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It’s natural to want to know where you came from…

08 Jun

“People will not look forward to posterity, who never looked backward to their ancestors” ~ Edmund Burke [1729-97]

~~~

“I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father and his father and all our fathers, and in front to see my son and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes. As I felt so they had felt, and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid for I was in a long line that had no beginning and no end. And the hand of his father grasped my father’s hand and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand and all, up and down the line that stretched from time that was to time that is not yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, made in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father.”
~ Robert Llewellyn
 
I have talked before about missing a biological connection – not seeing myself reflected back physically, personality wise or natural talents – not being able to know “I” fit.  It had nothing to do with my family dynamics, relationships or any of that – it was that “I” needed that connection to my family and history for myself.  I have always needed to know even when I resigned myself to never knowing.  Yet I never talked about it, just like I never talked about a lot of things.  My tendency has always been to withdraw deep inside myself.  Whenever I feel stressed I withdraw.  I need to sort things out myself and by myself.  Luckily nowadays I have a husband who understands this and does not press as he has the same tendency.  We both draw strength from each other simply be being together – words don’t matter – togetherness matters.
The day I decided to reach out to my aunt I drove by her house first, trying to decide whether it was better to knock on her door and at least being able to see her once, in case she slammed the door in my face, or call and risk never getting to see what she looked like.  And while I was driving down her road I saw a woman walking down the side  and knew instantly that she was my aunt, I just knew, and deep inside of me I knew she would not reject me.  We don’t look-alike but yet we do, simply because parts of us are alike and when you look at a picture of us you see without a shadow of a doubt that we are related.  We had an instant connection that to this day I cannot describe, I was in a state of awe to be talking too, and with, my aunt.  A priceless connection that is denied to far too many of my fellow adoptees, a connection denied to me until there was “just cause”. 
Since I have found my maternal family I have also traced my ancestors back in time.  I have studied the history for each era and place they lived, studied the various censuses, followed their migration routes, learned about the challenges and overall gleamed clues about what type of individuals they were.  This combined with the knowledge my aunt has given me, has given me so much insight into who I am and why I am the way I am.  Next year when the 1940 US census is released I will do the same for my paternal family but it saddens me that I won’t have same immediate family knowledge, so I am not sure how I will feel, whether it will be enough, yet I still look forward to knowing more. 
The definition of being an adoptee is that we have two families, so why do people still to this day think it is wrong that we want to know where we came from?  And how is it right for those who know where they came from, to even say we don’t need to?  What moral right do they have to define us as “less than” when it comes to knowing what they have always known?  What right does any government have to deprive us of this innate knowledge that is at the very core of who we are? 
And in the adoption community there is to varying degrees, this need to deny that biological ties matter.  That if they acknowledge that nature matters, then they become “less than“.  Why can’t each of our families just stand on its own merit?  I think that is one of the greatest frustrations I have is that in the need to justify that an adoptive family is “as good as” or “better than” a biological family, they miss the point that without our biological family we would not exist, or be who we are. The blood of my ancestors flows through my veins, their genes make up who I am, without them, I would never have existed in the first place.  We are the products of both nature and nurture there is no denying that reality.  Just like adoptive parents who grew up in their biological families are who they are, because of both nature and nurture – so are we – we just have two different families.  I just wish both nature and nurture could be celebrated equally in the adoption world without people feeling the need to justify their side and dismiss the other side…
I stumbled upon this website and article Notes On Genealogy and History
By Michael Schroeder, Professional Historian Who Researches and Writes Family Histories.  Small portion below but well worth reading the one page article in full.
On the other hand — and this is the funny thing — genealogy comprises the one branch of practical historical inquiry that captures the imaginations of millions of ordinary people. If you walk through the doors of just about any local, county, or state historical society in the nation, you will be entering a veritable beehive of activity – people scurrying about, sifting carefully through piles of documents at the reading tables, sitting stock erect at the microfilm readers for hours on end, their eyes glued to the screens.
Historians know this, of course, but tend to regard it as an inconvenience because the genealogists always get the best chairs.
Historians ought to know better. Those genealogists are not looking for data. They are looking for a connection.
They are not engaged in antiquarianism. They are on a journey of discovery.
 For some heavier reading, a paper written by an AP in open adoption who argues against the need for biological ties in terms of self and identity formation – interested in your thoughts if you have the time to read it.
Family, Ancestry and Self: What is the Moral Significance of Biological Ties?
 
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20 Comments

Posted by on June 8, 2011 in Adoption, Ethics

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

20 responses to “It’s natural to want to know where you came from…

  1. eagoodlife

    June 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Great post as always.It matters, it matters deeply.

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  2. Dannie

    June 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Have only made it to page 8/39 so will try to finish at a later time. That reminded me of a co-worker that told me she wanted to do a paper outlining the differences in family trees for her adoptive family and her biological family, but then didn’t end up doing it because she didn’t want her life as an academic paper/review.

    The geneology thing is interesting…..while people have varying degrees of interest, I think ALL humans are very interested in where they come from and their ancestors, so it’s a bit mystifying that there’s a bit of squelching going on at times when adoptees get to an age of curiosity.

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    • The adopted ones

      June 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      Too funny Dannie page 8 of 39…that’s why I said it was heavier reading – I slogged through it as I really wanted to get an understanding of the why it isn’t important when adoption is brought into the equation…and it ended up not convincing me that it was okay to settle for just creating your own identity…there was nothing I read that said why it apparently does not matter. Perhaps just my bias.

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  3. veggiemom

    June 9, 2011 at 1:36 am

    Even for my 4-year-old daughter, the connection is huge. Any time anyone asks her about our recent trip to Guatemala, the first thing she says is, “I got to see my family.” I truly believe that APs who try to deny the importance of knowing one’s past are just insecure in their role as parents. They can’t see that it really has nothing to do with them and everything to do with an individual’s need to know. It saddens me how many APs are so scared of birth family searches when I know how much searching and connecting with birth family has really helped both of my daughters.

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    • The adopted ones

      June 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      Veggiemom – welcome. I read your posts on your trip and could see how enriching it was for ALL of you – it just widens the circle.

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  4. cb

    June 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    “A discussion of David Velleman’s essay, “Family History” and related topics. I argue that acquaintance with one’s biological progenitors is not necessary for human well-being. However, in contexts where such knowledge is highly valued, those without it may be stigmatized and their well-being diminished. Although it may be important to provide, as far as possible, information about one’s biological progenitors and even to consider this a right, it is also important to question the value of acquaintance with biological progenitors and to acknowledge the importance of fictive kinship, alloparenting, and other social resources in all of our lives.”
    The above is the synopsis for Sally Haslanger’s essay. I did slog through the whole thing and my take on it is that while it may well be that acquaintance with one’s biological progenitors is not necessarily necessary for a particular individual’s well-being per se, it is not up to others to decide that for that particular individual. Acquaintance with one’s biological progenitors may add an extra dimension to a particular individual’s life (disclaimer not saying ALL individuals) and is it therefore morally right to deprive that individual of that. By knowing my relatives, I feel I have come to understand myself better and to understand a few other things. My life up to contact was fine but feel that contacting bfamily added an extra dimension.

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    • The adopted ones

      June 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      CB – I think she bothered me in her insistence that a description of who our family was in reality all that was needed and we were “just fine” without – and that meeting and getting to know them really added no value.

      If that is the case then why aren’t all children removed at birth and placed for adoption with a social history attached? If it really doesn’t matter…wouldn’t everyone want to surrender their babies and then work at becoming better parents so when they reach the top of the list they too are the best of the best?

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      • cb

        June 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm

        Yes, I saw that too about the description being enough (in fact, I was just trying to find it just then). How can she seriously think that having a general description of our bparents and medical history is the same as actually knowing them or other relatives. Even though I well never be able to meet my bmother, the photos and shared memories of those who loved her who has certainly helped give an insight into her character and has helped me see those things in my own character. My ancestors are all from one part of NSW and I do feel a lot of pride that my roots are part of that area. They were there for 150 years and the ancestors are an integral part of that area’s history.
        I wonder what how her own 2 children feel; whether they feel a connection with the bfamilies (apparently it is an open adoption).

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  5. cb

    June 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    http://crookedtimber.org/2006/09/05/david-velleman-on-family-history/
    Btw this is another person’s blog on David Vellman’s paper (I was trying to find his actual paper but couldn’t find a working link)

    It is interesting in t hat it has lots of comments attached to it.

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    • The adopted ones

      June 9, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Really interesting post and the comments – oh my – it seems that the majority of posters disagree that the biological connection and history is important, yet at the same time they see the need to pepper their comments with stories of their family history and were indeed raised in their biological families…pot calling the kettle black?

      I did like this comment about how many choose to have biological children for that biological connection and so why can they kick the stool out when the reverse is true that kids want to know their biological connections – for some reason I can’t paste the actual comment but it was about 100 or so comments in.

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      • cb

        June 9, 2011 at 9:40 pm

        “If some of you are right and biological relationships aren’t important, then surely using anonymous donors to enable someone to have a biological child is just pointless and these people’s desire for a biological child is downright misguided.

        Can you really have it both ways? Can you kick the stool out from under people’s claim to have an interest in knowing their biological forebears without also kicking the stool out from under people’s claim to have an interest in knowing their biological descendants?

        I can’t help but think that as a defence for the use of anonymous donors that line of reasoning is self-defeating”
        Is this the comment? That is certainly a good point.

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  6. Dannie

    June 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I finally slogged through it, but I’m still feeling unwell so unfortunately I didn’t grasp the “why” of the position statement?
    As I have stated before, young families (such as mine) are “fine”. That’s because basic needs are being met and when one has a stable childhood, really, you are just happy….it doesn’t mean feelings aren’t valid at age 4, 14, 24, or 54. Connections are always vital….I wish I had more names for my little one to see on her family tree (bio side), maybe she’ll be a geneology buff herself 😀 and find out things even I didn’t know 🙂 that would be awesome.

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  7. The adopted ones

    June 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    CB – yes that is the comment…a very good point indeed…

    Dannie – I got more and more interested in geneology the older I got – the mortality factor?

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  8. cb

    June 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    “From my personal experience I therefore think that choosing to have a child where there is no chance of them being able to trace their biological parents (i.e. permanently anonymous donations) is a detriment to them, because it is taking away a choice from them as adults to investigate that family. It is the selfishness of a parent saying that they know better what is right for their child than the child can ever do. When children grow up they may well not want to exercise that choice to investigate their past, but it is wrong deliberately to deny them the chance to do that.”
    I also like this comment above (96).

    .

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    • cb

      June 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm

      “I would think knowing your genetic relatives is often an important part of identity formation, and in particular I am not at all surprised by the number of adopted children that try to find their biological ancestors. However, I would tend to attribute this longing more to psychologically irrational desires than to anything reasoned and valid.”
      This commenter seems to think we have psychologically irrational desires lol.
      My view is this: Knowing things about your bparents personality can help you understand your own. An example might be the following: When I go to interviews, I am always very nervous which means it is often hard for me to get a job unless there are other things to the interview like a typing test or knowledge test (which I always do well at). I always assumed that was just a product of my upbringing (though my upbringing was OK) although my siblings don’t have that nervousness at interviews. However, on a sheet I got from agency, it said this about my mother: “a very shy freshfaced country girl who was rather nervous during most of the interview.” So, it is possible that in fact that the nervousness could be inherited. In fact, there are other things in her personality that sound similar to mine (there are also a lot of things that don’t sound similar). The point of what I am saying is that knowing your progenitors can help you understand whether parts of your personality are inherited or created. It may not make much difference in the grand scheme of things but it can help you understand yourself.
      Btw in regards to the penultimate commeter with the siblings adopted from Korea, her comments show she doesn’t really understand them at all (I am sure many of us have a different interpretation on their actions than she does).

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      • The adopted ones

        June 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        CB – I saw the Korean comment and went okay you have a weird view of reality they face – language, culture barriers that are almost impossible to overcome and other adoptee most likely is in the anger phase…but they know better. Like the post above too.

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  9. shadowtheadoptee

    June 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Psycho

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    • cb

      June 10, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      LOL

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  10. shadowtheadoptee

    June 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Let me try again. Psychological irrational desires? lol I would love to hear that commenters rational an valed explination for that comment. lol

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  11. Kara

    June 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    “I just wish both nature and nurture could be celebrated equally in the adoption world without people feeling the need to justify their side and dismiss the other side…”

    Hear, hear. If only. I get so tired of arguing this point with the “just fine” folks. Mostly I don’t anymore. It makes me sad. Adoption is a complicated life to live, and we have to advocate and argue so much amongst ourselves as much as for ourselves.

    The history of my natural family is hugely important to me, and I have an adoptee friend who is an amateur genealogist and has traced my mother’s family back nine generations. I finally have my own history instead of a borrowed one. While I love my aparents dearly (they are also genealogy buffs) I cannot say that I share the looks or talents of any of those ancestors. I just don’t. I am legally on their family tree and erased from my natural family’s, but it’s like a bad Nazi experiment, IMO. What do we really think we are hiding/creating?

    Makes me nauseous.

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