A huge surprise befell me yesterday. But first, some background. Those of you who have followed my rants and ramblings since the beginning, and who have a good memory, will know my life’s story. I was born and immediately placed into an orphanage. I was adopted after a couple of months and went to a wonderful family. My adoptive mom died when I was four years old and another wonderful woman stepped in and raised me as her own.
I never really had any memories of my first adoptive mom, but always had a couple of odd images that I suspected were truly memories. When I was 14 or 15, I was told the truth by her parents (who remained friends of the family – I was told to call them grandma and grandpop even though they weren’t “really my grandparents”). There had, indeed, been a previous mother. I still had no clue that I was adopted though.
When I was 20, after having left home several years earlier under strained circumstances, my dad sent me a letter filled with documents, including adoption papers. He apologized for never having told me – he just never found the right time or moment. Truthfully there probably would never be a good moment; but I understand his hesitation and not ever telling me. But there came no background info, no detail. In fact, after we made up and reconnected, it was never spoken of by either of us for the next nearly thirty years.
To this day, I do not know how or why my first adoptive mom died except for sketchy details. And I knew nothing of my adoptive parents – until yesterday. I’ve been a member of 23&Me, which is a genome testing website. You submit saliva and their lab does the testing and gives you all your genetic traits and predispositions; which is why I did it – to better understand what genetic material I had passed along to my children and grandchildren. But they also provide you a list of folks who share your DNA – your blood relatives. And I had some hope that I might gain some insight into the people behind my DNA. I found hundreds of DNA relatives, but all distant as in 4th and 5th cousins. Once in a while a 3rd cousin would turn up and once or twice, a rare 2nd cousin. But without knowing a thing about my birth parents, there was not a single thread to follow.
Until now. I found an uncle. He is now 80 years old, meaning he was 15 or 16 years old when I was born. He did not respond to my request to share info but then I found a first-cousin with the same name as my uncle – his son. And my cousin did respond, in great detail. He had submitted his dad’s test sample to help the family better determine their family tree; his dad is not as sharp as he used to be and when my cousin asked about how I might fit into the family, my uncle could not recall anything. But the pool is not deep: there is my uncle, a much older half-sister, and a sister who was 16-17 years old in 1956, when I was born. There is zero doubt that his sister was my mom.
Sadly, she died in 2014, so there is no chance for a reconnection, were that even to be considered. And no one has any information on the father, not even a name – at least so far. But she had six children, thirteen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, so there is a chance I may be able to get more detailed info on her from one of her children – maybe. But at the very least, I know have a name for my birth mother – and for her mother and father – which means I can now start a family tree!! And that is absolutely amazing for someone who spent almost half his life with no blood relatives at all until I had kids.
I paused after that last paragraph – paused for a day or so – to ruminate on all this sudden news. I don’t think I can possibly put into words the emotions that are, and have been, flowing through me since I learned al of this. Family is so critical to our internal self-balance and identity. Like them or not, you need to know your roots – it is fundamental in all of us, likely somewhat invisible to many who have always known their family and their roots.
Thank you Captain Obvious for this, but… family trees should always have you in the middle; there needs to be a history above you and blank space for the future below you (and your children as applicable). But mine has been lopsided for all of my 65 years with me at the top. Yes, the genome testing I did a few years ago revealed I had blood relatives out there: 3rd and 4th cousins mostly – relationships I couldn’t understand because without the seeds from which you were born, there is no way to properly “slot” those far-distant cousins into your personal tree.
I could, and did, create some distance above my head by adding in my wife’s history, back several generations, but it remained lopsided and blank above my head, and did nothing to tie in any of the distant cousins to mine. And that was my reality for all of these years. I’ve wondered, sometimes idly and sometimes deeply, about my birth parents – their lot in life, their relationship, their circumstances that led to me – and after me. What they looked like, what they were like, who they were…. And their names. I am who and what I am – knowing about them doesn’t change a thing about who and what I am. But it sure does scratch an itch, satiate a hunger, and in some way mend a wound – a hole.
So to find an uncle, and then a first-cousin, was monumental for me. No uncertain and convoluted relationships to discern here; this is simple: my uncle is my mom’s brother. And that is clear and certain and highly tangible – it is real. A direct link to my mother; too late perhaps, for a better understanding of who she was and how her young and surely unplanned and unexpected pregnancy came about, how it changed her life. And certainly, too late for info on my birth father – his name and what he was like. I fear anyone and everyone who could answer that is now gone, although he could very well still be alive. I wish my uncle had better recall of her and her life back then in 1956…perhaps he could have recalled a boyfriend from that time and even a name. None the less, I remain delighted and overwhelmed with the information with which I’ve been graced.
And yes, dear reader, I have already erased the blank space above my head and filled it with my birth mother and my maternal grandparents, as well as an uncle and a first-cousin. It will take time to begin to weave the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins into this, but a task of pleasure I assure you. And made possible thanks to my cousin submitting his, and his father’s, DNA for their own knowledge, unknowingly adding a family member to the tree at the same time.
This piece was intended to be posted to my blog a week ago, but due to my poor choice in where to place my laptop when getting out of the chair, that never happened. I always place the laptop beneath me when I am not using it or am getting up out of the chair. I leave the screen up and slide it under the chair with it as far back as possible until the screen touches the chair. I’ve been doing it like this for a very long time; but I never noticed the round metal buttons along the bottom of the chair. Last weekend, I went to get up and my heel hit the back of the laptop causing the screen to hit one of those round metal buttons. And that was the end of my laptop screen.
Happily, I have the premium service plan with Dell – I called in it Sunday, they sent me a box which came on Tuesday, I dropped it off with FedEx on Wednesday, got an email they were shipping it to me on Thursday, and received it back on Friday. Pretty incredible. Keep your laptop, or tablet, or iPad, or phone safe and stay well dear reader!!
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