Sunday, August 5, 2012

Matrilineal Monday - What now?!

As a follow up to my previous post Surname Saturday - Huffman one big question remains - what do I do now?! The year I was born, single mother's were not allowed to list the name of the father. My DNA seems to support the information she provided on my non-identifying information that he was Italian since I do have DNA that would match Italian regions. My birth mother is deceased so she cannot tell me. With no name, there is not much I can do about that at the moment so my focus now is what I can do, my maternal lines.

I am certainly not new to genealogy. I spent the past 15 years or so working on the lines of my Italian father and my mother's German and American Yankee lines (by mother and father, I mean my adoptive family, the only family I know and love). I have done research for more people than I can count. However, this is so very different. When I obtained my original birth certificate last week, after obtaining the 1940 census record of my birth mother and her family, I began a new tree on Ancestry. I added the names, dates and places of the Huffman direct lines I knew. The Huffman lines I descend from are well documented and since I knew my original surname of Huffman over a year before I received my original birth certificate, I was familiar with them. I had 3 generations of direct line information and documents to enter and more for a 4th generation that still needed proof. After I entered everything I had documentation for, I decided to look at other trees. I was anxious to see how many names I knew from my DNA matches. However, it never occurred to me that I would find trees with relatively close connections on Ancestry. I found trees that were obviously grandchildren of siblings of my grandparents. They were full of pictures but no pictures of my grandparents or my birth mother. Unsourced information is in the tree that I have not found elsewhere (yet) so I would like to ask about it. Obviously, since I was adopted, I have no stories of my biological family and have no idea what they were like. It would be a wonderful thing to know. I also found other trees that appear to be even closer biological family. So now what?! I never hesitated in the past contacting tree owners with questions but this is very different. I am unknown to them and I will undoubtedly be a shock. They may know my living family and may have known my birth mother and her parents. I never thought this far ahead. If I don't ask, I won't know. On the other hand, I am a very sensitive woman and my feelings are easily hurt. How many of these people will ignore me, or worse respond in a negative manner? And it will probably be quite upsetting and emotional for them as well. I am more concerned about that. One thing has surprised me and that is my feelings of shame. When I went to Rossville and as I see these trees, I find myself feeling quite ashamed and am not sure why. I have never been ashamed before, so why now? I am certainly not ashamed of my birth mother, quite the contrary. What she did took great courage and I am grateful. I certainly have done nothing wrong. My reasons for my quest however, are quite basic, I wish to know more about who I am, why I am the way I am, who I resemble and what my health risks might be. Things most other people have known their whole lives but have been a total mystery to me. My quest to know my biological roots has turned into an unexpected therapy session so for now I think I will finish my research plan and prepare for my trip to the Newberry Library next week. I have much to learn about Southern roots and in the words of a famous Southern belle, tomorrow is another day.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Surname Saturday - Huffman

Today, I am coming out of the "genealogy closet". This is not easy for me. Today's blog post is the most personal thing I have ever written publicly. After years of working so hard on the Napolitano and Dewey families, I have met so many wonderful cousins and I hope this does not change anything for them. I was adopted. I was raised by a Napolitano and a Dewey and love them with all my heart and soul and they are the only parents I have ever known from the time I was a month old. All I am morally and ethically comes from them. My "adopted" family IS my family. But, I always felt different, because I was very different. My cousins all had dark eyes, dark hair and I was the tallest member of my family since the age of 11. I did not look like anyone with my blue eyes and blonde hair. I never quite fit in. There were always so many questions. But the biggest questions were who was I, where did I come from, why was I given up, what was I (ethnically) and did I have brothers and sisters somewhere. I was raised with such strong Italian roots I always wondered if I really was. Pictured here is The Chicago Foundling Home where I began my life. It is gone now, replaced by a parking lot for The United Center. About 3 years ago, I wrote for my non-identifying information which adoptees are entitled to by law. The information I received told me my birth father was 100% Italian and my birth mother was German and Irish and German and Dutch. She was 22 years old, a waitress and unmarried. Last year I took not one but 2 DNA tests after I learned the surname of my mother, Huffman. What I did not know was her first name. Last Saturday I received my original birth certificate. I now know her name. It did not take me long to find her as well as answers to some of my questions. She died in 2010. Her husband died in 2000. Her sisters also died so it is doubtful I will ever learn the true identity of my bio-father. Someone living may know, perhaps her best friend if she is living. But it is doubtful. Still, I have hope.

She came from a very small town in downstate Illinois called Rossville. My original birth certificate was very blurry but her name, place of birth, and age were very clear. Shirley Huffman, age 22, born in Rossville, Illinois. It was not hard to piece together parts of her life. Within a few hours, I learned some of her story. The birth certificate told me the first part. She had a child before I was born. She left the small town of Rossville and her 4 year old son and went over 100 miles to Chicago, when she was 3 months pregnant with me. She lived the next 6 months of her life in The Chicago Foundling Home (pictured above) until I was born. It must have been so difficult for her to leave the safety and security of her family, home and small town for a treacherous neighborhood in Chicago, all alone and pregnant. No home, just a bed in a room with other beds of other expectant mothers. I cannot imagine how hard it was for her to leave her young 4 year old son for 6 months. I can only assume after I was born she went back to Rossville. Back to her parents William Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Smith) Huffman and her 4 year old son. It took great courage to have and keep a child at the age of 18 back in 1954, and I can only assume that a second child (me) was too much to bear financially and socially. Her parents must have been quite unhappy about me. After reading the birth certificate, the first place I looked was the 1940 census where I found her living with her father, mother, 2 sisters Lorene and Betty and younger brother William. She was the only Shirley Huffman in Rossville in 1940 and her birth date matched perfect. Other searches revealed she married (Robert) Daniel Allison in 1963. What I found after that, I never expected. Shirley had diabetes. This disease caused her to go temporarily blind and destroyed her kidneys. Her grandson (who would have been my nephew) gave up a career in football to donate his kidney to her. This story was made into a movie by Showtime and starred Debbie Reynolds as Shirlee (Huffman) Allison. When I learned this I knew somewhere there would be a picture of her in a newspaper article. At last! I could see what I have wondered my entire life...what she looked like and did I look like her? The only picture I found pictured her wearing sunglasses so I could not see her eyes but what I did see revealed I do look like her. I did not expect the tears that followed. Next I rushed off to the library to rent the DVD of the movie. Watching the movie was so surreal not to mention emotional. I was quite surprised by some of the thoughts going through my head when I watched it. I probably noticed things in that movie that no one else would.

I learned this small town had a Historical and Genealogical Society that was only open a few hours on Tuesday and Saturday. So, a few days after I learned her name, I drove to Rossville. Once I finally arrived there, I found myself quite nervous and it occurred to me I had no idea how to handle this delicate situation. Shirlee was no longer alive but her son is and he still lives there. I did not want him to find out about me through gossip in the small town. I did not want to mention her name. I tried to get what I came for - the yearbooks. I wanted pictures and that was my only way of getting them. I tried but the woman who was working at the historical society had a book I needed that she would not let me look at. She was very nice, but I imagine she had the privacy rights of living people to consider. I had no choice but to reveal her name. After that she was able to pull the appropriate yearbooks and these revealed several pictures and more information. She was quite active in school and was in sports, a cheerleader, in choir and on student council. Each activity meant another picture. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind as I turned the pages of each book. I was told of a town genealogy book that was done and found the entry for her family. I was not able to focus properly. In just a few days, I was overwhelmed with so much information. I could have probably gotten so much more but I had a hard time processing everything. I will have to return for what I missed. I have written my (presumed half) brother and wait to see if he responds. When I was finished at the historical society, I went to the cemetery to pay my respects. Her parents and grandparents are buried there also. It was a very hot, sunny day but as I arrived I noticed a few clouds. I did not have the location of her grave so every time I got out of my car huge raindrops fell then stopped. Finally I saw her grave from my car and when I did it was raining (not hard, just those large rain drops) but the sun never stopped shining. As I got out of my car the rain stopped and as I stood in front of her grave, I saw a small portion of a rainbow in the sky. Overcome with emotion I never knew was there, I cried for a long time. After, I felt a peace I have never known before. This is the beginning of my journey to discover who I am and where I came from.