Who do you think you are?

2 05 2010

Almost a year ago my children embarked me onto a journey into our family history.  It started with a fairly simple question about my biological parents and their relationship to my adoptive parents (I was adopted by the first cousin of my biological mother).  It piqued my interest as well and I began trying to piece together the story of where we came from.  A year later, I’ve gotten farther than I thought I would on some family tree branches and then no where at all on ones that should have came easily.

My biological mother was adopted when she was not yet two months old, so I began my tree with her adoptive father’s family, her adoptive mother’s family (which shares that branch with that of my adoptive father’s family), my adoptive mother’s family, my biological father’s family and my ex-husband’s family tree – for the benefit of my children.

Along the way we have found unique names like Truthshallprevail – which I could only imagine eluded to perhaps some question about the parentage, as well as relations to the Mayflower families, English royalty, Revolutionary War heroes, Daniel Boone and several other people who are remarkable in their own way.  We also have forged some truly wonderful relationships.

The most significant began with a message from a lady on the ancestral website I utilize, who wrote to ask if I knew what had happened to the granddaughter of a couple on my tree after the murder of her parents.  The granddaughter in question was me and I debated many times over as to whether or not to answer and how to do so if I did.  I finally chose to reply and learned that this lady had known my biological mother, her adoptive father, his mother and many other relatives in their small town.  In fact, due to hard times, her family had actually helped pay for the burial plots for my biological grandparents.  This friendship has been such a blessed one and I am so relieved to have replied to her.

I have also found relationships with people I shall likely never meet who are volunteers for a website, findagrave.com, and they volunteer their time and energy to fulfill requests from random persons to take pictures of headstones in their area.  I’ve made so much use of these kind acts and I finally decided it was time for me to do my part and return the favour a few weeks ago.  I ventured out to an older cemetery in town, complete with a list of requested graves and I spent several hours walking through the garden of stones, some more than one hundred years old.  It was such a beautiful experience, to look with respect on these stones that served as the only tangible evidence of their lives.

(As a quick aside, if you have a camera and a free afternoon or two, may I request that you check out the website and look to see if there are graves in your area you can photograph?  It is an experience that will be so fulfilling to you and mean so much to those on the receiving end.)

I found that my ex-husband’s (and thereby my daughters’) relatives could be traced back to the 1500s in England and the tomb of one of his oldest traceable relatives who died to the Black Plague.

I also learned that my grandfather was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic acts under fire during the Second World War, although after requesting his military records from the US Military Personnel Records Center, I learned that there was a fire on July 12, 1973 that destroyed a great deal of the Armed Air Force personnel records, including his.  I am still trying to find another means of learning precisely why he was awarded this medal, but I was told it is the fourth highest military combat medal that can be awarded.

The most exciting revelation though is one that I cannot yet fully enjoy.  When I was younger and there were still alive relatives who had been near enough and involved with the adoption process of my biological mother, I had tried to find her biological mother.  Call it curiosity about the medical history, curiosity about the reason for giving her child up – call it whatever you like, I wanted to know.  And still do.  The most information I gathered back then was that my grandparents went through almost five years of trying to adopt and that they eventually worked with someone or some agency in Garden City, Kansas to arrange the adoption.  I was told they went to pick up their child and had anticipated an overnight trip at most, but there had been some delay and the event took quite a few days.  And there was only one name that was associated with it all – Carmen.  Was it the baby’s birth name; her biological mother’s name; a last name; the name of a social worker?  No one quite knew, but the name Carmen stuck out.

I contacted the state of Kansas and was informed that my biological mother could request her birth certificate and that her biological mother could request contact to be established – but that only those two ladies could make these actions.  The process would involve the state making note on the file that the daughter was seeking the mother or vice versa and should the other at any time seek contact as well – it would be established.  I tried to explain that the daughter (my mother) was deceased, she couldn’t make this request.  Could they perhaps note this on her record and instead direct any possible requests to my attention instead?  No.

I then reached out to a private investigative agency and for the price of $1300 they would locate the birth certificate, the birth mother’s name and current contact information.  The process may take days, weeks, months, years – it may never come to fruition.  No matter the length of the process or the results, the cost would remain the same.  It’s fairly steep for me, but ever so tempting.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I sat down with a box of papers and pictures that belonged to my biological grandparents (are they still biologically my grandparents if they adopted my biological mother?).  And in this box I found a receipt.  A receipt to pay for the adoption of a child.  Carmen Louise Clark.  It was a significant victory for me as it confirmed the name Carmen, but also provided me the springboard with which to begin hunting for details of the mother.  But that has proved itself more difficult than I had thought it would be.  Clark is a relatively common name and I don’t even know for certain the town or even state of birth.

It’s been a very educational journey and it seems each moment that I think I am almost finally at the end of the trip, a new little caveat of information curls a beckoning finger in my direction and I am once more engrossed in research.




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