use of "mine" or otherwise by AP's to allow their child to determine their own lineage mindset, but honestly? Had my parents done such a thing, it would have been terribly isolating and hurtful as a child.d I simply would not have understood.

    On the other hand, opening the door to communication and exploring an adopted child's history with them as they age or in adulthood and giving it equal weight feels right to me.

    Thankfully I had that and am grateful.

    P.S. BTW, my parents (adoptive to clarify) always encouraged us to create a "garden" during those school Family Tree assignments, giving equal status (as much as feasible) to each of my "branches". No one higher than the other; no awkward "side branches" and the choice of what or who to include was my decision. I always portrayed my overseas nanny as the "gardener" overlooking us all, so that she too could be represented. I LOVE that my Mom came up with that long before it was PC.

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  21. "Some birth mothers find it strange that adoptees think of a family history that is not related to them by genes as theirs, but so it is."

    That's because they do not really understand the adoptee experience. When placed for adoption the child becomes a member of a new family. Our first parents weren't there (in closed adoption) and we may never even know our genetic ancestry.

    I agree with what Maryanne said that it should be up to the adoptee to decide who s/he considers ancestors. Although the use of "my" and "your" can get sticky. I would have hated it growing up if my APs had not referred to their parents as my grandparents. Especially since I had bio-kid siblings, it would have made me feel like such an outsider.

    I think Rebecca has an ancestor who served in the Revolutionary war and also has ancestors who came up the Mormon Trail but it is really up to her to decide.

    I think the most important thing is to make the child feel that s/he is a full member of the adoptive family without being delusional (i.e. denial that the child has heritage from a bio-family also).

    Colonial Dames requires legitimate descent. DAR use to also but there was a lawsuit against them in the mid-80's and I think that is what caused them to change their policy. Although for many of us adoptees it is a moot point since we are unable to obtain the necessary documentation to prove our lineage.

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  22. To Anon 10:56AM:

    You misunderstood my meaning. I was speaking of natural parents in reunion speaking to their adult child or their grandchildren, not about adoptive parents speaking to their minor children. Some adoptees are uncomfortable with all the bio relatives they never knew being referred to as "theirs", especially adoptees who were found rather than searched. Of course this varies a lot from one adoptee to another. In speaking to children, I would expect adoptive parents would refer to the child's adoptive relatives as "ours". I am a reunited natural mother, so was speaking from that point of view, not that of an adoptive mother.

    As to disavowing natural relatives, sure, it happens all the time. My father in law never spoke a word to me or to my children, because we are not Jewish. Some Jewish families in that situation sit shiva for the son or daughter who married out of the faith as if they were dead.

    No, you can't change biology, but you can certainly disown and cut yourself totally off from relatives, natural or adoptive. How much does the biology really matter, except in a strictly biological way, when there is no emotional tie, or the only emotion is hate or indifference?

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  23. My daughter has talked about and shown me photos the adopted side of her family. Her Grandmother on her Mothers side was a strong influence in her life. Her adopted Mom was also adopted so there was no genetic connection there at all. My daughter felt loved and excepted by her Mothers adopted family.

    Her adopted fathers family was a different story. There were three adopted siblings in her family and she says they always felt and were treated as not genetically related. So much so that none of them were mentioned in her adopted fathers obit. Her parents were divorced.

    Now that we are reunited I have been able to fill in the empty blanks in my family tree. It includes her adopted family.

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  24. Well, as an adoptee I can sort of weigh in on this. My situation is a little complex:

    My adoptive family is Italian & Jewish. My maternal side is 100% Italian, and my fathers is Israeli.

    I am fluent in both Italian and English, and I live and study in Italy for extended periods of time. Given my study of the Italian language and culture, I am a member of various heritage groups and linguistic conservation societies. I've won awards from Italian-Americans societies, and scholarships for my linguistic skills. My adoptive mother is Italian, and she is thrilled that I am so academically and socially involved in her culture.


    The only problem is that, despite my fluency and years living in Italy........I'm actually Scottish and Mexican. I'm blonde! I don't look Italian at all, nor do I look like either of my adoptive parents.


    I regretfully admit that I possess not an OUNCE of Italian blood. However, given the fact that I've dedicated my academic life to the language ,culture, and politics of Italy ( a country that I am very familiar with)...I sort of say that I've "earned" my Italian-ness. My field is full of ACTUAL Italian Americans.. and I'm usually more fluent than all of them.


    I don't hide the fact that I'm not really Italian. Most people know that I'm adopted (given my very vocal status as a reunited adoptee) and most people don't give me a hard time about the fact that I am so active in Italian culture activities.

    I am proud to be an adoptive member of the "Messina" family, and a genetic member of the "Roger" family (not my real last names but they are close haha).


    I content myself with the knowledge that I've spent so much time in Italy, that my bones and teeth have soaked up the minerals. If , 100 years from now, someone digs up my body and analyses my bones- they will find a childhood in NYC, and an adolescence and young adulthood in Southern Sicily and Rome. If they want to find my lineage, they will find my ancestors in rural Mexico and the castles of Scotland. And that's fine. My soul is a part of both families...and on some level, so is my body.

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  25. Lorraine, LOL! I knew I'd be "seeing" something about that show with Rosie on it! I thought of FirstMothersForum when Rosie included her adoptive kids in HER heritage.

    @SusanP - going to check out your blog - Living History day!

    @maryanne - As mothers I think we need to take a cue from the adoptee and what they are comfortable with, how they prefer to hear about or refer to family. If your adoptee loves to be included and told about "your ancestor", refer to her that way, but if it raises defenses, make it "my ancestor" and go on with the story. Sometimes that smooths it over and makes it acceptable, and the information you want to convey gets heard rather than rejected.
    Yes, I think I made that mistake when writing about my parents, sisters, etc to my bdaughter...

    @Robin - That's because they do not really understand the adoptee experience. When placed for adoption the child becomes a member of a new family. Our first parents weren't there (in closed adoption) and we may never even know our genetic ancestry.

    My bdaughter knew from birth that is descended from one of the Baltic countries! I was SO thrilled to hear that from her amom that they even listened to the language and music and even went to some Song & Dance Festivals when she was growing up! On an off note - I do believe I actually saw my bdaughter when she about 8 or 9 years old at one of these, as my brother used to sell T-shirts at these festivals. I even had a dream that confirmed it WAS her!!!
    But I don't believe she liked it when I had said "your ancestors" and should have used the "my" as maryanne pointed out

    per maryanne:
    Some adoptees are uncomfortable with all the bio relatives they never knew being referred to as "theirs", especially adoptees who were found rather than searched.

    - I'll remember that next time - if there is a next time...

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  27. I started out with a comment but had so much to say it ended up a new post:

    Talking about ancestry to an adoptee, Part 2

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  28. My daughter told me and her boyfriend that she wanted to divorce her family (adoptive) at our 2nd f2f which included me meeting her mom for the first time. Her mom behaved very badly during our daughters 30th birthday weekend. My heart was doing cartwheels but I calmly suggested I didn't think that was possible. You can tell people "Your dead to me" all you want but truthfully when you have history together they are part of you. My daughter's mother behaved poorly on that visit but in the two years since they have worked things out. I have heard before that reunion often helps the adoptive family relationship. Why Aparents are so threatened is beyond me.

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  29. I too saw both Edie Falco and Rosie O'Donnell's appearances on "Who Do You Think You Are". I was dumbstruck at the end of each episode with their Love Conquers All attitudes. While they have just been given the gift of tracing back their heritage, when it comes to their a kids, they recast the truth and attempt to re-write history. They minimize the depth of their own experience and see their adopted children as mere extensions of themselves and their own families. This is not truthful or accurate, and I find it narcissistic.

    Your post is timely as I have recently hired my own genealogist to trace back my own bio roots, inspired by the TV show. I have no interest in my adoptive family history as to me this is not my truth or bloodline. My search and reunion efforts have been focused on learning the truth of who I am and where I came from, biologically. My b parents have only given me bits of ethnic info--a bit Irish, a bit Scotch, etc. I have a desire to know the facts so that I can pass that info onto my two children.

    What this gentleman, the genealogist, found is that there is an ancestry.com website on my bio mother's side that goes back to the 1600's. Now what? Do I enter myself and my children? That is my truth and my right. I am now estranged with my bio mother as she still wants me to be the Bastard in the Closet, andremains in denial. This is not a role I desire. I wish no ill will, but simply feel the need to say that I am one small thread in this family quilt. I don't necessarily like the fact that these are my bio relatives and neither does she, but we are connected and this is the truth.

    I have only two biological first cousins and I am 99% certain they do not know I exist. I toy with reaching out, then think, let it go....My desire is not to confront, engage in conflict, or demand acceptance, it is simply to state that I am here, I am alive, and I have just as much right to be on the family tree as any other member.
    Any advice?

    Funny thing is, the genealogist found out that bio mom's own mother was born out of wedlock in 1923, preceded by her brother born first in 1922. The parents eventually married 6 months after her birth (their second child together) and went on to have two more children. Quite scandalous! I am certain that being born illegitimate played a huge role in my bio grandmother's reaction to her own daughter's unwanted pregnancy. (not again! I will not be shamed by my daughter's pregnancy as I was by my mother's pregnancy with me!)

    BTW, a great book I am sure many of you have already read that discusses this DAR issue is A.M.Homes', The Mistresses Daughter.

    Thanks for all you do!

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  30. Diane, Your comment was heart-breaking to read, that your biological mother is keeping you in the closet that you not not desire to be in. From your post, I assume you have no siblings, and thus the desire to meet your cousins. I am so exhausted by the mothers who do not welcome their children; I feel it is the adoptee's right to contact family members if the mother does not take the first step in making that possible. However, you might tell her that you so long to meet them, and give her time to break out of her secret hell, before you act. It's impossible to know how they will react. They may welcome you despite their aunt's wishes, or they may feel you have overstepped some boundary and reject you. Some women have been in hiding for so long they cannot imagine fessing up, and finding peace with the truth.

    The prison of secrecy that some first mothers have entered into willingly, and stay there, decade after decade, baffles me. Secrets only have the power to hurt you as long as they are secrets. But your mother has obviously not found the courage to move beyond her prison.

    Good luck. I hope you will let us know how your journey goes. I will keep you in my thoughts.

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  31. Quick follow up--last year I did directly express interest in meeting my bio first cousins to my B mom and was told she had no phone numbers for either (though she was going to attend her nephew's wedding and had met her nephew's fiance and her family).

    I did also meet B mom's sister, my bio aunt, the mother of the cousins, several years ago. She was aloof, cold and wanted to only talk about the weather, how pretty she thought I was, and comment on my beautiful coat. I later sent her a thank you note as she graciously treated for dinner, and later that year sent xmas card with a lovely photo of our children, but no return card received.

    At a later point in time, I asked B mom about her sister's lack of interest, her response was, "my sister is not a reflective person, our mother was not a reflective person, I am only slightly more reflective. What can I say?".

    BTW, I do have an A brother, though we have never been close. I think he may have suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. I am fortunate to have inherited better genes. Though, even if we were close, I would still desire to meet my first cousins. One connection does not replace another, as we all know.

    I am very close with my bio aunt on my b father's side. One of the most hurtful things my A mom said is "that makes sense that you and she are close, since she never had any children". Yikers, not used to thinking of myself as the booby prize!

    You may remember my B mom had a son conceived via egg donation at the age of 48--the replacement. Perhaps that is a contributing reason she has no interest in me if her reasoning is indeed as she expressed.

    As for genealogical research, I think I will have the professional I hired post all I have learned on the ancestry.com site, on both bio mother/father's side. The family tree will connect to me, and then my two children. I wanted to learn my story for them, because my story is their story. Let the chips fall where they may, but this is my truth (kind of like Mimi Alford).

    Anyway, 95% of my life is great--the part that I had something to do with. My motto for 2012 is "moving forward"....

    Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I don't for the life of me know why I feel compelled to defend DAR since my interactions with them were completely odious, but in my case at least they were totally supportive of my application and determined to work around any paperwork issues created by my adoption. I didn't join because the membership director was a racist xenophobe, but she was extremely pleasant to me. The Mayflower Society was even more supportive, actively trying to help me identify what documentation would suffice. In my case, it was much easier than I expected to be 'accepted' by lineage societies, so if it's really important to you (as an adoptee or mother) just ask.

    As background, my (adoptive) mom's family and my (natural) dad's family are extremely similar and both had several active DAR members in the extended family. Both of my families were willing to work with both me and DAR to document my (biological) lineage and offered affidavits testifying. I come from a closed-record state and there is no state-issued evidence that my natural family is actually my family, but the lineage societies were willing to work around that. They were far more sensitive to adoption-related issues that I would have anticipated.

    That said, knowing your heritage is priceless. I found the idea of joining a club whose director bemoaned the fact that "mixed-race kids can get in if one side is American, and my half-Hispanic grandkids and their like are ruining the organization" abhorrent, but your mileage may vary.

    That rambled, but the point is this - if it's important to you, ask. The answers may surprise you.

    ReplyDelete

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