Close this search box.

028 – Working Out The Puzzle Pieces Helped Me Feel Whole

Elise has always been into genealogy and loved looking at family photos & records when she was a child. As a child of adoption, she wondered where her family of origin was? Reunion has had its ups and downs for Elise. The experience with her birth father’s family has been great over the last 20 years. She’s used her genealogy skills to solve a mystery about her paternal grandfather. Elise keeps a door open for communication if her mother or maternal family want contact, yet she understands and accepts that her mother may not be in a position to have a relationship.

Elise says, “I am so appreciative of my journey, the good and the bad parts because getting to work out some of the puzzle pieces of my story and my paternal grandfather’s has been a gift and has helped me have a better sense of self and wholeness.”


Elise: 00:00 I will say the most important thing I found out about after meeting both of them is that you can truly appreciate having the entire puzzle put together because I could totally see like what I got from my mom and dad and what I received from my mother and father and you can appreciate what came from the nature side and what came from the nurture side.

Voices: 00:30 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon: 00:41 This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Elise from Minnesota. She always wanted to search for her birth family and her interest in genealogy from a young age turned into a life’s passion to support adoptees after she found her own parents. After years of searching, Elise found her birth mother who located her birth father for her almost immediately. The reunion started off really well, but then it stalled when her mother closed the door. Thankfully her father still wanted to know his daughter and they fostered a long distance relationship before meeting in person. He told Elise that she had paternal roots in Fargo, North Dakota, but trying to connect to those roots revealed they had originated hundreds of miles away at a place, Elise was very familiar with, here’s Elise’s journey.

Damon: 01:39 Elise had one younger brother in her family, whom she remembers bringing home when he was adopted too. They had a large extended family with 16 first cousins. They were all so close in age they seemed almost like siblings. As time marched on, they grew up and had families of their own and over time it became more obvious how biological families kind of look and act similarly to one another, but Elise says she had an innate curiosity about the differences in herself and her family and the ultimate question of what she learned from them that had shaped her and what traits have been passed down to her.

Elise: 02:13 I always from a very early age, wanted to know where I came from, like what was the connection? How did I fit into the world? You know, that whole did you pop out down from a spaceship kind of thing?

Damon: 02:23 Yeah. Yeah. What kinds of things did you think about when you wanted to know more about yourself?

Elise: 02:28 Um, I didn’t really look like a lot of people in my family because most of the people in my family could go to the beach and not fry. I would go to the beach and turn into a lobster. So you know, I wanted to, and I kind of just wanted to know like where, you know, my interest came from and my personality and you know, what was nature and what was nurture and just where did l come from?

Damon: 02:50 Yeah. Yeah. I could imagine. You had one younger sibling who was also adopted. Did you guys talk about adoption at all as you got a little older?

Elise: 03:00 my parents and I talked about adoption a lot. My brother never really, I mean every once in a while he would talk about it, but it wasn’t, he and I didn’t talk about it a lot. I spoke about adoption with, I had some cousins that were very close in age to where I am and you know, I would speak to them about it.

Damon: 03:19 And did they get it? Did they understand it? Did you fit in with them? Were they at arms length? What did you get from them?

Elise: 03:26 No, we were, we were very close growing up. I mean most people in the town where we grew up, some people thought that my cousins were like my brothers, they didn’t, they were like, oh wait, are you brothers or cousins? Like how are you all connected? Because we were always together because there was this whole little clump of kids in the same age group. I’ve always wanted to search. I always knew I was going to search, but it wasn’t until like my older cousins started getting married and having children. And then you could see like how everything fit in their family. You could see like my grandparents and their parents and then my cousins and then their children. And you could kind of see how they all fit. And I was like, wait a second, where’s my fit? You know, and not taking anything away from my adoptive family because I’m very close to them, but you could just kind of see like at Christmas I was, I love photography and I would go around and take pictures of everyone and the kids and the grandchildren, the great grandchildren and it was like wow. Like they all look alike. They all have, you know, the same giggle or the same quirks or whatever it is, mannerisms and that kind of thing.

Damon: 04:31 In high school in the mid 1980s Elise’s parents decided they were going to help her accumulate some information about her adoption. They wrote a letter to the adoption agency which sent back her non identifying information. The Info she received was very brief, so she really had to be an investigator on her own to get some answers. She signed up with every adoption assistive resource and registry she could find. She also joined support groups for adoptees to learn more about the perspectives of birth parents and other adoptees.

Elise: 05:02 You know, this was way back in the days where you would have to go to the library and check out all the books about adoption and searching. Spread them out on your apartment floor, your dorm room floor, and figure out how to do it. You know, signing up with all the databases and, ALMA, there was adoption crossroads in New York. I mean there’s just all these places. Like anywhere I could possibly sign up, I signed up and I just kind of kept plugging along and there wasn’t really a lot of information.

Damon: 05:31 It sounds like you signed up across the board nationwide no matter what the geography of it was.

Elise: 05:38 the interesting thing about it is I, when I got the non identifying, it said that both of my parents were from the state I was born in and I knew in my gut that wasn’t true. I had no idea where they were from, but I knew they weren’t from the state where I was born.

Damon: 05:53 That’s fascinating. Really.

Elise: 05:54 Mine were from both coasts.

Damon: 05:57 So your gut was right?

Elise: 05:58 Yeah, completely.

Damon: 05:59 That is really fascinating. Wow. 11 years later in the mid 1990s she was able to get a last name to work with, but it was a very common name. So it didn’t help very much in Elise’s research, so Elise recruited professional assistance. She hired a private investigator to advance her search. However, her story should serve as a warning to be on guard against people that might take advantage of your need for more information along your journey.

Damon: 06:26 11 years. It took you just to get a name. How did you get the name at that point?

Elise: 06:30 Yeah, there’s a loop here in our state where you can sometimes petition a judge. Now, no one I had ever known had gotten a judge to give over the last name, but I was living outside the state and I used to lawyer outside the state to petition the court. And for whatever reason the judge sent that last name back. No other information. It just said your mother’s name is, and it was her maiden name.

Damon: 06:55 Wow. Fascinating.

Elise: 06:57 And it was a very common name, so it took another, I think it took about nine years, eight or nine years to get that. And then another three years of searching before we figured out who exactly she was.

Damon: 07:09 So how did you find her?

Elise: 07:11 I ended up having to pay someone, which is not my favorite option.

Damon: 07:14 Yeah I can imagine. Why do you say that?

Elise: 07:17 Because I found, way back when, a lot of people take advantage of the fact that adopted people don’t know their origins.

Elise: 07:25 So I can remember being in graduate school and having very little money and someone’s saying, Oh, if you pay me this, I could go and do a search and I can help you. And so I would scrounge together the money and then they come back and be like, oh nope, and I’d say, “Well what did you do?” “Oh, I just looked.” And I’m like, well that was a lot of money for you to just look and not come back. So I have a big problem with people taking advantage of people. People want to know. And there are a lot of unscrupulous folks out there

Damon: 07:54 You feel like you got taken advantage of a little bit?

Elise: 07:54 Oh, I can think of at least three times.

Damon: 07:57 Oh Dang. I’m sorry. That’s crazy.

Elise: 08:00 But I mean, this was like before the Internet and back when you are going to libraries and looking up records in person. It was a different world.

Damon: 08:07 Yeah. Then the Internet allows some checks and balances into somebody search. Right?

Elise: 08:11 Right. So you can say, what did exactly did you do? Show me what you did, versus back then they’d be like, well, I just did it.

Damon: 08:18 Yeah. On the Internet today you can say, well, I’ve looked here, here, here and here. And you can balance against what they’ve said and sort of verify, oh, I hadn’t thought of that. And eventually Elise did get her birth, mother’s full name. Her support group at the time was very helpful in helping her craft an approach to her first contact. And their advice was spot on.

Elise: 08:39 Well, and I’d also been in support groups for years from the time I was 17. So when I started searching, I started joining support groups wherever I lived so I can learn more about what, um, mothers and fathers who relinquished went through at the time and had to be able to talk to other adopted people. Um, and so when I finally found the name, the support group I was in had said, okay, these are the things you can do, ways to contact, you can write a letter, you can call. There was no email back then. Um, I guess email is just starting. So I had called and I did the whole Hi, you know, can you please take down my number in case we get disconnected because this was before caller id. And I remember she said, what? And I said, if you could just take my number down, my phone’s acting funny in case we get disconnected. And she was like, oh okay. And I said, well does this date means something to you. And she was just like, oh welll…then she was very quiet and then she hung up and I was like, Oh wow, what just happened? And I sat there and I was like, okay? And maybe two minutes later the phone rang and it was her and she said, I’m so sorry. I was just so caught off guard and I can’t believe this is happening and this is so exciting. I was like, well thank goodness she took down my number.

Elise: 09:56 I told the support group, that whole thing about giving your number, good idea.

Damon: 10:00 the first conversation went very well, Elis says they talked for over an hour, coincidentally Elise was already planning to be in her birth mother’s area within a week. So they made plans to meet for the first time and someone else was waiting for Elise’s, phone call when they met.

Elise: 10:17 I met her maybe a week or so later cause it happened that one of my good friends was getting married probably about 30 minutes from where she live.

Elise: 10:28 and so I arranged to meet that weekend and I had dinner at her house with her husband and it was quite lovely.

Damon: 10:34 Wow. Wow.

Elise: 10:35 And that’s when she gave me my father’s name and she said, Oh, and he’s waiting for your phone call. And I’m like right now. And she said yes. And I thought, well, I’m meeting you right now, but okay. I’ll call him. And I found out immediately where I get my talkative nature because I called my father and I said hello and I didn’t speak again for another 20 minutes.

Damon: 10:54 Are you serious? Wow. That must’ve been so crazy.

Elise: 10:57 It was crazy. And when I called my mom and dad to tell them, but they were like, oh my gosh, that’s where you get your talkativeness. And I said, yes, totally. It’s genetic.

Damon: 11:07 Hilarious. What did he spew at you in that 20 minutes of just, you know,

Elise: 11:12 oh my gosh, he, he said that he had always wanted to find me. That he was excited about, you know, getting to know me that he had, I had some half brothers that he, you know, he wanted to introduce me to and he was just excited about the whole thing.

Damon: 11:28 That’s really cool.

Damon: 11:30 Elisa, says she was a Vietnam era baby. Her father was in the military and her birth parents met on a base abroad before his deployment into the war zone. It was a different time in society and the shame and societal pressures of unwed mothers were major factors in why Elisa’s mother couldn’t keep her. Back on the military base, so many years ago was just about the last time her birth parents had spoken to each other.

Elise: 11:55 It was in the time of Vietnam and so when they got pregnant. They had kind of been dating while they were both abroad. Like where he was stationed before going to Vietnam and she worked kind of in the USO and they, when she got pregnant, he had said that he wanted to marry her and I guess, there’s kind of some confusion, you know, on that. But essentially, you know, one has one story, and one has the other. And then she left um, the continent and came back to the United States and then relinquished me for adoption and then wrote him about six months later and said, we had a baby girl. I relinquished her for adoption. It was really hard, sad. And then they didn’t speak again until I contacted her and she found him, so then it had been about 28 years since they had last spoken.

Damon: 12:50 Is that right? What did you think about your story in terms of their, their situation and how you were put into adoption. How did it make you feel?

Elise: 12:58 You know I still kind of even after all these years, 20 years later I workthrough that because I never really got a clear understanding from her or like they have, kind of, two different stories or they have similar stories but you know, different details I guess. So that’s kind of up for grabs.

Damon: 13:17 Elise says that while she found her birth mother, first it’s her father’s family that she ultimately got closest to. She feels that one reason for the difference in the two reunions was the exchange of information with her birth mother was one sided and the poor communication exchanges over email resulted in misunderstandings and exacerbated underlying emotions. Then one day her birth mother ended their relationship but Elise says that by meeting them both she learned to appreciate what we learn from our adoptive family and what’s passed on to us from our biological relatives.

Elise: 13:50 I think the most interesting thing about meeting both of them, like my father and I have had a relationship for now 20 years. I have a relationship with my half brothers. His wife is amazing. I mean when I found them quite young like elementary school, so I was very concerned about how does, you know, how is this going to work? And I told her, I said, let me know what we need to do or you know, what’s comfortable. And she was like, oh no, we’re good. We’re all good. You’re your part of the family. You’re here. And I was like, all right, that’s awesome. Um, and I didn’t have as long of a relationship with my mother because she broke off the reunion about a year into it. And so I don’t really have a ton of information. I mean, I have what I’ve researched, but I don’t have a ton of like her personal thoughts on issues.

Elise: 14:40 And she had wanted.. One Interesting thing was, when I first met her, she handed me a piece of paper and it had, oh gosh, maybe 102, 103 questions on it that she wanted me to answer. And being the dutiful adopted person, I go home and ready to please and answer all of it. And then I wrote back and said, alright here are all my answers and um, I’d love to have, in addition, she said what would you like to know about me? And I gave her some things and then she could have decided not to answer after she got all the answers that she needed.

Damon: 15:14 She got all of your answers and then decided not to reciprocate.

Elise: 15:18 Right.

Damon: 15:19 Wow.

Elise: 15:19 That was kind of the beginning. And that was in the first few months of the reunion and that was kind of the beginnings of kind of the hard time communicating. It’s very complicated to meet someone who you’re biologically connected to, yet, have no common background with, you know, like I grew up in the south, she grew up in New England. She had certain, not expectations, I guess a certain vision of how she thought I was gonna turn out or what I was going to be like. And I guess it wasn’t exactly what she thought it was going to be. I mean, culturally, I mean one of the things that I always remembered that she said, I don’t understand how you could like college football. No one in my family likes college football. And I thought, well I grew up in the deep south of the SEC. How do you not like college football? So I think some of it was just, you know, cultural differences.

Damon: 16:12 Yeah, that’s right. A very basic north, south, difference.

Elise: 16:15 You know, I don’t, I don’t know. Everybody has their own journey that they go on. So, but I will say the most important thing I found out about, after meeting both of them is that you can truly appreciate having the entire puzzle put together. Because I could totally see like what I got from my mom and dad and what I received from my mother and father. And you can appreciate what came from the nature side and what came from the nurture side. And I was already close to my adoptive parents. So it’s not like, I mean I think we’re closer, but I, I’ve met other people that said, oh, I became so much closer to my adoptive parents because I now can see what gifts came from which side. So I think it’s all about having the whole picture.

Damon: 16:59 I was really curious about Elise’s mothers abrupt cessation of their relationship. She just cut off the reunion seemingly out of nowhere. Elise had been looking forward to her reunion with her birth mother for years. But the relationship was complicated for a variety of reasons. I asked Elise whether she got any signals that her mother might make an about face and shut the door.

Elise: 17:21 Maybe in retrospect there were, but I, you know, at the time I was soo excited about meeting her and I’m the type of person that saved every photograph and all these things to share with my parents when I met them. So I was just looking forward to getting to know her, hearing her story, getting to know her family. Um, I think I mentioned when I wrote in that my adoptive grandmother was very much into genealogy and so she would have this giant box. It was a big hatbox from like the 1940’s in her closet with all these photos in it. And when we would go to Sunday lunch, I would go and sit, when I was little, and look through all the photos because I love to look at all my grandmother’s photos, it was just, I was so excited to be able to maybe do that same kind of thing with my own family of origin.

Elise: 18:10 You know, like find out who my great, great, great, whatever grandparents are and where did they come from and what their stories were and what did they do and what were they interested in. And, um, I never really got a chance to do that with her. It was a, it was a very, uh, one sided relationship or you know, like she wasn’t very forthcoming about things and at the same time she was talking with my father and trying to reconnect after 28 years. So you had that kind of in the mix too. So it was just a very complicated, it was complicated dynamics. Yeah. And I don’t know because if you add, like after she broke off the reunion, she called my father and said that I broke off the reunion and that she would love to have a reunion with me, but I was the one who broke it off and I was like, okay, not quite, but

Damon: 18:57 she lied.

Elise: 18:59 Um, relinquishment of a child takes a huge toll on people and everyone reacts to it in their own way. And I think some things that people do might be to protect themselves from those deep feelings and issues that go along with that.

Damon: 19:14 I think you’re right about that. Everybody reacts to different situations very, very differently. And it’s hard to know how much of the surge of what happened in the past impacted her when you resurfaced.

Elise: 19:30 Right. And she was very excited about meeting me and very excited about, you know, me going to her house and, but she didn’t have any other children so it was, there was a frame of reference, I think that was missing because if you had other children you have a easier frame of reference of like the dynamics of things and if you only, have been an aunt to someone. It’s different being an aunt to someone than being a parent to someone, if that makes sense. I think that that has part of it, you know, like expectations of what a daughter was supposed to be. And I wasn’t a child. I was 28 almost 29 years old. So

Damon: 20:05 right when you were to have children of your own, especially in multiples, you can sort of see how vastly different children can be just within your own sort of circle of creation. So had she had one or two others, she would, you know, have that. I thought he was going to be a gymnast and he ended up being a scientist and and sort of like already experienced that. I thought things were going to be one way, but they’ve turned out another and that’s okay. She’s only just now getting that for the first time as you appear at 28, I see what you mean. Elise told me her father was on the west coast and she was on the east coast when they first connected. It was six months before they finally connected during her trip to the left coast. But she says their reunion was much easier than the one with her mother. He likes clear communication with people, which worked out really well for the pair to bond to one another from across the country first.

Elise: 21:00 The thing about him that made it so much easier is he’s a very no nonsense kind of fella. And he was not big into email, so, if he wanted, if you want to have a discussion with him, you just couldn’t, which is good because in an email, there’s a lot of things that can be misconstrued. So, he and I did a lot of speaking on the telephone. He sent , way back when VHS tapes of, um, like he would like sit down in front of the camera and tell me stories and send the tapes to me. And He never, you know, avoided answering any questions. I didn’t. We got to the point where we didn’t really speak a lot about my mother just because it was getting kind of complicated because he was kind of being bombarded one side by her and then me on the other. When she and I are trying to figure out what was going on with our relationship. But you know, we eventually made it past that and I think he and she drifted different ways from what I’ve gathered, you know, we got to the point where I think we saw each other it averaged every two years just because of the location of where we each lived.

Damon: 22:04 How was your connection with him?

Elise: 22:05 It was pretty easy, you know, and that when I met, his family it felt very natural and my half brothers are really funny neat guys. And we were actually just out there this past October and we went back to the place that we first went when I went to visit them and we took pictures because we were like, Ooh, it’s 20 years, so we have our 20 year ago picture when everybody was young and cute and now a little bit older and wiser and everything else.

Damon: 22:34 That’s so cool.

Damon: 22:36 Eventually Elise got to meet some of her father’s siblings and she even got to meet her paternal grandmother. She never got to meet her paternal grandfather, but she was able to uncover some mysteries about him. Her grandfather had been whisked away from the big city to the Midwest on the orphan train. Wikipedia says the Orphan train movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1854 and 1929 relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned or homeless children.

Elise: 23:16 And then I met his mother and his mother and I had a relationship until she passed a couple of years ago. So that was kind of, that was neat. His father had passed away back in the 70s so I never got to meet him. When I first met him he said, Oh, if you ever go to Fargo, North Dakota, that’s where my father’s family was from. So I happened to be in Fargo the one day and I open the phone book and called the only person in town that had that last name and the person was like, nope, not related to us. And so I went back and I said, I’m pretty sure we’re not from Fargo. And he said, no, I think we are and I said, no, I don’t think we are. So, I started going on a hunt to kind of figure out where his father was from cause he had said his father had been adopted.

Elise: 23:59 And I said, I don’t think so. I don’t see any records that are, you know, I don’t see any evidence of him being adopted. So I did a little searching and found out that he was actually in the New York foundling hospital and the foundling ,in 1914, which was really wild because when I lived in New York, I used to volunteer at the New York foundling hospital.

Damon: 24:19 Wow. Really?

Elise: 24:21 And the exact same like area location.

Damon: 24:24 That’s incredible. Really?

Elise: 24:25 Yeah. It was very bizarre. And my grandfather was about seven or eight. He was sent to Wisconsin on the orphan train with the expectation of being adopted. The family that had written about him, it said, told the nuns at the Foundling hospital. Yes, we want to adopt him. We want him to be a part of our family. And so the nuns sent him out, and it turns out that once he got out there, in the letters that I’ve read between the family and the nuns, it turns out that the father of that family said that he hugged the life too much and didn’t work enough, which I thought was kind of sad because here there’s an eight year old boy who’s lived his entire life in New York City now in the middle of a farm in Wisconsin.

Elise: 25:08 And he’s trying to hug the mother of the house and the father of the house was writing the nuns saying, oh no, he, you know, he’s not working enough cause he’s busy hugging my wife.

Damon: 25:22 He was looking for some slave labor out there.

Elise: 25:25 Yes. So it was interesting. It took us many years to be able to get the information from the New York foundlings hospital because, I couldn’t ask for it because I had no way to prove that I was his granddaughter. Um, from my father to ask for it, you had to jump through all these hoops. So we finally jumped through all the hoops. It took forever. And I think in about 2010 is when we got the file. And it was interesting cause you saw all the letters that the nuns had written, the family in Wisconsin and what the family had written back in the course of 10 years.

Damon: 25:59 That’s unreal.

Elise: 26:01 And you also had some letters and little kid handwriting, of my grandfather asking, you know, what nationality am I? Did anyone come looking for me? What’s my name? Where did I come from? Which was just, you know.

Damon: 26:17 That’s so interesting.

Elise: 26:17 it resonated with me because I was like, well I know this.

Damon: 26:21 Those are the same exact questions you had about yourself.

Elise: 26:24 And I remember being so sad like reading this little boys, writings to the nuns. And the nuns would write back and say, oh, we don’t really have any information. No one’s come for you. So I’d kind of decided that I was going to figure it out where he came from. I like puzzles, I do genealogy, you know, what the heck.

Damon: 26:42 So Elise decided she was going to figure out where her paternal grandfather had come from. She took the clues as she had them and started a search for his true identity too. Of course learning more about him ultimately taught Elise more about herself

Elise: 26:57 and, and I had always kind of thought that his middle name was actually his surname and it turns out that that was true. And so, I did a search basically trying to fit all the pieces of how old they said his mother was and what her first name was using the last name that I thought it was. And I came up with the family. But back then, there was no way of proving it because we hadn’t done any DNA test. But then I asked my father to do a DNA test so that we can see if anybody popped up with this surname and nothing happened. And we did, you know, all the big DNA tests. And then finally, last year, I think it was on ancestry, this close connection came in and I opened up the person tree and I was like, okay, totally the same family. I thought it was.

Damon: 27:49 Wow. Man

Elise: 27:50 And it was, it was really cool. And I got to meet, um, what would be, it was a very large, um, Irish family and I got to meet, it would be my grandfather’s youngest first cousin.

Damon: 28:07 That must’ve been so interesting.

Elise: 28:09 It was really, really cool. And it was also neat because when I lived in New York years ago, this random man on the street came up to me when I was going in this diner and he said, oh, hello, nice Irish girl. And I was like, okay, strange man, why are you talking to me? And I remember thinking, I’m not Irish because back then I didn’t know what I was and I thought, okay, well that’s weird, but okay. And I kind of put it aside and then it turns out, you know, at least one half of my father’s paternal side is Irish and very Irish. iThat is so Interesting. Elise says her genealogical work continues for her family as she tries to uncover more answers, but she’s confident she will eventually solve the remaining mysteries. That search for her paternal grandfather’s personal history is the kind of investigative work Elise has always done. She did it for her biological mother, her adopted grandmother, and then her biological father.

Elise: 29:05 I was always doing genealogy on the side. I mean, even when my mother broke of the reunion, she had given me a photograph of her grandparents. And it only had the first names? I guess it had their first name and their last name and I knew where they lived. So I just went and started figuring out who they were and I built this entire tree out for her family that went back to, oh gosh, 17 hundreds

Damon: 29:30 whoa.

Elise: 29:32 And I, you know, I’ve always done genealogy because, and I helped my grandmother and my adoptive family put together this big book, I guess back in 1998, 99 for, um, our adopted family with all I can put, you know, put, took all the research she had done and compiled it into a book and we gave it to all the grandkids, um, for that family. So I’ve always been interested in it.

Elise: 29:55 And then I decided to take some courses and then Boston university had a really good, um, genealogical research program that I went into it. And then I kinda got into the forensic genealogy and then people, and people have always asked like, you know, you found your parents, can you help me find mine? And I was like, well, I’ll try. And I just, you know, started helping people here, there and Yonder. And over the years, even before I had my Genealogy a lot like the certificate from Bu, um, I just kind of helped people cause I figured what the heck, everyone has a right to know where they came from.

Damon: 30:35 I wondered how Elise’s adopted family had reacted during her adoption search journey. She said they’ve been great and her parents have a nice relationship with her birth father. Still, She wishes her birth mother would come around and open up to her again, but Elise also realizes this isn’t only her journey. Her birth mother has her own life’s journey too.

Elise: 30:56 My parents who gave me my non-identifying, I when they helped me get it back when I was 17, I think that I though , I was just going to kind of hang with that for awhile and then I was probably, I don’t know, 19 or 20 and they surprised me at my apartment one day and I had all these books from the library out. They’re like, oh wait, you’re looking? And I’m like, yes, I’m looking. And so they were a little caught off guard, but they’re like, okay. But you also have to remember that when I was adopted, the agencies were telling the parents, you know, there’s no need to ever talk about it because they’ll never need to know anything and they’re just your children. Blank slate. You know, that kind of thing. And beware because the mothers go on and the father’s go on and they kind of forget about the kids, which we all know is not true.

Elise: 31:43 That was just adoption propaganda back then. That was the knowledge back then. So I think my parents were mostly worried about me getting hurt, you know, they wanted to support me. They were always, you know, right there in my corner. But they were always a little nervous about me getting hurt and I’m like, all right. But they knew everything. Like when I contacted my mother, I called my mom and I said, guess what, I found her, like Yay! And my mom said okay. And I said, we need some photos to bring with me when I go meet her. And my mom, you know, went and pulled together all these photos and put them in a book and sent it to me overnight mail so I could bring it to see my mother. And they were very supportive through all that. And they’ve met, they’ve never met my mother, but they have met my father multiple times.

Elise: 32:27 And my favorite story is when one day my father called and he said, what’s your mom and dad’s number again? And I said, oh, why do you need it? And he said, well, I’m going to be near where they live and I want to call them because we’re going on a trip with my wife. And I said, okay, fine. So next thing you know, I get a phone call a few months later with my parents, with my father and his wife out to dinner without me. And I’m like, okay, this is a little weird y’all. Or without me, like I’m good when your, with me. But now y’all are like hanging out without me.

Damon: 32:57 I’m supposed to be the piece in the middle.

Elise: 33:00 Right. Um, you know, I like when my kids were born, um, my father and his family came down when, um, my second child had, um, the baptism and there was the baptism. And then we had a big family party and I think everyone in my hometown decided they wanted to come see my son’s baptism. And I said, no, you don’t want to see the baptism. You want to come meet my father.

Elise: 33:23 So the party kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger because more people found out that, you know, my father and his family are going to be a there. And it was just, you know, it was fun. Everyone got to meet him and that’s been, that’s been a nice, um, a nice journey. You know, I keep hope that maybe one day my mother will change her mind or someone in her family will change their minds and want to be a part of it. And I hope before my adoptive parents pass because I really would like my adoptive parents to meet my mother and her family. But you know, that’s kind of not in my ballpark right now. I have to, I don’t really have any control over that. Yeah, that’s right. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. It just is what it is.

Damon: 34:06 Yeah, that’s, that’s a hard thing to come to grips with. But for your own sort of sanity, you do have to say, look, this is just the choice this person has made and far be it from me and try to influence it. If they’ve made up their mind, I gotta move on.

Elise: 34:22 Well, and I also found out after years of, you know, I mean years and years of years of going to different support groups and meeting other mothers who had relinquished and you kind of learn that it’s not about you, it’s about their journey, you know, so I can’t take it personally, if that makes sense.

Damon: 34:39 Yeah. I think what you’re saying is that there’s a journey for the, for the parents who relinquished you too, that preceded your own desire to search for them. That you also have to be very conscious of ,aware and acknowledge if you’re going to be sort of sensitive going through this and there may reach a point where they don’t want to be in touch with you. And that’s because of their, where they are.

Elise: 35:00 And you know, I say things because I know people who are adopted and they don’t want to search. And I kind of asked questions like, you’re not interested at all. And it goes back to, it’s a painful. You know, it’s a, it’s a deep loss when you lose connection to your original clan and your family of origin. And I think sometimes it’s a matter of, um, you don’t want to go down, that some people don’t want to go that deep. Everyone has their protection layer of how, how far down am I going to go in these emotions.

Damon: 35:38 Especially too, if you feel like you’re on solid footing right now or have been or have gotten on solid footing after something transpired that you weren’t sure you were going to make it through whatever it is, there are definitely points in a person’s life where you kind of say, wow, I’m good. Like I’m good right here and I don’t want to move. And it can be hard to sort of think like, let me start lifting stones and look for things underneath them. Uh, cause you never know what you’re going to uncover.

Elise: 36:06 And it goes back to, you know, in life everyone has their own journey and you can’t really push it. And you gotta go whatever pace is good for that particular person in that particular circumstance. Would I have loved for my mother to continue a relationship? Absolutely. Would I have loved for her to meet my kids and be a part of our family and you know, do what we’ve done with my father for 20 years? Absolutely. But for whatever reason it didn’t happen. You just have to accept it and move on.

Damon: 36:39 Well at least you got some contact with her in the beginning

Elise: 36:45 and I, and it was nice to, and I’m very blessed to have been able to meet her in person and you know some people I know some other people whose, they reached out their mother wouldn’t even meet them or you know, you’re not even talking on the phone. I, I, you know, I got to talk on the phone with her. I got to go to her house. I got to see her in person touch her hug her. You know, I have some, a couple of pictures of us together from the night that we met. So those are all treasurers and

Damon: 37:11 Yup. That’s a really good point. Not everybody even gets as far as you did. So the subsequent rejection hopefully is in many ways overshadowed by the initial receptivity and just warmth that you got and the memories that you say you have. I mean, you’re right, there are treasures now. Nobody can ever take those moments away from you.

Elise: 37:31 Relationships without adoption are complicated. So add adoption into the mix and reunion and everything else. There’s not a guide book that says, Oh, this is how you meet your mother and this is how you’re supposed to interact. And you know, this is how to meet your daughter. And it’s just super, super complicated.

Damon: 37:48 Well, Elise this has been amazing. I’ve, I’ve, I was astonished at the sort of journey that you went through. I was just picturing you on your dorm floor, your apartment floor, spreading information, trying to piece together this puzzle. I mean, I’m always fastinated..

Elise: 38:05 With a book eight inches thick, like all the papers stuff did it.

Damon: 38:08 Oh my gosh. I’m always so fascinated by the searches that precede the internet days and consumer base DNA.

Elise: 38:16 It was a whole different world.

Damon: 38:18 Yeah. Yeah. I mean for those of you who are able to make connections back then, you all are just like super sleuths. I mean obviously driven by a deep passion too, and I’m always impressed to hear how you’re able to come up with these connections. So thank you so much for sharing your story. This was really, really nice.

Elise: 38:34 It was nice to speak to you.

Damon: 38:35 You too. Take care. All the best to you. Okay Elise,

Elise: 38:38 Alright. Thank you so much.

Damon: 38:43 Hey it’s me. It was cool to hear Elise say that she really treasured the time she did have with her birth mother when they were in contact, but how awesome was it that her biological father liked clear direct communication so much that it opened up their relationship for them to foster a deep connection before they can meet in person. Elise serves as a search angel for adoptees looking to connect with their family members like she did. As a part of her adoption advocacy she also testifies for adoptee rights and writes op eds for access to original birth certificates. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Elise’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really? If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting to your biological family visit, you can also find this show at or follow me on Twitter at WAIReally, and please, if you like to show, take a moment to rate who am I really on iTunes, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts. Those ratings can help others find the podcast too.

Who Am I Really?

Find the show on: