Tag Archives: identity

True #adoption story… Bob MacNish #truestory #adoptionreunion

Bob MacNish was 22 when his father died. On his deathbed, his father told him he was adopted. MacNish spent the next 50 years searching for the truth but getting nowhere. His original birth certificate was legally sealed.

[photo: Mitsu Yasukaway/northjersey.com]

Then in 2018, MacNish was one of the first adult adoptees to be given his original birth certificate in the state of New Jersey. State laws continue to change in the USA regarding the information available to adult adoptees. According to the American Adoption Congress, nine states now allowed unrestricted access and a further 11 allow access with restrictions [including New Jersey]. Records remain sealed in 22 states.

Bob MacNish finally met his birth mother for the first time, when he was 73. “For me, there was always that hunger for that answer. I need to know the truth about where I come from,” he told NJTV News. He knew he was born in Weehawken and given up for adoption when he was three days old. All he knew was that his birth mother was probably Italian. His adoption was private, arranged by an attorney. MacNish grew up feeling ‘a little different’ from his adopted family of Scottish farmers in central New Jersey.

Bob MacNish with birth mother Jean and half-sister Sheila [photo: Mitsu Yasukaway/northjersey.com]

If you like this true story, try:-
Eileen Heron
Jenna Cook
Emmeline Pankhurst 

If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Bob MacNish #adoption #truestory https://wp.me/paZ3MX-2r via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#ShortStory ‘Citrine’ by Sandra Danby @SandraDanby #identity #birthfather

It was a sturdy bicycle, black, with a wicker basket. Gita hadn’t wobbled on it so badly since she was ten years old, when her mother died and bequeathed it to her.”

Birth father

‘Lady on Bike’ by Mimi Mollica

Inspired by this photograph by Mimi Mollica, my short story ‘Citrine’ is published by ‘A Thousand Word Photos’ which pairs writers and photographs to create distinctive and individual stories, each exactly 1000 words long. The story is then read to stroke patients in London hospitals by actors, working with the charity InteractStroke.

I was given the choice of three photos, I had to choose one. But as soon as I saw Mimi’s photograph, Gita’s story flew into my head. She has such a tired, pensive, anxious look on her face that I knew her cycle journey is about more than going home after a long day at work. She is going towards an answer she has only just realised she’s been waiting all her life to ask. Who is her father?

Read the story in full at A Thousand Word Photos; and here’s more about photographer Mimi Mollica.

If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#ShortStory ‘Citrine’ by SandraDanby #identity #birthfather https://wp.me/paZ3MX-8z via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

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 

If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Jenna Cook #adoption #truestory #adoptionreunion https://wp.me/paZ3MX-2l via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

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
BUY ‘IGNORING GRAVITY’

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
After it closed: going back to the Family Records Centre #researching #adoptionrecords via #AdoptionStoriesBlog https://wp.me/paZ3MX-1O

#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.
BUY

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Three babies separated at birth in 1932: RELATIVE STRANGERS by Hunter Davies via #AdoptionStoriesBlog https://wp.me/paZ3MX-1C

True #adoption story… Eileen Heron #identity

The arrangement to adopt a baby came about by a chance meeting at a bus stop. One day Terri Heron, married and childless, met a priest while waiting for the bus. They started chatting and when he heard that Terri had no children, the priest asked if she had ever considered adopting. What followed was an illegal adoption leaving that baby, Eileen Heron, now in her fifties, without the true facts of her birth.

In May 1965, baby Eileen was delivered to the Heron’s home in Churchtown, a suburb of Dublin, Eire, with birth and baptism certificates. Years later when Eileen started to research her birth family, she found both certificates were false. Although she celebrates her birthday, she admits she has no idea if this is correct. ‘I actually don’t have a single piece of reliable information about who I am,’ she told the Irish Times. When she met the priest, he refused to help. Though against the law, illegal adoption was common at this time, perpetuated by the shame of the mothers who were reluctant to seek help. 

Eileen Heron
Eileen Heron with a picture of herself as a baby [photo Aidan Crawley/IrishTimes]

Eileen, now a mother herself, realised the mystery of her identity no longer affected only her. So she enrolled on a course for adult adoptees run by Barnardos Ireland.

The group covered topics like what it was like to grow up adopted and how to search for a birth family. A birth mother and an adoptive mother also give their perspectives; the course ends with a final discussion of what can happen after a reunion. The course has been running for 20 years and its content has evolved in that time to include the use of searching via social media. ‘We would advise people against using social media as a way to approach either birth relatives or adopted adults,’ said Christine Hennessey, Barnardos post-adoption services project leader. ‘It’s a very abrupt tool and it can be quite frightening for people.’ Instead, Barnardos encourages mediated contact.

Listening to the stories of other people attending the course, Eileen realised how her situation differed from those who had been legally adopted, ‘the chances of me ever finding my birth family are terribly small. That was like a bereavement.’

If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Eileen Heron #adoption #truestory https://wp.me/paZ3MX-W via #AdoptionStoriesBlog