Irish Genealogy: Adoption Records

Obviously I should have looked like this.

I received my adoption records yesterday — a protracted process that took quite a few months and produced six pages. The agent handling the case told me there would not be much new in it, but the little there was was significant. Firstly, I found at that before I was adopted, before I ever had a name, I was Baby Boy Monaghan. And while I like my name, a part of me is disappointed that I didn’t go through life as Baby Boy Monaghan, because that’s about the greatest name ever. It’s equally appropriate for a juvenile bully from a comic book, a bare-knuckle boxer, or a 1920s gangster.

There was also more information about my biological father. Now, adoption records are notoriously inaccurate, because the experience is so fraught and often so unhappy that embarrassing details are sometimes fudged, but these don’t feel like inventions. There’s a feel of authenticity, mostly because they’re the sort of thing that there would be no benefit to lying about.

So here’s what I now know, perhaps to be revised later, if I ever find a DNA match: My biological father was not an American of English descent. He was from England, where he had BAs in both art and Agricultural Engineering. He had worked for the British government in agricultural development, and had wound up in Alaska in 1967-68, where he was working for the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and also worked for an arctic research company. The little I know from my biological mother’s family is that he had been her teacher, and so I had been scouring University of Minnesota records, assuming they must have met there. It had not occurred to me he might have been in Alaska.

Now, I don’t know if the fellow is alive or not, and, if alive, I don’t know if he has any interest in being found, but the adoption records indicate that he felt some responsibility for me and actually was amenable to the idea of marriage, but they mutually decided adoption was the better option.

We become little amateur forensic detectives, we adopted children, examining and reexamining every scrap of information for clues, and then develop theories from those clues, and then test those theories. It’s the way all genealogy works, in fact, except the questions we wrestle with are about the circumstances of our birth, and if our biological parents might want contact with us, or if we might even want to meet them. And much of this has to do with a very fundamental question about who we are. It had not really occurred to me that I might be a second-generation American on my father’s side — that I am only one step removed from not being America. He might not even be in America; he might be back in England. Which makes me a child of immigration in a way that I didn’t imagine.

Of course, this is only if the adoption records are true and he really was from England. My biological mother had a vaulting imagination and certain romantic sensibility, and this is the sort of detail that one might lie about, even if all the rest was true. A brilliant Englishman is a marvelous option to be the father of a child, and may have felt like a better, or at least more fun, option than the truth.

My paternity will remain mostly a puzzle for just now. I don’t imagine it will for much longer. There are just too many mechanisms for solving the problem just now. So much of the past has been digitized and put online that it is easy for me to dig through it, which is my day job anyway. It took only eight months and one DNA test to produce my biological mother. It is not yet a year and I have taken three different DNA genealogy tests. And, who knows? Maybe he’s out there, likewise wondering, occasionally searching the Internet for clues of his own.

Or maybe all the remains of him is a grave in the arctic, and he was gone long before I began this search. Or maybe he would rather just not ever revisit this period of his life, and the child that it produced.

But this is speculation, and, in the absence of facts, any guess is equally worthless. All I can do is gather the facts, create the hypotheses, and test them, and if I find the man, then I can fill in the blanks, even if the only answer I get is that he wishes I hadn’t found him.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.