True #adoption story… Jenna Cook #identity #adoptionreunion

In 2017, 20-year old Jenna Cook went to China to find her birth parents. Her expectations were low. But she was overwhelmed by what happened next. She met more than fifty families, all desperately seeking their lost babies, hoping that Jenna was the one.

Jenna Cook & adoptive mother Margaret Cook [photo: Chutian Metropolis Daily]

Her story starts on March 22, 1992. A baby was left at the busy bus station in Wuhan, China, which sees 12,000 travellers each day. She was picked up and taken to the Wuhan Children Welfare House nearby where she was cared for, named Xia Huasi [which means ‘China’s’] and assigned a random birth date chosen by the director of the home. There was no formal adoption process in China, where couples faced heavy fines for breaking the country’s one-child policy. It was also illegal to abandon children. Later that year, China passed a law enabling foreigners to adopt Chinese orphans. American Margaret Cook collected Xia Huasi, renamed her Jenna, and took her home to Massachusetts. Jenna was one of the first wave of adopted babies taken abroad; 80,000 to the USA and 40,000 to the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.

Jenna had a happy childhood, along with her sister [also adopted from China] they learned Mandarin and Margaret encouraged them to socialise with Chinese people. ‘Even just looking at your own belly button, you think to yourself: ‘Oh, I used to be attached to another human being. That’s the body I came from, but who is that? Does that person even really exist?’ It all seems so abstract. It sometimes just feels like you appeared on the planet.Most people are just born into the families they’re born into and they never think twice about it. Whereas for adopted people there is always this possibility of another life.’

After taking part in a television documentary, ‘Somewhere Between’, Jenna worked for the summer at the Chinese orphanage where she had been taken as a baby. Later, as a 20-year old student, she returned to China again with Margaret. This time to search. She handed out leaflets around Wuhan; people were interested in her story, and shared their own experiences.

Jenna’s leaflet [photo: Jenna Cook]

‘I was pretty amazed that people were even paying attention to me, because I felt like I’m just one story in a huge migration of children from China. I felt like I was just one raindrop in the puddle.’ When the local newspaper published a story about Jenna’s search in May 2012, her search went viral. From amongst hundreds of messages, Jenna drew up a shortlist of 50 birth families each of which had left a baby on the same street in Wuhan in March 1992.

Jenna decided to approach the interviews as an academic exercise rather than thinking ‘maybe this is the one’, which would be emotionally exhausting. The stories told by the birth families were touching. ‘They all remembered their babies forever – it was this experience that they really regret and that they would never forget.’Each family approached Jenna as if she were their daughter – are you happy, are you being cared for? DNA tests were done with 37 of the families. All were negative.

Since her search, Jenna has returned to China but is no longer actively searching.

Watch ‘Somewhere Between’ below.

If you like this true story, try:-
Helen Harrison
Alice Collins Plebuch 
Ramon Osorio Cristales 

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#Adoption #Mystery ‘The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley

Second in ‘The Seven Sisters’ series of adoption identity mysteries by Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister is the story of the second oldest d’Aplièse sister, Ally. Very different from the first novel of the series which was set in hot and steamy Brazil, this book encompasses professional yacht racing, classical music and Norway.

Lucinda Riley Like Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, Ally’s tale starts with the death of their father Pa Salt. Ally reads his letter and ponders two clues. A small ornamental frog and a book from his library ‘by a man long dead named Jens Halvorsen’ lead her to Norway. This is an ambitious timeline, skipping back 132 years to 1875 and the fascinating story of Jens Halvorsen and Anna Landvik. What follows is a lovely tale of Anna being plucked from her mountain farm to sing the soprano’s part in the premiere of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ghost-singing for an actress with an inferior voice. This performance kickstarts Anna’s career, and she settles into a new life in Christiania [modern-day Oslo] and falls in love. Of course, true love never runs smoothly and Anna continues to long for the hills of her homeland rather than the city streets. The Norwegian settings are wonderful and I wanted to stay with Anna’s life, Riley invests so much in this section it almost feels like a book-within-a-book. But The Storm Sister is an adoption mystery about Ally’s parentage, so despite loving the Anna storyline I started to wonder why Riley takes us so far back in time to the nineteenth century and the story of who in terms of age are Ally’s great-great-grandparents. When is she going to tell us about Ally’s parents and her adoption by Pa Salt?

Riley excels at the immersive detail of both sailing and singing. The inclusion of Grieg’s music and the story of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ – which offers parallels of Peer with Jens – made me listen to the music. But three quarters of the way through the book, I started to lose interest. That surprised me; I haven’t felt that way with Riley’s other books. The mystery is thinly strung and additional storylines and characters added in the last quarter feel hurried and shoehorned in. I found myself worrying I’d missed something and started flicking back through the pages. It picks up again at the end of Ally’s story, finishing at a pace before the final chapter acts as a preview to the next book, the next sister’s story.

A doorstop of a book, The Storm Sister comes in at 720 pages. Darker than the first of the series, there are love affairs and betrayals, grief, tragedy and the depths of despair and cruelty. Each novel is the standalone story of one sister, but reading them order brings the cumulative benefits of understanding the six sisters who were raised together at Atlantis. Next in the series is The Shadow Sister, the story of Star.
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Read my review of The Seven Sisters, first in the series.

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True #adoption story… Alice Collins Plebuch #truestory #adoptionreunion

In 2012, Alice Collins Plebuch sent away for a DNA test… just for fun. She thought what happened next was a mistake.

Alice Collins Plebuch [photo: Yana Paskova for The Washington Post]

Plebuch had been raised by her Irish American catholic parents but her father Jim, the son of Irish immigrants, had been raised in an orphanage and his past was unclear. The test results from Ancestry showed half her DNA was related to the British Isle, which she expected. The other half was a combination of European Jewish, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. At first she wrote a letter of complaint, but then after a conversation with her sister they agreed she should test again but with a different company.

As she waited for results, the sisters wondered: had either their mother or grandmother had an affair? Or had she been adopted? This seemed unlikely given the character of their mother and the large maternal family with lots of cousins and siblings. Their father’s family was more of a mystery. Jim’s mother died when he was a baby, his father John was unable to cope so Jim and his two siblings were put in an orphanage. John Collins died when Jim was still a child and he had limited knowledge of his family. But Alice and her sister Gerry Collins Wiggins could not understand the Jewish link.

So Plebuch asked two male cousins to have their DNA tested; meanwhile Plebuch’s second test results, from 23andMe, arrived. They were consistent with the first result. Her DNA included Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry from areas such as Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania. Her brother Bill was also tested with 23andMe and his results revealed the same ancestry; a relief, they were full brother and sister after all. So the queries now focused on their father; how could an Irish American have Jewish ancestry? Looking at family photographs, Plebuch realized her paternal grandfather looked nothing like no one in her immediate family.

What followed was a painstaking analysis of data and genomes from potential cousins, identified by DNA. The DNA of one cousin, Peter Nolan, the son of John Collins’ sister, showed he was not related. So John’s sister wasn’t actually his sister. The only conclusion was that Jim’s father was not related to his own parents. Jim’s birth certificate showed he was born in the Bronx on September 23, 1913, with this they wrote to his orphanage which confirmed he had been sent their by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They considered the possibility of adoption, mis-spelling or mistaken identity, but got nowhere.

The final breakthrough came via a message on 23andMe. A stranger had received a result that she was related to Pete Nolan. She was expecting her results to be more Ashkenazi, not Irish. The long trail of painstaking research led to this answer: two babies were accidentally swapped at birth, a Jewish baby went home with an Irish family and an Irish baby went home with a Jewish family.

Read the full story in the Irish Times.

If you like this true story, try:-
Ramiro Osorio Cristales
Eileen Heron
Emmeline Pankhurst 

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Going back to the Family Records Centre #researching #adoptionrecords

Passage of time was one of the issues I faced when writing Ignoring Gravity, first in the ‘Identity Detective’ series of adoption reunion mysteries. In the time it too me to write the book, technology was revolutionised; ten long years, during which paper archives went digital, census and registry records became available online. The first draft of the book saw Rose making a trip to Myddelton Street, North London to visit the Family Records Centre in order to get a copy of her original birth certificate. I went too, to research the archive, to follow the process Rose would follow.

Myddelton Street sign - what is history of the name

Myddelton Street sign, what is history of the name [photo @SandraDanby]

When I retraced my steps, knowing the Family Records Centre no longer existed and its records long since gone digital, I found it a sad procedure. I’d liked the old building, the anticipation of the Tube journey, turning the corner, walking up the steps, the loud banging of the archive drawers, the friendly atmosphere of family history researchers poring over huge volumes.

FRC - the steps

Family Records Centre, the steps [photo @SandraDanby]

Recently, with some curiosity, I went back to the very first draft to find my first attempt at the scene where Rose visits the Family Records Centre. You can read it below. The scene was cut as part of my decision to place Rose in the 21stcentury, but on re-reading it I admit to feeling a fondness for paper records. The room, the atmosphere, the company of other people, lent the process a formality, a majesty, a sense of occasion.

It was a disappointing building. For something so momentous as the Family Records Centre, Rose had at the very least expected bay windows, Georgian steps or some sort of coat of arms. This place looked like a run-down comprehensive school. The black railings needed a coat of paint and there was litter on the steps. As she loitered with intent, a young girl pushed out of the heavy wooden doors. She pulled the lapels of her summer mackintosh around her neck in protection against the light breeze which teased loose ends from her low ponytail and flicked them sharply against her pale cheeks. Despite the sun, she behaved as if it was winter. The Girl banged into Rose’s arm as she passed but made no acknowledgement of anyone else’s existence.

Rose took a deep breath and walked in to meet her destiny. It really was like a school. A big sign listed the departments on each floor and a disapproving security guard watched all passers-by in case they made too much noise or ran in the corridors. Rose headed downstairs to the loo, brushed her hair, blagged a 10p coin from a little old lady and stowed her bag in a locker. She checked her hair again, then walked quickly upstairs and adopted the look of someone who knew where they were going: a tactic she used in strange places in order to ward off strangers and muggers. She didn’t know if it worked but it always made her feel better. She hovered outside the tiny bookshop which sold quaint home-made pamphlets on researching your family tree – Find your relatives in Canada; How to research army records; Tracing evacuees displaced during WWII. The cashier stared, gaze unflinching, and Rose rubbed her forehead in case there was a scarlet letter ‘A’ stamped there.

No. Her forehead was clean.

A sign pointed to ‘birth, marriage, death & adoption’ on the ground floor. Strictly speaking the order should reflect life so, ‘birth, adoption, marriage & death’. Or alphabetically it would be ‘adoption, birth, death & marriage’. She walked into the main index room where there was a continuous metallic banging noise as if lots of people were hitting empty petrol drums with pitchforks. Rose was shocked. People should show a bit of respect. This room contained official records of the highs and lows of people’s lives, of celebration and tragedy. Frowning and feeling self-righteous, she looked around to get her bearings.

“Births are on your right, the red books. Straight ahead are marriages, they’re green. Deaths are on the left, black. Adoption, if you want it, is at the back in the yellow books.” A tiny bird-like lady with glasses on a silver chain around her neck smiled, pressed a leaflet into Rose’s tightly clenched palm and waved towards huge metal shelves lined with books. Rose threw the A5 pink sheet into the nearest bin.

Red for birth, that was okay, blood was shed to bring forth new life. Green for marriages made sense too, green fields, new beginning, fresh pastures etc. And black for death was the social norm of mourning. So why were the adoption books jaundiced yellow? Yellow was a cowardly colour, sickly, plants with yellow leaves were past their best. Rose felt like a Cowardly Custard, putting off opening a yellow index book to find out the name of her real father who was too yeller to acknowledge her existence.

“Births are on your right…”, the bird-like lady directed another directionless new arrival.

Rose threaded her way through the shelves and angled viewing benches. There was a sense of business and purpose, a workmanlike industry. Women with shopping bags and businessmen with briefcases walked with purpose on a fleeting visit for a copy of a lost certificate, perhaps needed for a passport application. Others looked settled in for the duration, wandering between shelves, notebook and pen in hand, delving into books and leaving no stone unturned: a community of searchers. Two grey-haired ladies stood comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder, glasses perched on their noses as they leafed through index books. Were they sisters researching their family tree? They looked like siblings and both liked green. One wore a green turtle neck sweater, the other held a padded green jacket. They spent more time whispering to each other than looking at the books. This was a pastime for them, a hobby, an entertainment. Not life-affirming.

Rose meandered through the shelves and took an indirect route to adoption via death but in the end she reached the yellow section. In a tiny corner of the vast room, on a small bookshelf, sat the answer to her birthright. The heavy index books with black webbing handles started from 1927 with a book per year since 1966, around 30 books in all. Compared with the abundance of shelves holding red, black and green books, the yellow representation was under-nourished.

There was no one else within twenty yards of the yellow zone and though no-one seemed the slightest bit interested in what she was doing, Rose felt their implied stigma. By association, just by being there, she was coming out. She was adopted. She didn’t know how much of this was people’s real attitudes absorbed through osmosis, and how much of it was 60s stigma about unmarried mothers which she’d transferred to herself in her efforts to identify with Katherine’s plight.

The journalist in her shrugged and turned to face the task: get the facts and go, that was the objective. Rose hauled the 1968 index book onto the viewing bench and took a deep breath. The much-thumbed yellowing pages were folded and crumpled together.

Her birth certificate wasn’t there. Nobody’s was. There was an endless list of people’s names, dates of birth, entry numbers and volume numbers. For all her prevarication, Rose had expected some information today. A flood of heartburn rose up her windpipe and she tasted milky coffee. She sat on a chair while the sickness passed and worked out what to do next. 

“Everyone’s verry friendly here, aren’t they?” The three newcomers lined up in front of the adoption bookshelves just had to be siblings. Same corn coloured hair, same habit of running hand through said hair, and same height. Two women and one man, all in their twenties and all South African. “I don’t know where to start,” said the man.

“What are you looking for,” asked the bird-like lady who’d magically reappeared at their side like Harry Haller’s muse.

“Our grandfather was born here but then settled in South Africa. We can’t find his name anywhere and we fly back to Johannesburg tomorrow.”

“You need to look at the naturalised records at Kew.”

“Is it far?”

“The other side of London.”

“Oh.” The man’s shoulders sunk in defeat.

“Was he in the army, you could try their records. But I’ll warn you, it’ll take longer than a day to search.”

They nodded their thanks and left. Rose was alone again. She picked up another pink leaflet. To apply for a full certificate from the Adopted Children Register she had to fill in a yellow form. She took one from a wooden holder and started to read. Extra certificates cost £6.50 each. There was a choice of posted, collection or 24 hours. Oh God, more delay. Now that she was there she wanted the pain to be over. Not only could she not see her birth certificate in the index book, she couldn’t take it away today.

Post would take four working days. Did today count as a working day? If it did she might get the certificate on Friday. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t arrive until next Monday. That was a lifetime away. Rose ticked the 24 hours box. Paying an exorbitant £22.50 allowed her to collect it the next day and was the shortest time delay available. She’d just have to skive off work, again. Every minute until tomorrow would seem like sixty minutes instead of sixty seconds. 24 hours was 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds.

Rose turned back to the 1968 book and found her birth name ‘Ingram, Alanna’ in the index, added the entry and volume numbers to the yellow form and stood in line at the kiosks. She was the only person clutching a yellow form, the only adopted person there. She handed over a cheque and a copy of the precious form CAS 5/6, the original was safely filed at home. She also ordered a copy of Katherine’s death certificate. Rose had checked the marriage indexes just in case Katherine had married without anyone knowing, and the birth records in case she’d had any more children. But there was nothing.

24 hours to wait. 86,400 seconds. 4pm tomorrow and she would know the name of her birth father.

Getting hold of this certificate was a huge leap forward. There was something special about that bit of paper, seeing the words in black and white. Ink was permanent, a lasting, unarguable confirmation that everything she’d discovered was true. She repeated her mantra: “I am adopted and it’s not my fault”. What made Katherine and Diana do this deal and keep it a secret from everyone for over 33 years?

 “Hello dear. Births are on your right…” Rose exited the entrance where the bird-like lady fluttered from group to group, leaving an information leaflet clasped in each arrivee’s hand as evidence of her fleeting presence. She passed the stern lady at the bookshop and rubbed her forehead: it was still unmarked.

She stood on the top step and took a deep breath of fresh air, her lungs pressing against her ribs in an effort to inflate their parched corners with healing air. With no sense of direction Rose wandered along the road. She examined her hands and they shook gently. Delayed shock + anti-climax = low blood sugar. She needed chocolate. She felt as the emotional effect of the FRC must be writ plain across her face for all to see.

Read here how genealogists and family history researchers of the FRC responded to the announcement of its closure in 2007.

Fbk - IG KU the warm story
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Genetic map ‘People of the British Isles’ #DNA #familyhistory

Just think how it would revolutionize family history research if a DNA test could tell us which regions of the UK we are descended from. Now a partnership of 100 DNA experts, Living DNA has compiled a database of results from the 2015 People of the British Isles project which created a genetic map of the UK.

uk - projectbritain.com

[photo: projectbritain.com]

The Living DNA test compares a person’s genetic markers with those from 21 distinct areas of the UK, including Cornwall, Norfolk and North Wales. The results are then displayed on an online platform, where there is the option to identify connections with a further 59 worldwide regions. The results are shown on a map with a guide to how far back each component of genetic material comes from; this gives genealogists the chance to verify the DNA findings with traditional paper-based research.

This post is inspired by an article in the November 2016 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here.

Future novels in the ‘Identity Detective’ series will involve the use of DNA to find a missing relative. My heritage is in Yorkshire, my surname shared with a small Yorkshire village. So would my DNA point me to Yorkshire, or elsewhere? Read here about the village of Danby.

Ignoring Gravity by Sandra Danby In Ignoring Gravity, Rose Haldane is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the same as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. First in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. BUY 
Watch the book trailer for the ‘Identity Detective’ series.

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True #adoption story… Ramiro Osorio Cristales #truestory

Ramiro Osorio Cristales is now 41 years old. When he was five, he was asleep at home with his parents and six siblings when the Kaibiles, Guatemala’s US-trained special operations unit, arrived in the village of Dos Erres. That name is now famous for the massacre that followed. Osorio’s father was killed and he was separated from his mother and siblings.  When they left the village, the soldiers took with them Osorio and a three-year boy called Oscar. The attack began on December 6, 1982, and lasted for three days. In 2018, Osorio gave evidence in court against former soldier Santos López who was not just accused of the murder of Osorio’s family and neighbours, he was also Osorio’s adoptive father.

Ramiro Osorio Cristales - photo bbc.co.uk

Ramiro Osorio Cristales [photo: bbc.co.uk]

Back at the soldiers’ base, López began to take an interest in Osorio and Oscar, feeding them from his own rations. When López told Osorio he was taking him to live with his own family in Retalhuleu in south-west Guatemala, Osorio thought he had found a new family. But the boys were taken to the Kaibil Training Center and dressed in tiny army uniforms. Growing up, Osorio was forced to call López ‘Dad’ but was mistreated; put to work, malnourished and beaten. In 1998 when he was 22, Osorio escaped by joining the army.

His true identity was confirmed by DNA when he learned some of his family were still alive; uncles, aunts, cousins and his maternal grandmother. He learned his true identity thanks to work by the Families of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala [FAMDEGUA], which was investigating the Dos Erres massacre. Osorio later emigrated to Canada.

On 22 November 22, 2018, López was sentenced to 5,000 years in jail: 30 years for each of the 171 deaths that he was held responsible for, and another 30 years for the murder of a girl taken away and later killed.

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#Adoption #Mystery ‘Relative Strangers’ by Hunter Davies

The sub-title of Relative Strangers by Hunter Davies is ‘A history of adoption and a tale of triplets’ and it is a fascinating read if you are at all interested in family history and adoption. Yes, there is some history, but Davies keeps you turning the pages by telling in parallel the story of three babies, triplets, separated at their birth in 1932.

Hunter Davies

May 18, 1932. Kate Hodder gives birth to triplets – rare in those pre-IVF days – and dies the next day. Her husband, jobbing gardener Wills, is left with the three babies plus six older children. He cannot cope. Two go to live with grandparents, and four go to Barnardo’s. The triplets are adopted separately, with seemingly no effort made to keep them together. They live their lives, until finally reunited in 2001. The process of their lives, the changes to adoption law, and the roles of real people such as Thomas Barnardo and Pam Hodgkins, founder of adoption counselling service NORCAP, is told seamlessly by Davies.

Florence was the first to be adopted. Aged eight months, she went to live in Devon. Adopted by Emily Davy, a single mother who ran a guest house, Florence’s name was changed to Gill. She had a happy, secure childhood. She found out she was adopted aged 13, told in the playground at school.

May was adopted aged two, and her name changed to Helena Mary. Adopted by a clergyman and his wife, along with another adopted girl Pam. From the beginning, Helena knew she was adopted, knew she was one of triplets. But information was minimal.

John William was adopted last of the three, at the age of three and a half, by a grocer in Beverley, Yorkshire. His name was changed to David, he was not told by his parents that he was adopted.

This is an easy read about a fascinating subject, Hunter Davies handles the complicated storyline with ease.
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