Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Vanishing Leaf: Adoptees & the Family Tree advertises how exciting it is to see the little leaf pop up next to an ancestor's name on the trees you can make on their website.  The leaf leads you to all sorts of possible clues, documents, and other member's trees about your ancestor.  Oh, and they're right, it is exciting.  The little leaf things popped up all over the place when I made a family tree for my [Adoptive] Father and I traced him all the way back to the mid 1600's.  But what if a leaf never popped up for you; or worse yet, what if your name just disappeared? 

Thanks to my dear friend Priscilla Sharp helping me trace my genealogy (I am reunited, but my original family didn't know all of the things she found about our family), I know I am eligible for membership in two different historical associations.  I have begun the daunting task of collecting documents spanning over 15 generations to prove my ancestry.  I was not thinking about my family or myself when I started this today though.  I was thinking about all of the adoptees who may never have the opportunity to know who they are or where they come from.

I have one original great-grandmother and one adoptive grandmother who are both adoptees.  My original great-grandmother always had her OBC.  My Aunt sent it to me and I am working on tracing her heritage.  My adoptive grandmother never had a birth certificate; born in Connecticut in 1932 and adopted in New York she only has some agency paper. She knows her birth name but doesn't talk about it.  Her leaves on my tree list her marriages but there's no way to trace her original heritage.  Somewhere, out there, her original family is making a tree, likely without her on it.

So I asked Priscilla if adoptees would be kept on family trees decades later when genealogists go back to document a family's ancestors.  She said it would be likely that adopted descendants would be kept on the tree "but would be clearly delineated as 'adopted' on the tree."  Thinking on these historical societies I am looking at who accept individuals biologically related (related through adoption disqualifies you) to recognized historical figures, I asked her if someone was tracing the descendants down from one of my adoptive grandfathers, would my line be followed?  She wasn't sure.

I know that if I had not received my OBC and reunited to pass on my original identity to my descendants, my descendants would trace our history and hit a wall when they get to me.  1/2 of my adoptive father's heritage is unknown and 1/4 of mine (until I get a chance to use my grandmother's OBC to trace her roots) is unknown as well.

 In the state I live in, the birth certificates of adopted persons never become available.  Some genealogists will argue for their availability to ancestors after 100 years for genealogy--but isn't that a right for someone to enjoy while they're still here to enjoy it?  It's not hard to think of the needs of people down the line to want to know their ancestry but can no one fathom why a person whose heritage was taken wouldn't want it themselves?

As my adoptive grandmother told me on the phone today when I offered to help her trace her heritage "you go do yours and enjoy it.  It's too late for me now."

"Even now the sands and ashes of continents are being sifted to find where we made our first step as man. Religions of mankind often include ancestor worship in one way or another. For many the future is blind without a sight of the past. Those emotions and anxieties that generate our thirst to know the past are not superficial or whimsical. They are real and they are good cause under the law of man and God." --Judge Wade S. Weatherford, Jr., Seventh Judicial Circuit Court, South Carolina, ruling on an adoptee's petition to gain access to adoption records.

Photo creditEvgeni Dinev


Assembling Self said...

Amen Amanda. I too was "matched" to my adoptive parents from a birth family that was like them. College educated, teachers, and musically inclined but the system failed to realize that genetics plays a larger part in personalities and our whole being. My adoptive family is quiet, conservative, unemotional, and undemonstrative. I am.....well....the exact polar opposite. Neither is wrong they both are what they are. I was not a blank slate to be written on I was a creature of heredity made to believe that everything about me was wrong because I did not fit into the expected mold my adoptive parents thought I would. I grew up believing everything about me was wrong. I've spent most of life trying to figure out how fit in and what was wrong with me that I couldn't be this person they thought I should be rather than celebrating the wonderful unique person I am. We have all suffered at the hands of the closed records adoption.

Von said...

What a wise Judge!
Ancestry, our own, is vital for our sense of who we are and where we've come from.
Once I did my tracing, on one side back to 1700 I felt I had something solid to stand on.I found a waste of time, adoptees are not catered for.

Kris said...

I couldn't agree with you more Amanda! My daughter is not Irish like me or Scottish like my husband. To tell her she is would be ridiculous because it just isn't so. She is Russian Chuvash, which is a Turkic ethnic group in Russia. I fully expect her to embrace that group as her ancestors and relatives because they are. That is one thing adoptive parents cannot give their children - a family history or a new past. Pretending does not make it so. The past is already written and adoptees deserve to know what is written in THEIR past, not just their adoptive families'. What happened 60 years ago in my family as Irish Americans in Queens, NY has nothing to do with my daughter and what happened in hers in Chuvashia, Russia has nothing to do with me.

Susie said...

A great post again Amanda! I would hope that you would be on both biological & adoptive family trees ~ as you are a part of both (well, all four actually) of them.

I thought of this exact same subject when the new show "Who Am I" had Sara Jessica Parker finding her ancestry. She was so over-the-top excited learning about her ancestors. I couldn't help but wonder if she gets it that her children will not have their true ancestral history, unless they are allowed to know their first family. Or will she insist that her ancestors are theirs?


jenny81271 said...

What wise words you speak!!!! Always, Jenny

Gaye Tannenbaum said...

Some people are just not interested in tracing their family trees, and that's fine.

For the rest of us...
It's easy to dismiss an adoptee's need to be recognized as Irish (for example) when they've been raised by a Scottish family. "Close enough, no harm no foul."

It's not so easy to dismiss (although many do) a transracial adoptee's need to be recognized for what DNA they carry.

It's all well and good to say that "race doesn't matter in our family" when you adopt a non-Caucasian child. Would you say the same for a Caucasian child adopted into a black family or an Asian family?

Does that white child become black or Asian? No? Then why does the Asian adoptee become white, or the adoptee of Irish descent become Scottish or Italian?

Anonymous said...

That little leaf commercial has bothered me for a long time because I know that there is no way for my girls to ever look online and find one of those little leaves of someone who "looks like them". My girls are very proud Chinese born children (I loved the person who asked if I was going to tell them they were adopted while peering at them in the grocery cart that I (tall, blonde, blue-eyed) am pushing while their dad (light brown hair, big round brown eyes, large nose) is proudly looking at them - ya think they aren't going to look in the mirror and determine that?) I never want to take that away from them. Their Chinese heritage is part of them. I love them and would not change them. Do I see a "color difference" - sure I do. But it is not something that I dwell on, it is just who they are.

They will never never share our genetic make-up, and I don't want them to, because their First Parents created them the wonderful children they are. But they are also influenced by us as well. I do want them to claim our family heritage as well as their genetic one. What happened in our background helped create the people we are today, the people who are helping to shape who our adopted children will be tomorrow. So in that regards, our family history is their family history. That does not make them white, but it does help develop their world view. Just like having them in our family does not make our family "Asian", it has changed out world view. Nothing in the genetic makeup of our family was changed by the adoption, but the family itself, and thus by default, the individuals were changed. When we talk about our family we say we are a "American, Irish, German, Scotch, Chinese Family". It is not a description of our genetic make up, it is a description of our family.

Vicki said...

Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I try really hard not to let most things adoption related get to me, just because I already know there's a huge box of emotions in my head. I hate the little leaf thing too. I was adopted when I was 5, not as a baby, and maybe that in itself has given me strength and courage to get through these commercials, and stories of friends births and their baby pics (I don't have any), and all the rest. I've told myself my adult life that, even if I don't find my birth family alive, I would be happy to at least find a headstone. That a headstone would give me the closure, to fill that void.