If Everything is Fine, Why Search?

Every day I read accounts of searches and reunions in Facebook closed groups: DNA Detectives and DD Social. I am particularly drawn to stories that are similar to my own. For example, many adoptees accept their adoption—their parents provided them with love and stability. They have careers and harbor no regrets about being adopted. However, they may also have a curiosity about their original identity that won’t leave them alone!

My parents were my mom and dad. They were the ones who took care of me through high fevers and two bouts of the mumps, happy times and sad times. Mom and I chatted every day–I always knew she was there for me. My search for my birthparents didn’t even begin until well after I had moved out of my parents’ home, gotten married, and had children. As I have often said, I am not searching for another family.

Well then, if everything is fine, why search? During my search, I was determined to find my birth parents and learn about my heritage. AncestryDNA provided me with an “ethnicity estimate.” By searching, I learned the details behind their estimate.

Names and the words we use to identify people can be confusing, especially for folks who are not familiar with adoption. In this blog and in my memoir, I reserve mom and dad for the parents who raised me. Birthmother or mother, birthfather or father refer to my biological parents. Furthermore, in the first draft of the memoir, I capitalized my Mom and my Dad until the editor said, “When mom and dad follow ‘my,’ they should not be capitalized.” I felt Mom and Dad deserved to be capitalized all the time! But eventually, I decided to obey the rule.

Mom and Dad were my parents. My birthparents and I, had we met, would have been complete strangers. I like to think we would have gotten along well and developed close relationships. After all, without them, I would not exist. Therefore, they mean a lot to me. However, we still would have had to get acquainted with one another. It might have felt like we were related, but not as parent and child–I believe that in time, I would have called them by their first names. Unfortunately, closed adoption laws kept us apart for so long that those opportunities slipped away.

I found a photo of my mom and dad that I want to share with you. It was taken at our wedding reception in January 1970. I love their smiles!

Mom and Dad
January 1970

Appreciating Our Ancestry

I am entranced by the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Perhaps you are watching, too. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. takes his guests back in time, and all over the world. He traces their heritage and develops for them the human stories of their ancestors. Some guests know little about their families and the searches look very familiar to me! My memoir has a couple of examples of treasured old records.

Here’s one, thanks to my Grandpa!

Another example from my memoir:

My Dad’s older brother, my Uncle Harold, was the keeper of the family tree as well as fascinating stories passed down from one generation to another. It wasn’t my biological family tree, but I truly enjoyed studying Uncle Harold’s work and discussing it with family members over the years.

My favorite story was recorded by my Dad’s Great Aunt Eliza. Aunt Eliza was born August 10, 1824 in Edinburgh, Scotland. She died January 7, 1909 in Carleton, Ontario, Canada. Aunt Eliza was the sixth out of eight children born to Elspeth (Betty) and Thomas (Tom).

According to Uncle Harold, sometime between 1875 and 1895, Aunt Eliza wrote Recollections of Miss Eliza Fairbairn. I cherish my copy of Aunt Eliza’s 26-page, hand-written memoir. In 1828, Eliza and her family departed from Edinburgh for Montreal, as Eliza said, … leaving the old country.

It wasn’t long before the ship encountered ice barges. Eliza wrote: I remember Father coming down from the deck where he had been looking at the ice barges that were all around. His face was as white as a sheet. His hands shook as he came to Mother. “Oh, Betty, Betty, The Captain says there is no hope. The field of ice is the most he has ever seen. The ship must go down.”

Father went up again to the deck but soon returned, saying, “Betty, the Captain says he may save the grown up people by their getting on to a long boat or raft. They are trying to do something about it now. But you and I will go down with the children. What do you say?” “Oh, Tom, we’ll not part. We will go together.” With that, the ship gave another lurch, and someone said, “We are sinking.”

I had been standing by mother holding on to her to keep me from falling about. Seeing everyone alarmed, I too became alarmed and begged mother to put down the baby and take me on her knee. Oh, I remember that well, “Put down the baby mama and take me on your knee.” Oh, I was sure of safety on mother’s knee.

Aunt Eliza’s Diary Entree

Eliza continued to describe how her father convinced the ship’s captain to have the sailors and men on board each hold a spar and line them up along the side of the ship to break the force of the ice as it approached. God blessed the effort … at last they sailed into open sea.

Eliza’s father was praised by the captain for saving the ship from disaster. Peter, my dad’s grandfather and Eliza’s younger brother, was two years old during the voyage. I am grateful to my dad’s great-grandfather, Thomas Fairbairn. His ingenuity and leadership saved many lives that have since given us six generations of Fairbairns!