Where Do Adoptees Fit?
by Barbara Free, M.A., LPCC,
the past year, I have been reading a lot about Scotland, the land where many
of my ancestors lived. I have also read about England, Wales, Ireland, and
Cornwall, where other ancestors came from, but it is the history of Scotland
that has really fascinated me. I wonder, what were their stories, exactly
where did they live? My eldest son, the one I relinquished at birth and with
whom I am reunited, has also found Scotland to be the country to which he
feels the strongest connection. I have given him some books and information.
I remember that he once told me that when he was taking art courses in college,
an instructor looked at a picture he had made, depicting a Celtic tribal
connection, and said But you should make something about your
I dont know my background,
he told her. Im adopted. I believe this is my background,
He was right, as it turns out, but as he told
me, his face showed his pain at not knowing exactly who he was, where he
came from, or who his real ancestors were. He rarely shows those feelings,
but I am sad for him every time I think about it. It really is not
sufficient for an adoptee simply to assume the adoptive familys
ancestry as his or her own, because it is not. To an adoptee, it feels
counterfeit, because it is.
In adoption circles, the issue of children
being assigned the task of compiling family trees is often discussed. Adoptive
parents are frustrated that teachers do not seem to understand that this
is a difficult issue for adoptees, and they hurt for their adopted children
in trying to complete such an assignment. Some teachers say, Just do
your adoptive family tree. It doesnt matter.
Of course, it does matter. Some adoptees
have information, sometimes even a lot of information, about their birth
families, especially if they happen to be in an open, or even semi-closed,
adoption. Sometimes they have information only on their birth mothers
side. Even if they have information, however, how do they integrate that,
on paper, with their adoptive familys information? They are, after
all, also members of their adoptive family. There are some suggested formats
for doing this, but schools rarely have access to such unorthodox
formulas. Having extra families doesnt seem to fit the
mathematics of 1, 2, 4, 8, etc.
Recently, I have been studying family trees
on several branches of my own family. In addition to trying to fit together
the stories Ive been told, some letters Ive been able to find,
and the facts (and some errors) in print, I keep thinking, Where are
the rest of the stories? How many second marriages are simply not listed
because it doesnt look as tidy on the chart and how many
children, relinquished and adopted, never get listed on anybodys family
I find it impossible to believe that, out of
hundreds of relatives names I see written on these sheets of paper,
I am the only one who ever relinquished a child. I do know of instances where
someone adopted a child, and that child is not listed.
Well, after all, he wasnt a genetic
relative, is the answer Ive received.
That is as painful to me as the fact that my
own eldest son is not listed on my family tree (which is going to be corrected
soon). It is also painful that some people think that it looks better
to have me listed as still married to my first husband, with no mention of
his own previous marriage, let alone our divorce and my remarriage. If it
were not for some of my ancestors listings of second marriages,
I would be missing a great deal of my heritage. In some cases, people were
named for step-grandparents.
Sometimes, the missing information is important.
For instance, the female ancestor whose last name I chose to take legally
some 20 years ago, either had children at nine years of age, or there was
a previous wife not mentioned. Are the grandsons who were named after her
really hers biologically, or did people give that name out of love and a
desire to be inclusive? I may never know.
Adoption was not common, not even a legal situation
in many colonies at that time. Further information states that one of my
ancestors died and some of his children (including my next ancestor) were
bound out. This was a common solution, economically and socially.
As far removed as this is from me, it still hurts to think of that young
boy, removed from his family.
Then I thought, but at least he still
knew who his family was. He kept in contact. He kept his name. In our
closed adoption system, that has not been possible. My son grew up without
this information, and only by someones oversight did he and his adoptive
family know my last name at the time of his birth.
I can only imagine what this was like for him
at a deep, unconscious level. He states he had not had a desire to search
up to the time I searched for and found him, but that he is glad I did find
him, and he is happy to receive any information I have given him.
I still keep thinking of the void that existed
in his childhood, and continues to exist for many adoptees. It also exists
for birth parents, who dont know their childrens names or
whereabouts. When I see that birth children are not listed on their birth
families family trees, and adoptees (the same people!) may not be listed
on their adoptive families family trees, I think, So, its
as if they dont exist at all? How must that feel?
Once again, whom are we protecting by failing
to record this information? In this day and age, so many people are doing
family research on the Internet and in many other ways, and even going so
far as to undergo DNA tests to determine their genetic backgrounds. Are adoptees
not entitled to have the same interests and pursue them openly? Are birth
parents still somehow expected to forget? Are adoptive families supposed
to pretend that they gave birth, or that their adopted children somehow
didnt exist or dont really count?
Several years ago, I read (and reviewed for
this newsletter) Jean Strausss book Beneath a Tall Tree, the
story of her search for her birth family and her birth mothers birth
family, in which she suggests ways of incorporating all the information in
written form, but more importantly, of incorporating all the knowledge into
ones full identity. In re-reading it now, I found the book still riveting,
but it still makes me sad to think of all that was lost for so long, and
joyous to read of her finding her birth mother, and even her birth grandmother,
her birth mothers birth mother.
As I have been copying lists of ancestors,
aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as letters back to 1858, property deeds,
wills, and other written evidence, I am eager to share with all my offspring,
and step-family, too. I want those connections. I want whatever stories I
can find, and some that I can imagine from the clues I find. Some will be
interested in this information, some will not, although their descendants
might be. It is a privilege to have access to all of this, and itt is
unconscionable to me that, just because a person is adopted, they might not
have access to their own information.
I note that previous to the earliest ancestor
in each line, it may state unknown. I know that somebody knew,
at the time that person was living. I dont want to be listed as
unknown, and I dont want others listed as unknown
if there is any way to find out. It is human nature to deplore unknown
about anything in life, and to seek to find.
Excerpted from the October 2008
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2008 Operation Identity