Why do adopted people look for the birth families? No one reason really. Some, like me, find themselves consumed with curiosity. For others, the claim connection to their birth families in some way. I’m going hold judgment on those folks, it’s just not something I understand. There are others, that finding themselves in a family situation they don’t like may feel like they can find something better if they look for their “real” families.
Whatever the reason, the decision to look, and it’s not one that everyone makes, needs to be respected and supported by the persons family. It’s not a threat or an attack, its legitimate curiosity. It’s the same curiosity that leads millions of people to get involved in genealogy. Except, we’re starting with less information.
So here’s the story of my own personal search. As I mentioned in part 1 of this posting, I’ve been curious about my genetic origins since I was, probably in high school. It was in high school that I started to realized that in spite of what my parents were telling me, I wasn’t Lebanese. My extended family would tell me all the time how much I looked like an “all American kid”, freckles, etc. As I mentioned before, until m parents provided me with my mothers real name, I really had nothing to go on. My records were sealed by the state and there was no way I could get a look at them without a court order. There are several adoption “reunion” sites were birth parents and kids can post and connect, I tried most of those over the years, all to no avail.
With a name and a home town, I finally had something to go on. This would have been 1999. My mother, as it tuns out, came from a small town in the Midwest. Knowing a little about those towns from my wives family, I knew that most of these towns had town or county history books where you get information about the families in the town, mostly for genealogists. I figured this place must have had one, so mustering up my courage I called the local library and made some inquiries. I was correct. There as a book and as it turns out the family name I was looking for was in the book. I have to tell you, this was a pretty exciting day, the culmination of 30 years of wondering.
The librarian agreed to copy the pages I was interested in and sent me copies of her findings. She also suggested that I contact the head of the local genealogy society, apparently she might be able to find more information for me. So, I made the call. At this point I was completely driven by that gnawing curiosity to know something about my origins. I was filling in the colors on a blank canvas to coin a phrase. What I wasn’t interested in at the time was talking too or meeting my birth family. That would change.
I called the local genealogist, the conversation was a life changing event, here’s how it went.
ME: Hi there I’m looking for genealogy on a family that traces it’s roots to your county.
HER: Great, whats the family name?
HER: XYZ? Why that’s my maiden name… Who are you looking for?
ME: (At this point my heart was absolutely pounding. I was breaking a sweat on the other end. For some reason a guardian angel or intuition told me not to identify myself. I made up a name.) Yes I’m looking for a Rachel XYZ.
HER: Rachel huh? I don’t have any records of a Rachel. I have everyone else though.
At this point she started talking about her family, a history she had researched back to the 1600’s. Wow. What we hadn’t done yet was established my relationship to this family, but somewhere I felt like there had to be a connection.
ME: Wow, that’s a lot of history. Have you shared that information with your family.
HER: Well, I have a brother and sister, that haven’t been all that interested. My sister, Name, lives out in California. She….
When she mentioned her Sisters name, I realized that I was in fact, talking to my Aunt. Her sister was my mother. Whew, that was a moment to remember. Still, I wasn’t going to reveal myself, in case she didn’t know about me. I tried a different tactic. I may have missed my calling as a detective, I was a little underhanded but still.
ME: Your nieces and nephews, your kids? Have you passed along all this information to them?
HER: Not really, my sister never had any kids and my brother…. (another chill went through me. My suspicions, were correct. This was her secret, I was not going to blow her cover, it’s had been 35 years at that point)
My next thought was I need my mother’s last name and place of residence if I’m going to ever going to contact her. Clearly I was this close, now I wasn’t turning back. Back to questions.
ME: Your Sister lives in California, I’ve never met any XYZ’s when I lived there.
HER: Well she’s married, her name is ABC, she lives with her husband in Simi… Who are you again?
ME: I’m looking for XYZ< thank you for your time, and that was that.
Now I had a decision to make. Would I contact my birth mother or not. Whew. Tool me about a month to work up the decision and finally make the call. I easily found her in the phone book, and one afternoon I pulled the trigger and made the call. Another chill-filled day.
Here’s how that phone call went…
ME: Hi, I’m not a solicitor, but I’d like for you write down this number. (I gave her my phone number)
Mom: OK Who is this?
ME: Does the date July x 1963 mean anything to you?
Mom: ( in a very quiet voice…) It does.
ME: You have my number, I wanted to contact you, but I don’t want anything from you. I’m just curious and interested in you. I’m going to let you go, and if you want, sometime, I would love to hear from you, give me a call. If you don’t, I’m not going to think anything less of you, you did a great thing years ago, and I don’t want to push something on you.
Her: How did you find me?
I told her my story, her concern “did you tell my Sister who you were?” I reassured her I did not. We hung up. About two or three weeks later she called, as we had a great talk. I learned more about my history, I learned that the “legends” I had been told were, for the most part, true. It was an amazing day. Since that time my Birth Mom and have exchanged emails, she sent me her Christmas letters, now I know were the sense of humor comes from. Turns out she lives pretty close to my parents, but we still haven’t crossed to the next level and actually met. She said long ago she wasn’ ready for that and I’m not going to push it, still, for me this was a huge event in my humble adoption story, and I hold out hope that one day we’ll meet. Until then emails are fine. I don’t hold any fantasy that this is my “real” family, or that I’m going to be embraced like some prodigal son. I did get a wonderful family tree, in addition to my families, and I know who I am and where I came from. It’s rekindled my interest in genealogy, something I was able to explore in Illinois.
Still, I’ll never confuse my birth family with my real family. Even when things have degenerated to where they are today with my real Mother. A story for the next installment.