Monthly Archives: February 2014

Adoptee Uses DNA Test for Clues to Roots

SPOILER ALERT!
After twenty-four years of searching for my birthmother and finally publishing a memoir about my journey, I felt some sort of closure. Although my birthmother had already passed away by the time I learned who she was, actually before I started looking, I felt a sense of comfort in knowing who she was and having a few pictures to compare myself to. I also confirmed that I was born the same religion in which I was raised, which made me happy.

Unfortunately, no one I met during my journey knew about my birthmother’s background. They didn’t know her parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. I wanted to know more about her. Here’s the real spoiler alert part. Growing up, I never paid much attention to my father’s family. Since he was my adoptive dad, I didn’t even pay any attention when he told me I had a “cousin” who was involved in developing the Salk vaccine for the prevention of polio. He wasn’t my “blood.” Why should I care who his relatives were? Or the fact that he had heart disease which eventually took his life. This wouldn’t affect me. Maybe I should have paid more attention.

Part-way through my search for my birthmother, I learned that my “adoptive” father was actually my bio father. It’s strange how pictures paint a story. Years after both of my parents had passed away; I came across my dad’s high school graduation photo. I placed it right next to my son’s high school graduation photo. I never expected these photos to be identical. Same hair, same eyes, same ears. If I hadn’t known better I would have thought these were of the same person. Maybe I should have paid more attention when my dad, who had the same hazel eyes as my son, said things like, “I had blond curls too when I was a little boy.” But I was adopted. I didn’t listen.

I don’t spend my days obsessing about my adoption or thinking of myself as an adoptee. It rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation. Until the other day. About a year ago, I took a DNA test with Ancestry.com. I wanted to find some blood relatives other than those I gave birth to. I thought it would be cool to find matches, maybe even a cousin, aunt or uncle who might know something about my birthmother’s family. All I had was her maiden name, Simon, a very common name. For a split second I fantasized that I was related to Paul Simon from Simon and Garfunkel, imagining meeting him and telling him how I liked his songs. But that’s pretty ridiculous. As a matter of fact, I found very few close matches. The closest were third or fourth cousins. And when I looked at their charts, I honestly didn’t have a clue who I was related to. I didn’t, and still don’t, have a clue if the matches are from my mother’s or father’s side. In the meantime, I started adding names to my tree. I added all of those relatives of my dad who I now realized were blood. And I actually found some more. But I have nothing on my birthmother’s side.

I let this go for a while, hoping someday to find a close DNA match. Someone who could actually tell me more about my roots. Until one day I got an email from someone looking for her roots. She knew nothing about her dad’s background. She was hoping I could fill her in. Clueless about how this worked, not knowing which side our DNA matched, maternally or paternally, I couldn’t give her any direction. If she was related to me on my dad’s side, I actually know quite a bit now. If we matched on my birth mother’s side, I know nothing. I voiced my confusion to her in an email explaining that I don’t know how to help her. I totally forgot that I had been adopted. I forgot to mention that I knew nothing at all about one side of my family. I wrote her back. Admitting that I’m an adoptee searching for my roots, I confessed I knew nothing that would be helpful.

Am I missing something with this DNA test? Does anyone know how I can identify the matches as being relatives on my mother’s or father side? I’m so confused. I tried to do the 23andMe test but they don’t allow it in my state of Maryland. I’m not sure what to do next. I don’t want to keep taking more and more tests, but not knowing how someone is related to me is making this more confusing.

If you have any ideas, or would like to share your success or failures in DNA testing, please share. Thank you.

Call Me Ella - An Adoption Memoir

Click for sample or to purchase.

Original Birth Certificates for New Jersey Adoptees

The headline in NJ.com read: Bill opening birth records for adoptees approved by NJ Assembly panel.

The main story in NJCARE read:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Adoption Hearing was heard before the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. It was voted out of committee 4-0. You can listen to the hearing by going to the home page of the NJ Legislature and click on Archived Hearings.  Ask your Assemblyperson to support A1259 which will give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

Are we, adoptees born in New Jersey, finally getting closer to getting our original birth certificates? My birth certificate, the “official certified copy” of my birth certificate, is dated one year after my birth. It lists my adoptive parents’ names as if they had given birth to me. Yes they raised me. Yes, they were my family. My mom and dad. But they were not my birth parents. They were not responsible for bringing me into the world. Isn’t it illegal to falsify documents? Doesn’t the state realize that they are depriving me the right to know who I am? Where I came from?

In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the adoptee birth certificate bill, insisting anonymity for mothers. He said the records should be released but insisted that women who gave their kids up to adoption should have their anonymity preserved. What will happen this time? Will he veto the bill again?

Hasn’t he seen the movie Philomena? How many birthmothers would give anything to know the child they relinquished, many of whom where relinquished against their will, is healthy? Happy? Alive? Gov. Christie claimed birthmothers want anonymity. Maybe some do. From what I’ve read, most want to learn what happened to their child. Their flesh and blood.

I admit, I am not a birthmother. So I can’t speak for birthmothers. But I can speak as an adoptee. When I began my search twenty-something years ago, I wrote letters. Who did I write to? I lucked out, if I can use the term “luck.” Right before my mom passed away, she told me where she kept her important papers. In that box I found my adoption papers. This was the first time I learned what my birthmother’s last name was. Armed with that information, I wrote letters to people with my birth name. I finally hit pay dirt when my letter was passed on to a woman who was considered the “family historian.” (I thought it was so cool that my birth family had a “historian.”)Each letter I wrote included verbiage such as, “I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s life, I just want to know who I am.” Eventually, and this took many years, the historian and I fit together the pieces. We figured out who my birthmother had been. A woman who had passed away the year after my mom passed away.

I’m worried. Is Gov. Christie going to insist on protecting the anonymity of a woman who died twenty-five years ago? Whose husband has passed away and most of the children she raised? What if he insists that we get permission from the birthmother? Will this be a catch-22? She can’t give permission because she is dead. She can’t deny permission because she is dead.

I can’t begin to explain the feeling I’m anticipating the day I’m finally able to get my original birth certificate. To hold it in my hands. To see my name as it was written the day I was born. To finally feel whole. I’m anxious. I’m excited. I hope this bill passes before it’s too late. Before I’m dead.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees about how you will feel when you finally get your OBC. What are you expecting? And from birthmothers. Have you been looking? Are you hoping to be found?

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An Adoptee Asks, Who Do I Look Like?

I always knew I was adopted. Therefore, I never compared my looks to my parents. My mom had thick, curly hair. I didn’t. My dad had a receding hairline. Since I was a girl, still am, I never compared myself to him. I would look at other families. I would look at the boy and see if he resembled his dad. Lots of times he resembled both his mom and his dad. I thought that was interesting. How someone could look like two very different people. I also found it interesting how a girl, a very pretty girl, could look like her dad. But they do. Genetics is funny that way.

I read that people who live together for a long time, such as married couples, begin to resemble each other. Since they tend to laugh at the same things, share the same experiences, they start forming similar smile lines and frown lines on their faces. Mom and I rarely agreed on anything. Perhaps that’s why I never looked at all like her.

Since I was told my birth mother had died in childbirth, I never looked through the crowds, hoping to spot a woman who looked like me, only older. But I was often told that I looked just like so-and-so. Some friend of theirs, or someone they had just seen in a store. At first, when I would hear comments like that, I just ignored them. Everyone has a doppelganger. We see celebrity look-alikes all the time. When I moved to Ohio, my doppelgangers seem to take on a new meaning. Strangers weren’t just saying, “You look just like…,” they were being more specific. They thought they knew me.

One day I decided to stop in 84 Lumber, a local hardware store. I asked the clerk where I could find a particular product. His response, “You’re in here every week. You know where it is,” surprised me. He didn’t say I looked just like someone. He thought I was someone else. Could I have a twin? I seriously wondered if there was another person out there who not only looked like me, but could actually have been my twin. Maybe we were separated at birth. I was sent to one family and my twin was sent to another family.

A few weeks later, after giving a presentation to a group of eighty Weight Watchers members, I was approached by a woman. A very angry woman. She seemed furious that I didn’t recognize her. I had never seen her before in my life. Was she talking about the same woman who seemed to be a regular at 84 Lumber? Now I was seriously wondering if I had a twin. And if that twin lived in Ohio. Coincidences happen all the time. That would surely make a great story on the talk shows if I found a twin, or triplet, and we were separated at birth.

I started searching my birthdate online. Who knows? Maybe a famous person has their bio listed, with their birthday. I found a match! Yes! A lesser known actor, who appears in many movies, had my exact birthday. Day, month and year. I looked him up. Yes, I know. Since this is a man, people would hardly confuse us for the same person. However it intrigued me. I read his bio. Nothing in it mentioned adoption. I stared at his photo, wondering if there was any resemblance. I imagined there was, even though he was listed as being born in New York when I’m from New Jersey. I knew this was silly. Many people have the same birthday. But I think of that whenever I see him on TV.

We obsess about the unknown. I wish I had been given more information about my birthmother when I was growing up. I didn’t learn the real story until twenty-four years after my parents passed away. And you know what I never expected to find? I did have a relative in Ohio. My bio brother lived only two hours away from me for twenty years and I never found him until I moved to Maryland. It is a small world.

Never give up. Never stop searching.

Call Me Ella explains my search and my unexpected findings.

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