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.
This year was one filled with challenges. One where I am reminded of frequently with the people I am working with in the adoption triad. They vary greatly from adopted mother’s looking on behalf of their adopted children, to adoptees searching for their first family, to birthmother’s looking for their children relinquished to adoption, and finally with adults who were separated from their birth mother or father from a very young age looking for them now.
I wanted to take a chance to chime in and give folks something positive to think about. While some searches has yielded challenges, there have been successes that have occurred. I cannot share the details, but let’s just say someone already has a reunion to consider amongst the clients I have been working with these past few months.
During the past few weeks I have been busy with visiting my first family, getting over a cold, and then preparing for the holidays. Between all these personal endeavors I have been researching more on different ways to approach searching for birth families.
Once autosomal test results are completed they will set for months or even years with no one closer than distant cousins popping up amongst new relatives that align themselves with our accounts; no matter which company we are working with. However, on rare occasion a closer relative will appear that can have the potential to add great value to our search.
I have been on both sides of this coin. On the one side I had a first family greet me with open arms and one the other one that displays no interest in acknowledging me. However, that is not entirely the case. I have a half-sister who, while very busy, has shown genuine interest in meeting face to face. She comes from my paternal side in the first marriage my birth father started in his married life. She, in many ways, has a similar circumstance of breaking away from her birth father as I did through adoption. While mine was from birth, hers was from the time her parents split apart from the tender age of two.
Families were dramatically affected by their location, natural disaster, religious beliefs, war, peace and migration. Whether or not your well versed in history stepping outside hints provided by some Ancestry.com tree or random Census Poll, it will eventually become impossible not to step into historical context to understand why the family may have been impacted in one way or another.
So in about a week I will be traveling sixteen hundred miles away to see the home State of my maternal side of my birth family; in short, my natural mother’s home State of Texas. While she resides only thirty miles from my present location, many of her family reside down south.
This past week has been one where many family trees and other investigative work with both adoptees and birth mothers have seen some progress. However, many of the people I am working with have their family trees matured to a level that require a closer examination on a generation-by-generation level.
Tonight an adoptee shared a video link to an individual who spoke about adoption being classified as a trauma wherein the adoptee faces abandonment and ordeal as their first experience into the world. I read more on this subject in the book Primal Wound many months ago. Both feel like something I can identify with, but not from natural memory.
Over the past few weeks, I have been putting time into an adoptees search for birth parents. All our evidence points toward the biological parent being a recent immigrant. In this case, we actually do have the birth certificate from the hospital where this adoptee was born. We have a name for the birth mother, clues about previous births, and a last name. We even know the age of the birth mother at the time of our adoptee’s birth. You would think, search solved before it begins. Well that would not be accurate.
Investing in a search for family means something different to each adoptee. There are those who have marginalized it to fulfill a handful of simple questions. Others hope to find answers about an intangible need that they anticipate will be resolved upon making contact with their birth family.