Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Turn in my Genealogist's Card

I am sick. My stomach is in knots. A few weeks ago I made a most uncomfortable phone call to inform a cousin that she has a brother she has never known. AWKWARD! But think about it - you're in your 30s or 40s. Or 50s. If you had a sibling you never knew about, would you want to be informed? By me?

As a genealogist I occasionally discover private information that some family members are not aware of. I have always held that it is not my place to inform others of this information. If the information has been withheld from family members it has been withheld for a reason. And I respect that.

For more than 20 years I have been entrusted to some family secrets and it has always been my intention to guard those secrets. Yet today, I am sick over something I did a few weeks ago.

Caught up in the spirit of the season, I acted too quickly without taking the time to check each fact and then check again.

Verify your sources.

This started when I was contacted by a cousin who had been contacted by a young man who was seeking his adoptive family. It's Christmas. My cousin told me that this young man lost contact with his family and wanted to reconnect. My cousin wondered if I knew the family and could help. Of course I could.

A Christmas family reunion danced in my head. How neat would it be to connect him back to his adoptive family?

Slow down. Check the facts. Check your sources.

I didn't do that.

While I would never give out the contact information of others to someone who happened to ask I am more than willing to pass on someone else's contact information to my family members. And so I contacted Susan.*

Susan is a distant cousin of mine and we have chatted on Facebook before. She comes from a blended family so I wasn't sure what she may have known about her brother. I would have contacted her parents myself but did not have their contact information.

I sent her a message and told her I would like to talk with her. We weren't able to talk right away but did tell her enough to really confuse her. I told her that her brother wanted to reconnect with her family.

She didn't know she had a brother.

Oh boy. What have I done?

A few days passed and I hoped that my message would be forgotten. I didn't know which way the road would take me but I knew I didn't want to go down it.

Then I was contacted by Brian.* He told me he was trying to reahc his family. I picked up the phone and called him and he told me a story that was different than my cousin told me. He wasn't adopted by Susan's family. He was given up for adoption by her family and now was knocking on doors seeking answers.

Brian had contacted his birth mother a few months ago and was told that his birth father was Susan's dad. Susan didn't know this. Heck, her dad may not of known this. And it may not be true.

While one may look at Brian and see some family resemblance, I'm not ready to accept that he belongs to Susan's family.

Brian is a mature adult. He comes looking for nothing except a sense of family. And a sense of history.

But I am ripped up inside that I contacted this family to tell them about Brian. First, it was that their adopted son has returned. And then when that wasn't the case, I had already "spilled the beans" and told them too much so I had to follow up with "Brian thinks your dad is his father."

While I could blame my cousin for providing me bad information, I don't. I know to check and double-check each source. I needed to talk to Brian myself before I initiated contact. I didn't do that.

As for Brian, I don't know what I want. I do want him to find answers and his family. It would be neat if he was part of mine but finding answers is most important.

As for Susan's family, maybe her dad fathered a child he never knew about. It happens. If he did, I hope they can come to some understanding of the situation. A Christmas miracle would be for them to accept Brian after all these years searching for answers.

And if he fathered a child he knew about and never wanted to be contacted then I really messed up. Now his family knows his secret.

Brian is knocking on doors. He will find the family with or without my help. In fact, he hasn't been told about them; they have been informed about him though. They have his contact information so they can contact him if they desire. But he is closing in.

I am hoping and praying for the best for this family. And I am hoping that I have learned a big lesson. And I think I need to turn in my genealogist's card. I really screwed up.

*Named changed to protect the guilty -- me