Adoptees, Family Trees and Ethnic Origins | Genealogical Research Part I

I remember sitting in my elementary school class on the day we were to do a genealogy assignment. This assignment asked us to study our personal ancestry in an effort to help us to learn about our family history. The undeniably valuable assignment is continually met with frustration for many adoptees as we may not have historical family access for one reason or another.

Having had anticipated this assignment, my parents had already helped me decide that I would use information from their ancestry, in essence, pretending that I was of European descent. This decision certainly helped me temporarily avoid embarrassment, mental strife, or worst still, having to oust myself in front of the class by exclaiming that I did not/could not know where I came from.  I still have a visual in my memory of the writing on the assignment that read "Remember to emphasize that genealogy is about biological relationships only."  What a frustrating admonishment for someone who did not know a single biological family member at the time.

A few months ago, in the most fitting of birthday gifts, I was given an DNA kit from my parents! Without hesitation I conducted the quick and harmless buccal cell swab exam and mailed it off to, where I would wait just two weeks before receiving this email:


I clicked to find my results and immediately learned that a large percentage of my DNA traced back to the countries of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) & Ghana, as well as trace amounts linking me to Great Britain - fascinating!  I would've loved to have explored this information during my elementary years, possibly learning at an early age of the historical immigration to Great Britain by Africans. All of the time spent imagining that my family immigrated from the Caribbean islands before being enslaved in the South could've been thwarted with this truth!

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as's database continues to grow. I have been able to link together with other relatives for whom I'm able to then share this information with my birth families to help fill in the holes in our familial tree.

I urge all adoptees, or parents of young adoptees to invest in these scientific breakthroughs and allow adoptees ethnicity to be estimated through their genetics. Not simply for the sake of avoiding classroom embarrassment (admittedly a DNA test won't solve all assignment woes), but for the purpose of being able to better understand the history of people's movements leading us to where we are today.

This wasn't the first time I'd taken a DNA test - the picture below was taken the day my birthfather and I met - this test determined that we indeed were father & daughter.

My birthfather, Sandy and I - swabbing our cheeks together.

My birthfather, Sandy and I - swabbing our cheeks together.

The search for my birthfamily

I am getting so frustrated with searching for my birth family. It is an emotionally draining experience - that may not become of anything. Ever. I was adopted when I as almost one year old from Chattanooga, Tennessee. I began this search as soon as the legal world said it was okay (18 years old). I began searching out of sheer curiosity. I have had a wonderful life and I love my parents to death, but I do have this intense longing to meet someone who looks like me. I am curious about why my birthmom got pregnant with me, after giving up three other kids for adoption. It was obvious that she was not financially able to provide for anyone other than herself. But, what is the rest of the story? Who is my birthfather? What's his story? I wonder if my birthmother shares my interests. I wonder if she is athletic or musical like I am. I just wonder, wonder, wonder...and often feel jealous when others can know this priveleged information so easily.

The law allows for you to begin searching when you turn 18. So, for my 18th birthday I was on the internet, SEARCHING. I searched for weeks/months to no avail. Finally I learned that I could get access to my OFFICIAL birth certificate which should have my birth parents FULL names printed on the certificate. I waited anxiously for days, when one afternoon I went to the mailbox one day and saw it. The envelope's return address said "State of Tennessee," I ran up the stairs to my room and ripped open the envelope only to find that my  birth certificate listed my adoptive parents as my birth parents, and my adopted last name as my birth name. Why? I have no idea. Anyways, roadblocks seem to be the norm. Uggh, SO frustrating.

I've watched the movie Antwone Fisher, and longed to personally recreate the scene where adoptee Antwone is flipping through the phone book with his girlfriend in a hotel...his girlfriend calls a number and voila...the next day they are at his birth mom's house. I wish it worked like that! Anyways, maybe someday soon I will be on a plane to Chattanooga Tennessee with an address and phone number in hand. Or maybe I am never supposed to know.

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. 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." -Alex Haley