Lately, I’ve been experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis. You see, I was adopted within a month of my birth in December 1965. I no longer have copies of the adoption papers or my birth certificate (and the latter is turning out to be as difficult to obtain as the former). I have never made any attempt to discover the identities of my birth parents.
The only thing I’ve ever known about the young couple that put me up for adoption was that they were Hispanic. Whether that means they were born in Mexico or simply were Americans with Hispanic ancestry, I have no idea. I certainly don’t look Latin American or Spanish! However, I have always had a strong fascination with all aspects of Mexican culture — the food, the music, the art, the history, the language, etc. — but that may come from growing up in Texas and my later years of living in New Mexico. My birth parents had requested that I be placed in a Catholic home.
Now, my so-called identity crisis is kicking in due to my reading a history of Czechoslovakia. I hadn’t previously known much about the region other than the fact that my adoptive father’s family — the Jochims — originated somewhere in the Ore Mountains of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Dad was born in California, but his father was a Russian-born German. There are a number of interesting stories from that part of the family (including a half-remembered memory of being told one of our brood once danced with the Czarina of Russia).
Should I spend more time researching the European history surrounding my family (the only family I’ve ever known) as it would be fascinating to learn what portions of the turbulence in that region they actively participated in? Or should I delve into the possibility that my biological family experienced some of the fascinating events occurring south of the U.S. border? And where did they originate? Spain?
I found out that I was adopted when I was about ten years old. My mother was driving my sister and I home from school in the Nashville suburb of Hermitage, Tennessee. The school was quite nearby Andrew Jackson‘s home of the same name (although, for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the school or that of the street on which we lived). I don’t remember the circumstances of this revelation either, but it did nothing to change my life. It was just another fact about me that didn’t really matter in the long run. The important thing was that my family cared about me and gave me all the love and support a person could ever need. And I never felt that my birth-parents had “abandoned” me either.
I also never really had a desire to track down my biological parents. One part of me probably felt that doing so would be an insult to my adoptive family. However, they never gave me any reason to think that they wouldn’t be supportive of my search. They probably would have helped me look! Another part of me felt that the search would simply be too difficult. Even more so now.
But I think that the time is approaching when I will want to know more about my own history.
I do want to look closely at Jochim family history because they lived in central Europe and Russia in the early twentieth century and, presumably, even earlier.
My mother’s side of the family — the Chapmans — also is ripe for research. I know very little other than the fact that both of my mom’s parents served in the U.S. Navy during World War II (Grandpa was the Pacific fleet‘s champion in cribbage at one point) and that her dad used to deliver heating oil to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. I have no idea when the Chapmans first arrived in the States (the records I remember stated they were “Pennsylvania Dutch“).
The last time I attempted to do anything related to family genealogy was shortly after the death of Grandpa Jochim in July 1976. But I was too young to know what I was doing and much of the material I accumulated has been lost to the vacuum of time. Most of the relatives who could help me are gone now as well — all four grandparents and my mom.
I am fascinated by European history and would like to find out my adoptive family’s involvement. Where were they and when?
But I am even more fascinated by Mesoamerican history. My interests in the Mayans and Aztecs led me to study archaeology at university and I’ve read quite a bit on the colonization of the Americas, particularly of the Spanish explorers (only recently have I plunged into American Revolutionary history). My main interest has long been the pre-history and later exploration and colonization of the American Southwest. There isn’t a single aspect of the Texan and New Mexican region that doesn’t interest me in some way.
I’m finding myself wondering what part of this region’s history my birth-family may have been involved in. Is my love of Mexican food actually biological rather than learned? And why am I always moved to tears whenever I hear Mexican folk music? There may be a reason other than it’s hauntingly beautiful. (It’s funny, I’ve always preferred music incorporating Latin rhythms; some of my favorite performers include Santana, Los Lobos, Calexico, and even Thalía).
Writing this article today may just be the seed to two additional long-term projects in my gallery of unfinished tasks: researching the Jochim and Chapman family genealogies and where they fall into historical events of Europe and the U.S., and discovering the identities of my biological parents and finding out something of their own place in history.
I want to know before it’s too late, before the task becomes even more impossible than it already seems. Only from a full knowledge and understanding of all parts of my family — biological and adoptive — can I truly resolve this identity crisis I feel from time to time.
This all may be quite difficult to do from afar, living as I do in southern Thailand. I visualize conducting a lot of email interviews initially — mining the memories of my still-living [known] relatives.
The first of these emails was to my father asking about his memories of the Kennedy assassination. I just finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s book on the subject and have been designing a Muang Phuket Local Post stamp for next month’s 50th anniversary. Mom and Dad lived in Dallas in November 1963 (I was born in Parkland Hospital, where JFK was taken after being shot). The story I recall says that Mom was in a hardware store when she heard the president had died, but I never heard Dad’s side of the story. I’d like to know.
It’s these bits of history that interest me. What are our recollections of historical events that we didn’t actively participate in but which affected us nonetheless? For example, I remember where I was when I “witnessed” (via television, usually) such events as Neil Armstrong‘s first steps on the Moon, both Space Shuttle explosions, the attempt on President Reagan’s life, the planes hitting the World Trade Center, and others.
These personal “brushes with history” will be my starting point in my family history research. Going back in time, bit by bit, hopefully I can uncover what I seek and that which I am currently unaware. It should be an interesting journey.