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Category: Diary of an Adoptee (page 1 of 13)

Diary of an Adoptee: Banister Butt Two #1267

Filling in your family tree is like a viral infection, growing exponentially over time. I use this analogy during these shut-in times of self quarantine, affording the opportunity to work on my genealogy hobby. What initially started with my birth name, Jerry Lee Bannister, has now grown to over 23,000 connections on multiple branches. It’s all part of my search for answers based on genetic data linking me to thousands of strangers that have have each somehow had a role in my life. Some of them I’ve actually met face-to-face, while communicating with others by phone or through message centers. On 23andMe, for example, I’ve identified 39 close cousins and marked each on my tree with a green DNA Match label. With, I’ve done the same with 183 more relatives, including a half-sister connection. 

On Ancestry there are over 86,000 confirmed DNA matches for me, but most are very distant cousin connections. 23andMe offers nearly 1,400 more, but includes duplicates like me that submitted samples to both companies. There are hundreds of other websites that offer genetic analysis, but I don’t have the financial resources or motivation to do more comparative testing. Besides, even in retirement, I wouldn’t have time to figure out exactly how each relates to me. Every match requires a considerable amount of detective work, utilizing public records, newspaper articles, obituaries, social media sites, and other family trees that are often based on speculation. In some cases, only initials are provided to identify the sample, while others openly include a picture, birth date, sex, family names, and locations. As a result, my tree contains lots of arguable connections, but my goal is to find patterns of DNA matches as they relate to my birth parents – close is good enough! 

I have yet to make contact with my birth mother, but she is still alive and approaching her 87th birthday. My birth father died 9 years ago, but at least I have met his family. They were, of course, surprised that I existed but could see the strong resemblance. It was a surreal experience! I know that my birth mother and her family were equally shocked by my inquiries, but have elected not to respond. I don’t see any point in pushing it, even though I have many questions. I’ve discovered many answers through adoption records and DNA patterns to confirm that my information is correct. Without their help, I will continue to investigate new matches that pop-up every day on these websites. For example, Ancestry shows over 700 new connections, as more and more people submit saliva samples every day. 

The past few days of our governor-initiated-stay-at-home-order here in Oregon have included many hours of family tree trimming. I’ve uncovered connections with several close cousins including Elsa Stigdon-Schneider and her daughter Bethany Jurs, Ronald Barnes, Steve A. (Alexander), Marie Hamilton, and Pat Barnard. I also sent a message to a woman named Rayne Hubbard in nearby Canby to see if she could help clarify a mutual relationship with Terry Grimshaw. Terry was very helpful in providing birth records and census identification on my bio mom as I began my search years ago, but we’ve yet to find a common relative despite sharing DNA. Unfortunately, only about half the messages I send get any response, as people are often reluctant to get involved with a stranger, despite our common genetic backgrounds. In the process, I’ve spent a lot of time in a chair in front of the computer expanding the Jerry Banister Family Tree. Predictably, I’m once again developing all the familiar symptoms of what I call Banister Butt! (See Post #619).

Diary of an Adoptee: Curly Top #1254

I continue to get compliments on my full head of hair as it continues to naturally gray. My wife even complains: “I get the good hair in the next life.” It’s something I long took for granted, without anyone to thank for the good genes that I obviously inherited. My adopted dad had curly hair but had little to do with my unruly mop. I think most people assumed that I got it from him and his father who both had enviable locks. However, I didn’t carry their DNA, but now have pictures of my actual birth parents whose identity I discovered only a few years ago. 

My 86-year old birth mother has curls, but I’m not sure if they are natural or not. My birth father passed away ten years ago. Pictures show a certain star-quality appearance with a short gray beard but not much in the way of curls on top. I’m obviously never going to meet him, but there’s still that slim chance with her. I’ve never gotten to communicate with her, and family members indicate that she claims no connection or even recollection of me. Adoption and DNA records show otherwise, but she continues to hide “her little secret.” She was a 17-year old high school student when I was conceived and was soon sent away to the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers to give birth under wraps. I was adopted two months later.

I think it was the curly hair that caused people to say that I looked so much like my dad, but there was no ADOPTED stamp on my forward to indicate otherwise. It was probably the only feature we shared in common, as I was much taller, broader, and more muscular. There were complimentary comments about my hair last night and thoughts  immediately turned to both my parents and birth parents. I want to give credit where credit is due, but currently have no way to do so except through this writing. Every time I get it cut, the stylist gushes with envy, wondering what products I use to maintain the look. I know in reality they are just probably trying to sell me something, and I surely disappoint in saying that I honestly do nothing but wash it with cheap shampoo. I also rarely blow dry in favor of just a towel and brush. It magically seems to fall in place. 

At one point in my life, I wanted it to be even curlier, like something out of the late 60’s Mod Squad TV series. I spent the money on a “perm,” which I initially thought was a radical change, but I’m not sure anyone really noticed the difference. I shyly hid in the car after leaving the salon and for some unknown reason, the side window exploded, causing me to be even more self-conscience. I think that it was just the extreme heat of a summer day after the lengthy procedure that I sat through, but I somehow thought everyone was making fun of my Shirley Temple-like “curly top.” They weren’t really breaking windows to get a glimpse of me. 

I’m proud of my hair, clearly the best-inherited feature that I possess, with maybe the exception of my smile. After all, I was known in my younger years as “Smiley” not “Curly.” I could see the same hint of a smile and crinkly eyes in the picture of my birth father. The style when I was young was the crew cut, so there were no curls in my school pictures, while in college it radically grew to my shoulders, revealing all the curls of a girl. I still try to keep it just over my ears today – if you’ve got it – flaunt it! It’s fascinating after all these years to begin to explore resemblances between myself and other DNA relatives. I never had that experience in all my years of growing up, and often wondered where this distinctive curly top came from?   


Diary on an Adoptee: Tree Stalking #1234

There have been several adoption twists in television shows of late to the point where I almost expect it. Recently, it’s been part of a Grace and Frankie episode where Coyote meets his birth mother but she does not want to expose this secret to her new family. This is common in reunion stories. In the Netflix series Safe, based on a Harlan Coben novel, a daughter stalks her biological father in an effort to reveal their secret relationship. This one thankfully turns out positive for both of them. Adoptees and bastard children have certainly risen to the forefront of modern entertainment drama. 

I’m obviously more sensitive to these situations than most because I am an adoptee, but first a lovable bastard. I have admittedly stalked and written to my birth mother, but have received no acknowledgment. I even circumvented the scenario of keeping the secret discreetly between mother and son, by also writing her family. Still no response. On the other hand, the birth father has long passed, but his family was graciously receptive to my inquiries. I don’t know where to go from here?

I could have popped-up during a different chapter of their lives, but there were no inheritance issues, rights to the throne, or other claims that are too often Hollywood-ized. I want nothing except some questions answered and perhaps some insight into health genetics. I’ve tried to find some of this information by building an family tree and finding common DNA connections. I have now identified about 200 DNA relatives on my Jerry Banister Family Tree, including a separate test that I took on 23andMe. There are now over 22,000 people that have been added to my branches just to find these 200 close connections. It’s a very cumbersome process that has taken over 3 years, considering that in order to find one match on the tree it’s necessary to add 100 more names. 

The challenge is that most all the voluntary DNA testing has been in recent years, excluding those who are no longer living and never had access or reason for testing. This means that the majority of my DNA connections are with younger generations whose identities are often only revealed in the obituaries of their parents or grandparents or finding more intrusive sources. Ancestry was designed to maintain privacy for the living, so seeking information through other member trees is often marked as “private.” You need permission from family members to see the newest members. I haven’t really been accepted into the Ban(n)ister family, with a few exceptions, so my work might be considered to most as stalking – just like in the movies. 

Diary of an Adoptee: Do-Over #1209

Today would have been my dad’s 99th birthday. Mom was one day behind him. They adopted me just before they turned 29 and my sister four years later. It takes a special couple to take-in someone else’s baby as their own. I couldn’t have asked for better parents, although I still did my share of making life difficult for them. I regret not being more grateful at the time and for abusing my good fortune. I was especially mean to my mom who did everything for me, when I was really nothing more than a guest in their home. I would like a do-over on being their son.

As I continue to explore the family that shares my DNA and put-together an tree to understand the connections, there’s a certain sense of guilt that washes over me. These are all complete strangers, while my “real” family has nothing to do with genetics. While my adopted parents were still alive, out of respect I had little interest in looking for strangers. My heart was definitely in the right place, but I didn’t always show it. As I reflect on growing up, I should have shared my feelings, expressed my love. Instead, I was selfish and in need of a do-over. 

In this life, you don’t get do-overs! You have to live with your mistakes, as I am with mine. After all, it was a likely mistake that brought me into this world. Two strangers attracted to each other got together without anticipating the consequences. It gave my parents the start to a family and me the opportunity to raise a son of my own. It turned out to be a chain reaction of good fortune. Granted, I could have been a better son, but most people don’t understand this until they take on the role of being a parent themselves. In my case, I also grew up in a family that also had the resources to provide me with a college education. I’m not sure that would have been the case without adoption. Not to mention the personal nurturing and attention I received as part of a stable household. All things consider, I would never risk a do-over or even consider giving up the love that I will always feel for my mom and dad. It’s their birthday and I miss them!



Diary of an Adoptee: Tree Leggs #1201

There are now nearly 800 Leggs on my Jerry Ban(n)ister Family Tree, strongly outnumbering even the Ban(n)isters. Every day a few more names get added to the point where there are now over 20,000 connections that I have found. For months now I had been searching for a 3rd cousin named Larry Bogue, one of the close DNA matches that had yet to fit on any branch of this sprawling tree. I went to Facebook and found the name associated with Purdue University. Even though he now lived in Colorado Springs, I had the feeling that he was originally was Indiana and my hunch was right. His family grew up in Tipton County that is directly in the heart of the Central Indiana Ban(n)ister nest. After finding an obituary for his father on-line, I then discovered that his grandmother was a Legg and added him to my tree with a green “DNA MATCH” tag. 

Although the name Legg is obviously a popular one in Ban(n)ister heritage, it was not common in my circle of friends. However, as an adoptee I grew up as a Johnston, not a Bannister as listed on my birth certificate. I did once work with a Bill Legg  – the only time I’ve run across it outside of tree I’ve constructed. Personally, when I think of Leggs it’s the popular Z. Z. Top song “she’s got legs, she knows how to use them.” I have written about other Ban(n)ister connections to the Legg family in this blog. (See Post #635 and Post #1104). They also have a good sense of humor with nick-names like “Bird” and “Bent.”

In the process of all this, I may have uncovered a mismatch, where a 2nd cousin relationship identified with a green “DNA MATCH” tag for Charles Leonard “Mousie” Hines could be wrong. Mistakes often happen on tracing genetic roots since the same common birth names are used over and over. It now appears that there are other Hines named Charles in the mix, so additional research will be required to pin-down this association. Furthermore, when I get more time, I will continue to explore Legg lore, since Bill Legg was from the Richmond, Indiana area. There may very well be a relative connection I will find. I know he now lives in South Bend and we continue to be distant friends through Facebook. I’ll have to send him a message.

Diary of an Adoptee: Clueless #1198

As I approach 20,000 entries on my Jerry Ban(n)ister Family Tree, I find myself going backwards rather than forward. Most of the DNA connections that I’m now finding are very distant relatives, designated as 5th or 6th generation cousins. In each case, I start in the 1700’s and follow the trail to more modern times. Ancestry maintains privacy for those still alive, so as I move into the 1900’s there is little identifying information. I often discover how we are genetically related, but know little about them personally. Only in a few cases have I actually met these members of my “family.” The majority are simply strangers that have a distant connection to the circumstances regarding my adoption. As a result, I remain clueless on the answers I seek. 

What am I looking for? I ask this question every day as I continue to explore the names or initials that have even a slight DNA connection on Ancestry or 23andMe. I then try to see how they fit into the tree and mark them with a green “DNA MATCH” label. Many of my newest discoveries are actually offspring of 2nd or 3rd cousins that were labeled earlier in my research. However, DNA science is a relatively new technology and only my generation was given the opportunity to voluntarily provide samples to be tested. Slowly but surely new names appear in the database, but they tend to be younger, perhaps seeking answers like me. The closest I now find are third or fourth cousins, as my generation continues to die. 

It seems a bit morbid but the only new information I now get is in the obituaries of my peers. They list living family members that only show up as “private” on Ancestry records. It’s unfortunately the only way to fill-in the holes on my family tree. Someone has to die to reveal the family secrets that are hidden from the public. This is especially true for me because I don’t know these people that are my relatives. I didn’t grow up with them or attend reunions to meet their parents or children. 

It’s a sad quest, especially knowing that my 86-year old birth mother is alive but unresponsive along with her children who ignore my inquiries. It’s as if I’m prying into their lives, when I should have the right to answers. The family tree research exercises I go through every day are futile attempts to know the people who gave me life. She probably gave me a better life through adoption so I’m nothing but grateful. However, without her acknowledgment of our relationship, I will always probably remain clueless. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Line Phobia #1187

When I talked to my sister today, as I do at the start of every week, she recalled that we never went to Disney World as kids because my dad hated lines. As my wife then pointed out, he was also impatient in traffic and had a bad habit of leaving cabinet doors open. This was all learned behavior for me, especially the part about line phobia. Admittedly, I hate to wait, cuss & swear like a pirate while driving, and forget to close doors, cabinets, or to turn off lights. I hadn’t really thought about why. Now, I know…thanks dad. 

As an adopted child, I obviously inherited none of his physical traits, but we shared an interest in numbers, sports, and planning budgets, even though I don’t necessarily stick to them like he did. As an accountant, he was frugal – I am not. He was neat – I’m more of a slob. Both of us were prone to yell at the T.V., but he also liked to taunt the referees (“You meatball!”). I’m less boisterous in public situations, probably because of this! After work, he was a powder keg ready to explode and hid behind a newspaper in silence while nursing a cocktail, as the alcohol effectively instilled a sense of calm. We knew to stay away and to never ask for anything during that critical home reorientation time. Despite some of these quirks, he was still my idol and I spent my entire life trying to emulate his success. I loved sharing good news with him, but feared the opposite.

Through the years, I’ve gotten better about dealing with any phobias about standing in line. Along with my dislike of buffets and cafeterias where I had to serve myself, these were my two greatest adaptation challenges. Phones have certainly helped me deal with the boredom of waiting. I’ve also learned to appreciate the fact that it’s difficult to spend money while standing in line. An hour in line can save hundreds of dollars, especially if you can check on sports scores, answer e-mails, and play games to pass the time. Particularly in New York City or Las Vegas, it’s time not spent in expensive stores or pricey restaurants. Cafeterias also save money, plus you get your food much quicker. For my wife who’s a picky eater, it avoids the hassle of sending things back to the kitchen. She can see the food and select what she likes rather than rely on a server to tell tell the chef to hold the onions or to keep her portions separated on the plate. I still to be served without getting up and being first in line, but through the years I’ve discovered the financial advantages of what were once negatives. 

I miss my dad but still seem to channel some of his good and bad habits. He was a great man and father, adopting two strangers in his home to raise as his own. I can not imagine a better way of life as a child that he and my mother provided. However, I always wondered why her never took us to Disney World when we would vacation in that area of Florida every year with my grandparents? My sister felt strongly that it was because of the huge lines, although he apparently did break down one year and agree to take my Grandmother there for an anniversary celebration. As I think about it, his attitude might have been different if he had a cell phone to keep him busy while standing there for hours. 


Diary of an Adoptee: Brothers #1170

I apparently have a DNA connection with over 79,000 people on It’s making me realize that the whole world is related in some way. I’d like to think that each of us should treat each other like brothers, but there’s many brothers that unfortunately don’t get along. I never had a true brother growing up, so I can’t directly relate, but I have friends that I love like a brother. According to my DNA testing, I’ve had four half-brothers but only one is still living. I made an effort to connect but there was no response. I check him out occasionally on Facebook to see if we have any similarities. Is that weird? I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but we are the product of the same mother and curiously share the same name, Jerry Lee.  I think he looks like her, while I tend to resemble my birth father. At least, both of us still have our hair – though silver.

My birth mother had three brothers, including a set of twins, and four sisters. She was the youngest and at 86 now the only surviving sibling. My birth father had an older sister, but no one in the family knows if she is still alive. He took his life 8 years ago, seven years before I ever discovered his identity. I doubt that he knew that I ever existed. He left behind a wife of 60 years, five daughters, and a grandson. His only son died at age 16. My birth mother also experienced tragedy with her family, losing two sons. There was also a daughter that has not acknowledged my communications. I have, however, met four of my five half-sisters and their mother, so all my efforts to connect with my DNA relatives have not been in vain. 

My only true father had a brother and one sister, while my loving mother was an only child. In addition to myself, four years later they adopted a daughter. Apparently, I did not do enough to discourage them from raising another. We were both given everything we wanted and I still call my sister every Monday to stay in touch. She has been in close touch with her birth mother for many years now, while I was reluctant to fully conduct a search. It wasn’t until my parents both passed away five years ago that I began to seek some answers. In the process, I did two DNA swabs and have built a tree of over 18,000 family connections. On Ancestry, I currently have 2,465 close matches (over 21 cM – centimorgans) and with 23andMe 1,274 more. I try to mark each of them on the Jerry Banister Family Tree with a green “DNA Match” graphic instead of a photo or silhouette. To clarify, in terms of DNA comparison, a centimorgan (abbreviated cM) is a unit for measuring genetic linkage. The higher the number – the closer the relationship. 

As Christmas approaches, thoughts of family gatherings come to mind. It was a year ago at this time that I got together with my half-sisters in their hometown of Scipio, Indiana. I had already met two other DNA family members in Chicago and Indianapolis. Each was a memorable occasion and has resulted in Banister friendships. I’ve yet to meet with a male relative. Most of my DNA matches are with women, who tend to me more receptive to testing. My potential closest brotherhood of Banisters is limited to a half-nephew, the son of my half-sister, Gabe Burkman. His mother Julianna is my closest Ancestry DNA match at 1719 cM, while he is at a logically more distant 894. Terry Banister at 262, J.S. Sampson (218), SNI Snider (201), Jared Stinehart (169), Craig Banister (164), and Brandon Willard (162) are the nearest to being living “brothers.” Phillip Legg, Brandon Willard (again), Larry Bogue, and Benjamin Wilson are my closest male 23andMe DNA connections. I still can’t determine how Larry and Benjamin fit into the structure of my family tree. Where are you, brothers?


Diary of an Adoptee: Tree Growth #1169

My Ancestry Jerry Lee Banister family tree has now exceeded 18,000 people, as I continue to find connections with each DNA match. It isn’t getting me any closer to a conversation with my birth mother, but it continues to support my unique relationship as her first son. She called me Jerry Lee, a name she also gave to her next son. Perhaps, she knew that I would get a different name once the adoption was finalized. I cannot not find a any evidence on my tree that it was a family name, and the most popular owner of this identity, Jerry Lee Lewis, didn’t even start recording until five years after my birth. It’s one of many mysteries that will probably never be solved without her acknowledgement of my existence. 

I’m just grateful this holiday season to be alive, as I continue to quietly support right-to-life and adoption. In my case, it’s been a blessing after 68 years of enjoying life. All I would really want to say to her is thank you, but I still have questions. Considering the times, I’m sure she had little choice in keeping me. Abortions were dangerous and illegal, not to mention murder. There are circumstances when it may be justifiable, especially when the mother’s life is in danger, but adoption is always the best option. As I think about it, so far four other lives would also not exist if I had not been born. My son, three grandchildren and their potential offspring would have been tragically lost. 

I would never have known my adoptive parents, their parents, and families. I would not know their friends, neighbors, or siblings. Instead, I would have had different brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, and acquaintances. These are the strangers that occupy most of my ancestral tree. It’s odd to realize that I’m researching people that I will probably never know. However, there have been a few that I’m now in touch with, trying to figure out if they are as interested in me, as I am with them?

I would still like to know how the relationship between my birth parents came about, and why it ended? It doesn’t matter to me if it was love or passion. I will make no judgments or question any decisions. I’d like them to know how I turned out, and that they should proud of what they created. I know that sounds a bit like Frankenstein, but I’m the successful product of many generations of Ban(n)isters, who descend from LaBorn (1801-1885) and beyond, once someone much smarter than me figures that out. This much we all have in common. In the meantime, the tree will continue to grow as I continue to find my place in the Ban(n)ister family, even if it’s just on paper and because we share genetic matter that none of us totally understands. 


Diary of an Adoptee: Thanksgiving 2019 #1136

Thanksgiving is a special time for me. For most people it’s all about Pilgrims, Indians, and Turkey, plus a chance to give thanks. In my case, it’s the time of year that two people, attracted to each other, gave me life. What brought them together will probably  always be a mystery? The one person who knows denies that it ever happened, but DNA evidence and adoption records show that it did. I’m the living proof!

Families gather together at this time of year. This couple shared the last name of Banister, with a great grandfather, David Banister (1837-1918), in common, but different great grandmothers. They obviously did not see themselves as related, as stated on the adoption questionnaire in my possession that she filled out. Perhaps it was a holiday family reunion that ultimately brought them together or simply their small town upbringing? They were in high school together, but just over two years apart in age. He had just graduated and enlisted in the Marines, while she had to drop out after her Junior year. I’m guessing that he never knew I existed given the secrecy of the pregnancy and the fact that she was in the care of the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers. Just months after I was born, he was in San Diego at Camp Pendleton, married to another of their classmates. I was soon adopted, while he fought for our country in Korea, as did the only man who I called “Dad.” My birth mother went to work and eventually gave birth to a second son she also named Jerry Lee, along with three other children through two marriages. She currently lives in Seymour, Indiana, as does my half-brother. A half-sister has a home in Indianapolis, where I was born. 

It’s that 10-month time frame between just before Thanksgiving 1950 and just after my August 1951 birthday that I’m most curious about. Did their relationship continue during this period or was it just a brief affair? She’s still alive at the age of 86 and could answer my questions if she was willing. He died nine years ago, but left me with six half-siblings and a widow that also knew nothing of my existence. DNA brought us all together last Christmas. For the first time in my 68 years of life, I honor the two people this Thanksgiving that brought me into the world. I’m now confident of their identities, as clearly determined this past year, and at least know some of the puzzle pieces of their relationship. I give extraordinary thanks to them for my existence and the other special couple that raised me as their own. Happy Thanksgiving. 


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