Rethinking my family tree

Next spring my son will face the family heritage project at school.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately because he is currently expressing grief over not knowing his birth parents.  And I feel for him — enough to talk to our post adoption counselor about search policies (he must wait until he is 18,) and enough to start thinking about how we will handle the heritage project when it comes up.

Our school tries to make the heritage project inclusive of adoptees by making the family tree just one part of what must be displayed on the poster board.  The bulk of the poster is actually dedicated to one’s family’s heritage.  But what exactly is that supposed to mean.  The Korean-ness I have managed to pass on to him is half-baked and I have pretty much failed to pass on any of the other family ethnic traditions we can lay claim to.  Sure we have attended some Korean cultural events and eat kielbasa and wide varieties of pasta, but if I am honest, I have been raising my kids less on ethnicity and more on sports, Ipads, and cheddar cheese.

My mental preparations for how I will support my son through this school-sanctioned identity crisis has gotten me to think about genealogy in a different way.  Instead of focusing on the question of who are my people, what if I focused on the question of how did my family get here?  This might not solve any issues for my son (or domestic adoptees), but it gives me a way to include my adoptive kids more significantly into my family tree.  Below is a quick sketch of the when and where of my family’s migration to North America.

My hastily drawn arrival tree.  March 2013

My hastily drawn arrival tree. March 2013.

I love this oddly branching tree.  It is a quick reminder of the push and pull of how my family got here.  We came in three waves.  We arrived in the seventeenth century after as the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the Scientific Revolution shook up European practices and created opportunities in the “New” World.  We arrived in the nineteenth century as the Industrial Revolution changed economic practices and sent people searching for new stability.  And we came in the 2000s, products of globalization and adoption politics.

This tree makes me feel closer to all my accumulated ties – the Italian, the French, the Irish, the German, the Jewish, the Korean, the Norwegian, the Swedish, and the Polish.  And it gives me confidence that if I can find a tree that I feel is particularly suited to me, my son will too.

If thinking about the when and why rather than the who of your family inspires you, I would love to see your arrival trees too.

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking my family tree

  1. ashkej says:

    Great article. I don’t have any personal insight into the adoption issue, although both my parents were raised by their birth mothers and step-fathers due to WWII. When I began my family history journey it was important to me to know where all of my grandfathers came from – and it was important to my parents too. Whilst these men may not have imparted any direct ‘nature’, their ‘nurture’ shaped my parents and – by extension – my life too.


  2. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for sharing your story! I love hearing non-family family validated.

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