Beneath a Tall Tree:
A Story About Us
by Jean Strauss
Areté Publishing, 2001

Reviewed by Barbara Free

     Jean Strauss, the author of this new book, gave the closing presentation at the American Adoption Congress National Conference in April. The presentation included much of the material in this book, and was profoundly moving to many of the conference participants, including this writer. The book also includes other details of the author’s life and the extensive work she has done in conducting not only her own search for her biological parents, and for her birth mother’s birth mother, but genealogical research she conducted that eventually went all the way back to Charlemagne. She shows how to diagram a family tree to include both adoptive families and biological families, which counters the frequent, although perhaps shallow, complaint that trying to include both sets of families is “messy,” cumbersome, and doesn’t fit with our traditional ideas of the structure of families. The book is not, however, a guide to searches. It is more a story of her own life and development, and of her gradual enlargement of her concept of family. Her memories of childhood in her adoptive family and her strong bond with that family (except for her abusive and mentally ill adoptive brother) let us know that her need to identify and find her biological family comes from a healthy and deep-seated need. While most birth parents and adoptees know that this need exists and that it has nothing to do with the quality of the adoptive home or the genuine love of the adoptive parents, society at large does not know that, and consequently reinforces adoptive parents’ fears,-, that if their adoptee wants to search, it must he something they did wrong or failed to do.
     Ms. Strauss includes numerous pictures of her family, and an exciting story of search and reunion, learning about many ancestors, and how their losses set in motion other losses. She finds her maternal grandmother as well as her birth mother, and comes to know and love numerous siblings. She is able to take her life-long interest in history and inspire the reader to find out more about their own ancestors, whether adoption is involved or not, to find not only dates and names, but real stories, the information that transforms these ancestors into real people in one’s mind.
     She gives the reader a new, broader definition of family that includes friends who have been there along the way in life’s journey, and she concludes, as she did in the presentation in Anaheim, that we are all one family. She has discovered, as anyone can do with a calculator, that, if one goes back 29 generations, one has over half a billion ancestors, more people than were on the planet at that time, meaning that we are descended from some of the same people in more than one way, but also showing that in a larger, less literal sense, we are all related.

Excerpted from the July 2001 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2001 Operation Identity