I am preoccupied with names. As an adoptee of course, I wonder what my name would have been if I had been raised by both of my natural parents.
I could have been a Winter had I grown up with Lillian and her husband as parents. Winter sounds kind of elegant, less common than Miller and not a name you associate with beer. (My high school geometry teacher used to greet me by saying “It’s Miller time.” That’s all I remember about geometry.)
Winter wasn’t my natural father. I think bio dad was some other guy, a nameless, faceless fellow who may remain a mystery to me forever.
Every time I log into my Family Tree DNA account, I look for new names among my living cousins and their ancestors. My bio father’s surname is in here somewhere but how to find it? Could he be a Smith, a Jones or a Wilson? Those are the top three surnames among my DNA matches.
One of my new cousins contacted me recently. She comes from a family with many Millers and wanted to know about me. Bob Miller was my father but he adopted me so we don’t have any biological connection, at least not one I know about.
I have at least eight Millers among my DNA matches. If everyone explored their ancestry long enough, wouldn’t we all find at least a handful of Millers in the family? Seems likely. But wouldn’t it be funny if I found out there actually was a bio connection between me and Bob?
Either way, I like having a name that’s easy to say and spell. Miller reminds me of my wonderful father, the dad who drove me to school, played tennis with me and helped me learn to drive. Miller sounds friendlier and more approachable than Winter, don’t you think? Winter reminds me of Rebecca de Winter from the 1940 Hitchcock movie, Rebecca. The late Mrs. de Winter was beautiful and glamorous but more than a touch cold.
I took a DNA test to find blood relatives who might know my biological father’s identity.
I am an adoptee on a mission. I’ve written about the mystery man before, the father who really wasn’t a father to me. I don’t need (or want) to meet bio dad. In fact, the thought of meeting him actually scares me. But I would like some answers. What’s his name, what did he do for a living, does he have a family, do I have other brothers and sisters? How did he meet Lillian, my birth mother? I wonder if he and I look anything alike. Photos along withfacts would be great.
I’ve talked to a handful of people who were close to Lillian, hoping they would know who my father was but nobody knows (or they’re not saying). Finding my bio dad is like locating an available New York taxi in a downpour. Still, I am giving it my best shot.
Well, I got my DNA test results and I am a little disappointed. None of the more than 600 matches are close relatives. There are no siblings or half siblings. I have cousins, hundreds of cousins, but they’re not exactly kissing cousins if you know what I mean. There’s not a single first cousin on my list of matches. The closest relatives are second cousins and many are even more distant on the family tree.
I knew a DNA test was a long shot. Taking the test was quick and painless. Interpreting the results is time consuming and hard.
Using Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser feature, I try to separate the cousins on my maternal side from those on my father’s side. I have emailed a few of my DNA matches to introduce myself and delicately inquire about the nature of our relationship. I don’t use the “A” word (adopted) unless I know I’m talking to another adoptee. As my fellow adoptees know, that word makes some people nervous.
Three of my cousins got back to me and wouldn’t you know? They’re all from Lillian’s side of the family. Two are genealogy buffs. Shannon and I have exchanged several friendly emails. She’s shared many interesting stories about how our Irish ancestors scraped by and filled me in on the diseases that run in our family. That’s valuable information. I like Shannon and hope we meet in person some day.
In a few hours, Sharon managed to put together a family tree for me. How did she do it so quickly? I was awed by her skill. Thanks to Shannon and Sharon, I know quite a bit about my ancestors on Lillian’s side of the family.
I shared the family tree with another cousin, Duane, who used it to create a tree of his own. Duane and I have gotten friendly. We’re both adopted, close in age and on similar missions. Duane and I are seeking answers to questions about our birth parents.
Two cousins never responded to my emails. I believe they are from my father’s side of the family. Wouldn’t you know?
I thought about calling one of them. He is a few years younger than me and looks friendly enough on his Facebook page. Most important, this guy is one of my closest DNA matches, and he has taken a Y-DNA test. Perhaps he knows who my father is. Maybe he is also adopted? Since he hasn’t responded to emails, would he be more receptive to a phone call?
For adoptees who have taken DNA tests, what would you do in my situation? Have you called any of your matches directly? Is it taboo to call a match who doesn’t respond to emails?
I feel discouraged. I am no closer to answering the big question hanging over me: Who is my father.
This is hard work. I need encouragement so I am re-reading Richard Hill’s excellent book, “Finding Family” for motivation and tips. An adoptee, Hill used DNA tests and old-fashioned detective work to learn the identity of his father.
I take comfort knowing it took Hill many years to dig up the truth. That could be my future, too. I have a lot of spade work ahead of me.
He did not pass his genes on to me but so what? Bob did all the things good fathers are supposed to do. He read stories to me before bedtime. He played tennis with me. He drove me and my sister, Melissa, to the piano teacher’s house for lessons. (He never covered his ears when we practiced.)
When the fourth grade bully jumped on my back and knocked me down, Dad chased Maureen, grabbed her by the collar and hauled her into the principal’s office.
When I was in eighth grade, my parents wanted to get me into a high school in a better neighborhood. Dad talked to the principal. Tell the school your daughter wants to study cosmetology, the principal advised. Well what do you know? My make-believe interest in hair styling got me into a newer high school in a safer neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. Way to go, Bob, and good tip from Mr. Mulcahey.
Born in 1910, Bob Miller grew up in a big family – he had something like 10 brothers and sisters. They lived in Menominee, a tiny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “God’s country,” was how he described the area.
Bob moved south, lived in a boardinghouse when he was young and single and worked as a linotype operator. My mother, Claire, accused him of having that “boardinghouse reach” whenever he helped himself to seconds at dinner. Dad could really eat, especially dessert. For a man with a hearty appetite, Bob was always slender, skinny actually. I used to think I inherited his appetite and metabolism. When I was a girl, I could pack the food away and never gain an ounce. I also have slender fingers which I used to think I got from my father.
Bob was an unrefined gentleman. He cursed freely but the words didn’t mean much. He would have been a better dad if he had stood up to Claire occasionally. He always deferred to our high-strung, self-centered mother.
The last time I saw my father, he was flat on his back on a hospital bed. Even though he was dying, Bob gave me a smile when I said good-bye.
Bob Miller was not my biological father but I didn’t know that when he passed away in 1999, less than a year after Claire died. My loving but secretive parents never told Melissa and me we were adopted. We never found a single document related to our adoptions. One of our cousins told us the truth in 2002.
My biological dad is “not legally known,” as the birth certificate puts it. That makes me some man’s love child. He’s a mystery to me whoever he is. As I wrote earlier, my bio dad liked to play golf but that’s all I know about him. He may know even less about me.
Do you know who your dad is? What do you think of him?
Recently I wrote about hitting a dead end in my search for bio dad and other blood relatives. Well, the dead ends continue. Last week I learned one of my birth mother’s closest friends is deceased.
Nobody said searching for biological family would be fun. In my situation, I’ve learned many relatives and other potentially good sources are no longer alive. It’s depressing and frustrating.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I’ve read about DNA tests and how they can help adoptees track down relatives. The cost of these tests has also come down in recent years. I asked for recommendations and ended up- spending $104 for Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test kit. This particular test can help men and women find biological relatives on both their mother’s and father’s sides within the last five generations.
The help desk at Family Tree DNA told me the Family Finder autosomal DNA test is the only option for women interested in finding out about their father’s side of the family. Autosomal DNA is the only type of DNA inherited by women from their dads. It’s actually a mix of genetic material from both the mother and the father.
Of course, the test has its limits. I will only be matched up with family members who have also taken the test and the relatives I find are more likely to be cousins than brothers or sisters. My DNA will be compared to other people’s DNA in the company’s database, which holds more than 650,000 records. The test is painless. I will submit samples of my DNA taken from the inside of my cheek. No needles, thank you!
Maybe I’ll hook up with bio dad’s nieces and nephews and maybe they’ll fill in some blanks for me. Maybe they’ll slam the door in my face. Either way, I’ll be happy to come away with new information about my roots.
The test results will also shed light on my nationality, something I’ve wondered about ever since I found out I was adopted. The results will provide a breakdown of my ethnic makeup by percent. That’s pretty cool.
According to the New York Times, a growing number of adopted adults are taking DNA tests in the hope of connecting with family. Have you used a DNA test to find family? What was your experience like?