We all face challenges in our lives. These challenges, no matter how big or small, shape us. Imagine, if you will, that all you have ever known in your life is challenge. Those numerous challenges would certainly shape your life to be much different than the life of someone who has never experienced such an abundance of challenge. An abundance of trauma. Adoptees face more traumas, and more challenges, than many other people, and it affects their lives in ways that we are just beginning to understand.….
This week, I had the pleasure of watching a lecture by Paul Sunderland on addiction and adoption, specifically, the correlation between the two, which I found utterly fascinating. Paul Sunderland is a specialist addiction counselor, with over 25 years of experience in the field, and in his lecture, he brought up several points describing what he believes are the main causes of addiction in adoptees, whom he says are overrepresented in treatment for recovery. Mr. Sunderland went on to elaborate that, while there are a number of genetic factors when it comes to addiction and adoptees, he believes that the initial seeds of addiction begin when an infant is relinquished at, or shortly after, their birth. Human infants grow inside their mothers for roughly 40 weeks. During that time, they hear their mother’s heartbeat, and her voice….
The past three years have been filled with a myriad of searches in every direction imaginable. It has not just been a personal journey, but one shared by a dozen volunteers, thousands of hours of dedication and over a hundred solved cases where adoptees have been gifted in the realization of their roots.
It has not been a journey I could have accomplished alone. It took everyday people sacrificing a lot of their time to devote to complete strangers in need of their help. Some searches for birth family were completely driven by the volunteer genealogists and others were from the adoptees themselves striving past brick walls that defy imagination. Everyone of these searches were unique and each with a myriad of challenges and outcomes.
These past few months have seen a huge surge in requests for help on searches. Awareness about adoptees has grown exponentially with advertisements for TV shows like, “Finding Your Roots” by Ancestry.com. While I am not really a big fan of shows that are more designed for ratings than actually helping people, one cannot deny the ground swell of attention that it has caused.
In my own search, I turned to every medium that could shed light on my goal. In fact, it was a webcast that first introduced me to a start-up company’s plan to change the medical landscape using DNA testing. Up until that point, I never even considered the idea of science playing a role in helping me find evidence pointing to my roots.
Imagine a hobby that someone cannot simply participate in at all. For me that was genealogy. It was not because I did not think the preoccupation was fascinating, it was simply because none of the people I could accumulate on my own tree were actually biological relatives.
Many of the cases we started months ago have finally come to conclusion. Others more recently have ended with the knowledge of one birth parent or the other. It is not that people are satisfied, but drained by the experiences they faced and contact that sometimes became possible.
Many searches I am working on have required turning back the pages to reassert more accuracy in the genealogy. I am constantly going to my DNA relatives list to compare surnames that appear as I wander back and forth over a particular branch of a tree. If I ponder at a branch and the cousins surnames upon it are all showing up as distant relatives, I will turn about and look down another branch.
It is not as if everyone has had an autosomal DNA test, but when you are facing hundreds of individuals out in a branch with particular attention to their detailed documentation one will take advantage of anything that might save time. Time is in short supply for some of the adoptees I am working with. Many have waited a lifetime to start their search. While I have learned the hard way not to be too hasty with decisions and weakly documented leads, I have also tried to be prudent with too much effort on a branch that appears to have no genetic relatives to help me backup a claim.
Sometimes a search can feel never ending. Yet on the spur of the moment it can change from a feeling where there is no end in sight, to that where everything aligns and the moment becomes clear. Like some alien on some journey across space and time our craft lands and we step out to make first contact.
I know first hand that feeling of extreme exhilaration and terrible dread. You are hit with a barrage of, “what ifs”. What if they deny me? What if I’m their terrible secret? What if they reject me, again? There are thousands that would take the leap of faith, no matter the consequences, to be in your position; to have finally found birth family. Yet there are just as many, who are paralyzed and now must consider getting back on the ship and flying away, or take the final step and make contact.
Many of the searches I have been on lately have taken a much more cerebral perspective. The genealogical progress has been put off simply to give the information collected, thus far, more clarity. It can be so easy in genealogy to take a small hint of information and treat it as facts. Back tracking to make sure what has been collected is accurate is very important.
Literally one incorrectly placed individual on a tree can send the entire search into a tailspin of misinformation. Each searcher should take the time to go back to the beginning and refresh where they started, or at very least, where they have recently gone on a branch within the genealogy.
Some adoptee searches are just meant to be, no sooner or no later than when they occur. In Yiddish, the word “bashert” comes to mind. I learned the word working for a Jewish craftsman back in the years just following my work in art restoration.
In many, if not all, the searches I have worked with or read about had coincidences that would simply not have happened if the trek upon that particular search had occurred any sooner or later than that very moment in time. Some windows of opportunity just are not open indefinitely. It is one of the driving forces in a quest for the truth about our birth family.
These past two months have been very busy for searchangels. Amongst the numerous cases I’ve been involved in, two individuals stepped forward with so many details I was able to find their birth family they were looking for in a less than a week. If that were only true for the many others who have spent decades looking for their first family
Many of my adoptee searchers have gone independent with their searches, or have put their search on hold to come up for air. Others have started to reach out to their biological cousins for assistance in helping them. I encourage those who have done so to embrace the search and the people they have made contact with.
Not enough can be said when it comes to working at providing documentation to substantiate each individual on our family tree. It can literally come down to a single missing or misplaced individual to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Genealogy can be even more of a challenge when we want to see progress that substantiates more than the people, but also our adoptee non-identifying information.
There is a storm coming. The temperature has dropped, and the snow shovels have been taken out of storage. The snow blower is setup on the back porch. I’ve fueled it up and test started it. I’ve cursed myself for not buying some salt to toss onto the sidewalk in the morning. Even though my children anticipate a potential day off from school, to me I just forecast more effort to get to work.
Lately I have been focusing on the DNA relatives that have similar surnames to those already connected to the family trees. It takes time to sift through dates, names and geographic locations to rekindle progress on certain branches.
Those that I have been successful in attaining multiple connections to genetic relatives, who also happen to have similar family trees that match, are being used collectively to see the most recent common ancestor many of them share with the adoptee.
We all have those certain something’s that cause us to be uncomfortable, concerned or even paralyzed by fear.
A year ago I would have told you mine was taking on my new role as an IT manager. I was not so much concerned about leading my team, as I was communicating with the executive team and the company in larger groups. That required a lot more attention evolving my public persona; specifically, my ability to communicate with others both at the individual level and the public speaking level.
The New Year started off with working with three new adoptees looking for their birth families. One I am actively working with for the past two weeks, and the other two likely waiting on DNA test results from AncestryDNA.
Over the past few weeks I have worked with several family trees for all the adoptees I am assisting. Some I have refined my search down to the individual level. They require investigating each person who may or may not fit into their trees. While others I have set aside a tree of over a thousand people to try and create a new tree using another genetic relative and push forward using their non-identifying information as if it were gospel truth.
This evening I worked on a tree that I needed to put aside for a while. It has become one of the most challenging puzzles yet; as the family has strong ties to Hungary. I put a few hours into building out the family tree of a recent third cousin that popped up in the AncestryDNA results a few weeks ago.