Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

Canva - free confused

I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.

Text-pectations

 

Ever wonder about how our communications have changed since “back in the day?”

As a young boomer, I have already seen tremendous change in how people communicate. When I went to college, there was no such thing as a personal computer, the internet or cell phones! Imagine…no cell phones and no texting.

My college age sons still can’t really get their heads around that one…no texting.

How did we Neanderthals communicate back then? Continue reading

When the World Was Only as Large as My Golden Book Set

Remember When We Didn’t Have The World at our Finger Tips?

As I often do these days, I catch myself reflecting on “life when I was young” compared to that of my sons and young relatives. And as we sat at dinner one night, with my niece and nephew busily on their iPhones…researching basically any and every topic that was brought up during dinner (“Who was that British guy in that spy movie?”…”What was the name of that song in that commercial…?”), I couldn’t help think of my family’s prized Golden Book Encyclopedia set. Remember those? Imagine, everything from A to B in a single encyclopedia. Was the world that simple then? Or were we?

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Have Christmas Cards Become Obsoleted (Too)?

This year, I once again spent a good deal of time writing a special verse for my family’s annual Christmas card. I also selected a number of recent photos of my college-age kids to share as part of the card. Sending Christmas cards is a tradition that my mom first exposed me to when I was very young; I routinely sent relatives a hand-written card…not expecting anything in return, just to connect with them and wish them well. My mom had thought it was particularly important as most of my relatives lived on the other side of the US from our family. I fear this tradition is coming to an end, however. As with many things in my life, I feel like I am plodding along in a dinosaur fashion by actually sending out physical cards. Have Christmas cards now become obsoleted, too? 

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The Perfect Daughter-in-Law

What happens when your child grows up – but is still in college – and brings home the perfect spouse? And you wonder…is this type of serious commitment good or bad at such a young age? Today’s technology-centric world even complicates this question further, as I recently found out…when I met the perfect daughter-in-law…    Continue reading

(No More) Photo Album Memories?

The other day I made a photo album as a gift for a special friend. She has been a friend of mine for over 30 years; we met as next-door college dorm neighbors. I had a lot of photos to choose from, many were taken pre-digital era, of course…so had I not had the photos I could have still dug out the negatives and made prints (well, assuming there are places in the world where you can still make prints from negatives, I suppose). I think about the young people today, with their total reliance on their smart phones for photos…what will they have when they get older and want to look back at their youth? Continue reading

Living a Re-use Life in a Disposable World

Why are today’s young adults so focused on, “new and improved”?  My youngest son just returned home from college for the summer, and I couldn’t believe how many things came home dirty and seemingly broken…a fan, a toaster oven, umbrella, flashlight and more. Even more disturbing was that his attitude seemed to be, just throw it out and start new in the Fall! Hey bud…I grew up with parents who lived through the Depression…and come on, don’t my kids know me by now? I don’t replace something that I can easily repair. I am a re-use kind of gal…but more and more I find I am living in a disposable world…

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Cyberspace love

I remember the day I lost my cyberspace virginitydo you remember your first time?

internet_shadow

Earl…

Flashback…I had first thought my co-worker had been talking about someone cool that she was hanging out with named “Earl”… She had said something about how she had got to him. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that Earl was not a he, but was an address, a place in cyberspace, and was spelled “U-R-L.”

You see, I was a cyberspace virgin at the time…oh, I had a PC, mind you…but my world had been limited to a hard drive. I still remember that first time…that first involvement with Earl. That first website access: a confusing series of letters, names, punctuation and slashes.

I remember how hard it was for me to remember which slash was which (forward or backward)…position definitely did matter in Earl’s world.

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Facebook – Where My Worlds Collide

A few years ago I finally signed up for a Facebook account after several friends who post their photos online sent me requests to “JOIN!” I felt a bit strong-armed into it, but when I received yet another friend’s, “Either sign up or never see me or my photos again…” (Well, they really didn’t say that exactly), I finally relented and signed up. It only took about a week for me to realize that Facebook might just be some evil sociologist’s grand social etiquette experiment…it is just so prone to social “collisions”…read on.

We’re Friends, Yet Worlds Apart: Contrary  Political and/or Religions Beliefs:

Ever Wonder How You Are Friends with So Many People Who Wouldn't be Friends with Each Other??

Ever Wonder How You Are Friends with So Many People Who Wouldn’t be Friends with Each Other?

It didn’t take me long to regret a Facebook post; because it didn’t take me long to realize that my friends and family on FB were a very diverse collection of folks, especially relating to political and religious views. My friends list consisted of conservatives and liberals, atheists and strict fundamentalists, and everything in between.

I had decided to post a video of a gay-rights speech that a friend of mine had posted on his wall. I thought it was very powerful, moving and right on target so I immediately wanted to “share” it on my own FB wall. It echoed my strong beliefs on the subject, so I ventured out of my privacy zone and posted it. Just like that. Easy…and isn’t that what FB is all about, sharing your life and thoughts with people in your life?

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Life Before the Internet and Starbucks…Really

Technology has evolved dramatically since I was in school. My sons have both gone off to college in the past few years…such a mind-trip for me to realize how different their college experience is from a technology and societal perspective. The Internet didn’t exist back then, nor were there Starbucks. No smart phones, either. Back then, the “smarts” were seemingly in the people, not the phones. I actually remember having to memorize all of my friends’ telephone numbers or having to write them down in a telephone directory. Really. And no, the dinosaurs weren’t still roaming…it just may seem like it to today’s kids. 

Obsoleted Soccer Moms lived back in tough times, where the “Smarts” were built into people, not devices!
(acknowledgement to wronghands1.worpress.com for graphic)

I was reflecting on what a different experience kids have nowadays in college. Keep in mind I was in college in the late 70’s, graduating in 1980.

We didn’t have personal computers back then. I know, hard to believe. If you were nerdy enough to have anything to do with a computer, you were creating punch-cards for the mainframe on campus. And a laptop was simply that…the top of someone’s lap.

We didn’t have cell phones back then. Nor did anyone ever offer anything called wireless access. So if you had told me you had a “hot spot”, I would have kept my distance and suggested you go to the doctor…We didn’t have anything wireless.  And besides, there weren’t any Starbucks back then, so there really wasn’t a place to hang out to use the wireless access (that we didn’t have) for the laptops (that didn’t exist) anyway.

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