Two Books and a Documentary
by Jean Strauss Now Available
in O.I. Lending Library

Reviewed by Barbara Free, M.A.

     Two books and a documentary film by the well-known author and film maker, Jean A.S. Strauss, are now available in the O.I. Lending Library. Strauss is also the author of Birthright, and has made several other films concerning adoption and her own story of multiple searches and reunions. Her latest film, For the Life of Me, premiered at the 2009 American Adoption Congress Conference in Cleveland, OH, and is also scheduled to be shown at the 2010 AAC Conference in Sacramento, CA. It has just been obtained by this reviewer for the benefit of O.I. members. Strauss, who was adopted as an infant and has found her birth parents, her birth mother’s birth mother, and her extensive birth family history, was also presented with the 2009 Vilardi Award for her work in adoption reform, and she is a Founding Member and President of C.A.R.E. (California Adoption Reform Effort).
     Although neither of the books is new, each is important reading for persons with adoption connections. The earlier one, The Great Adoptee Search Book (1990), is a short book that basically gives some very specific guidelines for search, from an adoptee’s angle. Although much about search has changed in the 20 years since it was written, including easier access to some records through the Internet, and changed laws in a few states, making search easier, other records are now more difficult to access, such as Motor Vehicle Department records, and telephone numbers for cell phones. Many records once in print are now more difficult to locate, on microfilm or digitalized. Nevertheless, the book mentions numerous sources of information that many persons trying to search on their own do not consider, such as city directories, old school yearbooks, and newspapers for the two or three years around their or a parent’s birth date. Many people believe that only birth certificates, names, and birth dates will help them find family, and they fail to realize that learning the history of the times, learning possible professions of parents or grandparents, and ethnic backgrounds, could be of value, not only in finding someone, but in seeing that person as a real, whole person. This little volume can give someone lots of ideas for investigation.
     The other book, Beneath a Tall Tree (2001), is an eloquent, moving story of the author’s life and her searches. Her birth mother, with whom she had some difficulty forging a bond because the author was seeing her as wanting to be a replacement for her beloved adoptive mother, had also been adopted. Strauss’s adoptive mother died close to the beginning of her search, and was not told of the search, to the author’s extreme regret after the fact. Together, Strauss and her birth mother searched for the birth mother’s own birth mother and became close during that process. They did find Strauss’s grandmother, alive and well at 80 years of age, and have enjoyed several years of reunion. The author also researched her birth family histories many generations back, discovering lots of interesting facts and relationships. Some of the people she had researched while obtaining her degree in history years before turned out to be her ancestors. The Civil War and earlier connections were amazing. She was persistent and rarely discouraged, even when searching for such a common name as “Mary Brown,” her grandmother.
     This book will bring tears of both joy and sadness to many readers, even if they’ve read it before. She has an amazing way of expressing the feelings many others have experienced in search and reunion. For those who are early in their search, contemplating a search, or who have become discouraged and given up a search, this book can be a source of encouragement as well as providing some new clues and avenues for search. If you read it more than a year or so ago, read it again! Ms. Strauss’s new film has just arrived and will be shown at the O.I. meeting in May.

     For the Life of Me (2009), Strauss’s latest documentary that premiered at the 2009 American Adoption Congress Conference, is a beautiful, moving film, sure to be held dear by anyone with adoption connections who sees it, and certain to win over many persons who have opposed access to adoption records.
     Strauss and her camera traveled to numerous places with adoptees seeking access to their original birth certificates and, in some cases, finding living relatives. In other cases, finding a gravestone and pictures was the best they could do. In each situation, the thoughts and emotions expressed by the searching person are deep and real. Some found that their birth parents had died only a few years, or even a few months, before the searcher found their information.
     Several of the people featured in this film are known by this reviewer, while others are not. The documentary was several years in the making, and it was well worth the effort. It is expertly and beautifully filmed and edited. It is easy to see why Strauss’s works have won awards. Many will want to obtain their own copy, for themselves and for gifts. It is available for only $19.95 plus $2.50 shipping and handling, and may be ordered directly from the film maker at We received it in just a few days after ordering.
     The book, Beneath a Tall Tree, was first reviewed by Barbara Free in the July 2001 issue of this newsletter.

Excerpted from the April 2010 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2010 Operation Identity