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
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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.