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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

To Search (or Not) for a Child’s Past

Birthfamily searches conjure up strong feelings in a lot of hearts—from child, to adoptive parent, to birthparents or other relatives. That’s why some adopt from abroad—they have no interest in maintaining the triad, nor in sustaining an open wound for children of trauma and abuse.

So here I was, two years after adopting the girls, peering at creased and tattered photos of a village’s Cossack Ataman who was somehow related. Exciting though it was, this was not exactly what the girls had wanted most of all.

“They have no baby photos of you,” I announced to my girls yesterday over lunch.

They were crestfallen, having hoped against hope that perhaps someone had once cared enough to take One. Stinkin’. Photo.

We had just found their birth grandparents through a rather remarkable and miraculous series of events. All of our children were older at the time of their adoptions, so they had specific memories. The girls’ only good memory was that of grandparents who had let them spend the night on rare visits to their kolkhoz (farming community).

Our oldest, Mashenka, had the name of the grandparents emblazoned in her mind. Odd for a preteen. Most would simply think of them as “Babushka” and “Dyedushka”. She had their first names, last names, and village. The problem was, we had no information about these people in the girls’ court documents.

“No, no babushka and no dyedushka are mentioned,” I inform the girls, reviewing the papers again. “Either the court did not know of their existence, or somebody wanted to keep them out of the picture….”

I poured over every piece of paper, seeing if there were any extended relatives that perhaps had been approached to take in the girls, or come to court. No. All of the the figures, few though there were, turned out to be ethereal vapors.

And then, on what must have been my tenth time sorting through the documents, my eyes lighted on the obscure village’s name which I had not known prior to this time. An address! In this village! Nobody else lived in the farming community, but here, another party being interviewed about the girls, was claiming as their own the tiny shack on the muddy rural lane.

“I’ve got it!” I told the girls. “The address!”

This was a key piece in the puzzle. We could have sent a searcher to the village to look for the grandparents and simply ask around by word of mouth. Consulting Google Satellite Maps, I saw that the general area was bigger than one or two streets. Now, we had an address and forwarded that, along with the names, to our searcher.

“No such people,” his answer came back within the day. Although in a neighboring krai, our contact had contacts and could search records.

“Somebody else owns the little house, and there’s a person with a slightly similar name in a distant town who would be 37 years old—not the grandfather, for sure,” he reported. “I have searched the registries of the entire region.”

This was just the preliminary search. We were not looking for birthparents, but in each of our children’s cases, we had conducted searches for those kind souls who kept them from starvation. I’ll write about the boys’ searches another time.

“All things being equal,” I e-mailed back, considering briefly that perhaps the grandparents were international jet-setters, same as us, and had flown the coop for greener pastures long ago, then rejecting that notion as highly unlikely, “they have to be there. The girls have been home for almost two years, and they were in the orphanage for two years. That means that as recently as four years ago, the grandparents had to be there.”

“I’ll find them,” he promised.

This is why the decision to undertake a birth relative search cannot be postponed until a child is old enough to decide for himself. People die, people move, memories fade. Should an adoptive parent wish to say, “The child is alive and well, safe and sound”, or ask about family healthy histories, or see if there might be a baby photo, there’s no time like now.

My only disclaimer: I would never be in contact with a former abuser or neglector of my children, and we have not.

Our man on the ground made his way to the neighboring krai, five hours overland in his SUV through deep snows covering potato fields and car junkyards. It was late March and the snows appeared to be at least six feet high. Unless one traveled by four-wheel-drive, or four-legged-animal, there would be no getting through.

Without any internet access in such remote regions, our photos, and video arrived after our searcher got back to his home base, and a full report to come later. Turns out that their last name was different than our girls had imagined, but the rest was correct. There was the little wooden hut of a house, a shack of a separate kitchen, assorted ducks wandering outside, along with grandma’s goat tied up in yet another tiny, lean-to, barn-like structure. We saw the Soviet-style concrete star sign, announcing the beginning of the kolkhoz’s border, then the faded, torn copies of photos: the grandparents as younger adults, somebody’s nephew, the extended relative who was the Cossack Ataman, dressed in iconic outfit, complete with hand on sabre in sheath.

I listened to the Russian interview with the grandparents who were sweet, ruddy Russians—bright blue eyes, fair in complexion, they could have been my own family in many ways. They looked pleasant, and honest, and hardworking, all of the qualities that unfortunately had never surrounded our girls for more than a few hours in their early years.

Plenty of pieces of the puzzle were still missing, such as: was this extended family aware that the girls were beaten, unwashed, unclothed, and never went to school until they reached the orphanage at almost ten years of age? And why were there shadowy figures who had caused some of our kids’ abuse still lingering around the periphery of some photos?

For now, the girls were flying high, remembering carrots growing in the garden and a pear tree nearby—the fabulous idea of FOOD! Plus, there was this scrap of a family, an elderly couple, who actually might have cared.

We could wait for the full, written report, and another rainy day to discuss the more distressing details that they already knew too well. This might be sealed away for years to come, or forever. When the time came, that would be their decision to try to make meaning out of the meaningless, and sense out of the senseless: goats, grandparents, and all.

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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Penny Diamond says:

    Hope the Grandparents offer the girls the kind of love they deserve (from afar) while they are safe and loved by you, their parents now. We have been in touch with our daughter’s birth family for 7 years now and despite the dismal circumstances of her life while with them, they are loving and caring. I hope the same for your daughters.

  2. avatar admin says:

    Thanks so much Penny,
    Although it appears that there was a recurring family pattern over a number of generations, the grandparents are sweet and loving. They were perhaps, the only people in Russia, that ever showed care and concern for the girls even if for brief encounters. There was a definite elevation of joy and excitement levels in our house for days. Just having a history, not something to return to, just a history, gives such comfort.

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