Thursday, August 26, 2010

Adoption & Ancestry II

I'm still fascinated by the ancestry question -- Does Zoe's "ethnic group" include French because her Mimi is French? Is M., adopted from China, "related to"' Abraham Lincoln because her father is a biological descendant of Lincoln? Are adoptees disinterested in their adoptive parents' ancestry, more interested in their biological ancestry (I absolutely get wanting to know their biological progenitors, wanting that genetic mirror, etc.  But what about more distant ancestry, the great-great-greats?).  Amanda at the Declassified Adoptee shares her perspective:
As a White woman adopted by White parents, I was expected to just be whatever they are. When I told my [Adoptive] Mom that Priscilla had helped me trace my Natural roots, she initially didn't want to talk about it. She wanted to know why I didn't consider their ancestry my own ancestry. She felt that by claiming my biological roots, I was rejecting my Adoptive Family.

I felt like she was rejecting me by not wanting me to claim my roots as my own (things are better now, as you know).

Is there a difference between pretending to be the direct descendant of a German immigrant who was wounded in the Civil War rather than acknowledging that you're the direct descendant of an English immigrant from the Mayflower? I think so. Why? Because one belongs to someone else and the other belongs to me.
(Go read the whole thing -- lots more there!)

I'm sure that none of us would argue that adoptees must research ONLY their adoptive family's ancestry, or that they must NOT research their biological ancestry.  But I think sometimes adoptive parents will think that our ancestry is a perfectly fine substitute for biological ancestry when information about biological ancestry isn't easily available.  I find that attitude pretty dismissive of biological ancestry. But is Amanda right that her adoptive parents' ancestors belongs to someone else, not to her? (I'm not suggesting Amanda is wrong -- how she feels about it is what is right for her, and I absolutely get why she feels that way.  Maybe I'm asking whether it is weird for an adoptee to feel differently.)

Back on a previous post on the topic, Wendy mentioned in the comments that her husband was biologically related to Abraham Lincoln, and I asked whether it meant that her daughter adopted from China was related to Abraham Lincoln.  For her daughter, the answer is no -- she doesn't see herself related to Lincoln.  My question is whether other people would say that M. is related to Lincoln?  I'd suspect they wouldn't see M. as related to Lincoln, and while I find it perfectly fine for M. not to see herself as related to Lincoln, I have to ask what it means when other people don't see her as related to Lincoln.

Is it a good thing when others don't see an adoptee as related to a distant ancestor of the adoptive parents?  It's certainly an acknowledgement of the importance of biology, isn't it?  It confirms what adult adoptees tell us -- biology is important, knowing your biological roots is important to identity formation, having access to original birth certificates is important because it provides the information needed to search for near (in time) and distant (in time) biological roots.

But that runs counter to the "same as" narrative of adoption -- adoption is the same as biological relationship.  Adding a child to the family via adoption is the same as adding a child to the family via birth.  For the "same as" narrative, M. is related to Lincoln, isn't she?

And herein lies my ambivalence on the subject.  I reject the "same as" narrative.  Adoption is different, bringing an origin in loss and grief and pain, bringing different parenting issues, bringing additional work for a child in healthy identity formation.  But at the same time, I don't want anyone to take anything away from my children because of their adopted status, not even their adoptive ancestry if they wish to claim it.

I think I'm guilty of wanting to see adoption as only additive  -- you acquire more ancestors through adoption, but  you don't lose any of your biological ancestors because of adoption.  So as an adoptee what is available to you as ancestors is whoever you choose from your adoptive family and from your biological family.

So if Zoe wants to see herself as Chinese & French right now, that's fine.  And if another day she wants to see herself as just Chinese, that's fine, too.  But then, what if she were to decide she was only French?  Not so fine.

Because ancestry and ethnic group has an additional layer in transracial adoption. . . .

I've said before that writing helps me think through issues, so the stream of conciousness writing above is really thinking through my fingertips.  Tell me what you think, that helps me figure out what I think, too!

17 comments:

Sandy said...

Just as I have two mothers and two fathers I have four distinct sets of ancestors - two adopted - two biological. I have done three of my four geneologies back as far as I can and once the 1940 census is released I will do the fourth.

The person I am is because of my biology and the biology of my ancestors.

PLUS

The person I am is because of who adopted me and who they are is because of their ancestors.

So combined I am who I am because of all 4 parents and their ancestors and I claim them all because I am an adoptee.

It is circular.

patti said...

This is an interesting topic. I have researched my geneology and have lots of pictures, census forms, military registrations, etc. printed out and stored in binders. Right after I adopted my girls, I stopped working on this. It felt exclusive of them and wrong somehow. As the girls have gotten older, the binders have been pulled out and discussed with varying degrees of interest. Sometimes its, "Wow, your great great grandma is UG-LY." And sometimes its, "So, that's our great grandpa, huh?"
Of course, I'm willing to share as much as they want. And they seem to feel free to take or leave my family tree as they wish. But I think their connection with all those old dead people is felt with me - as in, "that's OUR ancestor." I'm sure it all will keep changing as they get older.

Lisa said...

What a concise and thoughtful post; I spotted your blog via another's and the topic caught my eye.

Thank you for sharing your insights as they are reflective of my own and of the same issues our family faces.

Our daughter has been asked for the first time this year to do a "family tree" at school ~ it was hard to sit back a bit and simply wait for her to collect and then share her vision for how she wished it to be.

In the end she combined aspects from her own Ukrainian/Kazak. backgroud, as well as, my Irish/Swedish, my husband's English and our son's Taiwnese.....she said as one family we all shared equally of those heritages.

I almost cried with joy, but wisely kept my poker face in place, such as it is! LOL

In some ways she intuited all the big and important nuances all on her own....and she can't wait to share it with her class.

I realize this simplifies the issue........and might only work for a 7 year old....and yet I see within it something right and fitting ~ at least for our girl!!

Von said...

It is very complex and for each adoptee to decide who they claim.Having borrowed a family history most of my life I was very pleased eventually to claim my own ancestors and it gave me solid ground to stand on that no ammount of borrowing ever did.

Campbell said...

People always ask about each others background, you know, the "what are you?"

As an adopted person I've always replied that I'm adopted and my family's background is blah blah blah. I always also say I think my biological background is blah blah blah.

To me, I'm both. I completely agree with Sandy. I am related to everyone my family is related to, of course.

Wendy said...

I've been thinking about this a lot too. In the biological sense, no she is not related to Mr. Lincoln, but in a cultural sense--she is.
I agree wholeheartedly that M is Chinese and her ancestry is Chinese and if, and when, she wants to claim our ancestry she has every right too. You are spot on that she should never claim ours in whole. To deny her birth ancestry is just wrong on so many levels--and no, it is not the same as when a non-adopted person wants to forget they are related to some of the people of in their past or present because as we know it is denial in thought only, the blood line still runs.

But that is the point isn't it. I have many ancestors that I happily acknowledge, so does Jeff. His bloodline to Lincoln is interesting and one most would fine positive; however, there is another bloodline just as strong that runs close along the lines with the KKK. Does he claim them, hell no! My point is that yes, there is much determined by ancestry...there is also much determined by culture.

imo--yes, she is related to both. She is absolutely Chinese and that ancestry is hers by birthright. She is also very much a part of our ancestry, not by blood but by our actions as parents raising her into our cultural heritage. We celebrate holidays in ways that our families have for years, so does she. She is absolutely just as much a family member as any other at the extended family dinner table...as much as our husbands, wives, children, step-children, half siblings, etc...we all share cultural ancestry by the way we live our lives and share those moments together. Does that deny her birth heritage...no.

The point is one does not deny the other. There does not have to be a choice. In "Adopted" Jen's words ring hard on the ears "I am and I'm not". It is this divide that she is their family and yet outside those family doors she is not that should make us all take pause. Her birth ancestry has been denied by family and embraced by society. Her adopted ancestry has been embraced by family and rejected by society. Until both can be accepted as valid and embraced at whatever level she chooses, how can that statement not be true? "I am and I'm not".

By coming to the place that we recognize that we are all who we are due to nature and nuture (not one or the other), we can understand that ancestry is not just DNA. They are both valid, they are both essential in belonging. Again, imo, this is where our society is getting it wrong. A child adopted into the home is not the same as having/raising bio children; however, they are not to be treated as not a part of the family. Telling a child they cannot claim your ancestry is doing just that.

Wendy said...

I've been thinking about this a lot too. In the biological sense, no she is not related to Mr. Lincoln, but in a cultural sense--she is.
I agree wholeheartedly that M is Chinese and her ancestry is Chinese and if, and when, she wants to claim our ancestry she has every right too. You are spot on that she should never claim ours in whole. To deny her birth ancestry is just wrong on so many levels--and no, it is not the same as when a non-adopted person wants to forget they are related to some of the people of in their past or present because as we know it is denial in thought only, the blood line still runs.

But that is the point isn't it. I have many ancestors that I happily acknowledge, so does Jeff. His bloodline to Lincoln is interesting and one most would fine positive; however, there is another bloodline just as strong that runs close along the lines with the KKK. Does he claim them, hell no! My point is that yes, there is much determined by ancestry...there is also much determined by culture.

imo--yes, she is related to both. She is absolutely Chinese and that ancestry is hers by birthright. She is also very much a part of our ancestry, not by blood but by our actions as parents raising her into our cultural heritage. We celebrate holidays in ways that our families have for years, so does she. She is absolutely just as much a family member as any other at the extended family dinner table...as much as our husbands, wives, children, step-children, half siblings, etc...we all share cultural ancestry by the way we live our lives and share those moments together. Does that deny her birth heritage...no.

The point is one does not deny the other. There does not have to be a choice. In "Adopted" Jen's words ring hard on the ears "I am and I'm not". It is this divide that she is their family and yet outside those family doors she is not that should make us all take pause. Her birth ancestry has been denied by family and embraced by society. Her adopted ancestry has been embraced by family and rejected by society. Until both can be accepted as valid and embraced at whatever level she chooses, how can that statement not be true? "I am and I'm not".

By coming to the place that we recognize that we are all who we are due to nature and nuture (not one or the other), we can understand that ancestry is not just DNA. They are both valid, they are both essential in belonging. Again, imo, this is where our society is getting it wrong. A child adopted into the home is not the same as having/raising bio children; however, they are not to be treated as not a part of the family. Telling a child they cannot claim your ancestry is doing just that.

Wendy said...

I've been thinking about this a lot too. In the biological sense, no she is not related to Mr. Lincoln, but in a cultural sense--she is.
I agree wholeheartedly that M is Chinese and her ancestry is Chinese and if, and when, she wants to claim our ancestry she has every right too. You are spot on that she should never claim ours in whole. To deny her birth ancestry is just wrong on so many levels--and no, it is not the same as when a non-adopted person wants to forget they are related to some of the people of in their past or present because as we know it is denial in thought only, the blood line still runs.

But that is the point isn't it. I have many ancestors that I happily acknowledge, so does Jeff. His bloodline to Lincoln is interesting and one most would fine positive; however, there is another bloodline just as strong that runs close along the lines with the KKK. Does he claim them, hell no! My point is that yes, there is much determined by ancestry...there is also much determined by culture.

imo--yes, she is related to both. She is absolutely Chinese and that ancestry is hers by birthright. She is also very much a part of our ancestry, not by blood but by our actions as parents raising her into our cultural heritage. We celebrate holidays in ways that our families have for years, so does she. She is absolutely just as much a family member as any other at the extended family dinner table...as much as our husbands, wives, children, step-children, half siblings, etc...we all share cultural ancestry by the way we live our lives and share those moments together. Does that deny her birth heritage...no.

The point is one does not deny the other. There does not have to be a choice. In "Adopted" Jen's words ring hard on the ears "I am and I'm not". It is this divide that she is their family and yet outside those family doors she is not that should make us all take pause. Her birth ancestry has been denied by family and embraced by society. Her adopted ancestry has been embraced by family and rejected by society. Until both can be accepted as valid and embraced at whatever level she chooses, how can that statement not be true? "I am and I'm not".

By coming to the place that we recognize that we are all who we are due to nature and nuture (not one or the other), we can understand that ancestry is not just DNA. They are both valid, they are both essential in belonging. Again, imo, this is where our society is getting it wrong. A child adopted into the home is not the same as having/raising bio children; however, they are not to be treated as not a part of the family. Telling a child they cannot claim your ancestry is doing just that.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this a lot too. In the biological sense, no she is not related to Mr. Lincoln, but in a cultural sense--she is.
I agree wholeheartedly that M is Chinese and her ancestry is Chinese and if, and when, she wants to claim our ancestry she has every right too. You are spot on that she should never claim ours in whole. To deny her birth ancestry is just wrong on so many levels--and no, it is not the same as when a non-adopted person wants to forget they are related to some of the people of in their past or present because as we know it is denial in thought only, the blood line still runs.

But that is the point isn't it. I have many ancestors that I happily acknowledge, so does Jeff. His bloodline to Lincoln is interesting and one most would fine positive; however, there is another bloodline just as strong that runs close along the lines with the KKK. Does he claim them, hell no! My point is that yes, there is much determined by ancestry...there is also much determined by culture.

imo--yes, she is related to both. She is absolutely Chinese and that ancestry is hers by birthright. She is also very much a part of our ancestry, not by blood but by our actions as parents raising her into our cultural heritage. We celebrate holidays in ways that our families have for years, so does she. She is absolutely just as much a family member as any other at the extended family dinner table...as much as our husbands, wives, children, step-children, half siblings, etc...we all share cultural ancestry by the way we live our lives and share those moments together. Does that deny her birth heritage...no.

The point is one does not deny the other. There does not have to be a choice. In "Adopted" Jen's words ring hard on the ears "I am and I'm not". It is this divide that she is their family and yet outside those family doors she is not that should make us all take pause. Her birth ancestry has been denied by family and embraced by society. Her adopted ancestry has been embraced by family and rejected by society. Until both can be accepted as valid and embraced at whatever level she chooses, how can that statement not be true? "I am and I'm not".

By coming to the place that we recognize that we are all who we are due to nature and nuture (not one or the other), we can understand that ancestry is not just DNA. They are both valid, they are both essential in belonging. Again, imo, this is where our society is getting it wrong. A child adopted into the home is not the same as having/raising bio children; however, they are not to be treated as not a part of the family. Telling a child they cannot claim your ancestry is doing just that.

Wendy

Wendy said...

Sorry for the multiple posts, it said it wasn't posting.

Elaine said...

I've been thinking a great deal about these things in the past months - working at a blog post/paper - because my oldest daughter has become suddenly very interested in 'family stories' from my family. I happen to know lots about my ancestors related to some of my research and have plenty of stories to tell. It is quite different for me to tell these stories to my daughter than it was to tell them to her older cousins (my sister's biological kids). Why?
I'm beginning to think of adoption along the lines of marriage re: family and family stories. When I married my husband I became part of his family and gained some kind of ownership of his family stories (which I actually know better than he does). They are not my biological family or my biological ancestors but they are the ancestors of my family. The same goes for my children. If adoption worked the way it should our family would have 4 distinct sets of family stories/ancestries/genetic codes that we would share somehow as a family, each of us maintaining ownership of our 'own' stories. Families constructed as "Imagined Communities" of a sort.
Problem is, of course, that my girls were stripped of their family stories/ancestry/genetic codes so what they bring is an unknown. Adoptive parents try to fill in that unknown with "culture" but really, what is missing isn't "culture" it is ancestry. Chinese culture camp is a poor substitute in many ways.
So I hope that my girls can hear the stories of my greatX whatever Grandfather who refused to take up arms to kill Native Americans or my grandmother who regularly talked with angels and make them their own stories in some way. I also hope that some day we can add real family stories from their own biological families.

Elaine said...

Oh and I might add that while my family tree and stories are pretty straightforward - lots of intermarriage will do that to a tree - my husband's is messy. Lots of dying parents, fostering, adoption, criss crossed lines and confusion about who really is who. But his family deals with it in the additive. With his father's family we celebrate a whole host of Christmas traditions that have us eating lots of huge meals, usually all in the same day, to get everyone's traditions in. Perhaps there should be a limit to what can be added?
And yeah, my girls get all of that plus their own and if they ever have partners - exponential?

LisaLew said...

Nothing to add, I just wanted to say: Great post! Interesting, thought provoking comments, as well.

Jenna said...

Ah, the fun subject of ancestry. Personally, my adoptive parents' ancestry does not seem authentic to me, but I'm not interested in researching my biological family's ancestry either. Maybe I have always avoided ancestry because it makes me feel uncomfortable or it has the potential to cause pain to others? However, I do enjoy pointing out to my siblings who are biological children that I do not share genes with my "eccentric" uncle but they unfortunately do ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say about my ancestry any more. I spent 50 years going with my adoptive parents history being french and swedish. Now somehow I am supposed to figure out how to be german and Irish. Now neither one feels real and I find myself just avoiding the topic or changing what I say. Neither makes me feel very good.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of time this summer doing genealogy. For me, the main part of the fun is doing the research and solving "puzzles." It is equally enjoyable to research my brother-in-law's family, who are not related to me by blood at all. (And who he and his family could care less about as far as I can tell.) So, I think it's possible for adoptees to gain the same enjoyment from learning about their AP's ancestry. But just like there are people in my family that dont' care about that, my children may not care about it either. I would LOVE to be able to find out my adopted children's ancestry as well. It occurred to me this summer that finding birthparents is just one more "puzzle" to solve... it's very important and probably difficult, but something I am increasingly interested in doing. By the way, I have read how some AP's (e.g., Brian Stuy) don't ask or tell their children about their quest for information about BP's. I don't really get that. I have asked both my children (age 7 & 12)if they are intersted in finding their birthparents. Their response is like "sure, that's fine with me." I don't sense that they have a burning desire to do so, but they certainly don't seem opposed to it either. I don't think they understand (nor do I, frankly) all the ramifications of searching and potentially finding birthparents. But should I decide to search, at least I have some inkling about their level of interest.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Brigdh said...

Hi!

I know this is kind of an old post, but I just came across it and really wanted to share. I'm an archaeologist, and one of the things I study is ethnic identity in the past (like, WAY past- Bronze Age!). There's an anthropologist I really like, Manning Nash, who talks about ethnicity as not being one single thing, but having various building blocks, including "the body, a language, a shared history and origins, religion, and nationality". (That's from the book 'The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World', if you're into reading a very technical, dense book on the subject).

Anyway, I thought thinking about ethnicity in this way might be helpful to you and your daughters. You could talk about how some elements are shared, and some are different, and how ethnicity isn't just a yes-or-no subject.