True #identity story… @GeorginaLawton #mixedrace

The story of Georgina Lawton is not one of adoption, so much as identity. Racial identity. Georgina looks mixed race though her family is white. After years of brushing the truth aside, her father’s death prompted her to ask questions. Adoptees will identify with her descriptions of anger, isolation, denial and confusion.

Georgina Lawton

Georgina Lawton

Taught not to question her skin colour, Georgina grew up in London with her blue-eyed younger brother, British father and Irish mother. ‘Although I look mixed-race, or black, my whole family is white. And until the man I called Dad died two years ago, I did not know the truth about my existence. Now, age 24, I’m starting to uncover where I come from.’ Growing up, no one spoke about racial politics and Georgina assumed she fitted into the same cultural category as everyone else. ’The word ‘black’ was never uttered in reference to me. And I saw that blackness was an intangible and wholly culture concept that had no relevance to my life. But I always had questions.’
When her father became ill with cancer, he agreed to give a DNA sample. A year later, Georgina found the courage to send it for testing. It came back inconclusive.

Georgina Lawton

Georgina Lawton as a child with her father [photo: Georgina Lawton]

A second test was sent off, this time including her mother’s DNA. She was told there was no chance her father was her own. ‘Rage so strong it scared me coursed through my veins and hurtled towards my mother like a hurricane in our family home as I demanded answers.’ Her mother then admitted to a one-night stand with a black Irishman, her birth father.

Georgina Lawton

Georgina Lawton with her father [photo: Georgina Lawton]

For Georgina, the man who raised her, who she grew up calling Dad, is her father. She realises he must have suspected his wife, Georgina’s mother, of infidelity. ‘But they loved each other dearly and not once did any of us argue about it.’
Read Georgina’s story at The Guardian.
Georgina LawtonGeorgina’s memoir Raceless tells the story of her colour-blind upbringing and how we must strive to ‘build a future in which a mixed family is neither taboo, nor a talking point,’
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If you like this true story, read:-
Samantha Futerman
Jazz Boorman
Angela Patrick

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True #adoption story… Shaye Woolard #adoptionstories

Shaye Woolard has been trying to find information about her birth parents since she was in middle school. At 18, she applied to the agency she had been adopted from but was told she could only be given ‘non-identifying’ facts. It took 11 years of persistence, telephone calls and emails, before she learned anything new.

‘To finally know something as simple as what time of day I was born was amazing! The information also included my parent’s height and weight measurements, and the fact that my bio-mom was 16 years old when she had had me. That helped me understand why she did not keep me. Both of my parents were from religious families, but different denominations. My mom’s biological father was unknown to her, which makes me wonder if she ever felt or feels the way that I do.’

Shaye Woolard

Shaye Woolard

When Shaye asked the agency what else she could do to get information about her family medical history, ‘they told me they would notify me when my biological mother died. What a cold response. I hung up the phone and cried. This felt like a personal attack and reminded me of the awful remarks people used to make to me while I was growing up. Some called me “adopted trash.” It sucks knowing that some people just don’t care. I had reached another dead end—back to square one. Still, I took in a deep breath and decided to keep trying.’

Now she has children of her own, the issue has become a burning one. ‘I now wish to give my children as much information as I can about our side of the family and me, including our medical history. I have ongoing health issues. I see doctor after doctor trying to sort them out, and each time, I am asked the same thing: “What is your family medical history?” I answer, “I was adopted and I don’t know anything.” They look at me as though they don’t know where to start with the medical testing. Sometimes they even ask: “Is there is any way you can find your family history?” And I always reply, “I desperately want to know and hope to someday.”’

Shaye is a wandering adult adoptee, but who is now blessed with a family of her own. Having to deal with multiple health issues, she hates hearing the repetitive question: what is your family medical history? She feels like she is cheating her kids out of knowing where they come from, and she wishes she knew the same. Shaye was adopted in April of 1985 from Smithlawn Adoption Agency in Lubbock, Texas.

This article was originally published on the ‘Secret Sons and Daughters’ blog in June 2014.

Read Shaye’s story in full.
Follow ‘Secret Sons and Daughters’ at Facebook.

If you like this true story, read:-
Julie Wassmer 
Philip Sais
Brian Moore

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#Family #mystery ‘A Mother’s Secret’ by @RenitaDSilva #birthfather

What a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffaloes in the fields as if I was there. Renita D’Silva

This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more.

From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had been proven wrong and I was wondering if the storylines would come together. At times I got the girls confused, but I read the second half of the novel quicker than the first and the twist, when it came, was a big surprise. A clever novel about families and how the important, simple things in life can sometimes be forgotten because of pride, selfishness or shame.
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Try another novel of family secrets by Renita D’Silva… The Orphan’s Gift.

If you like this, try:-
Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day
Innocent Blood’ by PD James 
‘File Under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall 

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Was your relative a #doctor #researching #familyhistory

The medical profession has changed out of all recognition since the 18th century and if you are searching for a relative who was once a doctor or medical professional, there are a number of useful sources to check which may lead you in an intriguing direction.

In the 18thcentury, only physicians were called MD, doctor, with the status of being a gentleman. They charged for their advice and remedies but did not dispense medicines. They were university educated in contrast to surgeons and apothecaries who were trained via apprenticeships. Surgeons did not give medicines to patients, instead they specialised in pulling teeth, lancing boils, blood-letting, and amputations. Apothecaries dispensed and sold medicines from a shop, charging for their medicines not their advice. There was ample opportunity for quacks. The turning point came with the passing of the Medical Act in 1858. This meant that in able to practise medicine, all qualified medical professions had to be listed in the new Medical Register, and also licensed by one of 19 licensing bodies.

If you are tracing a relative in the 19thcentury who you suspect worked in the medical professions in the UK, the two places to check are the Medical Register, from 1859, and the Medical Directory, from 1846. Both list full name, address and date qualifications attained, but include different additional information. It is worth checking both. The Medical Register was published by the General Medical Council and all practising medical professionals had to be registered in it.  It states where each individual was registered. The Medical Directory was a non-compulsory commercial enterprise that is a useful source as it provides different information from the Medical Register, including additional posts held, lists of previous posts, and papers written for medical journals. However it was up to the individual to keep the entries on both directories updated, so be wary of misleading information. The Medical Register and the Medical Directory can be viewed in large city libraries and specialist archives such as the Wellcome Library. Selected records are also available online at Ancestry, The Genealogist and Family Relatives. Some editions can be viewed free on the Internet Archive.

If your ancestor was an army surgeon, check the Army List [from 1754] and Hart’s Army List [1839-1915] at the Internet Archive or Google Books. Read more about your medical ancestor’s service record at The National Archives. For naval surgeons, check the Navy List [from 1782] and the New Navy List [1841-1856], available at large reference libraries. Some editions are free online at the Internet Archive or Google Books.

If your ancestor worked in a hospital, check the staff records at the Hospital Records Database at The National Archives, and for Scotland look at Clinical Notes.

The Lancet

The Lancet, issue dated July 6 1872

British Medical Journal

British Medical Journal, issue dated October 30 1948

If your ancestor was a GP, try your local newspapers or at the British Newspaper Archive for mentions in obituaries, letters to the editor, inquests. Specialist medical journals are also worth checking for articles or letters written by your relative, obituaries or appointments. Search the British Medical Journal archive, back copies of The Lancet are held at the Wellcome Library.

If you know where your relative trained, trace the location of the medical college records by searching Discovery at The National Archives, or for Scotland check the Scottish Archive Network.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, 1900 portrait by John Singer Sargent

Apothecaries Hall

Apothecaries Hall, entrance on Blackfriars Lane EC4

For information about apothecaries, check The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson [above], for example, was the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain. She created a medical school for women, having herself studied privately with physicians, finally obtaining her medical credentials via a loophole with the Society of Apothecaries.

This post is inspired by an article in the February 2018 issue of Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
Using photographic archives
Understanding your relatives’ #babyname choices
Was your relative an apothecary 

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True #adoption story… Peter Papathanasiou @peteplastic #adoptionstories

Peter Papathanasiou was 24 years old when he was summoned to his mother’s bedroom and told he was adopted. The subsequent search for his identity takes him from Greece to Australia as he uncovers his mother’s life story. Son of Mine, published in 2019, is not just a story of adoption and identity but a story too of migration and the experience of first and second-generation immigrants.

Peter Papathanasiou

Peter Papathanasiou [photo: Salt Publishing]

‘I thought she was going to tell me somebody was dying,’ Papathanasiou told The Guardian. ‘Instead, she revealed that she was not my biological mother. Her brother, one of my many uncles, a man I’d never met, who lived in northern Greece, was my real father. I slumped against the wall in shock. By the end, I was splayed on the floor.’

He had always known his parents had struggled to have children. What he didn’t know was that in 1973 on a family visit to Greece, his mother had tried to adopt a baby at a Greek orphanage. When she was unsuccessful, her brother suggested he and his wife have a baby for her. ‘It was to be a pure gift, but Mum was scared her brother and his wife might want to keep the child: there was nothing in writing. Still, she agreed, went back to Australia and waited. One day, she got a letter. It said: “We’re pregnant. The baby will be born in June 1974.”’

His mother flew back to Greece for the birth but missed it by a day or two. She spent five months there, caring for Peter and doing the paperwork. ‘My birth certificate was issued with my adoptive name and listed my adoptive parents as my parents. We left for Australia when I was six months old. It must have been difficult for my biological parents to give me up.’ Peter’s cousin George [actually his biological brother] later told him that when he was taken away, ‘it was like a period of mourning – nobody talked for three days.’

Papathanasiou’s emotions ran through shock, then he felt deceived and angry, finally he felt excitement. ‘I forgave my parents quickly. At the end of the day, they’d always loved me. My wife and I struggled to conceive for two years, and that was tough. Mum and Dad had close to 18 years of that. My dad has since died, but he taught me so much, including how to be a father. My mum adores my boys. I’ll tell them one day: “Without that lady and the lengths she went to, to become a mother, I wouldn’t be here and neither would you.”’

Read the full article at The Guardian.
Peter Papathanasiou

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If you like this true story, read:-
Angela Patrick 
Esther Robertson
Eileen Heron

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True #adoption story… Christine Rose #adoptionstories #lostsisters

At the age of four, Christine Rose was separated from her two sisters in extremely dramatic circumstances. ‘I just remember when they came to take us away. It was at night, there was a lot of screaming and my mother was crying. There were bulbs flashing in our faces as we were being carried out, it was just frightening. They took me to one children’s home and they took my sisters to another one. I never saw them again.’ For more than sixty years, she wondered what happened to them.

Christine Rose

Christine Rose, centre, with sisters Catherine, left, and Carol, right [photo: Long Lost Family]

Christine’s emotional story is told by television programme Long Lost Family which conducted the genealogical research to track down her family. Christine was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. She will never forget the night the three young sisters were taken from their mother by social services. Christine was sent to one children’s home, her sisters to another. She never saw her mother or sisters again. Christine was eventually adopted but remained haunted by the absence of her sisters and began to question why the family were torn apart. ‘I always felt lonely, especially knowing I had two sisters out there somewhere…I was always wondering where they are and what they were doing…I knew that we were taken away but I just can’t picture my mum at all.’

She started researching and at her local library found a newspaper article from 1955. Her mother had been accused of neglect after an NSPCC inspector visited a house and discovered young children trying to eat unpeeled raw potatoes. The floorboards had been removed and used for firewood.  Christine’s mum, Doreen, was found guilty of neglecting her three children and was remanded in custody.

Christine longs to know the truth behind the newspaper story. ‘I just want closure. There’s no blame, no bitterness, no nothing. I assume my mother would have passed away now. My sisters were so young. I really want to know what happened to them. I hope they were adopted together because I’ve had a decent life now and I hope they have.’

Long Lost Family confirmed that Doreen died many years earlier and so started to search for Christine’s sisters. A birth record is found for Catherine Mary, also born in Dewsbury and also adopted. Catherine’s marriage certificate shows she now lives in Leeds. Catherine confirms she is still in touch with her older sister, Carol. The two sisters confirm they have spent 20 years searching for Christine. Carol says, ‘It’s been like an obsession.’

On that night in 1955 Catherine and Carol, aged 18 months and two-and-a-half, were taken to a children’s home in Harrogate. They were later adopted together. They were told their father was in prison but later their mother got back together with him and they went on to have six more children together. Carol says, ‘You can understand what a desperate situation she must have been in, it’s such a shame all three of us couldn’t have stayed together. (Finding Christine) is amazing. It’s like landing on the moon.’

After the three sisters are reunited, Christine says, ‘It’s just overwhelming. As soon as I’d given them a hug, all the nerves went. It’s just so nice to see them. It’s just letting it sink in. They are my family, you know. They are my family.’
Watch an excerpt.
Read Christine’s story.

If you like this true story, read:-
Sheila Mercier
Denise Temple
Mary Anna King

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#BookReview ‘The Letter’ by @KHughesAuthor #mystery #adoption

The idea for The Letter by Kathryn Hughes is enticing; the lives of two women, forty years apart, linked by a letter found in the pocket of an overcoat at a charity shop. What follows is a dual storyline – about an abused wife and her road to freedom, and a young woman in love for the first time as war breaks out. Kathryn Hughes

This is a story about two couples. In 1974, Tina Craig works in an office during the week and on Saturdays she volunteers at a charity shop to get out of the house, away from her abusive husband Rick. Staying, though she knows she must leave, Tina listens to the advice of friends but continues to excuse and forgive Rick’s behaviour. Until a mysterious letter found in the pocket of coat sets her off on the trail of the people involved. The letter is sealed and stamped but never posted. Why. When she opens and reads the letter she starts to think about Billy, who wrote the letter in 1939 as war broke out, and about Chrissie, the woman who never received his letter.

In the summer of 1939, Chrissie and Billy fall in love in the last days of peace. As Billy is called up, Chrissie faces the cultural judgements of the day combined with her bullying father.

Tina’s pursuit for the truth of the letter leads her across Manchester and to Ireland. Hughes tackles heart breaking subjects – forced adoption, Irish nunneries, bullying parents, domestic abuse – perhaps too many. The ending is predictable via a number of coincidences, facts fall into place and old hurts forgotten. Despite its frustrations, I enjoyed this story though I did long for more showing and less telling.

If you like your endings neatly tied up, you will enjoy this. A good read for holidays.
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If you like this, try:-
The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
‘The Love Child’ by Rachel Hore 
‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee 

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Using photographic archives #researching #familyhistory

Photographs are not just a record of people but of places, lifestyles, streets, countryside and the changing times. If you really want to understand the life of your relative, searching the photographic archives now available online and at your local records office can make their world seem real for you. The clothes they wore, their holidays and work days, their parties and local community.

Police helmet 1840

Police helmet 1840

A simple way to start is to use Google and search using ‘images’. Other great starting places are Flickr, Pinterest or Instagram. As part of my research of London during the WW2 Blitz for my third novel, I experimented with a quick search that produced literally hundreds of photos. See my eclectic collection of Pinterest pages including World War Two, Pablo Picasso, Adoption Reunion, Book Reviews, Yorkshire, Interiors, The Sea, Tennis and Trees. One photo may lead to a new avenue of research. A studio portrait of a family member may lead you to a particular photographer. A uniform can help you to confirm a regiment or employer. History Pin is clever in that it allows you to collect images and pin them to Street View so you build up a wider picture of the area of interest.

I found Collage, the London Picture Archive, particularly useful in my focus on the capital. It has more than a quarter of a million photos of London streets and includes the London County Council’s own photographic archive. Photos can be viewed in themed galleries such as ‘Victorian London’, ‘London Fire Brigade 1866-2016’ and ‘LCC Tramway Posters’.

Not all archives focus on places. One specialist archive that I find fascinating is the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library. It holds 250,000 original photographic images from the 1840s to the present day including works by many famous photographers. The collection is currently being digitised, but the study room is open to researchers by appointment. This is the place to look if your relative ever sat for a portrait.

Another is the Library of Birmingham’s Collections website which includes a wide selection of images ranging from the Parker family’s collection of books, dating from 1538 to the present day; to ‘Fashion Plates 1771-1901’ [below]. The various datelines of the fashion sections enables the identification of clothing, worn by a relative in a photo, and connection to a particular time when it was most popular.

There are many good regional photographic archives, including Picture Norfolk with 20,000 images held by libraries across the county; West Sussex Past Pictures; Picture Oxon; Red Rose Collections has photos of Lancashire including FLOAT, the Fleetwood Online Archive of Trawlers [above] and the Police Index from 1840 [top]. The regional photographic archives are too numerous to mention; simply search for ‘county’ plus ‘photographic archive’.

Yorkshire Film Archive

Yorkshire Film Archive – NEFA industry montage

A quick search for my home county of Yorkshire [above] produced:-
The Yorkshire Film Archive;
Leodis, a photographic archive of Leeds;
West Yorkshire Archive Service;
The Yorkshire Dales Photographic Grid Project;
North Yorkshire County Council Record Office;
Bradford Museums and Galleries photographic archive;
Historic England’s early photographic print collection;
The East Riding archives.

This post is inspired by an article in the June 2017 issue of Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
Using the 1939 Register
Researching children’s homes
Find missing births 

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#BookReview ‘The End of the Day’ by Bill Clegg #family #mystery

Three girls grow up living near each other in Wells, Connecticut. Dana. Jackie. Lupita. Each in a different social class. With or without wealth. With or without expectations. Privilege, no privilege. One betrayal touches their lives and has ramifications for the next generation. The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is about the fragility of loyalty when teenage bonds are tested by love, jealousy, indiscretions, secrets and lies. ‘To end a friendship, it just takes someone willing to throw it away.’ Because when a decision is taken, more than one life is affected. Bill Clegg

Clegg has written a genealogical story wrapped up in two timelines, the years not defined but basically the Sixties and the Noughties. An elderly woman, frail and confused, sets out from New York on an excursion. Another old woman wakes in her family home to a beautiful passage of memories. A taxi driver in Hawaii ignores the repeated messages left on her mobile phone. These three are connected by a youthful flirtation, a pregnancy, arrangements made and lies told, assumptions made. A fascinating story, characters so believable, but the details lacking in clarity – perhaps because so many lies have been told. In the Noughties are mother and son Alice and Hap. Hap’s life takes two momentous turns when his father is seriously ill in hospital, the same hospital where his wife has just given birth to their baby daughter. A little girl still, significantly, without a name.

The first half is a slow read with beautiful writing that at times edged towards the self-indulgent. The book, though not long, felt long. I wanted occasional clarity of story and shorter paragraphs. I was unclear about the different houses featured – the childhood homes of Jackie and Dana and the area in which they lived. Perhaps the author knows it so well he forgot to be clear for the reader. The story moves location and year without specification which can be disorientating.

In re-reading the notes I wrote after finishing the book, I found I had twice written ‘lacking clarity’. The story is a sad one, of connections made, lost, and unknown, but for me it could be more touching with a clearer narrative spine. That said, the story stayed with me days after I finished it – always a good sign. The parallels between the generations, the vulnerability of a baby dependent on adults for the truth of its origins, the duty to protect and the urge to run from an old life. An okay story wrapped up in exquisite writing.
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If you like this, try:-
Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan
The Orphan’s Gift’ by Renita d’Silva
Tainted Tree’ by Jacquelynn Luben

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True #adoption story… @juliewassmer #adoptionstories #birthmother

In 1989, budding screenwriter Julie Wassmer went to meet a literary agent to talk about script ideas. She didn’t look twice at the secretary who served coffee that day. Twenty years earlier, teenage Julie had given birth to a baby daughter who was given up for adoption. The following day, typing a letter for her boss, the secretary recognised Julie’s name from her own birth certificate.

Julie Wassmer

Julie Wassmer [photo: juliewassmer.com]

Julie managed to hide her pregnancy from her parents until she went into labour. She was sixteen. “In my family, where I was the adored only child, falling pregnant to my boyfriend Martin when I was 16 was a disaster… Martin and I never assumed for a moment that there could be a happy ending. We were too poor, too working class, too young to build a family. Adoption was the only possibility.”

After spending ten days in hospital with her daughter Sarah Louise, Julie went home alone and returned to her A-level studies. She and Martin split up. She always believed Sarah Louise would get in touch, especially when the Adoption Act was passed in 1976 giving children the right to trace their parents. She was convinced Sarah Louise would look for her after her 18th birthday in 1988. Meanwhile, Julie wrote a script that was made into a film in 1989, and the meeting with the agent followed.

“There is no ground map that exists for such situations: we have had to feel our way towards a relationship over the past 20 years. She has a mother whom she dearly loves – that is not my role. Mostly I feel we are more like sisters; other times it feels as if we are best friends; occasionally it has felt like falling in love.”

Mother and daughter meet regularly. “Writing down our experiences in a book has been cathartic. And when Sara fell pregnant at 37, I was able to revel in her experience. Picking up my grandson for the first time brought us full circle.”

Julie WassmerBUY THE BOOK

Read Julie’s full interview with The Guardian and visit her website.

If you like this true story, read:-
George Dennehy 
Bob MacNish
Cat Stubbs 

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