Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Sep 2019

What To Do (And Not Do) When Faced With Rejection Or Alienation

One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.  ~ Author unknown

You’ve done everything right, followed the best advice you could find. You have been respectful, discrete, and kind, and yet you have been rejected.  Your family member refuses to speak with you.  Or, at some point after connection, they stop communicating and cut off contact, ignore your emails, and don’t return your phone calls.  What do you do now?

First, the “do not’s” ~

Try not to take it personally or get angry.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s not you, personally, they are rejecting.  (How could they?  They don’t really know you, after all.)  More likely, it’s the shock of suddenly having to come face-to-face with the pain and heartache stemming from whatever caused the separation that they have suppressed for so many years.  If you become upset and lash out, you risk losing whatever hope there may have been of repairing the connection.

Do not internalize someone else’s trauma and dysfunction. Absolutely nothing will be gained if you do.  You cannot solve other people’s problems for them, and you will only compound your own by taking on theirs, making it more difficult for you to improve and maintain your own emotional and physical health.  

Don’t try to go through this alone.  Go to a counselor or psychologist, if you can afford one (hopefully someone who is qualified in adoption loss, abandonment, and rejection issues); find an in-person or on-line support group; confide in a close friend or share with your partner or spouse – a “true friend” who will double your joys and halve your sorrows.

Do ~

Read Why Isn't My Mother Looking For Me?for some of the reasons mothers and other family members might be unable to make a connection. And understand that none of these things have anything to do with you.  You were not responsible for their hurt and pain, and it is doubtful you can fix it.  All we can hope to do is eventually work through it.

Allow yourself to grieve.  And bear in mind that at least you know more of your truth now.  We can never get beyond the unknown; we will continue wondering, fantasizing, worrying until we know.  On the other hand, we can always get beyond the truth.  If it’s good news, we can wrap our hearts around it, celebrate it, and move on, happier and wiser.  If it’s bad news, we can analyze and understand it, grieve it, put it aside, and move on, sadder, but wiser. 

Decide whether to reach out one more time.  Send a pretty card by post with a note (in your own words) along the lines:  “I’m sorry if I upset you.”  “I realize this must be a terrific shock after all these years.”  “I did not mean to intrude and certainly would not intentionally do anything to make you unhappy.”  “I have always thought of you with love and longing to know you.”  “My door is always open.”  Enclose photos of yourself and your spouse and children.  

Continue your research on the family and decide if there is anyone else to take a chance on contacting.  I know of several adoptees rejected by their mothers, who eventually made contact with grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles and were warmly and happily received. One heartwarming example is Holly, whose elderly mother would not accept contact.  Holly eventually called her mother’s ex-husband, who turned out to be very kind and receptive, and although he had not spoken to his ex-wife in 50 years, took it upon himself to call her and plead with her to open her heart. Thankfully, she did; Holly and her mother have enjoyed five years of very loving reunion.  Another adoptee, Michelle, decided to call her mother’s mother when she saw a newspaper article relating that she and grandma shared a love for, of all things, sewing historical costumes (no such thing as coincidence!).  The grandparents were ecstatic to have Michelle back in their lives.  Mother, not so much.  The damage wrought by losing her first-born to adoption was just too great; she simply cannot face Michelle.  Most amazing, Michael, an adoptee who was cruelly and nastily rejected by his parents, has been joyously united with full-blooded siblings.  The parents had married after giving up their first-born as unmarried parents over 45 years ago, have become prominent and successful members of their community, and are afraid of the public shame and disgrace if anyone knew.

Do your genealogy.  Invest in a family history database.  Sign up for classes on-line or at your county genealogical society or local LDS (Mormon) Family History Center.  If you cannot afford a membership in genealogy databases, work from your local library where access is usually free.  It is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.  The ancestors will never reject us, and you will learn about your background at the same time meeting relatives and other genealogists who will share your enthusiasm for history.  

Participate in the DNA Family Matching programs (see my article What You Need To Know To Start Your Family Member Search for details), and you will be matched with relatives from close to distant cousins, who will be welcoming and forthcoming (why else would they be participating in genetic genealogy databases?).  Before you know it, you will have many new relatives and friends and, hopefully, some new treasures to cherish.  I have amassed several family heirlooms since beginning my genealogy journey 30 years ago. The best was from a distant cousin who drove 300 miles to bring me in person the first photograph I ever saw of my great-grandmother.

Above all, be kind to yourself.  Know and believe in your heart that it truly is their loss.  Know when to walk away, and try to forgive them, for they really “know not what they do.”

Sep 2019

What You Need to Know to Start Your Family Member Search

Sign Up on Free National & State Registries

First, before beginning any search, we encourage everyone to sign up on the two most important free registries:

The official state registry where you were born and/or adopted, if there is one, such as the New York State Adoption Information Registry (NYSAIR), or PAIR, the Pennsylvania Adoption Information Registry.  Google the words “adoption registry” and the state you are searching in to find the link.


What Information We Need to Begin the Search

When contacting a Search Angel for help, have ready at hand every piece of information you know about the birth and/or adoption.  We understand there might not be much to go on.  Most adoptees are forbidden by archaic, cruel laws from receiving their original birth certificates and knowing the names of and other identifying information about their mother and father; however, they are entitled in most states to “non-identifying information” from the adoption agency or state or court files.  This is basically socio-economic, ethnic, education, and health information gathered by the agency from the relinquishing parent(s) at the time of adoption.  

Search Angels can pick out certain pieces of this information and scour public records such as census, city directories, birth and death records, obituaries, high school and college yearbooks, etc., to identify and trace the right family.  I have solved many cases with just non-ID alone.

Exciting New World of DNA Family Matching

If there is no non-ID, as in many private, attorney-handled adoptions, or illegal “black market” adoptions or abandoned baby cases, we recommend the searchers participate in DNA Family Finder databases to be matched with relatives from close (siblings or parents) to distant cousins. In fact, these DNA databases are proving to be so successful I am recommending them immediately as soon as adoptees contact me.  They are all "non-invasive" tests (i.e., not blood-related) using cheek swabs or spit samples.  In particular, we recommend four companies:

Ancestry Cost is $100, but goes on sale several times a year usually around holidays.  With over ten million participants on this site, we have been having some exciting successes lately, mainly because most participants on Ancestry are genealogy-oriented and usually willing to share family information.  This one is most effective when you know at least one side of your ancestry, for example, if you know who your mother is and are searching for your father.  You can build a family tree for your mother to compare with matches.

FamilyTreeDNA offers a variety of tests.  The one most frequently used is the "Adoptee - Family Finder" or autosomal (atDNA) test, which will identify both maternal and paternal relatives.  If you do not want to buy a separate test on this site, you can upload your Ancestry raw DNA data for no charge.  Other valuable tests on this site are the Y-DNA for males only (father's father's father's father and so on back 40,000 years) and the mtDNA (mitochondrial) test (maternal lines: mother’s mother’s mother’s). 

23andMe Cost is $100 for just ancestry testing and matching or $200 for ancestry and detailed carrier status and other health reports.

MyHeritage is becoming a major player in the DNA world with its kit for $79, or you can upload your Ancestry raw DNA data for no charge, but you will have to buy a membership to review and communicate with matches.

If you want to expand your search efforts even further, there is a site you can load your raw data to called GEDMatch, which will allow you much higher levels of comparison with your matches.  There are donations and small fees for certain applications.

There are tutorials on all of the sites and on YouTube to help you understand the complicated processes, as well as user groups on Facebook.  Also look for blogs like CeCe Moore's Your Genetic Genealogista nd Richard Hill's DNA Testing Adviser for help.  A good beginner's guide to DNA can be found at Beginners' Guide to Genetic Genealogy.

If you are not scientifically educated, be prepared for a long, steep learning curve.  Above all, be kind to yourself.  With patience and perseverance, each day will bring more interesting insights into your biological family and genetic makeup. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

My Letter to Legislators in Support of Adoptee Rights
  I am writing in support of S5169A.
  Although I am not a resident of New York, I am a mother who lost a child to adoption in 1964 (reunited in 1986) and am very passionate about the absolute right of every person to his or her own personal birth information. I have spent the past 30 years of my life, full-time since retirement 12 years ago, advocating for adoption reform, adoptee and parental rights, and providing Search Angel services free of charge.
  I have personally facilitated more than 1,500 adoption reunions in the past 12 years.  Since the advent of autosomal DNA (atDNA) testing, within the past five years, we are now solving searches at a mind-boggling rate.  I personally average five searches a week, and I am only one of hundreds of Search Angels.  In this new age of information technology, there simply is no credible reason to keep adoptees’ birth records locked up in bureaucratic secrets and lies. 
  From my experience and knowledge, more than 95% of the mothers are happy to be found and look forward to having their lost children back in their lives.
  But, ultimately this bill is not about search and reunion; it is about the absolute right of adoptees to be free of state-imposed discrimination and oppression by the sealing of their OBCs. What they choose to do with it is their personal business. The public and the State have no more right to intrude in their personal lives and question their motives for wanting their personal birth information than we do in anyone else's who was not adopted.
  This is such an important piece of legislation that is way overdue for passage.  As a basic human right, adopted people deserve the opportunity enjoyed by every other citizen of saying, "I know" instead of "I wonder." We have the examples and experiences of several other states that have restored dignity, justice and respect to people whose records were sealed because of adoption - OR, AL, ME, NH, RI, IL, OH, CO, WA, NJ, HI, MO, PA, MT, among them - where tens of thousands of adopted persons have received their original birth certificates with no negative repercussions whatsoever.
  I hope that NY legislators will now step up and do the right thing.
Priscilla Stone Sharp
Mother of Loss to Adoption/Search Angel/Adoptee Rights Advocate


Monday, August 3, 2015

Pennsylvania Act 101 and Other Adoption Intermediary Horror Stories – The Case for Unfettered Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates Without Government Interference

August 3, 2015

Pennsylvania Act 101 and Other Adoption Intermediary Horror Stories – The Case for Unfettered Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates Without Government Interference

One of the most satisfying parts of my work is helping adoptees who have been emotionally abused and traumatized by overbearing government intrusion into their personal and private lives by forcing them to go through court-appointed search agents/intermediaries to get information about their pre-adoption history and to search for and contact families.  In PA, we have Act 101, which was passed by the legislature in 2010 in a knee-jerk reaction to increasingly determined adoptee demands to restore access to original birth certificates (OBCs), the same as they had prior to 1985.  There are a few other states that have these forced intermediary programs—most notably Maryland, Arizona and Michigan—and their rates of positive conclusions are abysmal, the same as Pennsylvania, about 50% according to written reports and legislative testimony.  Needless to say, Act 101 has done nothing to quell the demands for Adoptee Rights—justice, equality and respect for adopted citizens, the same as enjoyed by PA-born people who were not adopted.  In fact, the indignation over these intermediary programs is growing daily.

Here in PA, several counties have contracted out these “post-adoption intermediary services” to Catholic Charities (CC), which charges the adoptee up to $500 per search, and has absolute authority and discretion (even superseding a judge’s order) as to what they will do and whether and how much information will be given to the adoptee at the end of the search.  This means that ALL post-adoption services, regardless of whether the adoption was handled by Catholic Charities or even if the parties are or ever were Catholic, are handled by an agency under the direct control and supervision of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.  Can I hear a chorus of “Separation of Church and State, Conflict of Interest, Abuse of Power, Exploitation and Manipulation of Tax-Paying Adult Citizens!”?  Amen!

Carol’s Bungled Search
This was the case with Carol.  Born in Clinton County in 1978 and adopted to Centre County two years later, Carol dutifully went through the Centre County Court to ask for her non-identifying information (especially family health history) from the adoption file and the County CYS office and to initiate a search for her mother.  The search aspect was referred to CC-Altoona.  Thus began an almost year-long bureaucratic nightmare of stone-walling, non-communication, rudeness, and disrespectful dismissal of Carol’s needs and concerns (including serious medical conditions with her and her children).  The CYS worker (who, incidentally, had known Carol and her adoptive family for many years) lied straight to her face, telling her “all the records have been destroyed, and I can’t tell you anything.”  The CC-Altoona agent who conducted the search actually sent a letter to the WRONG woman (a much-younger cousin who had the same name as Carol’s mother), questioned this lady about her knowledge of the mother’s personal life and history, then called the 79-year-old mother at the nursing home where she is a resident to ask her—over the phone, mind you—about very detailed, private things.  Are you as incensed as I am yet?  Just wait, there’s more!

As you can well imagine, Carol’s mother was alarmed and intimidated by this intrusion by a religious organization into her personal life--she’s not even Catholic!  Of course she denied to the CC worker that she had a child in 1978 who was given up for adoption!  So CC decided, in their “who died and appointed you God over all adoptees and their families” attitude, that Carol would receive no information whatsoever—not even family medical history.  Nothing!  The file was closed, and they stopped responding to Carol’s emails and phone messages.

Thank Goodness For DNA—The Ultimate, Accurate “Birth Certificate”
The old adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” and its spiritual corollary “God abhors secrets and lies” have never been more apropos for adopted persons than in the past few years since the study of genetic genealogy was made easily and cheaply available to the general public [see my blog post Exciting New World of DNA Family Matching].  By the time CC and CYS were through with Carol, as you can well imagine, she was very distraught and traumatized.  It makes me furious when I realize that criminals are actually treated better than adoptees in this state!  Trying to project a positive, hopeful aura for her, I encouraged Carol to put her DNA in the Ancestry.com site.  As a result, two months later, within a half an hour after the results were posted, I knew her mother’s name, complete genealogy (parents, grandparents going back 200 years, siblings, cousins, etc.), as well as the name and whereabouts of her sister. 

For Carol, the search is over; she can finally say “I know” instead of “I wonder.”  She has been warmly welcomed back into the family; she visits her mother and aunt in the nursing home frequently (and, in fact, has become the preferred contact for the nursing home staff).  Most importantly, she knows her truth—some good news, some bad news—but it’s her personal history, her truth and hers alone.  She learned, for example, that her adoption wasn’t finalized for two years because her birth family (especially one aunt) was fighting desperately to keep her in the fold.  She has seen for the first time pictures of herself as a baby in their care.  More importantly, when she ventures around Centre and Clinton Counties, she doesn’t have to scan the faces of everyone she meets – Are you my mother?  My cousin?  My sibling?  The relief has had a profound effect on Carol’s health and outlook.  She can finally lay down her nagging worries and put behind her the emotional trauma she has suffered as a result of her mistreatment at the hands of the state and CC and move forward with a lighter, happier prospect.

Michael Learns His History Despite Officious Incompetence
All who learn their history describe this same euphoric relief.  Another adoptee for whom I completed a search that was botched by CC is Michael, born in Pittsburgh in 1959.  His mother was an inmate of Catholic Charities Rosalie Hall home for unwed mothers.  Michael had been trying to work with CC-Pittsburgh for several years and always came to a brick-wall refusal to give him any meaningful information.  Not seeing any other option, Michael decided to take the chance to have CC conduct a search for his mother.  He paid the $500 fee and waited, and waited.  Finally the CC worker reported that she “thought” she had found his mother, but wasn’t positive; she had called and spoken with this woman’s son who said she had dementia, that he didn’t know what CC was talking about, and “do not call here again.”  So, instead of making sure they had the right woman and giving Michael medical history and options, CC simply closed the file and told Michael, basically, “Tough luck, fee is not refundable, so sorry, have a good life …”  Again, at my urging, Michael submitted his DNA sample and, like Carol, was matched with a second cousin.  I was able to send him a complete family tree.  Michael learned that he has lived for many years just blocks from his aunt and cousins and, most incredibly, that he had been acquainted with one of his cousins—his daughter had even babysat her children!  I have encouraged Michael to file a formal complaint about CC-Pittsburgh’s inept, inconsiderate, unprofessional staff and demand his money be refunded.

Just Two of Dozens of Case Histories
Michael’s and Carol’s experience is, sadly, typical of the treatment adoptees receive at the hands of these legislatively-mandated, court-appointed intermediaries.  There are probably a dozen or more cases like these that I have had to resolve, including Grace (1981, Butler County), who was strung along and put off for years by CC-Pittsburgh.  Fortunately, Grace’s adoptive mother was smart to get a copy of her OBC before they were sealed in 1985, so Grace always knew her mother’s name, age, place of birth and last-known address.  Even with all this information, and additional notes in the file, the CC worker was incapable of locating her.  I found Grace’s mother, Karen, within a month of her contacting me.  Karen was delighted to be found and wrote to me personally thanking me for my perseverance on her daughter’s behalf.

Mari-Rose (1959, Luzerne County) contacted me when she was matched on DNA with a half-sister, Laurie, another adoptee (1961, Florida) from the same mother.  Mari-Rose had previously gone to the county court-appointed search agent who said she was unable to find her mother.  This agent must not have looked very hard, because, once we learned the mother’s name, I found her within a half-hour even though she had been married four times.  Their mother has spurned reunion; we understand, she has multiple health and life issues, and Mari-Rose and Laurie have respected her wish to be left alone.  While Mari is enjoying a good relationship with her father and his side of the family, we are moving forward to find Laurie’s father.

Cindy (Philadelphia, 1962) was refused identifying information by CC-Philadelphia when she had requested a search for her mother because CC indiscreetly contacted the grandmother instead who ordered them not to pursue it.  Fortunately, the non-identifying information Cindy received was enough for me to find the family even before the DNA came back.

David (1965, Pittsburgh) – David’s father, an immigrant from Lithuania was so happy to be located and have David back in his life he took him on a month-long visit to Lithuania to meet all of the relatives back home.  David met his mother on Mother’s Day 2015, and she is taking the next step to introduce him to her extended family.  So, tell us again, just who is being “protected” by this bureaucratic meddling in people’s private lives?

The case of Rosemary (1940, Warren County) is particularly compelling.  Rosemary had been trying for decades to get any information she could about her birth and adoption.  She found out too late that she could have gotten her OBC before 1985; outrageous, when we think about it, that it was available for the asking before then.  Rosemary was continuously put off by the court clerk, who didn’t even know about Act 101, and told all of the adoption records were “destroyed in a flood” many years ago.  I could feel and completely understood the frustration and anger building in Rosemary at the cavalier, dismissive treatment she was receiving.  With my help, she devised one last plea to the judge to order her OBC to be released.  It worked.  Rosemary will be coming to Pennsylvania next month to meet her brothers for the first time.  She’s 75 years old and finally knows her history and who her people are!

Intolerable Treatment By Government Bureaucrats
Unfortunately, these cases are typical of what happens when the government tries to insert itself into people’s private lives and micro-manage their personal family relationships through these mandatory intermediary programs—I won’t even dignify them by adding the prefix “confidential” when their insensitive intrusions into people’s affairs are about as indiscreet as it can get!  In no other area of life would we tolerate this level of government interference in our personal lives.  These programs are

*       Demeaning and demoralizing, treating adult men and women, most of whom are educated, professional, successful members of society, as though they were perpetual children, incapable of handling their own personal information.
    Insulting by pre-judging all adoptees as somehow a threat to their own mothers and fathers, or presume them to be stalkers bent on “destroying” their mothers’ lives, when, in fact, it is the intermediaries who are the only ones wreaking havoc on birth families and innocent bystanders alike.  Little wonder they have an appalling success rate (whereas when mothers and fathers are contacted by the adoptee, privately, respectfully, and discretely, we have a 95% success rate).
*     Setting up the adoptee for continued intimidation, manipulation and concomitant emotional abuse by giving the intermediaries complete control over whether and what type of search will be done, and what information, if any, will be given to the adoptee.
*      Placing the adult adoptee at the complete mercy of the intermediary as to their skill level in searching, how contact is made, what is said to the family, the attitude of the search agent towards the mother.  When contact is refused, the adoptee is left bereft and will wonder forever what the outcome would have been if they had been in control of their own information, search and contact.
*      Assuming that every adoptee wants reunion, which, in fact, is not the case for many who simply want their facts, their truth.  It should be their prerogative alone as to whether, how, when, and to whom contact is made.  It’s their personal business.
*      Imposing an extraordinary financial burden on the adoptee that is not required of anyone else who wants his or her own personal information.  Only adoptees are denied access to their birth records.

The Truth Will Out
My husband has a favorite saying he tells people when they learn of my work as a Search Angel:  “If they breathed, walked, spent time on this earth, Prissy will find them!”  I’d like to think that’s true.  It certainly underscores my firm belief that every human being is entitled to know their identity, family history, heritage, and the identity of their blood relations, and my fierce determination to make that a reality for every adopted person who is unfairly deprived of their birth information.  Now, thankfully, with the advent of genetic genealogy and ever-expanding DNA databases, this is becoming a reality for more and more people every day.

Still, I am powerless to lift the oppression and eliminate the discrimination inherent in sealed records laws.  I cannot restore to these adoptees the simple piece of paper chronicling their birth.  Only the state legislators can do that.  Let us continue to enlighten them, appeal to their common sense, their ideals of justice and equality, and hope that this will be accomplished soon. #AdopteeRights

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Favorite Sites


Finding Living Relatives
And Adoption-Related Searches
Using Public Records on the Internet

Priscilla Stone Sharp
Genealogist/Adoption Search Angel

My Favorite Sites for Searching

Google ….  Google    Google  - hands down overall favorite FREE searching site
When searching Google, put names in quotation marks:  "John Q. Public" in various forms "Public, John" and qualify it with the name of a town or other family member, or the word "obituary" or "census" etc.

To find if a website exists for what you’re looking for:

Birth/Marriage/Death Records:
www.ancestry.com  ($$) 
www.myheritage.com ($)
www.findmypast.com ($$)
www.genealogybank.com  ($) (SSDI, searchable by range-of-year, is free)
www.italiangen.org  (Free; NYC area)
www.fold3.com  ($) (Mostly military oriented)
http://ssdmf.info  (SSDI by DOB)
http://sortedbyname.com  (SSDI by name)

Newspapers:
www.nytimes.com  ($$)  (New York-area society and news archives)
www.fultonhistory.com  (Free; over 20 million pages of mostly New York newspapers)
www.news.google.com/newspapers  (Free, but not easily searchable)
www.news.nnyln.net  (Free, uppermost NYS counties)

City Directories:
www.spyralsearchsales.com  (City directories and telephone books available for sale on CDs and DVDs)

Obituaries:
www.legacy.com  ($ if obit is archived)
and newspapers

People Finders:




Yearbooks:

Military Records:

Arrests/Mugshots:
Social Networks