...sometimes don't turn out the way you planned.
Last summer, I "discovered" my birth father. After nearly fifty years of wondering, I finally found him. The yearning to know, or know about, a birth parent is a familiar one. Although some of these quests culminate on a happy note, many go nowhere at all, or instead, render disappointment. I always thought the quest for my genetic paternal heritage would be the type that went nowhere. I had almost given up trying. Instead, the search has, remarkably, gone somewhere, but not in the direction I'd hoped.
Soon after my sister was born, when I was about seven or eight, my mother asked me to come into the living room. I observed her standing there, and sensed she was somewhat agitated. Mom then proceeded to tell me about my father, whom I will refer to as "JM." She was concerned that I would eventually hear about my origins through another relative if she did not tell me first. She ended with admonishing me to not say a word about it to anyone. I do not remember being shocked or upset at the news. I only remember listening intently and asking a few questions, and being left in a "hmm, isn't that interesting" frame of mind. But, I was a young child at the time, and a dutiful daughter at that. I never wanted to push against parental authority, so it wasn't until I was an adult that the need to know more burned in me.
A mere passion to know did not get me anywhere, however. As many women of her generation, my mother believes in "letting bygones be bygones." She carries a certain amount of embarrassment and hurt feelings regarding the outcome of the relationship, although she has always loved me with all of her heart. She chose to not marry JM when he proposed to her, and for her own good reasons. But, think of the stigma she faced in the 1950s as a single mother. I consider her a very brave woman for making the decision she did. She lived with an aunt at the time, and they traded babysitting duties and worked shifts at the cannery in order to make a go of things. They came from Minnesota farming stock, and one did what one had to do, without complaint. She has always been the most selfless, fairest, and loving mother, in spite of the guilt she has always carried deep inside.
Mom and me
There is a basic human need to know about our origins. Where did I come from? What traits do I share with my family and ancestors? What is my family history? It is something of a curse on those who are tenacious and will not accept no for an answer. Throughout my adult years, I periodically pressed my mother for answers, which was not often. I could not bear to bring up the ghosts of the past when it hurt, and even angered her, so much.
Still, I tried for years to make some headway into searching for my father and his family, but none of the information I had was detailed enough, or certain enough. It was not until I borrowed my mother's photograph albums for genealogical research on her family (with her full permission) that I rediscovered the photographs she had hurriedly shown me, so long ago. The precious few photographs were still there... she had not destroyed them!
How those photographs played into the genealogical find of a lifetime will be addressed in Part II of "The Best Laid Genealogical Plans."