Who Are You?

I had lunch recently with a friend of mine who also happens to be adopted.  We hadn’t really talked in quite a long time.  You know the story–we’ve both been busy with our families and all the adventures and complications of raising teens and hustling them off to college and watching them blossom into young adults. But something amazing happened to her recently that changed her life.  Literally, it changed who she was (er . . . is).

My friend (let’s call her Linda) has been following my story here on the blog, but she confessed to me some time ago that she never had the desire to search for her own biological family. She explained that “one family is quite enough.”  Linda’s childhood with her adoptive family was not exactly idyllic, but she’s in a very happy family situation right now with her husband and grown kids–why complicate things?  Because really, who knows what you’ll find?  I get that. The decision to search is a personal one, for sure.

But Linda’s husband is big into genealogy.  He’s done quite a bit of research on his own family tree.  He’s not adopted.  He’s just a guy who’s into his family history.  He even invested in a DNA test to dig deeper into his ancestral history.  Linda did one, too . . . just for the fun of it.

Linda had always been told by her adoptive parents that a big part of her biological ethnicity included ancestors of Mexican heritage.  Well, guess what?  When she received the results of the DNA test (she used AncestryDNA at Ancestry.com) she was shocked and fascinated to find that she has no Mexican blood in her at all! Instead, she found out that a substantial part of her ancestry is actually Native American.

Linda hasn’t changed her mind about actually seeking out her biological parents, but she is definitely interested in defining her family’s biological relationship to Native American heritage. In other words, which tribe?  Were her ancestors here in America before Europeans made their appearance on the continent?  I would find that prospect fascinating, too!

Linda’s husband is helping her build her family tree by reaching out to matches on Ancestry.com.  She still has no real interest in searching for specific people or uncovering her adoption story, per se, but she’s hoping to discover more about her Native American heritage.

While we were sitting there at lunch chatting about the wonders of technology and DNA, an old-fashioned light bulb went on over my head.  Discovering more information about her Native American heritage may be as simple as getting her hands on her non-identifying information! I explained to Linda how she has the right to receive the information. I explained to her how she could request her non-identifying information from the county where she was placed for adoption (she was born and adopted in California).  It is entirely possible that the information would include the name of the tribe.

For some adoptees, the non-identifying information is enough to answer nagging questions. Sometimes it’s a springboard to wanting more details.  Sometimes it’s a can of worms.  But I would encourage all adoptees who have any curiosity at all about their ancestral heritage to request their non-identifying information.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I started my search I had my biological mother’s name.  I thought that was enough information to find her.  Turns out it wasn’t.  But once I had the non-identifying information, I was able to put together certain details and find answers quickly.

So here’s a primer on getting your hands on your non-identifying information.  When I got it some 25 years ago, it was a fairly easy process.  All it took was a phone call and one visit to the County Social Services Department.  Now you must make your request in writing. The information below is specifically for California, but the letter sample below can be adapted for other states that provide non-identifying information.


 

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or the licensed public adoption or private adoption agency that handled your adoption can provide non-identifying background information to adoptees. The information provided includes general facts about the birth parents and may include relevant medical information.You must request this information by writing directly to the licensed adoption agency, if known, or to CDSS at the following address:

California Department of Social Services / Adoptions Support Unit
744 “P” Street, MS 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814

Your letter must include your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public.

Non-identifying information is background information about the circumstances of your adoption.  When it is prepared, the preparer typically (but sometimes not too successfully!) attempts to remove all of the identifying information (first and last names of birth parents, last names of other family members, etc.).  Non-identifying information may include:

  • Age of your birth mother and birth father
  • Education background of your birth mother and birth father
  • Religious affiliations
  • Physical description
  • Medical history of your birth mother
  • Your birth family ethnicity, nationality or heritage
  • Professions of the birth mother and birth father and their birth parents
  • If the birth mother and father were single or married
  • Hobbies
  • Circumstances of the adoption—the reason given by the birth mother for why you were relinquished
  • Ages of the birth grand parents and information regarding other family members
  • First names of grand parents
  • Additional historical information or other information from the file that the social worker or preparer deems relevant

Remember, however, that the information that will be provided to you was originally obtained by a social worker (or other agency worker) from the birth mother (often under difficult circumstances).  The birth mother may or may not have disclosed the information you are looking for.  And it is quite possible that some of the information provided by the birth mother is false or untrue. She may have made up information or certain details out of fear or to protect herself or others.  The bottom line is: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!

Here is a sample letter request:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My name is ________________________.  I was adopted in _________________ County in [year of adoption] through the [name of county agency or private agency handling adoption].

I am an adult adoptee and find myself in critical need of the non-identifying information contained in my adoption file or other records regarding my birth parents and any other data available regarding my biological family’s history.

Please note that I am not requesting identifying information or an original or amended birth record or certificate.

Name as Adopted:  ________________________

Current Name:  _________________________

Current Address:  __________________________

                              __________________________

Date of Birth:  __________________________

Adoptive Mother’s Maiden Name (if available):  __________________________

Adoptive Father’s Name (if available):  _________________________________

[Provide here any other relevant information you may have regarding your adoption (court case no., date adoption was finalized, etc.)]

Thank you in advance for your assistance in providing this vital information.

Sincerely,

Sign Your Name 

REMEMBER—YOUR SIGNATURE MUST BE NOTARIZED!

It will take a few weeks (or more) before you receive a response from CDSS.  You may get instructions on how to proceed with the local agency where your adoption was finalized. Then, after following their directions, it may take several more weeks or even months before receiving your non-identifying information.

Have you received your non-identifying information?  What surprised you in the information you received?

The Grandfather Clause

… you sometimes had to force people to say things they would rather not articulate, just so they could hear their own words. It was interesting the way people could know things and not know them at the same time. Denial, he said, was like a thick stone wall.– Nell Freudenberger

I used to be a paralegal. I spent twenty years with my nose in legal books–mostly the tax code–researching, analyzing, planning, figuring and writing. One thing is constant about the tax code: change.  Every year there is some sort of tax reform–cuts, new provisions, limit changes, incentives, exemptions, inflation adjustments–and you have to stay on top of it all.  And don’t forget to look out for the grandfather clause.

The good ol’ grandfather clause. The exception to the rule.  Sometimes, when new laws or regulations are enacted and imposed, a grandfather clause is an exception given to individuals (or businesses), allowing them to continue to operate under an old law or regulation. What’s old is new.  What’s new doesn’t apply.

Well, guess what’s new?  It’s confirmed!  Garrett and Zach have a new grandfather!  This is a different kind of grandfather clause, for sure.

The Grandfather Clause

The Grandfather Clause

This is a view from Garrett’s profile.  It clearly shows Zachary as his half brother (no surprise) and Jackson as his grandfather (no surprise again, at least to me).

I shared the news with the boys.  They were nonplussed.  They don’t know Jackson, except for what I have been able to tell them.  I wrote an email to Jackson:

Hi Jackson,

Hope all is well with you. Last time we communicated, you had just turned 71! I hope you’re kicking 71’s ass and keeping busy with your jewelry and art.  . I’d love to see any new work you’ve completed.

We’ve been busy with baseball–Garrett’s team were undefeated for the season–first place! And now he’s on the All-Star team! He also just finished his science project at school and he did his presentation at the Science Fair yesterday. His project was in the top 5 for Life Sciences! Straight A’s this year–we’re so proud! His 8th grade promotion is in a couple of weeks. I can’t believe my baby will be in high school next school year.

Zach has moved back home temporarily. His roommate in Los Angeles flaked on him and he couldn’t afford the rent on his own. He’s looking to get back out to Hollywood or L.A. ASAP. He’s still working on his music and has a lot recorded. It’s a tough business to be in.

I just wanted to check in and let you know that I’m thinking about you. I also wanted to let you know that I got the results of Zachary and Garrett’s 23andme tests. I don’t know if you’re still getting e-mail notices from 23andme, but you’ve definitely got 2 new confirmed grandsons!

By the way, I’d like to plan a trip to the community where you and Margaret and Marian grew up.  I’ll be heading up to Santa Barbara in a couple of weeks to do some research at the library. And to just walk around. I’m going with a girlfriend–we hope to get some wine tasting in, too!

I hope I’m not overwhelming you once again with too much information.  I just need to tie up this journey that I’m on. I’d love to stay in touch and share what I find, if you’re willing.

Yours,

Laureen

I was relieved that it didn’t take Jackson too long to respond:

Hi there, Laureen,

It is good to hear all is well with you and you are able to help Zach. It is a difficult world for the younger ones today; I see so many qualified (in their field of study, talent or interest) who are trying to find work that is fulfilling and will bring in enough for a good life.

Jackson didn’t actually acknowledge or react to the “news” about having two grandsons, but it was comforting to me that he acknowledged Zach’s endeavors and struggles.  He talked about his daughter (my mysterious sister), as well.

I find that having my daughter’s family living nearby to be wonderful. As long as I am not living in the same space it is a joy to have them all part of my life.

*Sigh*

About my plan to make a trip to his old stomping grounds:

I haven’t been there in years. The street and the home where I grew up didn’t look like it does now. Until I was five the street that I lived on was a small dirt road. If you do cruise up there and if Franceschi Park is open, It was my little playground so to speak when I was very young. I remember being able to pick fresh guavas, and other wonderful fruit that at that time where not in the stores.  Mr. Franceschi brought many of the rare trees to Santa Barbara. The park was where he lived and worked. He was a very old man when I lived there as a child.

Things have changed.. A  great deal….. I don’t think I would recognize some of the places now although I just used Google Earth and their “Street View” to take a look at Mission Ridge and Franceschi Rd. I was surprised at what I did remember.There are so many new homes all over the ridge…. I never would have thought it would turn out like that. That area, although there were some big houses…. it looks so covered with buildings. Yet I am sure it is heaven for those living there now.  I hope you enjoy your trip. You have my cell number, so if you want to call about anything about the area when you are there, I am happy to tell you what I can.

I love hearing about his memories; his history.  My history.

Jackson told me he’s spending more time with his art and has actually found a venue to sell it. He sold several pieces, which gave him a boost to get back to creating.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Doing what you love and making the most of each day.

I know I am exactly where I belong in this world. So why do I struggle with this weird feeling that there is more?  More of something. Maybe this is the struggle that I’ve been dealing with all these years.  More of what?

Scars and Chain Link Fences

Scars fade with time. And the ones that never go away, well, they build character, maturity, caution. — Erin McCarthy

Relationships develop slowly.  Because they have to.  Adults, with their character, reasoning, actions and reactions having been molded by a lifetime of individual (and sometimes solitary) experience, are often cautious.  Sometimes the lifetime of experience builds walls, causing unintended isolation and a kind of numbness to what’s real and what matters. The walls can not only separate you from other people, they can separate you from your true self–making relationships difficult, or even impossible.fence flowers 1

I like to think that I have no walls.  But I know that is not entirely true.  I would characterize them more as fences, rather than walls. Something like a chain-link fence that I can see through and past. It’s easy for me to let people in . . . most of the time.  It’s super easy for me to go outside of my fence and do whatever it is I need to do. But there are times when I don’t let anyone in. And there are times I just hang out . . . alone. But doesn’t everyone have walls or fences?

Writing this blog is a big deal for me.  I’ve let all of you in.  You know my reality–I’ve told it exactly like it is.  The truth–except for changing some of the names.  My reality.  As much as I know.  As much as I allow myself to feel.

I know that my reality, or my adoption truth, is different from anyone else’s.  It’s even different for those who are directly involved in my story.  A person’s reality, whether or not adoption is part of the picture, is a obviously a product of many subjective perceptions, filtered through a personal and unique emotional, psychological and sometimes spiritual lens. But without the truth, reality is skewed.  It’s wrong.

Everyone is entitled to know the facts or learn their own truth. If an individual does not know his or her truth, the lies become the story.  The lies become the history.  The lies become the untruth. It’s unfair.

Why can’t we all be on the right side of history?  The correct and only reality: the truth . An adoptee’s experience as he or she grows should be affirmed with the truth–the story of what really happened.  It’s understood that as a child she is told only small parts of the truth.  As much as a child’s brain can handle and still allow love and trust to enter the picture.  But as an adult, she should be given the opportunity to hear the truths from those that lived it, and to be offered context in order to process and to own that truth. With that truth, an adoptee can build a sense of trust and openness, as well as a willingness to share. Intimacy.

I am thankful that Jackson is open and honest.  He and I are learning about each other.  I am happy that he is open to learning more about himself by letting me be a part of his truth. It’s amazing, really. He’s still grappling with the idea of having a “new” 50-year-old daughter and he has many questions himself.  Questions that I can’t answer.  His truth, like mine, depends on context and answers that can be provided by only one person: Margaret.

Talk about walls. As you know, I was not able to break down Margaret’s walls.  I believe she’s happy content oblivious numb living inside those walls. She feels protected–from what, I do not know. Jackson still toys with the idea of writing to Margaret.  He’s even mentioned wanting to “see” her.

He asked me recently about how I felt about Margaret today. My response:

I want to be as clear as possible about how I feel about Margaret. I know enough about her (her situation 50 years ago, as well as her life as an adult, which includes a successful career and fierce independence as a woman), and while I would have loved to have had some sort of open communication with her over the years, I understand that I won’t. Frankly, the person that I am today doesn’t want to meet her. In my heart I believe that she would disappoint me if I ever did meet her in person–she was not meant to be a mother and she absolutely did the right thing in relinquishing me for adoption. That being said, I am not angry or resentful. Disappointed–yes. But not angry. And definitely not longing for some motherly relationship I never had.

I loved his response.

Laureen, I like you very much…. you are honest and straight forward. I am more and more inclined to write your mom and tell her exactly what has happened here. She needs to understand that whatever has happened is old business. Life is what it is about right now. Making things better on this planet is what it is about. I just don’t want to cause her trouble.

Warm Fuzzy

Warm Fuzzy

I especially liked the “I like you very much” part. [warm fuzzies]

An Apology . . .

Apparently, I was wrong.  And I am sorry.

I am lucky to still be communicating with my aunt . . . I received an e-mail from her today. She expressed her disappointment and frustration–and rightly so.

I had asked her about a sensitive health issue and I reported in a blog post that she didn’t respond. She forwarded me her response, which she apparently sent the very day I asked. I either did not receive it, or it went to spam/junk, or I accidentally deleted it.  My bad.  They are not villains.  They are scared, just like me.  The truth about all of this is new to them, too.  They don’t know me.

So, I am sorry. And thank you for sharing your personal information with me.

Gettin’ My Sleuth On . . .

I’m no Nancy Drew, but what the heck?  I sent this e-mail today.
nancy drew
To: Public Library
From: Laureen Pittman
Date: January 26, 2014
Hello,
My name is Laureen Pittman and I live in Riverside, CA.  I am doing some genealogy research and will be traveling to the library next week to do research and track down some information.  One piece of information I am looking for involves an incident that happened in 1963 (probably sometime in September).  The incident was an arrest (drug related charges) possibly at the junior college.  One of the arrestees was Margaret Michaels. I believe she was arrested with another individual—a male.  Margaret would have been 18 at the time of her arrest and the male individual would have been 20. Margaret was the step-daughter of a fairly well-known local tv news editor, broadcaster or anchor, Joseph Michaels.  Margaret was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug related charges.  But what I am looking for is the identity of the male that was arrested with Margaret. 
Am I correct in assuming that the Community News-Press was in existence at that time?  Would they have published or reported on local arrests, or would there be an “arrest log” that I could review in the newspaper from that time?  I’m hoping that the newspapers from 1963 might be archived on microfilm?  Would I be able to access the newspaper archives from September 1963 if I make a personal visit to the library?  Which branch should I visit?  Do I need to make an appointment to have these old archives located/pulled for review?
Any help or assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance.  I can be reached at the e-mail address shown above, or on my cell phone at XXX-XXX-0515.
Laureen Pittman

Skeptical? DNA Doesn’t Lie.

So, what did it mean?

50.0% shared, 23 segments

23andMe tests autosomal DNA. To break it down as simply as possible (I’m not a scientist and most of what I’ve read about DNA and genetics goes right over my head, so it helps me to keep it simple), the majority of our DNA is autosomal DNA. An autosome refers to numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. We all have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X chromosome and the Y chromosome).

The examination of one’s autosomal DNA is highly useful for genealogical purposes. If you share identical segments of DNA with another person, you share a recent common ancestor. The length and number of these identical segments will predict how close the relationship is. The more autosomal DNA that you have in common with another person, the more closely related you are.

A child receives 47-50% of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents, and similarly on average a child receives about 25% of his autosomal DNA from each of his four grandparents. The chromosomes recombine, or mix, as they are passed down from parent to child, so the size of possible shared segments gets successively smaller with each generation.

So check this out:

50% Mother, father, siblings
25% Grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, double first cousins
12.5% Great-grandparents, first cousins, great-uncles, great-aunts, half-aunts/uncles, half-nephews/nieces
6.25% First cousins once removed, half first cousins
3.125% Second cousins, first cousins twice removed
1.563% Second cousins once removed
0.781% Third cousins, second cousins twice removed
0.391% Third cousins once removed
0.195% Fourth cousins
0.0977% Fourth cousins once removed
0.0488% Fifth cousins
0.0244 Fifth cousins once removed
0.0122% Sixth cousins
0.0061% Sixth cousins once removed
0.00305% Seventh cousins
0.001525% Seventh cousins once removed
0.000763% Eighth cousins

(Data from International Society of Genetic Genealogy.)

If you are wading through the vast sea of DNA testing to aid your search, I would recommend reading author and adoptee, Richard Hill‘s website, guide and book, Finding Family.  His story is nothing short of amazing.  He searched for decades and finally found answers through DNA testing.  His results were not at straightforward as mine in the beginning–an adventure for sure. He started his DNA search when the science was just starting to evolve and he followed it through its evolution, using all of the available testing sites and sorting through all of the available information.  Mr. Hill has generously compiled all of the useful and invaluable information and has made it available to anyone who is searching.  For free.

I spent an entire weekend researching and trying to figure out what “50%, 23 segments” meant (thank you technology and Richard Hill!).  I was convinced that the Father that 23andMe found was my biological father.  Was he convinced?  Not so much.

Still Untold . . .

Last week I turned fifty.  Fifty?  Eeeek.  No one has flat out asked me if I’m having a mid-life crisis.  I must be holding it together pretty well.  Or maybe it’s just so obvious that no one wants to ask.  Don’t look her in the eye–she’ll crack, for sure!

I’d call it a kind of mid-life identity crisis.  It’s been about 22 years since the second letter from Margaret.  Okay, I’ll just go ahead and say the word I keep avoiding: Rejection. It’s a word that is commonly used in the adoption community, but I refuse to label her treatment of me as “rejection.”  She didn’t reject me, she rejected the idea of me.  She didn’t even know me.  How could she reject me?

To be relinquished at birth for adoption is one thing. That’s Margaret rejecting the idea of being a mother.  She was young and unprepared (not to mention a little preoccupied with serving a prison sentence), and a baby just did not fit in her plans.  Adoption was her salvation (and mine).  But to be rejected later in life by the woman who gave birth to me –to be rejected as a grown, rational (for all intents and purposes) adult asking questions about the very core of my being, seeking answers that most people take for granted, is something completely, utterly, and abhorrently different. I read an article some time ago written by another adoptee who described the feeling of rejection simply, but completely:

Me: I exist.

Margaret: I wish you didn’t.

Exactly.

I can’t control how Margaret feels.  I can only control my reaction.  And I’ll admit it hurt . . . but I’m not the type to kick something around forever.  It happened once (well, maybe twice . . . or 3 times), but my life is full of other moments.  Great moments.  Pretty darn good moments.  Why wallow in it?

Zach is now 22 years old.  He’s out on his own, happily finding his way with his music.  I’m proud of him.  A lot of other stuff has happened in the span of those 22 years.  By stuff I mean life.  Divorce, remarriage, another son.

Garrett (son number 2) is now 13.  When he was little, everyone said he was the spitting image of his dad.  He still looks like his dad.  Light hair, blue eyes, fair skin . . . once again, I was gazing into the face of my child looking for similarities and any sign of familiarity. Nothing.

Identity crisis or not, I have a great family and things are pretty peachy.  Over the years, I didn’t think too much about Margaret or my biological origins.  I was too busy with the here and now–the good stuff.  My boys were growing; they were keeping me busy.  And you know what else happened over the course of these years?  Science and technology happened.  All kinds of science and technology.  On the technology side, computers are now everywhere, connecting everything and everyone. The world wide web is constantly evolving, with its growing data bases, easy access to public information, instant communication and sharing of personal data via social media.

On the science side, I have been especially fascinated with the advancements in and evolution of DNA testing.  My husband, Guy, is a prosecutor who works with people who do forensic DNA testing.  Forensic DNA testing has enabled old cold cases to be solved in an instant!  How cool is that?  Well, it’s cool, but I wasn’t as interested in that as I was interested in the way DNA testing was being used for health and genealogy research. Talk about an evolution.

DNA genetic testing may be able to predict risk for certain diseases and medical conditions. This would be helpful. In addition, DNA testing can reveal information about family background and familial traits, ethnic heritage, and ancestral history. And finally, the newer autosomal DNA testing has become a tool that can accurately identify relationships between family members by comparing DNA segments.  Put technology (easy access via the internet) and DNA testing together and you’ve got . . . big business.  The bigger the database to compare your genetic results (thank you, internet), the more useful results you’ll get!  Genius!

Why not?  It would be great to finally have some information that might shed some light on my health and predisposition to particular illnesses. I sure wasn’t going to get that information from relatives. My boys are entitled to this information, as well!

As technology has evolved, prices for the DNA genetic testing have come down.  What used to cost nearly $500 is now $99.  I went with 23andMe.  I spit in a test tube and sent it in.  And then things got weird.