As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Saturday, May 30, 2015

When All or Part Of Our Family Background or History Is Missing

January 3, 2014 One of my grown children is adopted, so I've spent a lot of time thinking about adopted people and the subject of their learning about their background. Actually, when my son was twenty-one and contacted by an agency that invited him to meet the birth mother it was he who said he wasn't interested, and I who encouraged him to "at least let her know you're OKAY". He did go on to meet her and her family.

Also, although I've never cared much that there's a whole lot of my own ancestry about which I know pretty much nothing, when my niece and a couple of other family members dug up some information about my ancestors I enjoyed learning about it and thought it was "kind of interesting".

Other than that, I've never particularly cared that I haven't known a lot of things about my ancestry, or even grandmothers. (I would have liked to have known them, but since I didn't there's a point where it's never mattered a whole lot to me.)

The point is, I'm not someone who thinks adopted people shouldn't know and/or have no right to know about their "birth story" and birth family - in fact, to the contrary. As a mother of a son who is adopted I saw his learning about his beginnings as something that was very important (provided he had nothing against learning about those aspects of his life). The fact is, though, that there are a lot of adopted people who never get to learn that information; and what bothers me, in this day and age in which birth stories and ancestry are so emphasized (and in which it can seem as if so many people think that the person who "doesn't know" can't possibly ever "be whole"), there's a part of me that still thinks that there needs to be some way to put "not-knowing" (or "not-knowing-all") into perspective. After all, for the person who doesn't, and will never, "know" (and who is bothered by that fact that he doesn't), that may be the only perspective there is. I wrote the following on thoughts on my own grandmothers in the hopes of sharing a perspective.


It should, perhaps, bother me more than it does, but the fact is I would not be able to write the life story of either of my grandmothers.

My father's mother died long before I was born. My mother's mother died about five years before I was born.

This is what I know about my paternal grandmother: She was strong, woman who had two sons and a daughter, but who lost her three-year-old daughter to diphtheria. She was closest to her eldest son (my father), came from either Ireland or Wales or Nova Scotia (the story wasn't told clearly). She was apparently on the tall side. She made really pretty little satin and crocheted things and had a lot of pretty tea cups. She died in her fifties.

Here is what I know about my maternal grandmother: She was brought to the U.S. from Scotland as an infant. There are pictures of her father in kilts. She, too, was on the tall side. She, too, was a strong woman. I was told she did a lot for other people and was always taking care of others. She had five children who lived. Of them, there were two sets of twins, with one of those twins dying at birth. She, too, crocheted things and had a lot of pretty tea cups. She, too, died in her fifties. Her death was the result of complications of diabetes.

Both grandmothers were White women. Both had brown hair. Both had their babies at home and were waked in their homes. Both were born around 1881. Both had sisters, although I don't know their names. I don't know which of them did or didn't have any brothers. Both had sons who fought in WWII. Only one lived to see her son go to war.

My mother tried to tell us about her mother, but since we didn't know her it didn't really mean much at the time. My father never said much about his mother. Both my parents were devastated at the loss of their mothers. I grew up thinking of myself as someone who "didn't have" grandmothers, and I never really thought much about it.

Today we live in a time when searching out roots and hanging onto cultures are seen as important. Many people believe its "so important" that adopted children know everything there is to know about their biological roots and relatives. "Let no family history stone go unturned for anyone," is the motto of so many people today; and there is sometimes the belief that living without knowing everything about grandparents, great-grandparents, and other ancestors is unthinkable.

In about three paragraphs above I wrote pretty much everything I know about my grandmothers. I could write what I know about the two grandfathers I did know in about four paragraphs. Some day I suppose I ought to find out what the names of my great-grandparents were.

I'm not happy that I don't know much about my grandmothers. Its just how it happened. I suppose if my father had lived longer than he did he may have gotten around to talking to his grown kids about his mother, but we never got to have our father as adults. Probably, too, because we grew up and had kids and made our mother "The Grandmother" my mother's mother faded into history.

What I've learned from having lived with so little knowledge of my grandmothers is that people really can grow up feeling whole even if they don't know much about their "roots". That's an idea I wish all adopted people could have and one I wish anyone who lives without knowing much about his/her history could have.

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