I’m curious to know how many of us had to deal with the making of family trees, the looking into family genealogy, the tracing of roots on the adoptive family side and the expectations of us in this regard, compared and contrasted with the aftermath of our decisions to look into our own past and history, and the often hypocritical reaction against this searching.
I did the geneaology for both/all families equally.Interestringly on my biological side I bear the family name despite being a bastard and traced my ancestors back to 1700.Nice!
I remember in 6th grade we had a ‘Cultural Fair’ and we (my Korean adopted sister and I) had to make a display on big poster board of our cultural background. My sister and I decided to make our display on ‘cats’…..it was pretty hilarious! We really had no idea of anything Korean and our parents never guided or helped us to put this project together. Imagine walking through display after display of European cultural projects and then seeing two little Asian girls with a BIG poster of a variety of long and short haired cats!
For some adoptees like myself, it is difficult to trace back my own genealogy of my biological family without any type of information about them. However, for my adoptive family, it would be easy and easier since my adoptive mother already started to connect the dots on her side. For my adoptive father’s side I may be more difficult since his father was from Canada and came here. My grandmother from my father’s side was German and could speak German as well but has a Prussian maiden name.
Upon having to do family trees, I always felt omitted and left out. I never knew where to stick myself if I did have to do a family tree too.
There are some things that come with my personal history such as finding out that I was named by the Department of Social Welfare (DSW Children Shelter). I won’t sugar coat this but my middle name is Beni. When I was young I hated that middle name. I never knew why I was given that middle name either. Until recently, I’ve been asking myself and wondering why. Before, my adoptive mother said it had to do with the way I was found since I was found ‘near’ a banana tree.
When I finally got a hold of my adoption papers, I learned that I was placed in a plastic bag and hung on a banana tree.
Later on I asked my foster cousins in Cebu, Philippines why my name was Beni. I find out that it’s shortened from a Filipino word “Binitay” which translates to “to hang or pin up”. The letter “i” and “e” are interchangeable in the Filipino language.
Family trees were always a dreaded project. Like any discussion about my childhood, it just brought up memories and topics I wanted to avoid.
Sometimes I pretended not to care and just put me alongside my brother as if there was nothing different about me.
Other times I really was glad that I didn’t have any blood relation to my family and made a dotted line that connected me in name.
You’d think that the whole concept of creating family trees would be adapted considering the number of divorces and remarriages that occur these days. Maybe someone will come up with something that balances all options?!
That family tree project was so early in my schooling that I don’t remember any trauma surrounding it.
However, my family really wanted me to be interested in THEIR family tree. My father, AFTER I LEFT HOME, took it upon himself to share his pet project with me. This was taking snapshots of all the ancient photographs in his family’s possession, and then he would send me copies and write down their portion of his huge family tree on the back or in an accordion-folded note if it was too large. OK. So old photos are cool, but it definitely stung every time, to know it engrossed him so much and that the thought never occurred to him that it might hurt me. This went on for years – long after I’d been estranged from him and never wrote back. Just kept getting these photographs of dead people he was related to in the mail that I was supposed to value as my own.
My brother, meanwhile, serving a life sentence in jail, took it upon himself to trace our (his) family’s ancestry back to Scotland and England in his down time. Took him many years and contacting hundreds of people with hand-written letters via the prison mail and when completed he sent copies of these thick volumes to myself and also one each for my kids. Again, the whole bloodlines thing was lost on me. I read a little bit, back to my great grandfather who was a secret KKK member, and that’s as far as I got…
You know – it’s kind of like being the only foreigner teaching where I work in Korea. I’m expected to reach out to all of them and make all the effort to find out all about them even if they’re cold to me, and yet they only have to reach-out / deal-with just me, and don’t even do that very often.
Yet another face of privilege.
Always the odd man out.
I don’t remember much about my own family tree project either, but do remember the dilemmas that arose while helping my children do theirs.
My adoptive father was very adamant about grafting his family history onto and over my own personal history. I also found it difficult to comply with his wish for me to embrace his European heritage. He is part of a proud, very conservative, southern family with the many of the expected trappings.
He was very interested in genealogy and traced his family roots all the way back to Wales. My true ethnicity was unimportant in his eyes. The heritage he offered was suppose to suffice, but it did anything but. Tracing my true ethnicity was and still is a sore spot between us.
What I’m noticing here is the double standard of the importance of family history on the adoptive side compared with the unimportance of such history on the adopted side.
Particularly striking is the bureaucratic aspect of it, meaning, our paperwork often banalizes the tragic circumstances of our earliest days—hanging from a tree!—and those dotted lines….ugh.
I think the photographs are hardest. The historiographic aspect of photography disappears, and they are “only snapshots”. And we are left focusing on what’s missing….