Yes, that’s what I said. I used to be Irish. And what with St. Patrick’s day just around the corner, I’m sort of missing my Irish heritage. I’m sad that I won’t be able to partake this year the way I did last…as a person with legitimate Irish blood in their veins.
Geneology is sort of a hobby on my dad’s side of the family. This is in part because they tend to live to be so old. That sets up a situation in which it’s easy to access information about previous generations…you just ask them! Or ask them about their parents. I’m not suggesting that everyone should value their ancestry. I have a friend who thinks this is ridiculous. But in my particular situation, it’s come to be a way in which I identify myself. Something I use to feel at home and connected in my world.
My father is Italian and English. On his side of the family I’m a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, among other well-known writers. Since I write for a living, I love feeling somehow connected to the other writers in my past. (Please note that I said I do it for a living–not that I’m good at it. I don’t want this assertion to be any indication of the quality you can expect from this boring story.)
My mother’s adoptive parents were told that she was Irish and Italian, just like them. She was adopted in 1946 from a Catholic Social Services organization, which told her new parents that she was the product of a teenaged, “illegitimate birth.” Her paperwork indicated that her name prior to adoption was Mary Margaret McCarthy.
So, every year on St. Patrick’s day, I would go out and celebrate this part of my geneology. I wear a Claddaugh in honor of my mother’s lost heritage. And in the context of a situation such as my family’s I felt that this hurt her. I knew from her own admission that having no “blood relatives” except my sister and me was something she thought about often and felt uncomfortable over–like she was unmoored. I suppose if she’d married into a family that didn’t have such a long, traceable history, it might never have come up. But it did.
We talked about doing a search now and then and I encouraged her to do so. Finally, on last St. Patrick’s day, I called her over this issue. I told her I thought 54 years was long enough to wait, and that if she wanted to do a search, I’d do all the legwork and fork out all the cash. She became excited, grateful, and was ready to set aside the risks and go forward.
I tracked down her place of birth, which oddly, turned out to be right across the street from where I was living at the time. Posing as her, I found out that I could get fairly simple access to a file of non-identifying information for Mary Margaret. I sent them some money and they looked up the McCarthy birth according to the information I was able to give them.
About three months later, my mom called me with her file in her hand. She was going BONKERS.
First of all, she found out she was NOT the product of a teenaged mother, but a 32-year-old divorced woman.
She found out she had two half-brothers who would likely still be alive today.
And the real show stopper in her case: McCarthy she ain’t.
“Oy Vey,” she said to me…
Turns out her biological family consists of Swedes and Polish Jews.
It’s not every day you go to bed Irish and wake up Jewish. And even though similar things happen more than you think, there aren’t a lot of resources for someone who realizes they’re Jewish at 54 years old. Or 30 years old. I have no interest in converting (or following ANY religion for that matter). But as someone who identifies myself by my heritage, I’ve gotta say: This is WEIRD. It’s STILL weird many months after the realization.
Anyone else have a similar experience? Anyone have to say anything about the organization who lied to my mother and her family and hid and falsified her birth records so that she doesn’t even know her own birth date now? (Hmm…maybe that last is better discussed in The Pit.) Or perhaps this is only fascinating to me…I certainly won’t be shocked to find THAT out.