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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

How Important Is It for Adopted Children to Know About Their Ancestry?



While I've thought long and hard about the effect knowing only limited information about their biological parents will have on my children, it is only recently that I've begun to think about what impact the loss of access to their ancestral history might have on them. For each of our three children—all in open adoptions, adopted domestically as infants—certain factors have prevented us from knowing the full history of their biological families: Either the birthfather was never in the adoption picture, the birthparents couldn't give us a detailed history prior to placement, or it just was never discussed.

Our adoptions began as open relationships with the birthparents, but for now all communication, as I've blogged about, is one-sided with me giving and not receiving any. At the time of my children's placements we learned limited family information, which satisfied us. Then I was more concerned about the facts of the present time—the health of the child and whether adoption would be finalized. I did not think to ask for information about the birthparents' ancestry.

Partly, I assumed we'd have regular access to the biological parents, but perhaps another reason I didn't find out is because I've never been too interested in genealogy. To me, the actions of my relatives, especially of those who lived 100 or more years ago, do not impact my life. My grandparents were all first-generation Americans. Beyond that, I know the countries—Poland and German—where they came from. Maybe not having a particular attachment to my genes is why I never had to mourn the loss of a biological connection to my child when I chose to adopt. Heck, I'm adopting because I'm infertile. That's a genetic characteristic I'm happy not to pass on to anyone else!

While I may not personally feel a loss, that doesn't mean my children won't. This hit me the other day as I listened to local radio talk show DJs discuss an online ancestry program they greatly enjoyed using to research their families. One of the DJs, Dave, said something like, “Now I know why my uncle was no good to his wife. His great-grandfather walked out on his wife and three kids.” To which the other DJ, Tom, replied, “Do you think that your ancestors' actions influence the choices you make today?” Dave responded, “Oh yes, how can our actions not be tied to our ancestors? There has to be a genetic connection.”

While I know the DJs' discussion was tongue-in-cheek in tone and not meant to be taken as scientific contributions to the nurture-versus-nature debate, this brief radio discussion still got my head reeling with questions. What happens if you don't know your ancestry? Will my children be deprived of being able to search for their ancestors because we don't know where to begin? Will they feel satisfied searching for my husband's and mine instead? Is this yet another issue they'll have to deal with because of adoption?

While we can make an educated guess as to the geographic location where their ancestors may have resided, we'll never know which small village their great-great-grandparents were born in. We'll never know when exactly their ancestors chose to come to the United States from Mexico. We won't have any stories, such as knowing that my son's great-great-great-uncle was his town's largest landowner and that most of his town worked for him.

True, many others may not have any information about their ancestors, but odds are they just haven't spent the time researching. If you grow up with your biological family—or are in good contact with them—you can most likely get a name or two to get you started in your research.

Prior to hearing this radio segment, I would have easily argued that nurture wins over nature. I believed this because in our house it's eerie how many personality traits our children have in common with my husband, Paul, and me. But now I'm wondering if I'm in the minority with my thinking. Are children like mine, who have limited or no information to research their genealogy, being denied valuable resources that could help shape their identity? If so, what can I do about it?

How much of your child's biological ancestry do you know? Is it important to you or your child to know more? How do you discuss this topic in your home?


Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

17 Comments

Miss Ellie - Please reconcile your statements:

“I will disagree that people who you don know that are suppose to be related to you, have anything to do with who you are because of genes.  It all about tradition, family traits through characteristics.  Who you are and who your children are, are a result of your experiences. Not genes.”

with

“...a lineage to what we thought was civil war and revolutionary war history.  It was all a big lie ...”

Either bloodlines/DNA and true genealogy matter to you or they don’t.  In your view, wouldn’t the TRADITION of being connected to Civil War and Revolutionary War history be enough?

I probably have connections to the Civil War and even the Revolutionary War.  But first, I need to know who my father was.

The problem with comparing sealed records to “affairs, marriages of convenience, ...cases of infertility” and similar examples is that you are dismissing the key fact - adoption records EXIST, “records” of affairs generally do not.  It is the VERY REAL DIFFERENCE between the documented secret and the unknowable one.

By Romany Reunited on Monday, September 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm.

“Either bloodlines/DNA and true genealogy matter to you or they don.  In your view, wouldn the TRADITION of being connected to Civil War and Revolutionary War history be enough?” 

Exactly my point.  My father didn’t know who is father was either and no one ever will.  That knowledge is gone as all the people who were privy to it have died. His official records are false. The history of a civil war and revolutionary war was an ADOPTED history.  Making his adopted history just as important as his real one.  The real one he never knew and one that when all was said and done didn’t make him who he was, who I am or who my children will be.

Existance of records doesn’t make them completely true.  People lie, plain and simple.  My daughter was adopted.  We have all her records because it was an open adoption.  I support that, I support that people should have access to their records.  But one needs to be careful how much importance one places on these records and information as a basis to their identify.  Even though my daughter will always know who her birth mother is, that’s basically all she will know as all the other information is unknown or suspected to be untrue.  I don’t want her to place SO much importance on these peices of paper when SO many other things will be in my opinion more important to her identity,  MY OPINION. MY RIGHT TO HAVE IT and THE LAST I WILL SAY ABOUT IT.

By missellie123 on Monday, September 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm.

I am writing about this in my most recent blog post at http://cueyourlife.com/2011/09/16/my-adoption-story-part-one/

I think everyone will have different opinions because everyone has a different experience! Love them all!

By Cue Your Life on Friday, September 16, 2011 at 7:42 pm.

I agree with the geneology angle regarding why it is important for our children to know their ancestry, as I do also agree that the past does influence who we are and how we got where we are.  - stuff about ourselves that we aren’t even aware of. But it’s not just the curiosity about past events -

For our children who don’t have any idea about their ancestry - there are even more immediate, pressing concerns. We have no medical history, nor even any hint about genetically relevant conditions. And my middle school age daughter can’t even participate in a simple conversations about ancestry in school. Because we have no information about her birth parents’ ethnic/racial make-up, we don’t know if she is African, Hispanic or Native American - or even if she is Irish, French, German on her birthmother’s side - she could be any of these - where does one begin to attach/identify??!  Of course she can “adopt” - our, her adoptive parents’ ancestry - and in fact has - but not knowing her own genetic history is yet another loss she has to endure.

By Dianed on Friday, September 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm.

As a clinical geneticist, we see these kinds of issues all the time.  We deal with the information we have, but when possible it’s great to at least try to get as much medical family history information as you can.  People make good points that family history is almost always incomplete or inaccurate in some way or another, most often for reasons other than adoption.  Families are very complex organisms…

By chwdoc on Friday, October 07, 2011 at 3:42 pm.

CHWDOC - I agree but I have to point out that the primary reason most adoptees do not have information is because the government refuses to give us the information they have.  There is a three-inch stack of papers on me that I will never see because New York State says so.

DianeD - There is a growing body of knowledge on genealogical DNA testing.  It’s not perfect yet but it’s information that your daughter carries that can never be erased or sealed as long as she is alive.  Check out Family Tree DNA and 23andMe - two companies that do this kind of testing.  There are many other experimental projects that take the datafiles produced by the testing companies and analyze them - to match with close and distant relatives and to determine ethnicity.  Each year, more research yields more progress.

By Romany Reunited on Friday, October 07, 2011 at 4:45 pm.

Hi there,
I came across your site and wanted to share my story with you.  Please forward this to all of your members too.

I was born in Smolensk, Russia.  My birth mother relinquished me due to poor living conditions and financial status.  I was sent to the Kransy Bor orphanage also located in Smolensk.  I remained in the orphanage for 2 years, then I was adopted by my American family.  I remember growing up knowing that I was adopted from Russia.  When I turned 18, I emailed MAPS (now known as Stepping Stones) for any information pertaining to my adoption.  I was told they no longer had connections in Russia, but they provided me with a list of resources I could use.  Hearing a number of success stories, gave me hope that one day I may be able to discover where I am from and to answer those questions many young adoptees have.  My American family had kept all the documents from my adoption, which was very helpful when needing to search.  The search took about 2 weeks to complete.  I received videos of areas around Smolensk, videos of interviews, and photos.  The end result was very good.  I found a younger sister and brother too.  I am in touch with my entire Russian family and we communicate everyday.  I am very lucky, because all of my family members has Internet and most speak English.  It is truly an amazing feeling.

With that being said, I recently joined a team of professionals that travel internationally to preform birth searches and help guide individuals in searching.  I am located in the United States (NH) so I help in this area.  If you need help internationally, I will be happy to connect you with someone else. 

For the past couple months, I have been going around NH searching for birth mother’s.  It can be hard to obtain records, but you need to ask the right questions and I know the ways around the system.  If anyone is interested in having me help, I do searches free of charge.  After finding my family and feeling the emotions, I want to make that happen to others too.  Or, if you just want to email to talk and ask questions I’m open for that too.

I look forward hearing from you guys.

Cheers,
Dave

By davidmaksim on Sunday, June 02, 2013 at 4:17 am.
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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel

Missouri

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Newborn

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