© 2016 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
“Blood is thicker than water,” goes the old saying. For an adult adoptee or a birth mother who have their biological kinship severed by the institution of adoption, the phrase has sharper meaning. How can someone describe it to one who has never felt its cravings, like the siren song driving sailors to the rocks? How can these intensely deep feelings be framed to a person who has never been denied something deeply woven into one’s psyche, one’s meaning in life?
In fact nothing could be more natural for a person than wanting to know one’s kin and ancestry. For those who have been brought into this world as adoptees, by circumstances they did not control, that desire is the loud, thumping drum beat. It bangs inside one’s head, loudly at times, or soft, but always audible so long as the question is unanswered.
The yearning for knowing one’s past is one that fuels the modern day genealogy industry supported by web sites like Family Search, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and Ancestry.com, the successful Utah-based genealogy search firm that was started by two Mormons. The yearning was also transformed into a national cultural experience for Americans with the first screening of the 1977 television miniseries Roots, which adapted Alex Haley’s historical family history Roots: The Saga of An American Family. Haley achieved international fame for documenting his long and successful family search that stretched back to his ancestral villages in Gambia, in West Africa.
Haley eloquently describes why his own search mattered, particularly for many African Americans whose histories and families were cruelly severed by slavery. It was an institution that separated them from their homeland and then children from their families in the Americas. “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we have come from,” writes Haley. “Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” Haley’s story became a cultural event, and the story resonated widely in the United States, especially for adoptees who did not know their family ancestry and kin.
During my adoption search, in 1988, I wrote several different detailed summaries that I meant to share with either a court to petition for my records or with my birth family when I would find them. The one intended for the courts, but never used, was clinical and confessional. Today it gives me insight into what motivated me so strongly in my early 20s. As I look back with more mature eyes, I believe more than ever I was completely driven by the deep desire to know one’s kin.
I wrote: “My formal academic studies in anthropology and history were, in part, an extension of my own inquisitive nature that was created by my birth dilemma. I do not know when I have not spent much of my free time lost in thought about my genetic identity. I have been obsessed with the questions of my very existence. ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where do I come from?’ ‘How much of my present reality is controlled by heredity and how is controlled by my environment?’ These questions, for me, an adoptee, have more prescience than they do for non-adopted persons.”
Editor’s note: Citations are listed in the original chapters but omitted in this chapter excerpt.