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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as well as many other sources, mental health disorder affect one out of five people in the United States. This translates to at least one out of four people having at least one member of their family with a mental health challenge. For me, an adoptee, I’ve never known my family history in this respect and this has always been a mystery. And this is where my story begins.
It was the evening of Father’s Day last weekend when I received an email with the subject line, “Genealogy Searching – On Father’s Day.” The message caught me off guard. It was from a woman who I will call Tess (to preserve her anonymity). Tess stated that she had obtained information from her brother’s Ancestry DNA account. She went on to say that he had no desire to pursue any “matches” or learn anything about his family origins. Finally, she asked if I was interested in pursuing this potential connection.
As an adoptee, you can imagine my excitement with receiving this news. In typical fashion, I replied immediately stating that I would be willing to work with her on the mutual goal of learning more about how I fit into the family tree.
(Side note: A year and a half ago I initiated a search for my birth parents through the New York State Adoption Registry. Initially I received scant information but shortly thereafter I received records that contained non-identifying information about my birth parents (appearance, occupation, activities they enjoyed, etc., At first I figured that this was far as I would go. But after further consideration I decided to pursue learning more by joining Ancestry DNA. I did receive data about my ethnicity as well as potential “biological matches” however after reaching out to the two most likely candidates I gave up my search.)
Tess was quick in her response and explained how I could potentially fit into the family history and that she had a theory about who may birth mother might be and that she may still be alive. She explained that this connection was on her biological father’s side of the family. She also said that this man did not raise her and that the brother of my birth mother was reluctant to provide any information to Tess’s mother’s due to the time that has passed or the fact that her mom was “on the other side.”
Regardless, she and her mother do have information from Tess’s father’s side of the family that leads us to believe that I, in fact, am a part of their family. I also communicated with Tess’s mother (who I will call Dolores) who provided more specific lineage information.
Tess and Dolores said they’d be open to speaking the next weekend. This past Saturday evening I received an email from Dolores asking if I was available to speak then. I jumped at the opportunity and was astounded that I could be speaking to people with whom I may be related, and especially Tess, who would be the direct biological connection. Turns out she would be a second cousin. I shared my gratitude for them reaching out to me and they both responded with the same kind of attitude of thankfulness for finding me.
We spoke for well over an hour. The conversation was wide-spread covering everything from information about my potential birth mother as well as family stories and the mutual interests of Tess and myself.
At one point in the discussion I felt compelled to ask a question about any history of mental illness in the family. Dolores affirmed that there was a pretty significant history of mental illness in Tess’s father’s family. She went on to share a few specific incidences of mental health issues with my possible family of origin. Of course, this was of great interest to me considering my own history of bipolar disorder and addiction. This knowledge simply affirmed what I already knew about the risk factors of mental disorders and family connections.
It was remarkable how much Tess and I related to each other. I told her and Dolores that I believe that God is at work in this experience and that this connection is far more than coincidental and they both agreed. For instance, the information that Tess shared in one of her first emails stated that my possible birth mother was born in the same year that would have corresponded to the year of my birth. Also, the profession that she said that my bio mom was in was the same as what was stated in the documentation I received from the adoption agency that holds my records. Finally, when I mentioned that my document stated that my birth mother enjoyed horseback riding and waterskiing, Dolores laughed, saying that Tess’s father’s family enjoyed those activities.
This story is still unfolding and there is more work to be done. Tess and I are going to do some additional DNA matching work and she and Dolores are going to continue to reach out to other members of Tess’s father’s family. However, the simple knowledge that I may now have a biological connection is helping me to truly understand that things happen in God’s time. For God knows when we are ready. Stay tuned!
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