Adoptees Should Be Able To Explore Their Roots

I made a stray comment on FirstMotherForum which I think deserves expansion. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now:

Regardless of whether “natural” is the right term, non-adopted people are encouraged and even praised for exploring their heredity while adoptees are discouraged or condemned. I also think there is a difference between exploring heredity and making contact. For example, my birth mother has denied contact with me. But, if I had access to my origins, I could still explore my roots, find out where “my people” came from, etc. — all without contacting her or her immediate family. I don’t see why I should be denied that oppportunity just because I happen to be adopted.

When I originally started searching over a decade ago, it wasn’t with starry-eyed ideals of meeting my birth mother. In fact the concept scared the wits out of me. (Still does.) I did, however, want to find out who “my people” are. I wanted to know where I fit into a long chain of ancestors stretching back through time. I also wanted to feel, for the first time, like a “real” person–someone with a past, a background, a history I could point to and say, “This is where I come from.” None of which has anything to do with my birth mother in particular, but everything to do with access to that all-important document: my original birth certificate. Yet, as it stands in closed-records states, adoptees like me are forced to contact our birth mothers to gain that information.
If I had the information on my original birth certificate, I could do a genealogy search. Some people would call that stalking, but if it is, then every single person who has ever made a genealogical inquiry is guilty. I simply want to know if my vague and misleading non-identifying information is accurate. I want to know if I really am part Irish, part German, and part Polish. I want to know if I come from a family of farmers or brickmakers or blacksmiths. I want to take my children to Ireland and walk with them across the hills where my ancestors once walked. How does this, in any way, interfere with my birth mother’s request not to contact her?
Most people don’t understand how debilitating it is sometimes, being adopted. We have no anchor, no roots, no way to ground ourselves to the world around us. We struggle with that even when our adoptions are open and our information freely available, but much more so when our origins are treated like shameful secrets. What a blessing and relief it would be if we could trace our distant ancestry!
Just as I am not the first twig on my family tree, neither are my birth parents. My children and I should not be denied the right to take our places in the lineage of our ancestors. If it gives me closure to stand in a hundred-year-old cemetery and look down upon the graves of my great-great-grandparents, why not? Why should being adopted preclude me from that right?


  1. There are many non-adopted people (like my DH) who care nothing for genealogy. So be it. I like the challenge. Like many adoptees, I couldn’t even get to step one. When I found my first mom this year, I met a cousin who was the keeper of the family tree. I was thrilled when he immediately wanted my information along with that of my children, husband, and new grandchild. He also sent me a piece he had written about our great-grandmother.

    On my birthfather’s side, if I have the right person (deceased 20+ years) there is a whole online family tree (for his mother’s AND his father’s families) going back to the 1700s. I just need to confirm he’s my dad and this huge chunk falls into place.

    To think that last year, I knew nothing.

  2. http://Anonymous says

    You are right on the money! When I set out on my search it was because the answer I really wanted was denied me. I wanted my OBC. Instead, I spent 19 years looking for the answers that piece of paper would have given me. In my case, it might well have been a blessing because I found a wonderful extended family even though my mother was not interested in contact. And I found roots to explore. But I could have explored those roots without contacting my family if I had just had my OBC. I don’t know why the powers that be don’t get it!

  3. Family geneology got me really started searching for my birth family. After all you said it, they are part of my heritage. My side of the family tree shouldn’t start with me! I think it will be neat to stand in from of a grave of great grandparents and see that he served, just like my husband is doing now.

  4. Why should one person prevent you from knowing the rest of your clan? Can anyone really answer that? To whom does the clan belong? Answer: To everyone.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. Osolomama, that is the exact question I’d like answered.

  6. http://Anonymous says

    This sounds like the scenario in “Memory Keepers Daughter” where one twin has Down syndrome and the father/doctor tells his wife/the mother that one of the babies didn’t make it. In reality, one of the babies had Down syndrome and an RN was told (by the father/Dr) to send the baby w/Ds to an institution. Perhaps your twin had some sort of disability that resulted in the institutionalization of the disabled baby? NOT a judgement etc, but just a thought on where to look for your sibling.

    Praying for guidance for you!

  7. Being an adoptee, my roots are small and fragile. Family are the people who have known me, cared for me and loved me. I am not Hungarian as my a-father’s side of the family are, and not Danish as my a-mother’s side of the family are. Any traditions such as Great Grandmother’s Hungarian Nut Rolls are not mine (though they are delicious and I like to make them).
    She is not my Great Grandmother, although she is my cousin’s Great Grandmother. But my cousin is very much my cousin, you see, she loves me and cares for me.
    My Husband does not get this. He’s not adopted. His family can trace their Spanish ancestry all the way back to Queen Isabella. (Supposedly). He doesn’t understand how being adopted is my only foundation. How it makes up who I am and how it is something that I know every day, like someone knows they are male, or female, or white or black. I’m adopted. And because that adoption foundation is based on lies, and cover-ups, and hidden information, it is a weak foundation.
    I hope for the day that when I ask for my information, my IDENTIFYING information, that it is AGAINST the law for me to be told no, because it violates my basic human rights to be told no. On that day, my roots will start to grow, they will become rooted in a stronger foundation of truth, and knowledge, and what’s real. And then because my roots will become strong, I will be able to truly blossom.
    ISO Birth Mother/Family
    DOB 12/06/1975
    Denver, CO
    St. Anthony Hospital
    Adopted through Jefferson County Social Services

  8. Well said, Melissa!