My life, designed by me.
This past Wednesday was the anniversary of the day my father passed away, 27 years ago. I was 11. The wound left from his passing has healed and there is no pain associated with his loss anymore. Just sadness for the things he never lived to see. Sadness for him, that he missed out on growing old. He missed out on meeting his three grandsons. I feel sad for them that they will never get to meet their grandfather, a man whose time and place in the fabric of time meant he was a wealth of knowledge and experience. I feel sad that he was never able to share his vast knowledge with anyone beyond his wide eyed daughter, who would hang on his every word and look at him in awe for all the things that he knew.
I’m not sure if my father’s early passing is the reason that I have an obsession with family history. I have a deep yearning to learn about my ancestral past, to learn about the people whose lives paved the way for the bloodlines we continue to extend today. I remember my father and mother sitting down with me to help me complete a school project when I was about 9 or 10, on family history. After my 3 year old brother had gone to bed, the boxes of black and white photos were bought out and we spent hours poring over the old, sepia toned and black and white images of the people who had preceded us. People who had long gone but had a place, they were my father’s grandparents or uncles or aunts.
I learned all the names of my father’s ancestors, he had parents with histories that he knew, and he had relatives to share stories about. He knew all of the people in the pictures. I absorbed all of this knowledge eagerly; it was fascinating stuff to see well coiffed and perfectly dressed ladies with stern looking men sporting handlebar moustaches and three piece suits, standing stiffly as they awaited the photographers flash, and to know that they were my relatives.
Until, it turned out that it wasn’t true.
In my renewed interest in family history as an adult, I began researching around 11 years ago. To aid my research, my mother and I went to lunch with one of the last existing cousins of my father, an elderly woman who lived fairly close to us. During our lunchtime chat, she made a comment about my father being adopted. My mother and I both looked at her like she was mad. She assumed we knew and also assumed that he had known. As it turned out, we were the only ones who didn’t know.
My insatiable curiosity motivated me to hunt down the truth, to find out everything I could about his true heritage. Mercifully, and also highly unusual for the 1930’s, my father had been surrendered to a foundling hospital and adopted via the correct legal channels. There were records, tangible bits of information. I obtained his real birth certificate. I had a place to start looking.
There are many unanswered questions regarding that time of his mother’s life. She seemed to be a lost soul, married young, leaving behind partners unable to cope without her and six other young children who were either placed into the care of other relatives or in foster homes. My father seems to be the anomaly in her pattern. For some reason she gave him up to a system that found him a loving home, a mother who I believe, loved him unconditionally and really truly believed he was hers. He was the luckiest of her 7 children in that respect.
Her actions make me all the more curious to find out about her life. What made her unable to stay in one place for long? What made her leave her children, all seven of them over a twenty year period? Are there more children that we are yet to discover? Her particular lineage is scarce on information and her movements over the years raise more questions than answers. I have been fortunate enough to finally find a cousin, from her direct lineage, who has spent many years researching the family history and is the grandson of her brother. I am determined to find out more though. My biggest hope is to track down a picture of her. I want to see if my father had her features or whether he looks like someone else. I want to know where my looks, so similar to my father’s, came from. The father whom is listed as unknown on his birth certificate perhaps?
It is important to me to find out about my biological grandmother. I feel connected to her through the universal bonds of motherhood and womanhood. I find her behaviour so unusual for that time of history. Leaving behind her first husband without divorcing him, moving on to have more children with de facto spouses. The mystery child in the middle who was surrendered with enough care that she named him before she gave him up.
Maybe one day I will learn to accept that it doesn’t matter what she looked like, should I never track down a picture. Maybe I already have some of her in my veins. Maybe her strength and resilience, her determination to keep pursuing whatever it was she was seeking in life.
One thing I know is that she would have been proud of the man my dad turned out to be. As she should have been. He was a wonderful man.
Image Credit: Brianna Lehman
Image used under licence.