One of the hardest things in doing research is the reality vs. perceptions that a lot of people have about research into their family tree.
For some reason, we like to think that all women in our family are prim and proper and sweet little virgins when they met the men in our family.
Let me assure you. Not true. Not true today, and not true back in the day of our ancestors.
My mother was never married to my biological father. I have never laid eyes on him, although I know believe that I know who he is. (It is either him or one of his brothers, but his brothers were never in the part of the world I was born in.)
Do I believe that my mother was a sweet, virtuous angel before I got here? Of course not.
She had desires. She had attractions, crushes, encounters. All of the things that normal people have. Sex drive is not something that is limited to men. Women have urges, too. The only difference is not what they do with those urges, but instead, how they are treated for having those urges and acting upon them.
My mother, when it was obvious that I was looking for my biological family threw me on a trail of bad information and lies. To protect me? Perhaps. To protect herself from rejection and judgement? Of course.
I belong to a lot of different groups on social media. Repeatedly, adoptees who are looking for their biological families will have so much more luck with their paternal family than they have with their maternal family. It is so contradictory of everything that we see in movies, etcetera. But it is the truth. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, that goes without saying.
In one of the groups that I belong to on Facebook, the ratio of paternal family being open to meeting and knowing is about 3 to 1 compared to maternal family.
I know that when I had my son and placed him for adoption, it was deeply instilled in me to make sure that I did not interfere with the adoptive family or the child that I placed for adoption, after all, they were doing me a huge favor.
Wasn't I doing them a huge favor as well? Isn't having a baby and giving it to the adoptive parent to raise a big favor as well? I would think so, but the adoption agencies of the time did not really address that angle. Another reflection of women being punished/held accountable for her sexuality.
That leads me to DNA testing and reunions being made outside the parameters of the adoption agency.
Adoption agencies made the promise to people that they need not worry about being contacted. That their little secret was safe within the walls of the agency and the sealed birth certificate. With the event of at home DNA testing (Ancestry, Heritage, 23AndMe, Family Tree DNA, etcetera) becoming so affordable, more and more people are turning away from the agencies and the archaic laws of sealed adoption records. They are instead choosing to take tests that cost less than 100.00 per test. In less than 2 months typically, an adoptee can find their birth family on both sides. With social media being free and open, with a few clicks of the mouse, an adoptee can look at the faces of biological family.
The problem about this is for any member of the adoption triangle that does not want to be found. For the birth mother who wanted the secret of her pregnancy and childbirth hidden, her privacy is no longer assured or guaranteed. For the birth father who may not even know that a child was conceived, his life can be thrown into hell if he has never told his family of the existence of a child.
An adoptee that has never been told that they were adopted, or does not want to know their biological family and finds themself facing issues they were not prepared to handle can be a disaster.
Am I against DNA testing? No, not at all. I support open records. I support the right of people to know where they came from as an adoptee. I support the right of birthparents to know their biological child is well and cared for. Open adoption removes all of the mystery from adoption and allows for open communication. In medical emergencies, if the biological family is available for contact, information can be exchanged that is literally lifesaving.
As long as we continue to have a one sided stigma of women having sexuality, of women expressing their sexuality and of women having sexual relations, we will continue to have shame for an event that needs to have no shame.
As I continue to know my paternal family, I am greatly saddened by all of the years that I was denied these relationships. I have aunties and cousins and grand cousins. I had grandparents while I was alive on my father's side. From all that I have heard, they would have been very loving and kind. I have pictures of people who I look like. Who I share the same body type. Who I have common interests. I would still be searching for these wonderful family members if I had not taken a DNA test.
I am all about the search. I am all for finding the people with whom you share a blood connection.
I believe that DNA becoming more and more affordable is making DNA testing happen. I have been reading heartwarming stories of people even in their 90's discovering family that they never knew they had, or family that has been lost.
The thing that people do not talk about as much is when family does not want to be contacted.
I have been fortunate with some of the people that I have searched for. I have "new" aunts that I never knew I had. I cherish each and every one of them. I have cousins, I have grand cousins. It is amazing that these warm, loving and caring people are part of my family.
I have also come in contact with people who have not been wonderful. I interacted with a distant cousin who accused me of lying because they did not want to be a part of my family. This person said that I manipulated my DNA to match theirs. Emotionally, I was able to tell that they had a lot of issues, and I did not push. I gave them the space that they needed. It hurt my feelings at the time, because I so badly wanted to have my missing family members. This person (I am being very careful to not identify them) blocked me from Facebook. They blocked me from their phone. How do I know this? They made it a point to share that with me.
Was I overzealous in my actions with them? Actually, I am very proud that I was very polite. I did not intrude in their life. I did not ask a lot of questions. I merely pointed out the match that was on several of the DNA platforms that we both tested on.
If you are reaching out to family members that you do not know prior to your test, the best approach is non emotional. Simply state the facts and go forward from there. Just because you want a relationship with all of your newfound family does not mean that they are even prepared for such revelations. Take it slow. Be prepared to explain how you are related.
If it is a very close match, such as a parent, ask if they are able to talk.
Best of luck!
DNA is a really exciting groundbreaker for those of us who are searching. When you find the person that you are searching for, you want to be happy, approachable and NOT CREEPY.
I may have posted a letter in the past, but as I get good examples, I will continue to share them here for all to use.
Here is an excellent example of a letter to send to a potential parent or child.
Feel free to print this and use it for your own personal use. I have made the parts that you replace with your information XXX for easy identification.
I believe that we may have something in common. I am doing family research and my leads are all pointing to you as the person who would have the information that I am searching for.
I was born at XXX hospital in XXX, XXX. I weighed XXX pounds and XXX ounces. I was born at XXX time. My birthdate is XXX. My name at birth was XXX
My parents were very brave because they made an adoption plan for me. I was placed for adoption through XXX adoption agency.
I was adopted at the age of XXX. My parents XXX and XXX raised me from that age.
I grew up in the state of XXX. I hope that you will get in touch with me because I am certain that you will have the information I need to complete my search.
I have had DNA testing done through XXX.
I have enclosed a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for your convenience. I can also be reached at XXX mobile phone and XXX email address if that is more convenient.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Want to know an interesting piece of information?
If you are a birth mother who voluntarily placed her child for adoption, you may be ineligible for adoption.
Sound like something from times gone by? Allow me to let you know how recent this information is: today. When I was married in the past, my ex-husband and I were looking into adoption. One of the questions that was asked by each of the adoption agencies that we spoke to was if we had ever had a child that was placed for adoption. It also asked about children that were removed from custody, but that is not the focus of this article.
I honestly answered the question. "Yes" I wrote in. When the social worker looked at our form, each and every time, their face would go from relaxed and easy to tense. One woman asked "Did you mean to check off that you were looking to adopt?" I shook my head. "We are here to adopt, but I also placed a child for adoption when I was a teenager. I was very young and I knew that I could not provide a good environment for a baby while I was still a child." She started tapping her pen on the desk from tip to end. "I don't know how to say this. I really don't. You can't adopt a child if you have placed a child for adoption." We sat there, dumbfounded. She continued. "You can't decline to share it, either. It is linked to the records through your date of birth and your social security number. " She smiled a very forced smile.
"The only option for you is to go surrogate. No agency in the United States will allow you to adopt a child if you have placed a child up for adoption. Not even a state agency." She thanked us for our time, shook our hands and ushered out of the building, lest the taint of my "sin" contaminate her.
My ex and I were not deterred. We tried several more agencies, some in person and some on the telephone. We were blunt when we spoke on the phone. "Can we adopt if one of us has placed a child for adoption?" Each time, we were told "No. You cannot." Sometimes, the next sound that we heard was dial tone. It was one of the most disheartening times of my life. I had been told by the agency that I placed my child with that we would "both be starting with a clean slate." I had been told that "No one need know about this part of your life." I always responded with "I am not ashamed of my child. I did not go out to try and get pregnant. I never wanted that. I was molested."
The incident with my ex-husband is something that I have not thought about in over a decade until a friend of mine called me today to tell me that she and her husband had been declined by an adoption agency because she had placed a child for adoption while she was still in college. All of those raw emotions came forward for me. It hurt to basically be told that you are not eligible to raise a life because you placed a life up for adoption when you could not raise them.
There has to be a better way to treat birthmothers. Not to marginalize them or punish them for a decision that they were encouraged to make when their child was born. For some of these women, the choice was not even a choice. They were told that they would not be able to return home if they chose to parent their child. They were made to end the relationship with the birth father. There are as many stories as there are birthparents. The decision to place a child for adoption is not one that is made lightly.
When I was pregnant with my son, I promised all of my family members that I would place my child for adoption. I promised them that I would "do the right thing". That did not stop me from having hopes and dreams for myself and the child that I was carrying. That did not stop me later in life wanting to have a little family to raise.
I am not a secret and this needs to stop.
Since I have been on my search for my paternal biological family, I have been fortunate enough to come across some really lovely people. I have met some of the most helpful people that you could ever want to meet.
I have also met some people who really did not think that I should be following through on finding my biological family.
I would like to comment on that with some cold, hard facts, and probably some raw emotion as well.
I am not a secret. I have never lived as though I were a secret. I am a person. I have thoughts, feelings, emotions, and bleed when I am cut, the same as everyone else.
I am not a secret. What two adults did to get me here was something that I was a result of, not because I was an active consenting person.
I am not a secret. When I am asked for my complete medical history, I can only make a guess at part of my history. Because I don't know.
I am not a secret. When I look at my family, I know that I have traits that belong to my biological parent that I don't know.
I am not a secret. I never agreed to be in hiding so that someone would not have to confront their actions from the past.
I am not a secret. I am not in hiding, nor should I have to be.
I am not demanding a relationship with my biological family, if that is not what they want. But what I am wanting is for them to know that I exist. For them to know that there is someone else in the world who is carrying their genetic line. For them to know that life is messy, that is how we are made. I don't hold any anger or grudges, but I am not a secret.
June 13th is a big day for me. It is the feast of Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony is most commonly known as the finder of lost things. I remember the first time that I lost something important as a young girl. A nun advised me to "Ask Saint Anthony to help me find it." I did, and moments later, the lost object was found. I was impressed.
Growing up, I heard tales of the Miracles of Saint Anthony. People finding spouses, houses, good jobs and more. Saint Anthony seemed to be the guy to go to if you were seeking things. Of course, nothing could ever take the place of our Redeemer, Jesus, and there should be no mistake about that.
Here is where it gets a little personal for me again.
He is also known as the finder of lost people to some. When I was looking for my sibling that was lost to us through adoption, I was desperate to find them. When my (now) ex-husband and I were looking for a house, we looked at one on a street that was the same as my siblings' first name. We bid on the house and ended up getting it. I told my ex-husband "I will find my sibling while we live here." He laughed and told me that he hoped I was right. Less than a year later, I was talking to my sibling on the phone and making plans to see them.
I had forgotten about Saint Anthony as a finder of lost people until I was looking at a friend's page online. She mentioned the use of Saint Anthony as a tool to unite or find people. It seemed very relevant to me that I would see her article on the eve of the Feast of Saint Anthony. If you are Catholic and searching, perhaps a word with the benevolent Saint Anthony may provide some assistance or comfort.
Book Review: The Other Mother: A Woman's Love for the Child She Gave Up for Adoption by Carol Schaefer
I am a member of all 3 parts of the official adoption triangle, and involved in other parts as well.
The adoption triangle is Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents and Adoptive Child. I am also a sister to a sibling that was placed for adoption. So if there is an adoption angle, I might have a little bit of insight about it.
Because of these issues, I follow books dealing with adoption. Birth parent stories always grab my heart. A while ago, I was gifted with The Other Mother by a friend of mine who is also a member of the adoption triad. I read the book over 2 afternoons in Paris, sitting on my small balcony of my tiny apartment.
I placed my child for adoption in the mid 80's, around the time that the author, Carol Schaefer was beginning her search for the child that she placed at birth.
Although there were a lot of things that had changed, many things remained the same. The marginalized feeling that she speaks about; the looks, the feelings of holding a secret, of the world continuing on as normal while this life changing event is happening to you are all things that must be a universal sentiment of the unwed mother who is placing her child up for adoption.
Although my conception story was different, I did not have a loving relationship with the person that got me pregnant, I did have the same relations with my family when I was pregnant. My aunt and uncle made sure that I was away when my grandfather decided to come into town unannounced.
Carol's book brought a lot of healing for me. I read it during a time where people did not as freely an openly discuss or admit that they were a birthmother. To be acknowledged as a person of value, not just as an unwed mother created a lot of healing in my heart. I sent a copy to my birth child's adoptive mother, and she sent it back, unread with a note that read "I cannot read this. It is not my side of the story." I thought that it would bond us, but she was not ready for that in her life at that moment. Years later, she would confess to me that she didn't read it because she was scared.
If you are a part of the adoption triangle, I highly recommend this book. The story of her strong feelings for her unborn baby, her struggle to search and her reunion story are compelling and touching. For birth parents, there is a lot of healing in those pages. For adoptive parents, there is a lot of explanations of circumstances and understanding. For birth children, here is the emotional map to what your birth mother may have been going through before you were born.
I have kept a copy of this book on my shelf at all times, and I have purchased copies as gifts for friends that were adopting or foster to adopting children in order to help them know what the struggle was in many of our hearts.
I hope that you will get a copy of this book, it is well written and very compassionate.
No matter where you are in the adoption triangle, if you are searching for your family, while you are waiting on things is the perfect time to make a kit in the event that you are united.
This can also turn into a valuable resource for you in the event that you get in contact with your person/family that you are looking for.
I will tell you that when I was posting everywhere, looking for my birth relative that was placed for adoption, I knew the facts by heart. When she contacted me via AOL instant messenger, I could not even remember her birthday, a date that I knew for over a decade.
I can remember fumbling over the keyboard, trying to express how I felt, but my fingers would not even strike the correct keys!
Here is what I would do now.
Create Pages. Make a separate page for each of the following topics:
Their basic facts that you know for sure. These would be confirmed facts.
Facts that you cannot confirm. (In non identifying information, I was told that my family member was raised by people of specific professions. One was true and one was not.)
Photos that you have labeled and their relationship to you as well as the relationship to the person that you are looking for.
Basic medical information. Only list confirmed things, not assumptions.
Contact information. Your contact information that you are willing to share. I advise extreme caution about giving your home address until you know one another better. Although you may be family, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Have a hard copy (printed off) of all of this information as well as a digital copy. Most likely, you will be exchanging information online at first, so if you have a folder with everything in it, you won't have to do a frantic search like I did at 3 in the morning.
I also recommend taking the time to make copies of every single photo you have of family members when you make a family tree for your reunion. It is easier to comprehend facts when you can put a name with a face.
My adopted relative told me that of all of the things that we gave to her, the most valuable was the photos and the family tree. It was really confusing for them to try and learn all about us.
Write a brief bio of the family members that are in your family.
If you are the adoptee, simple facts about your adoptive family are great, but your birth family will really want to see photos of you growing up as well as know about you. You can make it sort of generic at first, but let them know how your life has turned out. Your birth family, especially your birth parents want to know that they made the right decision for you. For birth family, include photos of birth parents at early ages to present. If the birth parent/s are deceased, let them know the cause of death as well as if the parent was cremated or buried. Also note the location of burial if that applies.
If you are the birth parent, write a bio about yourself. Where you were born/raised, what you do/did for a living, how many other children you have, the relationship with the other bio parent, religion and medical history. This may be uncomfortable for you to do, but please realize that most adoptees want to know their history. When I shared with my family member about our shared parent, I will tell you right now that there was no judgement on their part. They only wanted to know more about the birth parent that they would never know personally.
Create a contact information page for yourself to add to your file that is current and correct. Decide now if you want your social media to be a part of that page.
Good Luck With Your Search and NEVER GIVE UP!
This article is going to be a long one, but it is going to be full of a lot of information (primarily for adoptees, but can be modified for birth families as well.)
If you are adopted and are looking for your birth family, there is a lot of information that you should gather before you even search in order to make your search a lot more easy. I will list a lot of those tips, hints and helps here. If you know of any that I have not mentioned, please share by emailing me at PirateDixie@gmail.com or in the comments section below.
Best of luck to all of you on your search!
1. Where were you adopted from? Private Agency/state/foster/in-family adoption or something else? Make sure that you know the source of where you were adopted from.
2. How old were the people involved in the adoption? This includes you, your adoptive parents, the birth parents and any other parties.
3. Where were you born? Do you know the city, the state and the county that you were born in? Make sure that you are completely sure.
4. Do you have your original birth certificate? If not, have you sent off for your original birth certificate?
5. Have you created a narrative of your birth story?
6. Have you contacted the attorneys or government agencies that were responsible for facilitating your placement?
7. Have you had a DNA test done? If not, get one done. If money is an issue, you can get a free test done at Genes For Good. If you want to have access to the largest database, Ancestry.com is the one to go with.
8. Do you have any medical issues that have been in place since birth?
9. If you have had DNA testing done, where are all of the places that you have uploaded it to, such as GEDMatch, DNA.Land, etc.
10. Contact everyone that could have information about you and your files-the hospital, your birth state may have a birth index, the ob/gyn, etc. Check everywhere and leave no stone unturned.
11. Ask everyone in your adoptive family for details about your placement and adoption. They may have clues or information that no one else does. Ask publicly, ask privately. Don't be ashamed. It is your right to pursue this.
12. Make detailed notes at the time that you speak to anyone. Trust and believe when I tell you that you won't remember everything. Ask for spellings, dates, locations and anything else that they are willing and able to share with you.
13. Ask for information that was given to either side by the agency, attorney, etc. There may be valuable clues right there as well.
14. Make sure to ask facilitator if other side ever has written, sent updates, want to write or be in contact or any other information.
15. Write down your test kit numbers and keep them with you. Carry business cards to hand out wherever you go.
16. Prepare a medical history for other side as well as a way for them to contact you.
17. If privacy is a concern, create an email only for this search. Make sure that you check it regularly. You can even set up a notice to let you know when you have an email in that account.
18. Have an honest dialogue with yourself. What is the best case scenario of what you would like to happen? What is the worst case? What are your goals for the short, medium and long term? Are you prepared for the outcomes of death, rejection, mental or physical issues? How about if the person that you are searching for does not want to associate with you, but other relatives do-are you ready for that? What if family members or the family that you are looking for contend that you are creating fake documents or similar? Have you considered counseling to delve into these issues if you don't have ready answers to these issues?
19. Have you set aside money to aid in your search? Except for Genes for Good, DNA tests cost money, requesting documents cost money for copies, and writing to places costs time.
20. Are you willing to create notes and notebooks with all of your search information so that you do not backtrack or lose clues?
21. Are you able to provide verifying information to those family members who may doubt you or the veracity of your search? Are you willing to explain that you are not looking for any claim of money or property?
22. Make sure that all of your contact information at all of the sites you are on is current and correct. It would be a shame to invest all of the time and effort only to not have your matches be able to reach you.
23. Be prepared to ask people who say that they match you for proof as well. Some people are not noble, kind or honest. Be willing to ask for (and pay for) a DNA test if you have any doubts. Also, just because someone shares some physical characteristics does not mean that they are related, and the reverse is true as well.
24. You can set up a free web page or blog for people who are looking for you. Don't share every single detail about you, but for people looking, it may be the place they find without going through agencies, etcetera.
25. Prepare yourself now for the "honeymoon" and possibly "backlash". Some who search have never moved past the place in time of when the adoption event occurred. They may still be dealing with some issues. Some may romanticize or "saint" others. Some may "demonize" others. Be patient. Be kind. Make good notes, take loads of photos and create memories. Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. This is an emotional time.
26. Protect your privacy and safety. Although these people are family, until you know one another better, use caution and be safe.
27. Keep originals, make copies to share. I was SO glad I did this one. This includes photos.
28. Reach out for help through social media, adoption support and search groups, DNA search groups and more. Keep track of where you have signed up and check your places regularly.
29. If at all possible, create a family tree.
30. Never EVER give up. Take a break if it gets overwhelming, but don't give up!