Can adoption and genealogy mix?


Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Snake.  You wouldn’t think that Lunar New Year means anything to a woman of English, French, German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish descent, but it does.  I adopted two children from South Korea.  While I don’t believe that blood makes a family, I do recognize that the world is not going to see my kids as recipients of my whiteness because of the shape of their eyes and the color of their skin.  So it is important to me that I make sure that they are familiar with the culture that everyone else will associate with them.

Part of how my husband and I keep the kids in touch with their birth culture is by incorporating bits of Korean culture into our family mix.  For example, the kids celebrated the Korean version of Lunar New Year, Seollal, last weekend.  They watched a dance troupe perform, they tried on traditional hanbok, they ate bulgogi and mandu, they sae-bae bowed and were rewarded with New Years’ cash.  This event was put on by a lovely group of first generation Korean-American teenagers and their parents who want to teach Korean-ness to adoptees.

And I was not there because I was off learning how to hunt down my Canadian ancestors on the internet.

It had been a hard call to spend the day seeking dead relatives rather spend it affirming my kids’ identity.  And when my phone beeped, I half-expected an emergency – because that is always what I expect when I am separated from my kids.  So I checked my phone….  And no, a crisis didn’t materialize.  Instead it was my husband sharing a few pictures of the kids in hanboks and letting me know that everyone was having a good time.  And I was so pleased and relieved that I shared the photos with the small group of folks that I was gathered with.

I know, I know.  It was incredibly rude to disturb the group with my phone.  But everyone was so supportive; they cooed over the kids and their cuteness.  And then the juxtaposition of my clearly adopted children and the genealogical setting overwhelmed one of my groupmates who blurted out: Too bad that all the work you are doing on your genealogy will be meaningless to your kids.  And our companion, whose beloved niece adopted a daughter from China, nodded her head.

And I get it.  I had been wondering what my adoptive kids would make of my passion for genealogy too.  But in the moment I was gob smacked by this new variation on the “adoptive families aren’t real” theme.  That in the end, blood is all that matters.  And maybe blood is all that matters to genealogists.

In South Korea, Lunar New Year is celebrated over three days.  Families gather and pay respect to both dead and living elders.  They feast on traditional foods.  They play traditional games and watch tv together.  The important part being that families are together – usually at the house of the oldest patriarch or his eldest son.  Blood matters to Koreans.  Lunar New Year is an opportunity to celebrate it.

But in my heart of hearts, I can’t believe that blood is everything.  So in the end this is how I responded to my fellow ancestor enthusiasts (and my own) doubts:  No, this family tree will mean a lot to my kids.  It is the story of their cultural heritage, the many ways that their family arrived in the U.S.  This cultural heritage shapes them just as sure as their Korean roots are reshaping me.  And some day, I hope to add their family’s stories to the tree.

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7 thoughts on “Can adoption and genealogy mix?

  1. Laura Hedgecock says:

    As a genealogist, I have to disagree. My niece was born in Guatemala and looks different than the rest of our white family. Sure we integrate Guatemalan culture in celebrations, etc., but she is a descendant of our family heritage just as much as my (biological) sons are.

  2. leslie frank says:

    Hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to post. I wasn’t suggesting that non-blood relatives are not heirs to a family’s heritage — apologies if it seemed that way. And glad to hear from another genealogist who isn’t limited by blood ties — I hope there are plenty of us out there!

  3. Thanks for a GREAT post. My kids and my brother are all adopted. My kids are Korean, BTW. My daughter and I write a blog about adoption, and then here I am writing a genealogy blog, which to me does seem at cross-purposes at times. My kids are only truly interested in their grandparents because they know them. Anybody further back is only important to them for how they are important to me, if that makes sense. Here is a post I wrote on the adoption blog before I even started the family history one: http://dontwelookalike [DOT] com/2012/09/10/an-american-girls-family-tree/
    I think too much genealogy around adoptees can be disturbing (I know it disturbs my brother, for instance); however, these are also related topics, I am finding out. Adoptees can be very interested in DNA tests, for example, and so are family history buffs. However, for our kids from Korea, even that is a little farther removed. I’m so glad you brought this up and it’s so nice to know that I have company!!!!!!

  4. Ann Hinds says:

    After 50 years, we have found my husband’s eight biological brother’s and sisters (five more to go.) They are blood related on their mother’s side and one is a full-blooded brother. That doesn’t change who he is or the family that raised him. I have documented everyone in his adoptive family until I couldn’t go any further. They are not blood but they are his family and their history is his history. It is impossible to separate him from his adoptive family. Genealogy is about tracking the past and yes, it is blood lines but those lines become more fluid when you take into consideration not only heredity but environment. We also adopted our grandson and that is even more confusing. On paper, I am his mother but biologically, I am his grandmother. That confuses Great topic and something that needs to be addressed more often.

  5. leslie frank says:

    Currentdescendent and Ann Hinds,
    Thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights as genealogists with wonderfully complicated families. I am rather new to blogging so it is great to hear from others who have also been thinking about genealogy and adoption. It is a really important conversation. Thanks for giving me more to think about!

    Currentdescendent, loved the post about your daughter as an American Girl paperdoll. What a neat experience for her! Also, DNA testing really is an interesting development for both genealogists and adoptees. I wonder how it will change our understanding of relationships as it becomes more common.

    Ann Hinds, I love the fluidity of your family. Your husband who finds 8 siblings, and your grandson for whom you are many things. Good on you for being hard for Ancestry to understand!

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