Monday, June 06, 2011


This was evidently “roots” week, as I had three threads on the subject going all week!

First was a query from a man in Norway trying to find Bob’s brother’s wife’s descendants.  That would be my ex-niece and former student, Laurel.  But she was on vacation and her cousin is a nurse who works odd hours, and this man was getting more and more frustrated so he was sending me more and more messages.

Second was a re-contact with Trace De Meyer, a woman of mixed genetic heritage who had been adopted out of a Native American family into a white family that turned out to be abusive (sexually and emotionally).  She recognized me because she had been on some of the same NA “talking lists” and is now keeping a blog for “Split Feathers” or “Lost Birds,” the many many Indian children adopted to white families for several decades.  Many vital issues to discuss.  She has published a book which I’ll review later. "One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects."

Third was Bob Scriver’s first wife’s seventh child, who was adopted and whose existence was only known to a few family members who kept it secret.  That wife, Alice Prestmo Scriver Skogen Stainbrook (three husbands) died soon after the birth of Karen, who was adopted to a successful family and cherished, but always curious about her birth family.  Clearly the way we once handled adoptions --  denial and sentimentality entwined -- doesn’t work, but the trouble is in part that no one “way” is successful in every case anyhow. 

In this specific case, there is Gardner’s Syndrome in the genome -- a proclivity for intestinal polyps that can develop into colon cancer.  That was the cause of death for Karen’s mother and grandmother and her half-sister and half-brother, who were Bob Scriver’s children.  It’s possible that Bob had a recessive version of the troublesome gene.  This mutation was also denied and suppressed by the people who could have told Karen.

Both Trace and Karen (as well as Amy) are achievers, but restless, uneasy in relationships until many years of wrestling yielded enough of their unknown stories to give them a little confidence and let them reach out.  Trace has the more dramatic story and is a journalist quite capable of telling it.  Karen is an artist.  What’s remarkable is how many times the three of us have lived in the same places and crossed trails without knowing it.  (I am not adopted and have a LOT of genealogical info.)  Karen’s third husband was close friends with the son of Bob Scriver’s best friend, Ace Powell, and her husband knows several of my good friends on the Blackfeet reservation.  These women are in their forties, about the daughter-age for me.

The man from Norway is in a slightly different situation.  He’s middle-aged, has no immediate family, does IT work for a living so spends a lot of time alone.  Such a man has a little proving to do when contacting female relatives, to assure us that he’s not just cruising, but he did have a body of information to share.  I DID emphasize to him that his branch in this country has had a long struggle with depression/alcoholism/Alzheimer’s (not uncommon in northern Europe) so he might look into his own genome.  That cooled his jets a little. 

For both Karen and Trace there was no happy mother pleased to see them -- both women died before they could be met -- but sibs and others were curious and pleased.  Adoptions can arise from unhappy or nonexistent marriages, so there are always hints of sexual nonconformity, somebody not playing by the rules, which can even threaten present relationships, both for the mother and the daughter.  Each situation is unique, but there are major social constructs about such things as adoption, especially when romantic cultures like Native Americans are involved.  There was real trauma and injustice.

My impulse is to work at two levels: the most personal and specific and then in the background the most universal and scientific.  What are the great human universals in regards to children and identity?  Are they considered possessions (all too often!) actually owned by the father, along with their mother?  Are they legal access to wealth, either by inheritance from blood parents or by entitlement to membership in a specially compensated group (tribe)?  Is a person’s identity determined by pedigree (the acknowledged ancestors) or genome (no two people have the same genome) or by how the physical body and brain have been developed over years of experience and skill-building?  What special vulnerabilities or talents have been carried from one generation to another?

What status does parentage bestow?  What are the relationships, legal and emotional, between blood parents and adopting parents, to say nothing of children created in a petri dish, implanted with eight ova (some of which were deliberately snuffed to save the others), fathered by frozen sperm from an unknown donor, carried to term by a surrogate mother, raised by an adoptive mother or even by a genetic mother who delegated all care (including nursing) to a hired servant or a slave.  When these practices are broadly shared, a kind of class of person is created, like Southern children raised by slave nannies or British boys raised by the equivalent of religious boarding schools for Native Americans with discipline just as harsh.  I expect there to be some rather powerful groups to eventually form out of the many female Chinese babies adopted in this country.  I call them the Little Empresses, because those I’ve met have strong personalities.

Nineteenth Century people strategizing about the Native American “problem” were dealing with Nineteenth Century cultures still mostly intact and functional, but they had no awareness nor respect for “other” cultures, so they tied entitlement to provenance, figuring that intermarriage with whites would gradually dilute the gene pool into assimilation.  But then they put children at the pairing age together in government boarding schools, so now there’s a generation of multi-tribe people who are “all Indian” but don’t have enough tribal percentage to gain entitlement in any of them.  Eisenhower, who wanted to get rid of reservations as inefficient, thought,  “Oh, we’ll send them all to the cities and that will break up the symbiosis with place.”  But the government, in its usual half-hearted way, didn’t fund or guide relocation enough to keep people out of the ghettoes, so now the NA’s are mixed with blacks, Asians, Polynesians, Maori, Hispanic, Irish, etc.  I call them Tomorrow’s People.  Many of them are on the Pacific coast where people gathered during WWII for wartime manufacturing.

But Trace is aware of the irony in her situation because the more she traced her heritage, the more she found very early European immigrants.  In fact, I once heard an expert suggest that any family with roots that go back more than a couple of hundred years is bound to include Native Americans.  But at the same time the tribal relatives she found were a great source of satisfaction on both sides.  I think joyful and forgiving perseverance is the way to go.  Check out Trace at


Mary Scriver said...

The link to Trace's blog seems to be broken. In the meantime, until it is fixed, this is a link to her book on Amazon.

Prairie Mary

Rhett Lynch said...

This is a short film I am working on dedicated to all Lost Birds/Split Feathers. Thank you for taking a look.