To Research Or Not To Research?

Kim Cattrall’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are (U.S. version) struck home with me.  As the story of Kim’s grandfather unfolded, including the discovery that he started another family, I became anxious to know whether she would contact the other family.  She chose not to and I completely understand why.

For most of my life, I have known that my mom was adopted and who the identity of her biological mother.  When I got interested in genealogy, I asked my mom about her biological dad.  She told me the little information she knew but asked me to not do further research or try to contact him or his family until she had passed away.  Now that she has passed away, I am a bit conflicted on whether I want to research who her biological father was.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if I could find him with the little information I have.  Part of me is curious about who this man was and whether he even knew my mom existed.  But another part of me feels like his identity doesn’t really matter because all he really did was give me his DNA, rather than have a direct impact on the life of my mom.  But some could argue that his absence affected her life.  To research this man or not to research this man?  Let me give you some back story to help you better understand my perspective:

The Back Story:

*Note: I will not disclose the name of my mom’s biological mother, even though she passed away in 2009.  She will instead be referred to as ‘Biological Mom X”.

Biological Mom X discovers that she is pregnant with my mom.  She was living in Seattle, Washington at the time.

Biological Mom X’s sister, Margaret (Harney) Doerflinger is living in Santa Monica, California with her husband, Max Doerflinger and their 5 children.

Biological Mom X moves to Santa Monica for the majority of her pregnancy and creates a private agreement with Margaret and Max – they agreed to adopt my mom, Sharon, and never disclose who Sharon’s biological parents are.

My mom always knew that she was adopted, but while she was growing up, she had no idea who her biological parents were.  When my mom was a teenager, she was finally told the truth about who her biological mother was.  She was shocked to learn that the woman she had been raised to think was her aunt, was actually her mother.

My mom was always very adamant about her parents being the people who raised her rather than the people who gave her DNA.  She felt honored to be “given” the Doerflinger last name – so much so, that when she got married, she kept her last name and when I was born, she gave me her last name.

But even still, I believe my mom was always yearning for acknowledgement from Biological Mom X – but that never happened.  It was made strictly clear to never mention or acknowledge Biological Mom X as anything other than an aunt.  I’d imagine this was because Biological Mom X felt ashamed to have a baby out-of-wedlock in a time where that was unacceptable.  I don’t think she wanted a mother-daughter relationship with Biological Mom X since she already had that relationship with the woman who raised her.

All I Know… is Not Much

All I have about who the biological father of my mom is a name, nickname, occupation, and that he was married with two sons who were possibly teenagers.   That is all I know.  I have no idea where he lived exactly (although I can make a guess that it was near where Biological Mom X lived in late 1958 when my mom was conceived).  If he was married, I have no idea what his wife’s name was or who his kids were.  I don’t even know if the information I have is correct.  I have a feeling that there is at least more than one grain of truth in this information – but where the truth is, I don’t know.

To Research or Not to Research?

I don’t even know if I feel comfortable researching my mom’s biological father.  It almost feels like a slap in the face to the man who chose to go through the parental duties and love my mom as any parent loves their child.  I don’t want to turn my back on the man who will forever in my eyes be my grandfather – no matter what DNA says.

But I also can’t help but have this looming curiosity about my mom’s biological father.  The first thing that comes to mind is learning more about his health because that could have an impact on my own health.  But I also wonder about what he looked like and what kind of person he was.  Did my mom have his incredible blue eyes?  Was he tall?  Was he stubborn?  Was he smart?  Did he have siblings?  Did he have other children?  Did he even know my mom existed?

So I guess my question is still unanswered.  To research or not to research?

What are your thoughts?  Please share them below in the comments section or feel free to shoot me an email.

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18 responses to “To Research Or Not To Research?

  1. What a question that is. Personally, I would say search and get the medical questions answered, it could be very important one day. Since I am not in this situation I cannot be the one to answer for you. The answer you need lies in your heart and only you can be the one to make that decision. Good luck!

  2. I had a similar research situation in my family. My great-grandfather’s mother had him out of wedlock. She did not give him up for adoption, but when she married, he assumed his “step-father’s” surname and his “step-father” became his father. He never even knew the name of his biological father. With the blessing of his children/grandchildren, I managed to track down his original birth record that listed the biological father’s name, and am now attempting to trace the biological father’s lineage.

    My suggestion to you is to ask your grandparent’s how they feel. Be open and honest with them about your intentions. Maybe they will welcome the idea, maybe not. At least then you would know. If they are ok with it, I say you go for it because if you don’t, it may one day become a regret. If they are not ok with it, then I guess you have to decide, within yourself, if it is worth it.

    Good luck!

  3. I think if you are curious I would research but not publish. Everyone wants to know where they came from and the medical aspect is very important. Perhaps she did not know he was married and maybe she never told him about her pregnancy. If that was the case he would have never known and supported the child.

    That is a difficult decision to make. Go with your heart you sound like you are curious about the man.

  4. Terri is right: “The answer you need lies in your heart and only you can be the one to make that decision.”

    You lost your mother such a short time ago. She knew you would face this question. Your grandparents probably know it too; would they really think it a “slap in the face”? (Sometimes we provide answers when we haven’t asked the question.) Genetic genealogy is a wonderful thing, but is it the main reason to do genealogy when you are unsure of whether you should research at all?

    I think that asking for advice is excellent, but maybe it also means that you aren’t ready to make a decision. That’s ok. You are young and have many years of genealogy ahead of you. You can “undo” waiting. You can’t “undo” research. If and when you decide, I wish you peace.

  5. Wow Elyse! I hope you come to find an answer for your dilemma. I am curious that Biological Mom X never told anybody else? You didn’t mention if she were married and had children. Please don’t answer that question here, but what I wonder is how people take life changing events like that to their grave.

    Whatever you decide (even though the medical question Is important), I agree with Claudia about checking with your grandparents.
    Darlene´s last blog post ..Hiatus

  6. It’s not an easy situation, but I would say to research just because it IS part of your history. My own mother never really knew her biological mother because her parents were divorced when she was 2 and her father got custody. It’s too long of a story to go into here, but I can really understand your comment that, “I believe my mom was always yearning for acknowledgement from Biological Mom X” I think it was the same for my Mom.

    Of course you will have to tread lightly but I’m sure you will be sensitive to everyone concerned. It complicate no matter what, but if you don’t start now and talk to people who might know more it will only be harder. As I’ve researched my biological grandmother I’ve found that the story is not quite as black and white as it might seem.

    Good luck no matter which way you decide to go – because you have to do what feels right for YOU no matter what we all think :-)

  7. Ultimately it’s your decision and yours alone as to whether you do the research. My husband is adopted and has never had any interest in tracing his biological heritage. Am I curious? Of course. But it’s not my decision. He may change his mind some day, but he’s older than your mother was and not changed it yet…

    He has wondered about the medical information. We each decided to get genetic testing done through 23andMe last December. I wanted the information for genealogical purposes and haven’t looked at my medical information. He wanted the medical information and has not looked at the genealogical information beyond haplogroup.
    Susan´s last blog post ..Four Sawyer Girls- 1893 – Wordless Wednesday

  8. Now that’s a dilemma. I think, if it were me, I’d research both lines. Both lines had an influence on you – your mom’s adopted parents raised her and helped make her the person she was. But her biological parents determined who her biological ancestors were, who brought her into this world, even if the connection stopped with your mom. Who knows, you may be able to contact other relatives on that side who could become part of your family too. Good luck with your decision, and hope it all turns out for the best for you.
    Brandt Gibson´s last blog post ..Let the analysis begin!

  9. I just want to jump back in and say that I totally agree with Brandt. By saying to research the biological line, I didn’t mean to NOT research the other line. There are many fascinating people in my step-grandmother’s line – people who my Mom grew up with as her relatives. I’ve even researched her grandmother’s third husband because that is the man my Mom remembers as her grandfather. It was actually through that research that I came in contact with a grandson of that 3rd husband from one of HIS previous marriages who had, and shared with me, the only picture I have of my Mom’s biological mother as a young woman!! It’s a convoluted trail but then that’s genealogy!! :-)

  10. Difficult call, and I’d be tempted to research, but you will make the decision when you’re ready :-) Jo

  11. Hello Elyse, you have quite a dilemma here. For someone so young you are approaching it in a very sensible way. Take your time making the decision, you have time on your side. However, there is always a but isn’t there? We in the UK are looking forward to Series 8 of our WDYTYA, and one thing I have learn’t from our celebs on previous series is that many have lost vital relatives who could have answered their burning questions.

    We have another series in the UK called Heir Hunters. This is a program about finding lost heirs. Basically people who have not made a Will have their estate taken by the government if no heirs can be found; so Heir Hunter companies carry out genealogical research to ensure the money goes to the rightful heirs and not the government. It is amazing how many times they find living relatives that did not know that they had cousins, step brothers, fathers, etc, etc. Only at this stage it is too late to be reconciled!

    Good luck, take your time, your heart will guide you.

  12. If I were in your shoes, I would absolutely do the research. In fact, I have researched family without contacting the living. They do not have to be involved and not have to be reminded of things that happened in the past. But you have a right to know, and there is lots of stuff out there in the records you can learn. You will come to find out that there is lots of good stuff in your DNA (and probably some bad stuff too) but it is all interesting, and why leave a branch of your family untraced?

  13. Elyse, you really do need your health history. It’s very important as you know. Right now there are still people alive in your life that might have clues that can help you. Talk to them all, write down EVERYTHING! Pull all the documents you can get your hands on. There are clues there as well. If you are missing any documents, order a new one. Really, it’s that important. Then go back to talking to everyone that might have a clue.
    Best of luck, it can be done, and kept quiet.

  14. Nathan Lindorff

    It certainly is a dilemma I can relate to. My biological father and my mother separated before I was born, and we never heard from him again. In my case though my mum had no objections to me looking into it, and in some ways was the instigator, giving me the information I needed to get started before I had really thought about it. I ended up researching, and as of sometime last year, I had a phone number and an address. I still haven’t decided what I will do with that information.

    Ultimately, I already have a family, a loving mum and dad, and siblings. On the other hand, I am certainly curious, and the medical background would be nice (although not extensive… he was adopted!).

    It is certainly a tough decision, and I wish you all the best with whichever path you choose to take.

  15. I’ve just started reading your blog, so there may be info that I don’t know – but your mom was born about when I was. Therefore, there may still be time to “meet” or spend time with your Biological G-pa. I’d try to find out more. I Biol Mom -x still alive? I couldn’t tell.
    A story of mine: As my mother was dying she shared a story with my sister and I. She didn’t want it to die with her. She shared that our “cousin” Roseanne, was the biological daughter of her own “sister”, and that our aunt and uncle has adopted her and raised her as their own.
    We have not said anything for 10 years, but we are continually wondering if we should and what part of the truth does Roseanne know!
    My point is that there may be more that family members know, but have been asked to not tell. IF Roseanne were to ask me what I know, I’d tell her. Too many secrets and many of the players will be gone soon.

    • Hi Sara –

      My mom’s biological mom has passed away and she lived into her 90s.

      I believe the chances of my biological grandfather being alive are pretty slim and if he is alive, he will most likely be well into his 90s.

      My mom was born late in her biological mom’s life – she was 41 when she had my mom.

      Once I got interested in genealogy research, my mom asked different family members what they knew. She wasn’t interested in pursuing it, but she knew that someday I would be. She wrote it all down, gave it to me, and made me promise not to pursue it until she was gone.

      But to be honest, I don’t even know where I would begin my research – I know so little about this man and I’m not even sure if what I know is correct. I have no idea where I would start or even what I would do if I found him. Do I really want to risk putting myself out there, only for this man and possibly his family to reject me? While I would try to remember that it isn’t personal (he doesn’t even know me!) and is based on the past. I don’t even know if this man knows my mom existed. Do I really want to change his entire reality? And if he is old, what if it is too much for him to take? What if he accepts me but his wife doesn’t? What if it shatters his marriage? I really don’t know if I’m willing to go through the anxiety of contacting him – because I’m already anxious and I haven’t even done any research yet!

  16. WOW Elyse… You sure have a tough one. My 2 cents… do a little digging with the little info you have. If you find something, then tackle the bigger concerns. I have been trying to figure out if I should research my daughter’s birth mom. Like you I have very little, a name and the fact that my daughter was her 3rd child that I know of. I don’t even have a last name for her birth dad. My daughter is 10 and she enjoys going to the library with me to research. I’m waiting for the time, when she starts with similar questions. :\ Good luck.

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