Biology and culture, nature versus nurture. We know both are important, we really do, but with the adoption-is-the-cure-for-so-damn-much culture that we are in today, that sentence: It's easier to embrace a thief than a phantom stopped me cold. Americans like to pretend that DNA and ancestry do not matter; we can make ourselves up new here in America. But. Biology matters. DNA is the raw material out of which we came.
To back up a bit: Author and linguist, Christine Kenneally's, search for her grandfather, a man who did the deed necessary for procreation and then promptly disappeared, led her to inquire what DNA contributes to who we become. According to the review by David Dobbs, she fully accepts that one's genetic message is in cahoots with culture to produce who we are, but is amazed that so many people actually fine genealogy silly, as if a past had nothing to do with one's identity. "Really?...If a person's genealogy is the series of individuals whose coupling eventually produced that person, then it's hard to see how that assertion is possible," she writes.
Now I'm only taking off from Dobbs's excellent review--I hope to do a full review and essay later
when I get the book--but the current craze for genealogy as evidenced by the spate of television shows in the past few years has been gnawing at me, gnawing at me because it exists at the same time that legislatures are beginning to open records a crack, at the same time always thinking about CYA loopholes that allow first mothers to hide in the woodwork.
Dear Reader, I am frustrated. New Jersey, Ohio, Montana, Washington--these four states recently passed legislation that allow the vast majority of adoptees to obtain their true and original birth certificates (OBCs), yet all have that damn caveat that gives a mother the right to deny information not only to her direct progeny, but to all generations going forward after that.* Think about it. Someone is doing a family history, and suddenly, they come up with a blank wall. Unless they are able to crack the code, or be featured in Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s PBS program, Finding Your Roots, since the TV shows have found ways to go around sealed records, one single person, in a long line of ancestors, can block tracing one's genealogy.
|Grrrreat cover art...|
In the end, Kenneally was not able to locate her grandfather, but--because adoption was not involved--did discover further up the family tree a convict--one Michael Deegan, her great-great grandfather, who was put on a boat from Ireland and sent to Australia in the mid-1800s for stealing a handkerchief. Dobb's writes:
"Her father absorbed this news far better than he did his father's haunting absence, confirming Kenneally's belief that people who excavate their pasts are almost always glad they did. It's easier to embrace a thief than a phantom."
|Me and my girl. 1983|
If any first mothers are reading here and would like to communicate with us, please email us through email@example.com. We'll be glad to talk to you or communicate by email. Both fellow blogger Jane and I remember how scary and awful it was the first time we said to anyone: I gave up a child for adoption.--lorraine
*Washington does allow adoptees to access records after their mothers die and to make periodic inquiries to the Washington Vital Stats as to the state of her mortality. If she dies in a state other than Washington, there may be no record of her death in Washington and the adoptee will continue to be denied access.
Sunday Book Review: ‘The Invisible History of the Human Race’ by Christine Kenneally
Finding Your Roots: Bastards show up in all family trees
How much do genes count in who we become?
At the hospital: The innate need to know who you are, the desire to return 'home'
Family Reunions: Missing the one lost to adoption
Irrational fear drives adoption laws in Washington State
The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures
"The word ‘brilliant’ gets thrown around a lot, but it should be saved for Christine Kenneally and her book The Invisible History of the Human Race. Transcending the nature-nurture dichotomy, Kenneally shows us how our societies and our selves got to be the way they are. Don’t read this book looking for neat answers—gaze instead through a glorious kaleidoscope of science, psychology, history, and first-class storytelling.”
—Susan Cain, New York Times (must be from the daily paper) I can't wait to get this book.
by Richard Hill
"Hill's memoir is well-written, easy to read, a can't-put-down tale. It's a warm story of a man who finds family as well as roots. It's more than that, though, as Hill reveals himself in the process of discovering his roots. I was pleased that Hill resisted compartmentalizing his natural and adoptive families."'I'm a lucky man,'" he told his wife. "'Most people are only blessed with two parents. I had four. Two of them created me from the DNA of my biological ancestors. And the other two molded me into the person I am today.'"--from Jane Edwards' review on FMF