A Limb of Your Tree
The Story of an Adopted Twin's Search for Her Roots
by Doris D. Smith, Ph.D.
Exposition Press, 1984

Reviewed by Barbara Free

     Although the fact that this book is more than 20 years old might cause some to bypass reading it, that might be a loss. One of the advantages of the O.I. Lending Library, of which this book is a part, is that it can allow one to read books of historical value.
     Smith tells the story of her and her twin brother, David, who were adopted together in infancy (though not at birth) in 1934 by a loving and affirming couple. When David died of a kidney disease in 1970, Smith was prompted to search for her birth family to find medical information.
     Smith’s determination to find answers in her own medical history was also fueled by her own son’s sudden illness in 1973, which was initially dismissed by their doctor as migraine headaches attributable to Smith’s husband’s side of the family. Unsatisfied with this simplistic diagnosis, Smith decided that she needed to know if her brother’s kidney condition was something genetic.
     Smith’s book is a product of its time, employing now-outdated terminology, such as “natural parents” instead of “birth parents,” so one must keep this in mind when reading A Limb of Your Tree.
     Initially, Smith had very little information. Before she died, her adoptive mother had told her that she had been told that Doris and David’s mother was a teacher, and that their father some sort of a businessman. She also knew they were born in North Carolina, where they grew up, and assumed they had been born close by and placed by the Children’s Home Society.
     Smith anticipated the search might not be too difficult, but she did not expect the roadblocks and lack of cooperation she encountered, or the length of time and amount of money it would take to finally find her birth family, nor the personal stress she would experience.
     Smith tells her story in a pretty straightforward, narrative fashion. She does express her particular religious views, which were helpful to her as she searched for her family.
     One striking aspect is that she talks about how the stress of the search led to her compulsive overeating, to the extent that, at one point, it even began to threaten her own health.
     Starting out with no information in the 1970s, at a time when search and reunion was not well organized, and the American Adoption Congress (and Operation Identity) were only in the beginning stages of their existence, Smith nevertheless became quite adept at networking and ferreting out information.
     Eventually, she found her birth mother, who was by then in her 70s. They spoke by telephone and corresponded for some time, but her birth mother was still afraid to tell her husband and other children of Doris and David’s existence.
     Smith was living in California at that time, and her birth family (and adoptive father) were still in North Carolina. Eventually, she made a trip back there, met her birth mother (posing as a genealogist), and found her deceased birth father’s family, including several siblings, who welcomed her right away. She talks of finally feeling “like a whole person.”
     At the conclusion, I wondered what has happened to this woman since 1981, when she completed her search. Did she continue to have a happy relationship with her birth mother and birth father’s family? Did her birth mother ever tell her husband and other offspring? How is Doris herself doing?
     A self-published book (Exposition Press, a now-defunct subsidy, or “vanity,” publisher, would bring a book to market under its imprint at the sole cost of the author; a means of publishing that, with the advent of electronic publishing and print-on-demand technology, is even more prevalent now than then), A Limb of Your Tree did not gain wide recognition, but the story is nevertheless compelling and well-written.
     The most amazing thing is that, even after nearly 30 years since Smith began her inquiry, people still have difficulty searching; still expend enormous amounts of time, energy, and sometimes money in trying to find their family members; and are still often lied to, or just refused information about themselves and their lost family members.
     Even with the Internet, many support groups (but fewer than there was even only ten years ago), and open records in a few states, search is still not easy for most people. Smith’s persistence is what finally paid off for her, and that’s still necessary in most searches.
     This book is still relevant. If you haven’t read it, remember that it is available in the O.I. lending library.
     Editor’s Note: This book has appeared twice since 1984: as A Daughter’s Return to Her Roots: An Adopted Twin’s Search in 1997, and as Out of My Arms, But Never Out of My Heart in 2002, the latter of which may still be purchased via Amazon.com.

Excerpted from the October 2008 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2008 Operation Identity