Adopted Ancestors


Today is Veterans Day here in the US.  A day to honor all those who have served, both living and dead.  Many on Facebook or other outlets post black and white photos of grandfathers in uniform or proudly list all known ancestors who served their country, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

Early in my voyage on, I discovered my adopted grandfather and my biological grandfather registered for the draft on the same day:  Sept 12, 1918. One in North Dakota and one in Colorado. Both did their duty by signing up, but neither saw a battlefield since the Great War ended Nov 11th that year.

My bio grandfather is remembered as a veteran. My adopted grandfather is not. This was their children’s choice. Even though both men had the same experience (or non-experience), in death they are treated differently. One has a flag on his grave, the other doesn’t. The one without the flag gave more than the other in subsequent wars, via his sons. While my dad’s brothers came home, none really came back. We call death in war the ultimate sacrifice, but I find this a greater sacrifice still.

My adopted uncle George went into war a young man full of life and hope. He came back shattered. Never married. Never had children. Never lived on his own, never went to college, never held a job after that day. His brothers dealt with their experiences by drinking and not talking about it. But they at least had families to remember them on days like today, if they chose. Veterans Day was never something my adoptive family celebrated, I think because war had taken so much from them. Instead we lay flowers on their graves each Memorial Day.

I have wondered if there will be anyone who will remember George in years to come, or if because he had no descendants, his grave will only get the obligatory flag put there by Boy Scouts, but be otherwise passed over. I wonder if he knows or cares.

A genealogy friend is visiting an old family cemetery today, where she will (for the first time) lay a wreath on the grave of her great-great-great-grandfather, a Civil War Veteran. She was invited by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who recently took over upkeep. When they saw via find-a-grave that she had family buried there, they asked her to not only decorate her direct ancestor’s grave, but those soldiers in her family who had no descendents. These people really mean nothing to her, just a short branch on the family tree, but the DAR believes they should be remembered by relatives anyway, no matter how far-flung.

The DAR does not recognize adoption. You cannot have adopted ancestors. You cannot join without the proper papers, proving the connecting bloodlines. Yet the documentation adoptees have is false. I could join the DAR if I could prove my genetic connection to my mother’s ancestors who were here just after the Mayflower landed. But my official pedigree says otherwise.

This is touched on in Jean Strauss’ documentary Adopted: For the Life of Mewhere she shows how purebred dogs have better (and more accurate) documentation than their human owners .

The “as if born to” law is not ancient. The rules of the DAR predate it. And besides the ridiculous lengths to which it is taken (officially changing one’s race, for example), when it comes down to it, adoptees are “as if born to” their adoptive family only up to a point. Example: An adult American citizen, jailed as an illegal immigrant and threatened with deportation to a country she didn’t remember, all because no one told her adopted parents she would need a visa and to apply for citizenship. They believed the lie that their baby would be “as if born to” them. All her papers were in order. But the truth is, because she was born in Mexico to other people, she was a foreigner no matter what her amended birth certificate said.

I could post photos of my birth father on Facebook, or of his grave in the military cemetery. But I don’t, because of an unspoken agreement. I can “friend” second cousins and mention distant relatives, but my biological father is considered too close. My siblings are too close. My father’s widow is too close. Though we are not Facebook friends and they could not see my posts regardless, I am unable to allow myself this privilege. I can only secretly look at (and copy) their own posts and photographs, feeling the stab of rejection with every smile they offer. “You don’t belong here,” they smile.

My adopted father’s family does not recognize Veterans Day. My birth father’s family does not recognize me. I’ll go to the cemetery today, to remember my uncles who served. Even if I’m the only one left to care.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide


twitter: @ElleCuardaigh

6 thoughts on “Adopted Ancestors

  1. Reading this makes me all the more sad that I cannot seem to find my nephew, the child my parents forced my sister to give up. He doesn’t deserve the silence.

    You don’t deserve the silence. 😦

  2. Ellie – this really hit a nerve with me. As an adoptee that recently found my bio-father, who is a veteran when my adopted father is not, I struggle with who I identify with. My father was unable to serve (he was 4F after a printing accident which cut off much of his right hand), but my bio-father, signed up to see the world. Because I’m adopted I’ve never fully identified as a daughter of the father who raised me – although there was much love. Just down deep, it never felt true. Having found my bio-father and having a nice telephone conversation with him, I don’t feel any true connection. I really struggle with this. Should I feel a daughter to one of these men? That’s another curse of adoption. Any thinking person who is adopted struggles with this. But I hoped after I identified my bio-father I would feel one way or the other. No such luck. Endless rootlessness.

    • Hello cribmate. Not surprisingly, I have the same dilemma. My bio-dad was a veteran but we had no relationship. My adopted dad (who I adored) was unable to serve due to being born with a crippled hand.

      How you feel is how you feel – there is no right or wrong or how you “should” feel. Endless rootlessness is an apt description.


  3. It would appear that if one wants to recognize another for some reason, they should do so without having to go through mental hoops because of x-y-z. if you believe that because someone fought in a war they deserve a parade and a gazillion flags, go and participate in what ever way you feel comfortable… It shouldn’t matter whether they share centimorgans with you or not.

    I have had the impression from many years that too many act according to the fact they are adopted -as if that is their only anchor or focus; as if it is the only criteria by which they live. The fact of being adopted is just one part of my life, but certainly not the only part of my life. Had I allowed it to be the only focus, I would have allowed myself to be forever bound by a court and a system that said I was A, when in fact, I was B. Instead, I demanded to be reunited with my own identity, despite what agencies and courts and societies wanted to impose on me.

    Because I fought, I took back what was stolen from me and science of double helixes and dna and rna have helped discovered who I really am and from whence my ancestors have travelled and migrated. The interesting thing is that my father and my brother and I ended upo serving in the same military branch-each in and for his. own reasons. My father and brother were both conscripts with no choice about serving (unless they canted to be courts martialed and shot for being a traitor); I, on the other hand volunteered-not to harm but to bind the wounds of any wounded,

    The male half of my adopters was in the same branch of the military and served in the same area that my father did. As they were different rates, I doubt it they met.

    My brother and I served in Nam, he as a submariner and I as a nurse… unbeknownst to one another. As a nurse I was trained to serve all wounded regardless of status.. The military did not see eye to eye, but I followed my conscience whether Uncle Sam approved or not. I learned much from that tour of duty … enough so that I refuse anything to do with politics, military, wars and conflicts or celebrations that laud man’s inhumanity to man.

    The tantamount lesson I discovered is that no matter what, we are all hominins n need of protection and solidarity with one another, to be one family of man. Genetics proves that I and, others are correct: that we are ALL 99.5% similar an only 0.5% different. And that we are ruled by the DNA we share with our DNA relatives and the ancestors reaching back into millennia to the first mother and father of our lineage and Haplogroups.

    Men and women can always find justification for their actions, but tradition no more makes right than an atomic bomb proves might. Fact is that we hominins have little if any control over anything or anyone.

    They also serve who only stand and wait. It is a well-known line from WWII taken from a poem , On Blindness, by John Milton of a century before.

    I leave you with these few lines by Pete Seeger:

    Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the flowers gone?
    Young girls have picked them everyone.
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the young girls gone?
    Gone for husbands everyone.
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the husbands gone?
    Gone for soldiers everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the soldiers gone?
    Gone to graveyards, everyone.
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the graveyards gone?
    Gone to flowers, everyone.
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
    Where have all the flowers gone?
    Young girls have picked them everyone.
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?


Leave a Reply to ellecuardaigh Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s