Sunday, April 10, 2016

When You're Adopted, Which Ancestors Do You Choose?

I have posted before about learning of my paternal adoption as a young adult, and I thought today I might address the issue of "Which ancestors do I trace as an adopted child?"  In the end, it was not a hard decision to make, but at first, I felt conflicted -- as though I was being disloyal to the ancestors I had honoured all my life.

When I was 17 years old, I learned that my mother had a previous marriage, and I was adopted by her second husband.  It is even a little more complicated than that, but, I will leave it at this to avoid any confusion.  I spent my teen years living with my family in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where my father was Historian General of the Mayflower Society.  My home was very much a genealogical home, and I believed that my dad's Mayflower ancestry was also mine.  In my childhood I wrote essays for school based on "my pilgrim ancestors."  I was proud of my heritage.

My dad as a young man.
I was very much a daddy's girl, and even though my father has passed away nearly 10 years now, I believe I still am.  The news of my adoption was a blow.  My older siblings (by dad's first marriage) assured me that he was still my dad, and in fact, they truly wanted to believe that through some act of God, he would also match me genetically.  We all wanted to believe it so much that I think we were a little shocked and disappointed when the DNA test came back clearly indicating he wasn't.  (Time and location of his life and my mother's didn't match anyway, but we can be dreamers!)

I should point out that I did not DNA test in my teens.  I tested in my 40s after my parents had passed away.  And, even armed with information regarding my mother's first husband's background, I was surprised when I received my DNA results.  My entire life I believed I was Scottish, Welsh, English and Native American.  Hmmmmm... here is what Ancestry DNA reported.

The 23andMe results were not much different.  Their database is larger, so the numbers vary somewhat.

The Norwegian and Irish stuck out to me the most, and I immediately became curious about the people whose DNA helped make me -- Me!

When I began researching my paternal line, it was with passionate curiosity.  I told myself that I was merely curious as to the locations my ancestors came from, but as I delved deeper into research, their names and stories began to emerge, and I grew to love them.  As I met relatives willing to share stories and pictures of more recent ancestors, a connection started to form.  Dare I say, bond?  My whole life I never looked like anyone in my family and suddenly I was seeing bits of myself looking back at me in photographs.
My birth father as a young man.

My biological tree began to grow and I was pleased.  Every now and then, however, I would take a look at my father's tree and wonder.  I missed those ancestors, so I began to work on my dad's line as well.  As a professional genealogist, my dad had done much of the leg work, but with the advent of the internet, and many documents being digitized and made available, I was put in the position to flesh out more of the individual stories through documentation and newspaper articles.  So what happened? I began to bond with these ancestors, too.

Love multiplies -- it doesn't divide.  My dad's ancestors were still my own.  The values and traditions they passed down to him, he passed down to me.  Their story is my story because I am continuing to pass those traditions and values down to my children.  But what about the genetic line?  I believe that they, too, are a part of me.  My passion for hard work and education.  My love for history and theatre.  My biological relatives tell me that my strong will and determination in these areas reflect their family.

I have a large family tree.  Oh, it is not without it's brick walls, trust me!  But it is full and vibrant with the love of many centuries of people who made me who I am today.  My tree may be grafted by different trees put together, but it is beautiful and I am proud of it.  So which ancestors did I choose to follow?  All of them.

I hope you have enjoyed today's blog post.   I hope you will become a regular follower by entering your email address in the prompt at the top right side of the blog homepage.  Please feel free, to share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  You will find those share buttons just below this entry.  And, as always, I look forward to your comments.

* If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing with Ancestry, go to  You may also be interested in checking out*