Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Family Tree

There was a time many years ago that I was fascinated with my family's genealogy. I poured over Census documents and Ellis Island ship records, and each time I could take my family tree back one more generation, I would have a little jolt of excitement go through my body. With a maiden name of Flynn, I would imagine my Irish relatives and what their lives were like “back home”, and so it was fascinating to me to eventually weave my ancestry back to Germany and Bavaria as well, and never did I dream that my family tree would actually start with a love story in France in the 1600s. I would meet people online in my research who were part of the same family trees, and we would trade information and sign our letters to each other “your distant cousin.”

And then I was blessed beyond belief to adopt my two children from China. And the family tree became a whole lot more complicated for me emotionally. Of course my children are listed proudly under my branch as my much loved son and daughter. But now when I look at the complex chart that essentially traces parts of my DNA back hundreds of years, I have an empty feeling inside that there are essential people missing now on our tree. My children’s birthparents deserve to be on there. And I am uncomfortable now that I have the knowledge that my great, great grandmother was a seamstress or that my great, great grandparents on my dad’s side were married at just 18 in Ireland before getting on the ship to America. And yet I cannot even give my own children one piece of information about their parents who are most likely still living in China.

Last night I was googling “adoption and family trees” and I found an article on a blog called “Harlow’s Monkey” that really touched my heart. The author was adopted from Korea, and she talks about the issue of genealogy and how it really surfaced for her when she became pregnant with her first child and was given a baby book that had “two solid pages of family history waiting for my pen to fill in the blanks”. She used her adoptive family’s information, but then she wrote these lines about her birthparents’ history:

“However there are spiritual blanks where the Kim family’s names should be. I see the personal history and family I don’t know as the shadow of my family tree – not the big leafy one represented by my adoptive family and their history, but as the strong silent presence fluttering behind it.”

When I read her blog, I realized that is exactly how I feel now about our family tree. There is a shadow now, a very real emptiness that I wish I could fill for my children’s sakes. I wish I could tell my daughter with certainty that her dad was a student or her mom was a farmer. I wish I could meet them and learn the history of their family line as well. There are very real leaves missing on our family tree now, and I want to make sure their importance is part of our family history as well.

Has your family discussed the issue of family trees? What have you talked about and how have you adapted yours post adoption? Do you include all of the people in your children’s lives, such as foster parents and caregivers who were so much a part of their lives as well?



  1. The new blog template is fabulous!!

    Recently our family took a trip to Disney Land. While there we had silhouettes made of the entire family. When I came home and hung them up on the wall, it felt like something was missing. So, I took a black and white drawing of a Chinese family (from a book called Little Pear) and framed it in the same manner and hung it in the grouping. My girls LOVE it!

  2. I, too, have done a lot of genealogy. What it has pointed out to me is that all family trees have gaps. My mother's side I can trace back to the 1600's in Ireland and Scotland. The only thing I know about my father's father is his name. This allows me to tell my daughters I understand the wish to know more.

    Now with two daughters adopted from China, the gaps are wider. I got a lot of great suggestions from a book "Adoption and the Schools: A Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers" by Lansing Wood and Nancy Ng

    Here is an article on the subject by them:

    The family tree design I really like is having each immediate family member as a flower, each with roots in whatever country supports their ethnic background. The other tree I like is the traditional person as a tree trunk with the branches, but the branches are filled with both adoptive and biological connections.

    If we limit the tree to only biological connections, even those without adoption connections would miss very special people in their lives - those joining the family by marriage or other legal contracts.

  3. We haven't had the subject come up for school yet. However, my 5 year old has already said she wonders what her birthmother is like. I wish we had answers for her.

  4. Thank you for the blog. We have not had the family tree discussion as it pertains to birth families. I did want to share a light story though. My adoptive father's family is very German and my Mom's family has some American Indian roots. Our Chinese daughters know this so they now say they are American Indian, German, and Chinese. For now, it works...

  5. We haven't had this school assignment yet, either, but I know it will inevitably come. To add to the mix at our house, my children were adopted from different countries. One has considerable birthfamily information while the other has none. I think this will make things even more complicated.

  6. I found your post very interesting. Our daughter is just turning 4 and we have already faced "family tree" issues.

    For my brother's children, my father gave them a music box with our family tree imprinted on it. But, when we adopted our daughter, my father indicated that he wasn't going to do this because our daughter isn't related "by blood." My wife and I were quite upset. My father "compromised by indicating that he would put her on the chart, but with a dashed line. Eventually, he did consent to just adding our daughter in the normal way to our family tree, but it made me realize that if my own father had issues with this, we are certainly going to face them in the future with school assignments, etc.