Good mourning, stranger.

The time between reading about Ruby’s death in her father’s obituary and confirming it on the Social Security Death Index was a strange bit of pseudo-reality. It wasn’t quite real because all I had was a first name–even though I knew there could only be one daughter named Ruby–and because I couldn’t find a mention of that death anywhere else. I never thought of searching under her original married name, the one she had when she had me. It really never occurred to me, even though I did search under all of the subsequent husbands’ surnames. The trial membership at Ancestry.com came in handy again because it had a SSDI search interface that let me search by birth date.

She kept her first married name and I wondered why. This was the man, according to the gossipy story my adoptive mom got from the agency, who came back from Vietnam and told her to get rid of me. You see, I was originally supposed to be adopted out shortly after I was born. My adoptive parents were expecting me in January. But she changed her mind and tried to keep me, much to my a-parents’ disappointment. Then almost three months after I was born, my a-parents got me anyway, apparently because her husband wasn’t too keen on raising another man’s child. Rather unsurprising, especially 37 years ago, though nowadays the solution would probably be divorce rather than giving the kid away. Yeah, I have a few rejection issues from all that but I’m not going to go into that stuff right now.

Anyway, I was surprised that since (1) he is supposed to have made her give her baby away after she decided to keep me and (2) their marriage ended anyway, she would keep his name through three subsequent marriages and divorces. Yeah, three. I really felt sorry for her for that, and I’m guessing the events of the first few months of 1970 played a significant role in both her and my problems in having relationships.

The other odd thing about this is that I still can’t find her obituary anywhere. The SSDI has her last residence but there’s no death record for her for that county. There is a state death record but it doesn’t state where the death occurred. So it’s still a bit of pseudo-reality, and a couple times I have caught myself fantasizing that she faked her own death or joined the federal witness protection program. No, I’m sure it’s because obituaries and government records still aren’t completely searchable and are sometimes inaccurate at the index level.

Her father’s obituary gave me the name of a sister, whose birth record I had found previously but who had married without a record that I could find and so I didn’t have a name I could find until I found the obit. I found her address on Switchboard and sent a letter (regular old first class mail) on Tuesday. Rather than following the advice I’ve seen elsewhere for adoptees contacting possible relatives, I decided to present my case plainly. No pretending to be an amateur genealogist or vague statements about being an old acquaintance. I lost out on meeting my natural mom because of people keeping secrets and telling lies, and I’m not going to do the same myself when contacting the people who might be my family. They deserve respect, not deceit. (Government clerks who keep my records from me are still fair game, of course.)

Introducing yourself as the possible illegitimate offspring of someone’s deceased sister and requesting that person’s help in confirming such requires very delicate wording and treading very, very carefully. It’s interesting how the content of my letter reflects, reproduces, and quite arguably perpetuates many of the negative things about adoption that adoptees are sick of dealing with. In my next post I think I will spend a little time analyzing some of the text of my letter. It’s interesting the sort of things we’re willing to say when we’re desperate to find answers. I will say right now that everything I said was something I honestly felt, but it’s the fact that I felt those things, and what I think they say about the adoptee experience, that I find so interesting and worthy of analysis.

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2 Responses to “Good mourning, stranger.”


  1. 1 joy21 June 8, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    wowie, I am sorry.

    You are a great writer though

    this is a punch in the gut.

  2. 2 Marilyn K. Phillips June 10, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I hear you on the honest thing for sure something that wasen’t too m uch in the plan for the social workers end of it. The poor ones who just got out of college didn’t have much choice but to belief all the crap the older ones were saying… Plus society at that time was not into unwed mothers and tabu affairs… But it was and still is life situation that happen everyday.. Today it all makes headlines. And is nearly completely acceptable.. Not that its a better situation but life has changed alot over the years. Marilyn


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