Happy St. Patrick’s Day From a New Irish-American Adoptee

This is my first St. Patrick’s Day as an Irish-American. Ok, that’s not exactly right. I’ve been an Irish-American since the day I was born but I just found out about my Irish roots a few months ago.

Courtesy of National Library of Ireland on The Commons/Flickr

What can I say? I’m adopted and my ethnic identity got a makeover. It sounds weird doesn’t it? For adoptees, it’s  a normal experience, particularly for those of us who found out about our adopted-ness late in life. We grow up associating with one or more ethnic groups only to find out we’re actually related to an entirely different population.

I grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side with a Polish-American mom and a German-American father. Polish and German. Kielbasa and sauerkraut. That was my ethnic stew and I never questioned it.

My life story began to crumble 11 years ago when I found out I was adopted, a detail my adoptive parents took with them to their graves. Last year, after starting my adoption search, I found blood relatives and other people who were close to my family. They told me the truth about my birth mother and the situation that led to my adoption. They revealed family secrets which of course were secrets only to me. I also did DNA testing hoping it would help me find relatives on my father’s side. Today I have a new ethnic identity, along with stories about my biological family, birth certificates, a death certificate and a stash of old faded photos.

Many of the things I’ve learned are painful. My mother’s childhood and the poverty, sadness and sickness that scarred her and other members of her family have made me cringe.  Those photos of Lillian with her four other children – my brothers and sister – and the pictures of Lillian’s siblings and other relatives are fascinating to look at, yes. But there are days when looking at the photos makes me want to cry. A photo gallery of dead relatives I never knew. So dreary.

Finding out about my ethnic heritage has been one of the happier discoveries in this adoption search.  My ethnic identity is alive, intact and part of who I am today. Nobody can take it from me. It’s something I share with my son. After all these years, Jake, who is 14, finally knows what his mother contributed to his ethnic makeup.

Just like Barack Obama, I’m not 100 percent Irish-American. I don’t know anything about my biological father’s background though it’s safe to assume his ancestors came from Western Europe, too. Judging from all those Irish and English surnames among my DNA matches, I think I must have a fair amount of Irish/English/Scottish blood in me.

When I think of Irish-Americans, I think of fun-loving, smart, articulate people. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of their club? Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

11 thoughts on “Happy St. Patrick’s Day From a New Irish-American Adoptee

  1. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I found out through DNA testing last summer that I’m actually a lot LESS Irish than I thought I was.

  2. Sounds like you’re learning your Irish ethnicity similar to how I did my own Russian Mennonite heritage when I learned about it many years ago. Feels good to have that confirmation of where our people originated, doesn’t it?!

  3. I’m like Amy — I found out I’m a LOT less Irish than I was raised. I knew I was adopted all along, but I have a name that screams Irish-American Catholic. Turns out, I have very little western European blood at all (and since I was work out my actual genealogy, I also looked into the family I was raised in, because their stories are mine, even if their blood isn’t — and they’re less Irish than we all thought, too).

    The shifting perspective is an ongoing, rather than a swift and decisive change, which I didn’t expect.

  4. Thanks, Terri. It’s good to have those big questions answered isn’t it? Did your first mother fill you in on the circumstances behind your adoption?

  5. Yes, Linda, I appreciate the new knowledge I have. I hope to continue to learn truths about my biological family. Did you also take a DNA test?

  6. My first St Patrick’s as Irish too. Yes, my search ended at 2 graves but I have 3 living bonus brothers (half) my new found niece and I are doing my father’s genealogy and yep, lots of tears and looking for “dead” people. I searched for 59 years, with this new hobby I will always be searching, I just switched it 😉 Much love CeeCee

  7. Top of the morning to you, Jeanne. Have you met your half brothers and niece? Searching and finding family members – dead and alive – makes for an interesting hobby.

  8. I met my eldest, he is 62 and an hour 15 minutes from me. His mother, I spoke with her twice. We keep in touch through his wife. He was an only child so long and being the eldest has some pretty gruesome memories and his mom is bitter putting it mildly. I am closest to my family in WV my brothers call often and my niece and I spend a lot of time on fb. I am going in May first to Ohio to get my closure, I do have a plan and a counselor meeting me at the grave. Then down to WV for my first family reunion with the jones, meeting all that side there around 40-50 people show up every year. I am soooo excited!!! We are trying to get all us siblings together so I have a photograph (not photoshop) of us all together to hang on my wall in here. Yes it is an interesting hobby Cecile and I are finding really interesting things. I am a descendant of President Tyler on my mother’s side. I have her entire family tree back to Ireland. We think my dad’s side came from Wales but it is taking us both HOURS of research. My niece is actually driving to the court houses !!! I lit a fire in her and she is loving it 🙂

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