What Fuels Birth Family Searches for Adoptees and Foster Kids?
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 had 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 heard 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
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:
- Speedy relief at any cost
- Play it safe
- Misery loves company
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?”
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.
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.
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!