Friday, April 13, 2007

Genealogy

So, this past week I decided to pursue my family genealogy. And, since I'm an adoptee, I was faced with some choices; do I research my first family, my biological roots, or my adoptive family. This is more complicated than it may seem.

For those to whom "blood" is everything, the choice is clear, follow the blood lines! But consider this, my ground in family is steeped in the lore of my adoptive family. All the anecdotes in my memory hoard are of my adoptive family. All the received attitudes I experienced are of my adoptive family. Even the personal notions of family I have consciously rejected are those of my adoptive family. I am not a tabula rasa, waiting to be filled by the long-lost blood of the ancestors of my first family.

So my notions of family are shaped by my adoption, and not just adoption, but by the fact that my adoption was hidden from me. This means that when I absorbed the family lore I took it in as mine, with no filter created by the knowledge that I wasn't the last link in a chain of procreation. It also creates other disconnects, which I'll get to in a moment.

I did discover I was adopted, though, and as soon as I did I realized that I had another story, another family, somewhere out there in the world. A generalized knowledge. After a time I made contact with this family, and began to learn another mythology, for when we talk to people about their families we enter the realm of myth, of narratives constructed specifically to place the individual who narrates the family lore. A specific knowledge. For me it is difficult to connect these narratives into a genealogy. So much is colored by the person telling the tale that the tale becomes meaningless as fact in an almost direct proportion to the meaning it invests in the teller. And I had eight siblings providing my new family narrative. Sometimes they directly contradicted one another, sometimes they agreed.

My aunt Carol, though, created pages and pages of handwritten notes ("just the facts, ma'am"), containing names, dates, and places of my first mother's family going back to 1826 in Norway. She sent a photo album as well, with a picture of my great-great-grandfather Kittel and his wife Anna.

So, I went to the library, checked out the 42 CD Family Tree Maker, and set down to fill in the blanks. I got my first mother's family down. However, I don't know who my father is, so that leaves a bit of a gap.

I decided to do a complicated family tree with both first and adoptive family, but had a realization. I know more facts about my first family than I do about my adoptive family. I have all the family lore buried in my brainbox, of my mom's cousins and aunt Flossie, and such, but little else. Half-remembered family names, sometimes, and more often than not nicknames. On my dad's side, very little. His people were dirt farmer in Oklahoma in the Depression, his father deserted them when he was twelve. The most I ever got out of him, or heard from his brothers, was "Old West" braggadocio and claims that they were Irish, although they didn't have any cultural characteristics of being Irish, like Catholicism or any knowledge of the motherland handed down, like which county, etc. I think dad was doing what adoptees sometimes do when they have little but a piece of information, he was extrapolating and confabulating.

Also, since my mom and dad tried to insulate themselves from family members who either may have divulged the secret of my adoption or disapproved of adoption itself, they isolated themselves and me. I don't really know my extended family directly, it was all filtered through mom and dad. So, I didn't feel I had a lot to go on. Then, last night, I found a handwritten and undated rudimentary family tree of my maternal grandmother's paternal line going back to 1826. There is a symmetry to this, I suppose. There is a surprising amount of material online about this branch of the family.

One ancestor, Eli Lovinggood, lived in Georgia, and was noted for passing the years of the Civil War opposed to secession. It appears he narrowly avoided being jailed for it, I suppose because he kept to himself in the hills. His opposition to the Confederacy was utilitarian rather than ideological, he is described as claiming that secession would be the South's ruination. He wa able to see his prophecy come to pass as the Union Army under Sherman marched through his property and requisitioned all of his crops without pay.

So, at the moment, I am having fun with this. Perhaps more later...

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2 Comments:

Blogger Mary said...

I research both bfam and afam. Along with my birthfather's birthfather and his adoptive father.

8:46 PM  
Blogger ani said...

you explained so well what I just couldn't,,

I have so much to say about this topic but you don't want to read a book.

wow,, so nice to find and adoptee with the same dilema, I did find my bio family . Now that I have and know that I am far from Italian as my aparents were told. I fit like a glove into the traditions of an Italian family.

I was Italian that mean something to me it was the one thing I had.

Only to find out I am Irish

uggggggg

3:07 PM  

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