Adoptees - In Search Of Self

Adoptees - In Search of 'Self' We are often asked 'why' adoptees come to a point in their lives that they start a search for biological family.  The best answer to that question is that they are in search of 'self'.  Soren Kierkegaard said this, "Life must be understood backwards, but... it must be lived forwards".  When you are adopted and you do not know the beginning of your personal story, nothing that comes afterward makes any sense, and until you find out your own answers you never understand why.

An adoptee once explained his feelings this way.  "Imagine that you are running late to the most exciting 'new release' movie in the theater.  You rush up to the ticket counter, pay for the tickets, grab your popcorn and pop at the concession stand and rush into the theater only to discover that the movie has already started.  You quickly become engrossed in what's happening on the screen, but it's a bit confusing because the characters keep referring back to something that happened in the first 10 minutes that you missed.  You turn to the person sitting next to you and ask, "What did I miss?"  They frown at the interruption and tell you that it doesn't really matter, just watch and you'll figure it out.  You turn to the person on the other side and ask the same question.  She tells you "Don't worry about what you missed, just enjoy the rest of the movie." Well, in life, without searching for the first part of their story, an adoptee can 'never' figure out the rest of the 'movie' and they are left with a disquieting and nagging sense that they have missed something crucial in their own personal story.

Statistics have shown that men and women choose different times, age wise, to take their first tentative steps to discover their beginnings.  Women usually start searching at a younger age, often contacting their adoption agencies or asking their parents for information as soon as they turn 18.  Men, on the other hand, seem to start a serious search for answers only after they are married and are contemplating starting a family.  The one trait common to both men and women is that they start a search, run into difficulty, and stop searching for a period of time.  Then, a few months or a few years later, something happens in their life such as a birth of a child, or a medical dilemma that requires family medical history, and the search starts again.

Rarely is an adoptee in search of 'new' or different parents.  The need to locate or make a connection with biological family is more about finally make sense of who they are as an individual.  In the mid 1950's and early 1960's, most adoption agencies or social service placements tried to 'match' the adoptive family with a child from similar ethnic, social and religious backgrounds.  This practice, although not always effective, did place the child into what was hoped would be an instinctual familiar environment.  However as wonderful and as loving as the adoptive family was to the adoptee, the adoptee often felt as if they were disassociated; on the outside looking in to what could be theirs if they only 'fit in' better.  As examples, a child was placed with a boisterous outgoing athletic family prefers a quiet nook in a corner reading a good book rather than play sports games with everyone else.  Or a child with impressive musical or artistic talent is placed in a hard working blue collar family who has 'no time' for such frivolous pursuits and discouraged the adoptee from doing so.

In addition, many children were placed in families with distinctly different physical characteristics.  Blonde children were placed with dark haired families, and always 'stood out' as different.  With the advent of adoption placements for bi-racial or foreign born children, the differences between the children and their parents, grandparents and other family members became more pronounced.  Although the adoptees know they were loved and wanted, almost all wish to look at another face similar to their own to feel a special connection with their birth.

In the past two years it's become apparent that not only the adoptee feels this 'lack of self', but the adoptee's children and grandchildren do also.  Several of our more recent cases  at Search Quest America have been initiated by the children and grandchildren of adoptees in hope to solve not only their own family mystery but to discover their origins.

If you were adopted and have never had the desire to search personally, ask your children and grandchildren how they feel.  You may be surprised at their interest.  If this is the case, start your search now.  If something were to happen to you, and your family tried to start a search, in many states they would not be able to gather enough information through proper channels to accomplish a search.  An adoptee can request and receive information.  The survivors in a family may not have that legal right.

If you are an adoptive parent, please do not feel threatened by your son or daughter's interests in finding their origins.  Every week I hear from someone taking their first steps in search who were born fifty or sixty years ago.  Their reasons for not searching sooner 'always' have to do with not wanting to hurt their parents, or because they promised to 'not' search until after their parents have passed.  How much better could it be to work together, as a team, to discover the answers?

In conclusion, I would like to assure you that it is absolutely normal to want to know your origins.  Genealogy is one of the fastest growing pursuits in the world.  It is so popular that there is a new show on TV that takes celebrities on a genealogical journey through their family history to discover their own story.  The show is called, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and it airs on Friday nights.

I am a reluctant and somewhat jealous fan, because for an adoptee stuck in an adoption system that still endorses 'sealed records', it is a lifelong struggle to find a 'sense of self'.'s not as easy as they make it look on TV.

Good Luck in your Quest!

Susan Friel-Williams Susan E. Friel-Williams
CEO, Case Manager and Licensed Investigator
Search Quest America