Last week I brought one of my longest searches to a close. Before I met my husband I don’t remember knowing anyone who had been adopted. I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions of what it might be like to grow up with a family that did not share my genetics. But being a genealogist and always searching for those connections has made this issue a frequent subject of conversation in our home.
Many of us have family members who are not genetically connected to us but it’s not a big issue because we also have family members who are. When you have biological family members you see yourself when you look at them. There are shared genetic ailments and temperaments, talents and feelings. These things are passed down in your genes and in the stories you hear growing up and the way you were raised by these people who share this biological bond with you. It’s very different when you are completely separated from this genetic family. Despite having a happy, normal childhood and a loving family you also love, you will still have the desire to know your biological “tribe”.
When you are separated from your tribe in infancy this desire is lifelong and sometimes not even recognized for what it is. You are expected to accept things as they are and not need the biological family that gave you up. For many years this was the way people thought but this has changed. Closed adoptions like the one my husband was involved in are no longer the norm. I am very glad this practice is being abandoned. Adopted people for the most part want to connect with their birth mother and families and research has shown that the overwhelming majority of birth mothers also suffer from the separation and also want a connection. I highly recommend this website for in depth information on this subject.
In my research I have found family members and information for numerous other people. I connected my father’s cousin to half brothers he and they did not know existed. The state he lived in would not release his original birth certificate to him despite the death of both parents. I think this is outrageous. My husband was lucky enough to have a copy of his adoption file. The names of his birth parents had been redacted with a Sharpie marker but, because of the glossy photocopy paper it was printed on he was able to use alcohol to remove the redacted marks and uncover the names. Later he was able to obtain his original birth certificate.
Doing this type of research has made me a big proponent of women keeping their birth surname when they are married and children keeping their birth surnames when adopted. I understand the symbolic and often emotional reasons for the custom of changing them but I believe it is best to add the new name to the old. At least allow children to make this decision for themselves when they are adults. I can’t tell you how many people cannot trace their genealogy or find living family for this very reason. I’ve been contacted by quite a few. I believe it is our right to at least know our birth family and be known by them. The name is often our only connection and I believe this is important.
I did not go into how I found my husband’s birth family because it’s not the real story. The discovery of his birth family is a story in progress and the end of the search is really a new beginning for him. I hope knowing will help everyone involved and close a painful chapter in their lives.
Genealogists not only bring the dead back to life but connect their living descendants and keep the tribe or clan together. At least that’s what I tell myself to justify the amount of time I spend on this type of research.