What Fuels Birth Family Searches for Adoptees and Foster Kids?

Adoptees and Foster Kids Have Inherent Curiosity

Finding clues about birth family history sends me on an adrenaline high. I love being a sleuth and solving adoption mysteries.

Just my first name–Baby X–makes me curious!

Clues come in the most unexpected times and ways, oftentimes through the least likely people and circumstances.

As I have turned over every stone possible to find my heritage, I have discovered that being adopted can be a huge adventure, not only for me, but for generations to come.

Here are some of the curiosity-raisers:

  • German Soldier: There was a German prisoner of war camp in St. Johns, the town where I was born. My mom told me that there was a German soldier who walked by our house on Oakland Street every day, peering into the house, as if looking for something or someone.  Could he have been my birth father or known something relevant to my beginnings?
  • Secrets of Birth Mother: My birth was August 1945,  right after WW II ended.  My mother’s husband was serving our country, so her husband could not have been my birth father. My birth mother lied on the original birth certificate, naming him as birth father. Did she place me for adoption to save her marriage when he returned?
  • Protection of Privacy: Leah Cook, my grandmother, and matron of the Clinton County Children’s Home, arranged my private adoption. Her German name had been changed from Koch to Cook during the war. Working with physicians, lawyers, and judges in the county, she must have contacted Dr. Miles Fillinger from Ovid, Michigan to deliver me. Was she protecting the privacy of my birth mother, who was from Flint?
  • Fibs from Mom. “If you want to be rich, look up your birth father someday. He was an executive at GM Flint and your mother was his secretary.” Over the years as I’ve shared this is speeches,  I’ve learned that this was a common thing told to adoptees who are my age.

Now, can you see, friends, why I have been curious?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Key Person

Now, let me introduce you to Sharon Loessel, my birth cousin from Bay City, Michigan, who contacted me after the unsuccessful reunion with my birth mother. Apparently, word spread in the family that Elizabeth rejected me. She was reaching out in love and one of the first things she said was that my birth mother rejected everyone in the family.

Sharon has been a history and ancestry buff most of her life. After our first conversation, she sent beautifully matted black and white photos of at least five generations, labeled on the back with names and dates.

Ghosts, Heroes, and Heritage in the Closet

During the weeks to come, she revealed new information as I eagerly scratched it on paper. I have the papers to this day. She told me:

  • Ghosts: Elizabeth, my birth mother, was caught in bed with Sharon’s father. Lovely. Perhaps he is my unknown father, we wondered.  Maybe we’re half sisters? Her father was long deceased but she habirthfamily-great-grand-father-boatd his bathrobe with hair on it. Would I like to do DNA on those strands?
  • Coast Guard History: My great-grandfather and grandfather were lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes for decades. Included in another package she sent was a photo of my great grandfather standing by the Coast Guard boat he manned during shipwrecks.
  • Creative Wood Carver: My grandfather was a wood carver during those lonely hours alone manning the lighthouse. He carved ships and somehow Henry Ford birthfamily-grandpa-boat-newspaperheard about his ships and drove his Model T up to Brimley, Michigan to pick one up. I could just see Henry putting it in the jump seat of his Model T and taking it back to Detroit. Hopefully, it is now in the soon-to-be-restored Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.
  • Jewish Roots: Our family history dates back to the Tribe of Dan and is considered The Lost Tribe of Israel. During the Dispersion, they fled to Northern Europe and finally migrated to


Selective Hearing

In retrospect, it’s evident that the good stuff, like lighthouses, thrilled me. I felt proud, yet also like child on a winter’s eve, with nose pushed against a window to watch the family inside that I never knew.

And, even though an avid Bible student, the information about the Lost Tribe and Tribe of Dan didn’t faze me.

The painful parts didn’t register either. I was numb…for years.

How I wish I would have been more attuned to everything Sharon shared. Realistically, one needs to gobble up every bit of information given, yet at the same time take care of the wounded child within that is unable to tolerate more.

Honoring the Pain

Just think though, in a perfect world, how different my search might have been if I would have:

  • Said “yes” to DNA testing from Sharon’s dad’s bathrobe
  • Dug into my Bible to learn about the Tribe of Dan
  • Visited the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield, Michigan to see the ship my grandfather carved.

Author and pioneer open adoption therapist, James L. Gritter, Ph.D., describes adoption-related pain in his book The Spirit of Open Adoption (http://preview.tinyurl.com/j82o9tw):


“The pain associated with adoption is miserable stuff. It’s the birth father in the hospital corridor curled up in a fetal ball of self-blame. It’s the doctor saying you’re pregnant. It’s the eighty-year old birth mother rocking and mumbling, ‘They shouldn’t have….’ It’s the dazed birth mother standing alone on the sidewalk as the adoptive family drives away with her two-day old daughter. It’s the twenty-one year old being told he has no right to his original name. It’s finding out for the first time from falling down drunk Uncle Charlie at the family reunion that you’re adopted. The permutations of adoption pain are endless.

We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of adoption; it really is miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. It is the interior. The pain of adoption is not something that happens to a person; it is the person. Because the pain is so primal, it is virtually impossible to describe.”

Gritter lists common reactions to pain:

  • Denial
  • Speedy relief at any cost
  • Anesthetics
  • Play it safe
  • Recklessness
  • Exaggeration
  • Entitled
  • Fault-finding
  • Misery loves company
  • Stuck

Trip to Israel

Five years ago, Bob and I traveled to Israel with Friends of Israel Ministry. Our teachers were Pastor Gary Stump and Dr. Deanne Woods.


Prior to the trip, cousin Sharon and I chatted.

“You know we’re from the Tribe of Dan, don’t you?”

My mind raced back to the first time she shared that.

Could it be true? It seemed like a long shot, but I would certainly keep it in mind.

Our tour guide, Tito,  a Jewish man who knows the entire Bible (but not Jesus), was magnificent in giving Israel’s history.

That evening after group dinner, my friend Natalie Hart and I pulled Tito aside. This is how it went: “Can I ask you a question?”

Tito: “What kind of a question…personal or historical?”

Me: “Personal.”

Before I could say anything else, he said, “You’re Jewish.”

I gasped. Where in the heck did he get THAT?  Maybe he said that to anyone or everyone? Maybe he thought I was a “Jewish Wannabe?”


“How do you know?” I asked.

He said, “I knew you were Jewish the first time I saw you. Your eyes, your facial features, and your skin.”

I can’t remember much after that.

I asked God to show me the truth, which He did in the seven days that followed. I will share two other circumstances that confirmed what Tito said.

Family Interest 

Our adult kids and grands were mildly interested in this after our trip. They, like me, were selective hearers. It’s interesting, though, that one of grandsons is very interested in Hebrew and is studying it in university.

Just a few days ago, our youngest daughter shared how she’d been reading about a certain blood type that is rare and found mostly in Jewish people.

It is B+.

I am B+ and so are both our daughters.

Her research showed that it is indicative of Jewish people who fled Israel, lived in middle European countries, and then migrated to Ireland.

This is exactly the history that cousin Sharon claimed.

Who knows what the truth is….but it is fun digging for clues.

So, the curiosity has spread and there’s at least one daughter who is beginning to look like a sleuth, searching for clues.

And, Baby X keeps searching.

Suggested Resources:

23 and Me DNA Testing: http://tinyurl.com/jz98atu

Contact me if I can help you in any way to find your heritage.

Love to all!




Would Adoptees and Foster Kids Say Yes to This?

This photo of a young woman looking pensive illustrates how adoptees and foster kids might be perplexed about their painful past. Sherrie offers a fresh perspective on suffering and choice.

Lately, I find myself asking, “If you knew before you were born, would you have signed up for the life you’re living?

Would I have signed up for:

  • Being an unplanned baby, called Baby X
  • Not being able to see my birth mother’s face from birth until reunion at 47 years old
  • Feeling ill at ease in any family or group context for years
  • Hypervigilance. The doc who said I was ultra sensitive emotionally and even physically, yet never named PTSD. It just wasn’t associated with adoption.
  • Moving multiple times internationally, which removed lasting friendships
  • Experiencing birth mother rejection after reunion
  • Hearing the doc say I have SLE Lupus
  • Spending 10 days in the Stress Center

Who would want to sign up for these things?

Who would choose suffering instead of a problem free life?

For me, if God showed me the suffering I would face, I might not sign up to walk through it.

But, looking back, I certainly would choose exactly what has come my way.

For, the suffering has given me a:

  • Song in the night.
  • Purpose for my life that will last long after I’m gone.
  • Trust that I’ve never been alone, even as a newborn in an incubator for 10 days.
  • Unshakeable identity. I know whose I am in spite of two sets of parents.
  • Worth. I know that God meets me in special ways that only I can understand.
  • Faith. Knowing God is good is all I need in horrible times.

And, so the answer to my question is of whether or not I would show up and accept a painful past, the answer is YES!

I will  live to the max whatever comes my way.



Parents Can Bypass Shame When Explaining Adoption Relinquishment

What are we adoptees to do when we are told that we are “given away because our birth moms loved us?”

Please assure us that it wasn’t about us.

Here’s how:

Your Desire to Connect: Parents don’t want child to feel rejected. Often, they counter their overwhelming fear and anxiety by  shedding a positive light on first (second, or third, or fourth) mom.  Parents might say….

Well-Intentioned Statement: “Your birth mom loved you so much that she gave you to us.”

My adoptee heart is crying out….ohhhhh, no!

Adoptee and Foster Kid Translation: “Love is what got rid of me. Why would I want YOUR love?”

What to Say…The Heart Language of Adopted and Fostered Kids: “Your first parents weren’t able to parent ANY baby, child, or teen at that time.”

So, parents, your fear is understandable, but don’t let it sidetrack you from communicating your child’s heart language.