Personal history must be constantly renewed by telling parents, relatives, and friends everything one does. On the other hand, for the warrior who has no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with his acts. And above all, no one pins him down with their thoughts and their expectations. — Carlos Castaneda
For adoptees, personal histories change. You learn little bits of truth and you start to imagine the rest. Then you learn more, and you rewrite. It’s kind of like getting to know a new person . . . but it’s you.
All this time I’ve been working on unraveling my own story. But you know . . . it’s not only adoptees that sometimes have to fill in the blanks or rewrite the past. Take my biological father, for instance. Remember when I “found” Jackson through our DNA match on 23andMe? He knew nothing about me–didn’t even know I existed until I contacted him–and he didn’t remember my biological mother (still doesn’t!). I had asked him why he had submitted his DNA to 23andMe. He explained that he wanted to try to learn more about his father’s side of the family. His father died when he was quite young and he was raised by his mother. His mother was older than his friends’ mothers (she was 41 when he was born). They were never close. His mother never spoke much about his father. Even as Jackson grew older and would ask questions, she never gave him any meaningful details about his dad.
As Jackson approached the age of 70, he thought it would be a good idea to at least invest in the DNA test to get a heads up on any potential health concerns (this was prior to the FDA’s directive to 23andMe to stop offering consumers health-related genetic testing results in December 2013). He had a daughter (well, two, actually, if you count yours truly) and a granddaughter (and two grandsons hiding in the shadows!) to think about. Jackson spit into the tube to find out whether he had any health concerns and to fill in some blanks about the family he already knew.
I’m here to tell you, even if you don’t get a “jackpot” match immediately–like I did when I found Jackson (mind blown!)–if you’re looking for someone specific or a specific connection, stay the course with the DNA testing and make contact with those 1st, 2nd and even distant cousins because you never know what will evolve. Someone out there knows your truth. They may not know they know, and you may not think that these distant relatives can provide you with any useful information, but you never know when you will get that little piece of information that makes all the other random information come together and make sense. You can only put together the whole puzzle when you have all of the little pieces.
Of course, we’re talking about the family puzzle. Families are the cornerstone of life in this great country, providing biological (for most) and social continuity for individuals as they also shape and are shaped by the larger society as a whole. I’ve experienced first-hand how a society’s larger agenda or values, such as society’s attitudes toward unwed mothers and children born out of wedlock, can affect the family. Adoption itself was shaped by these values and continues to evolve as society and the American family change with the social and economic ebbs and tides of the past, present and future.
There were and are other factors shaping American families, of course. These days, families come in all shapes and sizes. Single moms, single dads, two moms, two dads, children being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The possibilities are really endless. And for the most part, families today are not bending over backwards to force the appearance of a traditional, nuclear family (mom, dad and a couple of kiddos). That was part of the problem with families back in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and even into the 1970’s and 80’s. Often there was what may have been considered an “oops” in a family (pre-marital sex and pregnancy, an extramarital affair that resulted in a pregnancy, etc.) and a scramble to cover it up, deny it, or re-shape it into something more acceptable.
Cover-ups, lies, re-shaping. Let’s just call it what it is. Let’s face it. We lie to protect ourselves; we lie to promote ourselves. We lie to elevate ourselves; we lie to excuse ourselves. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, when a lie is told or a truth is hidden about the identity of another human being, that lie, cover up or informational void should not follow that person for his or her entire life. It’s just not fair. It’s not right.
About 7 months ago, I got one of those initial contact e-mails from a 2nd-3rd cousin through 23andMe. He asked the usual questions, using a template provided by 23andMe:
Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is 2nd Cousin. Would you like to compare our genomes? By sharing genomes we can compare our DNA using ancestry features and discover clues about how we are related. Surnames in my family: Mann, Bailey, Schmidt. I live in Northern California now, and I’m in my late 50’s. This is my first experience with 23andMe—interesting! Andy Mann
Well, none of those names meant anything to me, but, then again, I simply don’t know. So I shared my story with Andy. Who knows? Maybe something would click with him.
23andMe is most definitely “interesting!” Here is the information I have about my biological family–maybe you can help me put some of the puzzle pieces together and see how we may be related. Unfortunately, the surnames you provided don’t mean anything to me, but there is a reason for that. Perhaps they will mean something to me after we exchange information (I am hopeful!).
Mine is an interesting story. I was adopted as an infant. Pittman is my adopted name, so it won’t help you with your relative search. But I do have some information that may be able to help you.
I was able to locate my biological mother 25 years ago. Her name is Margaret Michaels, born in Chicago in 1945. Her mother’s name is Eve (maiden name Beryl). I do not know her father’s first name, but I assume his last name was Michaels (I was born “Baby Girl Michaels”).
Margaret never told me who my biological father is (she has refused contact with me–it’s a complicated story), but I was able to find him through 23andMe! His name is Jackson Summer and he currently lives in Washington state. He was born in 1943–I’m not sure where, but he grew up in Santa Barbara, CA (as did Margaret). Perhaps you are a match with Jackson?
I started blogging about my adoption story a few months back. If you’re interested in reading, you can find it at https://adoptionmytruth.wordpress.com/.
If there is any other information I can give to you, I’d be happy to. Perhaps the surnames I’ve listed here mean something to you. That would be fabulous!
Looking forward to hearing from you again.
Andy wrote back right away to inform me that none of the surnames or locations rang a bell with him. I didn’t hear from Andy for 6 months. And then, this:
Have you been in touch with Jackson Summer? My 88 year old mom, who lives in Northern California, recently wrote me this (below). Can you forward it to him? Hope you’re doing well. – Andy Mann
* * * * * *
From my mom:
Jackson is the son of my Uncle Richard, your grandfather’s older brother who had come to this country before your grandfather. Richard Schmidt was married to Katherine and had 2 children: Franz and Marybeth. The family lived in Fallbrook and every Christmas would send a large box of goodies to our family: oranges, grapefruit and avocados, and always a lovely gift for me and my sister. Living in those days many miles apart, I believe I only saw him once when the family drove to Southern California when I was very young.
I do remember attending the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915 with Uncle Richard and the rest of my family. I next spent time with Uncle Richard during WWII when I was a secretary in the Bay Area. He had an apartment on Telegraph Hill near Coit Tower because he traveled to the Bay Area for work quite often. He also maintained his home in Southern California where he would go on the weekends.
After the war, I lost track of what Uncle Richard was doing. I know he was summoned to Washington, D.C. by President Truman and made several trips to the capitol to help with post-war reparations in Europe and rebuilding. It wasn’t until I was married that I learned that Uncle Richard had had an affair while married to his first wife, Katherine. Of course, everything was very hush hush. He and Katherine were divorced and the “other woman,” whose name was Mollie Summer, had a child.
Whoa! Jackson and I now realize we have much more in common! Isn’t the truth a lovely thing? And Heide? What a woman! 88 years old! She’s helping us both uncover our true personal histories. Jackson is amazed at what is unfolding and it’s actually helping to bring us closer.
Once again, we have to thank science–along with the generous heart of another human being, for connecting us with family.
Holy Moly!!! Amazing!!
Right? The hits just keep coming! I’ve been so lucky on this journey! Blessed. Thanks for reading and for the support, Barb!
You tell your story so well; your writing is beautiful.
I enjoy seeing your posts come up in my email and I recommend your blog to others each time I see an update. Dana
Dana, Thank you so much for your kind words! Because it is all happening right now, I try to process the emotions before I write–sometimes it’s difficult! I feel so many things at once! Thank you for reading!
Secret keepers. That sums up the generation of the 1950’s. I sent my DNA into Ancestry in January 2014. I love genealogy but had hit a wall while developing a line of my family tree so I thought sending in my DNA would help me get some answers. In February, just after my 60th birthday, I received my DNA results. In summary, the man I grew up believing was my biological father was not my father at all. My biological father died in 1995 and my “adoptive” father died in 1992. My mother will not discuss this subject with me so I don’t have any idea how they met, etc. I know that I was the product of an affair. (My mother has a history of infidelity and my parents divorced when I was 11 years old – – a year after my mother left my adoptive father for another man.) My 83-year-old mother tells other family members that I am crazy, bipolar or whatever idea comes into her head. However, I found a half-sister I never knew I had. We are literally living on different coasts but I plan to visit her in person this Christmas. For now, we enjoy long conversations over the phone each week. Thanks for sharing your story. It meant a lot to me.
Oh Donna! Thank you for sharing! It just reinforces for me how important the TRUTH really is for each and every one of us. We understand shame, embarrassment, etc., but we should all be afforded the opportunity to deal with the truth in our own way, right? Sounds like your mom is a lot like my bio mom. She won’t deal with the truth. She won’t share any part of herself or her past. She calls it privacy . . . it’s gotten to the point where I cringe every time I hear that word. *Hugs* Hang in there! I want to hear about meeting your sister! I have a half-sister, too, but not sure if I’ll ever get to meet her.
My found older half-brother passed away this week aged 71. I am quite sad about it even though I only met him once (over a few days overseas visit – my half-sister was already deceased). My other siblings aren’t affected the way I am. I am glad I got to meet him and that I will have links with that side of the family with younger family members, but I am reminded that time is fleeting. 😦
I am happy to be on this ancestral journey with you….and promise not to stay up until 3 o’clock in the morning anymore! So happy for you! VOILA!
VOILA! You are the best “Search Angel,” Nancy!
Wow, this is so exciting and encouraging for others! I am very happy for you. 🙂
Thank you, Helen!
Incredible and wonderful. Keep digging!
Thank you, Lisa! Lots of digging = lots of treasures uncovered!
You are amazing my friend–hang in there and know that we are all here to (cyber) support you!
Thank you, Laurie! See you soon! 😉
My Mind is completely blown, now. You cannot make up a story so intricate…. Congratulations on the filling out of your and Jackson’s family tree.
Thank you for reading, Richard. It seems the story never ends . . . I’m waiting for what’s next.
Amazing isn’t it. I am also 50, I am also an adoptee. My brother and I were relinquished when about 2 and 3 and subsequently adopted by the same couple. In 2000 I made a post at a genealogy site concerning my birth name and requesting info (I’ve been an avid genealogist for years). 6 years later my oldest brother tracks me down. Since then the reunion has been mixed, I no longer speak to the brother who replied to my post, our full sister and another brother has passed away. Our mother died before our reunion so I never met her. The posited father denies my brother and I are his and points the finger at infidelity of our mother. The oldest brother swore he thought my brother was his full brother but not me (I am the milkman’s son, seriously!). Well guess what? 23andme confirms both relinquished brothers are full brothers so if he is a full brother to the oldest then so am I. Now waiting on 2nd oldest brother’s test to see if we three are are full brothers. If we are then I think it’s pretty hard to deny what we already believe.
Love your story, glad to see someone find some answers and I empathize with your struggle in trying to wade through it all. Keep your chin up and soldier on.
Thank you for your kind words! Rejection; redirection; reunion . . . . there is so much to think about during this process. I am thankful that I am not alone–thank you for reaching out and sharing your journey, as well.
Appreciate very much your bravery and honesty here; I’m currently awaiting results from my own 23andMe test. I was wondering if I might ask some advice: In your 23andMe profile, were you “open” about your reasons for searching? It has been suggested to me that I keep this info to a minimum, so as not to “scare off” anyone who comes to my profile. I’ve been “rematriated” to Lebanon for 10 years now, and I know how the questions go in terms of “what is your family name” and “what town did you come from”, so the “sledgehammer” is going to fall sooner rather than later. I feel like being honest up front might be worthwhile in terms of adoptee empowerment. Any thoughts?
Hi Daniel–thanks for reading. I am sorry I have taken so long to respond to your comment. I’ve been away from the blog for personal reasons, but I’m glad you are searching! By now you have most likely gotten your results from 23andMe. You know, I really think that you need to be prepared to tell your story, but that doesn’t mean you have to give a reason for it. Write out the basic “outline” of your story–everything you know. Remember, the secrets are not YOUR secrets and the lies are not YOUR lies. I say be honest–as honest as you can without letting go of something that might hurt someone else. You never know what small detail will connect someone to you! Good luck!
Laureen – My sister and I visited our Aunt Heide and cousin in California last week and came home with knowledge of two new relatives. What amazing stories of discovery they shared with us: a first-cousin-once-removed who lives just a couple hours north of us and you, our second cousin, who writes so eloquently of your search for your birth family.
Heide! OMG–I am so sorry I did not see this comment sooner! I have to admit, I’ve neglected the blog for several months, my adoption journey and new discoveries with my father’s side of the family are all positive–but my immediate family has been quite involved health issues and other stuff. I am headed up to meet Jackson very soon! Would love to meet you, as well!
I am adopted and have also participated in the 23andme. Today was the first time I hit the share with relatives button. I didn’t realize how instantly it would list my relatives that had also had participated in 23andme. I thought it would be days, it was 60 seconds. My blood pressure went up and I felt a little sick. I read everything a few times and then unchecked my choice to “share with relatives.”
I’m not ready for that journey. I’ve always assumed my birth mother was young or at least unmarried. I am the product of a sexual encounter and it doesn’t bother me that I wasn’t a planned child. I hope my birth mother emotionally recovered and led the life that she was meant to lead.
I still have a bit of the normal curiosity, but I don’t know that I’m up for all the drama it could cause. Thanks for sharing your journey.
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Thanks so much for sharing your story, Laureen! You encourage me to keep up with my quest to identify and possibly locate my bio father (and to write my story!). 20+ years ago, in my early 40’s, I found my bio mother. It was prior to DNA and internet popularity. By letter writing, telephone directories, Catholic Charities non-ident (and with persuasion increased identifying info.), targeted geneologist’s work, and plain old obsession. My mother died one year after we met, revealing no clues to my father’s identity. I have just tested with Ancestry and transferred to Gedmatch and FTDNA and hope I’ll find some revealing matches. All the best to you!