Spit and Image

Four and a half months!  I apologize, but I’ve been in my own head since I met my biological father.  Thoughts and emotions have been swirling around in my noggin . . . just trying to make sense of it all.  It’s all so simple, but also complicated!  Mission accomplished . . . but it’s just the beginning of something new.

The trip up to meet Jackson could not have gone better.  We met, we hugged, we talked for hours.  We cooked together, had a drink or two, shared stories, pictures and laughter. And I met my half-sister, Megan, too.  Megan admitted that she was reluctant when I first contacted her.  I know she was being protective of her father.  But she said that when she finally realized I was actually coming, she started to get excited and was looking forward to meeting me.  We were able to spend some time together, as well, and talk about life over a glass of wine or two.

And what of physical similarities?  Even before I met Jackson, through photos, I could see similarities between Jackson and my son, Garrett.  But try as I may, I could not see any physical similarities between myself and Jackson.  It’s something adoptees are obsessed with.  Even when I met him, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.  He does have a full beard, so I couldn’t really see the details of his facial features. I gave up looking for the physical similarities.  That is, until I got home and analyzed some old photos.

Spit and Image!

Spit and Image!

Jackson believes he’s about 18 in this photo.  I’m 17.

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase, however, is spit and image, perhaps inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. There is no evidence that the origin of the phrase goes back to Biblical times, but its usage has been traced back to the 17th century in England. It was used to refer to someone who is so similar to another as to appear to have been spat out of his mouth. Of course, spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century, but I prefer the phrase spit and image. After all, we found each other by spitting into test tubes.

Jackson and Garrett

Jackson and Garrett


First, I have news.  It’s FINALLY happening!  I’m finally going to meet a member of my biological family–my father!

I know my blog and the stories about my journey that I have been sharing with you have pretty much come to a halt.  I apologize for that, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes.  A great amount of it has been very personal and difficult for me to process emotionally; hence, I have not been able to share it here. But I am happy to report that I’ll be meeting Jackson soon.  I’ll also get to meet my half-sister and my niece. It’s a big triumph for me! I will share more about the emotional journey it took to get to this point very soon. For now I’ll tell you that I’m nervous, but Jackson has assured me that he has “open arms” and is looking forward to meeting me, as well.  I will not call it a “reunion,” though, because we never even knew about each other. He didn’t even know I existed, for Pete’s sake! This will simply be a meeting of common hearts and souls.

Sadly, there has been no new news on my bio mom’s side (as expected), although I am still in contact with my aunt (my bio mom’s half-sister) and she has expressed interest in meeting and sharing information with me in the past.  I need to take the initiative to contact her again–I know that I can’t let these opportunities drift by.  Life is too short.

Now about the layers!  Since I’ve been in contact with Jackson, together we have discovered so much about ourselves and our extended family! I recently wrote an article for Secret Sons and Daughters on the importance of sharing stories and contacting everyone and anyone that may have a connection (DNA or otherwise) in order to uncover long lost or forgotten details, secrets and even deception. If you keep sharing, you will eventually come up with something.  Sometimes it’s a big deal (I found my 70-year old father that didn’t even know I existed!) and sometimes it’s just a great little tidbit of history that adds color to your story.

Beach Blanket Bingo!

Beach Blanket Bingo!

For example, with the help of a second cousin (found through a DNA match on 23andMe), and the helpful hints and extensive document library on Ancestry.com, we discovered that Jackson had a nephew (they didn’t know about each other) who was a handsome up-and-coming folk-singer in the early 1960’s, who married a young beauty queen and Hollywood starlet who made appearances in all of the great “Beach Party” movies of the 1960’s (including Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach). Unfortunately, Jackson’s nephew (my first cousin!) was killed at age 26 in a tragic airplane crash off the beach in San Diego while he was flying a small plane with his friend (both experienced pilots).  The beautiful starlet never remarried, but went on to be a successful photographer who hobnobbed with the rock and roll crowd in the late 60’s and 70’s (she toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a couple of years as their official photographer) and artist.

I think that’s pretty neato. What’s also neato is that I am still discovering new things about my family.  My friend, Nancy, who has been super supportive and helpful with my search and journey, gave me a copy of a small blurb from a magazine that she cut out.  She doesn’t remember where it came from [Nancy remembered: it came from Parade magazine, but we’re still not sure of the date], but it was in the form of a multiple choice question/statement:

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who were best able to handle stress:

a) knew the most about their family’s history;

b) played team sports;

c) attended regular religious services.

Answer: (a). The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem.  the reason: These children have a stronger sense of “intergenerational self”–they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

So keep learning.  And keep peeling away the layers.

We Are Warriors

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.

Hi Andy!

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:

Hi Laureen,
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.


Secret Sons & Daughters – Adoptee Tales

I’m honored that Secret Sons & Daughters has shared part of my story. DNA testing for adoptees is most definitely “trending” these days.  I found answers and information that I didn’t expect . . . you might, too. 


Genetic Testing: Miracles and Science


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.



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.


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?

Red Light. Green Light. And Sometimes it Stays Yellow for a Long Time.

“I look for a sign. Where to go next. You never know when you’ll get one. Even the most faithless among us are waiting to be proven wrong.”
― Jillian Lauren, Pretty

I know what’s happening.  I’m emotional.  Scared.  Afraid of what might happen next.  Or maybe I’m afraid that nothing will happen next.

Sometimes I just go full steam ahead.  Everything makes sense and things happen.  Not always good things.  Even when good things do happen in this crazy search, it can be scary.

I do realize that it’s all emotional on my part.  I have enough raw data and information (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) to power through and get the answers that I think I need.  What if I upset people?  Maybe I don’t need the answers. Or maybe if I just keep telling myself I don’t need the answers I can move forward and get the answers and not be affected by the consequences.

No way.  I know that I am fully attached to the outcome of this whole thing.  After my second attempt at contacting Margaret some 25 years ago, my desire to reconnect with my biological family had somewhat faded.  I’m sure it’s because of her letters and the impact her words had on my delicate psyche. But why did I choose to be so affected?

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I don’t know why I got a bug up my ass in 2013 to reignite my search. Because I turned 50?  Maybe. Emotionally, it’s an all-consuming project.  It’s been difficult to accomplish stuff on my normal day-to-day to-do list.  One day I am motivated by my progress and new connections and the next I am frustrated by a relative’s mere stranger’s reaction and attitude and the emotional doors being slammed in my face.

So sometimes I see a yellow “caution” light in my mind. I have to take time out to process things. Sometimes I have to press “pause.”  That’s why there are some long pauses in this blog. I apologize for that.  But it’s all happening right now.  It’s affecting me right now.

I did hear from my bio dad.  He responded within a few days of receiving my message via 23andMe.

Jackson Summer, a Father wrote:  

What is very strange about this is that I am from the same town as Margaret and although not exactly 50 years ago the love of my life was named Marian Michaels.  We met in school. I was 16 and she was 14. To make a long story short we were together for 8 years at which time the relationship broke up because of my drug use. Because I loved her so much, I went away and straightened myself out. Unfortunately, I had destroyed the trust between us and we went our separate ways. I eventually married and had a daughter and Marian married and had a son and a daughter. Years later, my wife passed away due to cancer. Marian’s husband had died one year earlier.

Today Marian and I are best of friends and often visit one another.

Laureen, your inquiry has piqued my interest. There are so many coincidences in our stories. I would enjoy geting to know you.

My very best to you,

Jackson Summer

So that was a little odd.  My bio mom is Margaret Michaels. The love of his life was Marian Michaels.  Is this some other weird piece of an even more twisted and fucked up puzzle? It didn’t make sense.  So I gave him more details.  I paraphrased all of the information from the non-identifying data I had received from the wonderful Mr. Witt (I eventually gave him a copy of the paperwork with all of the details). Now he would know that I knew that he had been arrested with Margaret.  It also gave him a bit of back-story about his relationship with Margaret. It’s what I knew. My truth, right?  He couldn’t deny it. The part about “going away to straighten himself out” made sense to me–that had to be the time he served in prison. Had to be . . . right?  Plus, what about the DNA?  I know Margaret is my bio mom. And the DNA is solid confirmation (to most of the logical world) that Jackson is my bio dad. His next response:

Hello again,

One of the reasons I am as open to helping you find your dad is that my father died when I was 6 and although I was raised by my mother, she never gave me much information about his family. I very much understand what is like to not know about those who brought you into the world. There are so many coincidences about all this–to say nothing about the genetic match!

The problem for me right now is that I have no memory of being with anyone other than Marian Michaels during this time. I have written to her about this and asked her if she remembers any of the names you wrote about. I have not heard back yet. Also, I majored in Art and English, and although I helped teach a evening class at the city college, that lasted less than a month. I do not even remember if I took any classes at the  local junior college.  I was and still am an artist and I was well known for the jewelry and metal work I did. I used to sell my work at the beach every weekend.  I think most people who knew me then would have connected me with art and the craft of jewelry making. The description in the paperwork you provided simply does not describe me back then.  The area where I lived was very different then…..many artists, writers and creative minds.

It has been a long time and you have piqued my curiosity to no end. There is so much coincidence in time place and of course the genetic info.

My Best,

I’m happy that he’s open and honest and willing to “help me find my dad.”

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.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Thank you, Science and Technology. 23andMe gave me a genetically “clean” bill of health. Information presented included risk for certain diseases, carrier status, drug response, genetic traits and “health labs.”  23andMe detected a couple of genes that indicated an elevated risk for non-life threatening conditions (psoriasis, restless leg syndrome).  As for the possibility of inherited conditions, my test results detected no mutations or gene variants  that might indicate any of the serious inherited conditions screened by 23andMe. Of course, this was before 23andMe suspended their health-related genetic testing to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive. Lucky me.

After I received the health results, I played around with the ancestry section of the site. I was fascinated to find out that I was British and Irish.  I didn’t figure that!  Given my propensity for arguing, raising my voice in exciting situations, and talking with my hands (flailing uncontrollably while talking, actually), I figured there would be a bit of Italian in me. But no.  Oh well . . . I was enchanted with being British and Irish.  Turns out I was visiting my ancestors’ homeland when I spent that year abroad in college.  Cheers!  My adoptive mother would have loved to have known that.  And with the Irish bit, I secretly imagine that I am related to Bono. Don’t laugh! My past, including my heritage and ancestry, had always been something I could play with in my imagination.  Adoptees do that a lot.

I don’t know why I never thought to look at the DNA Relatives section of the site.  I knew who my biological mother was.  I knew that she didn’t have any other children.  What were the odds that I’d find anything or anyone meaningful through a DNA match?  First, I didn’t imagine that my birthfather was actually looking for me (most likely he was not aware of my existence).  And given his age (early 70’s), I didn’t think he’d be spitting  into a tube getting in touch with his genes. I didn’t venture to the DNA Relatives section.

A few weeks after analyzing the health data, I received an e-mail from 23andMe.  It was a conduit e-mail, from a “potential relative.”


Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is 4th Cousin, with a likely range of 3rd to 6th Cousin. Would you like to explore our relationship?

4th cousin (maybe even 6th)?  Whoop de doo.  I guess because of the fact that I had no blood relatives that I actually knew, except for my own boys, a 4th cousin did not rouse any sort of curiosity in me.  Even if he was related to me on my paternal side, how would I know?  A potential match would request lineage information via a list of surnames. A potential match with a common surname could help someone putting together a family tree fill in the blanks.  I’m afraid my blanks go much deeper than that. I could not help anyone. I don’t have any surnames.

I ignored the message.  But then I got a few more.  They were all pretty much the same . . . . 3rd to 6th Cousin, 4th to Distant Cousin, etc.  I finally decided to go online at 23andMe and check out the DNA Relatives. I knew that I could “shut off” the notifications if I wanted to, but I have to admit I was a little curious to see what kind of matches I had and how 23andMe presented the information.

Just as I expected, it was a little weird . . . and a lot overwhelming.  The information link to the data looked like this:

Potential "Relatives"

Potential “Relatives”

762 potential relatives?  Sheesh!  What does one even do with this kind of information.  Distant cousins?  Who even cares?  Okay, maybe a lot of people do care about distant cousins–it’s a way to find common ancestors and build your family tree.  But I don’t have a family tree.  Or even a bush.  Or a weed.  

Then I saw it.  1 CLOSE FAMILY.  What?  Who?  I clicked on it. Before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up.  I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information.  This was not a game. 

23andMe asks for two layers of consent before it shows family relationships. First, users are given the chance to turn off the “relative finder” function, which shows relations as close as second cousins. Once you’ve opted in, if 23andMe has found any close relatives (closer than a second cousin), a warning is presented to the user via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases.  Upsetting?  Been there.  Done that (with Margaret).

You may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate.  Such information may provoke strong emotion.

Thanks, 23andMe.  Now I’m scared.  But I clicked “proceedanyway.  



What the hell?  My biological father?  23andMe found my biological father when no one else in the entire world (except for Margaret) knew who he was?  Boy, howdy, this is not a game.  Or is it?  I felt like I had won the lottery.  I just needed someone to confirm the ticket.

I didn’t even know what the information meant:

50.0% shared, 23 segments

But I sure as hell knew what “Father” meant.  I would do the research later on the science and technical stuff.  I had to contact this guy!  Initial contact had to be made through 23andMe.  I could hardly think straight as I wrote the message:


I am contacting you because 23andMe has identified you as a relative of mine because of our shared DNA. 23andMe has predicted, through our DNA “match,” that you are my biological father. You won’t recognize my name, because I was adopted and bear the name of my adoptive parents. However, my birth mother’s name is Margaret Michaels. I hope that the name Margaret Michaels is familiar to you, although it was 50 years ago and I understand that it was a difficult time for both of you. I hope that you will respond to my message and that you are interested in exploring our relationship. I look forward to hearing from you! Laureen Pittman (original birth certificate reads: “Baby Girl Michaels”).

Crazy, right?  But it can happen. 23andMe even said so.

You can be confident that the matches listed in DNA Relatives are your relatives, even though they may be quite distantly related to you. The vast majority of relatives found by DNA Relatives share a common ancestor within the last five to ten generations. A few may be more distantly related. There is, however, the possibility of finding a much closer relative — including a parent or sibling. (23andMe Customer Care: What Can 23andMe Do For Me If I Am Adopted?)

It has happened before. The stories I found amazed me. Some scared me. Some were happy endings, or new beginnings.  Sometimes the results were, indeed, unexpected. This story is one of my favorites: Whoops. How DNA Site 23andMe Outed Parents Who Gave Their Baby Up For Adoption. And this one: When Family Ties Turn Into Knots. I guess I liked the stories that tore open the carefully crafted lies revealed life changing information and brought enlightenment to people seeking information.

Science and technology have this incredible way of uncovering secrets.

I waited for my secrets to be revealed.

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.


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.