Today's thoughts

Category: DIARY OF AN ADOPTEE (Page 3 of 14)

As an adopted child, my thoughts and research.

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. 


Diary of Adoptee: Humpty Dumpty #1134

There are hundreds of DNA strangers that I have discovered over the past few years through either Ancestry or 23andMe testing. My sometimes obsessive curiosity comes about as I try to find out how all of them are connected. I’ve recently put together a list of over 300 matches that range from close family to distant cousin and have tried to compare each of their family trees to mine. This is easy but tedious on because “common ancestors” are highlighted. However, many of these matches have yet put together a tree or have made their personal relationships private to prevent any possible analysis. 

Unfortunately, death is a genealogist’s best friend. This is because families publish obituaries that expose most family connections to the public. What was once private information is suddenly common knowledge if you’re either an Ancestry or newspaper subscriber. Digging through all this information has been accelerated through computerization and the internet. It makes detective work much easier than it was years ago when graveyards, wills, and family stories were the most accurate sources for information. There appears to be little respect for the dead anymore as we seek family history. 

Adoptees like myself have been similarly protected by the legal system. For example, only recently have adoption records been released. This has allowed me to find the identities of my birth parents, a secret hidden for over 65 years. Paperwork like this in conjunction with DNA testing are putting biological families back together. In my case, it’s like Humpty Dumpty where the pieces are still there but they’ll never be put back together. The woman that gave birth to me when she was an unmarried 18-year old student that apparently still denies any role in my life. I have not communicated with her directly but have sent proof to close family members. She supposedly claims to not remember and vehemently denies my allegation. It’s obviously been an embarrassing secret that she’s carried or buried all these years. A close DNA match with a daughter exposed the birth father and recently acquired adoption records confirm his involvement. After not knowing anything all these decades, I should feel satisfied in just knowing the truth. Instead, I continue to seek more details. 

I’m not broken or even damaged. I was probably better off as an adopted child and grew up to be happy and successful. I do feel that something is missing, as I continue to search DNA connections that will undoubtedly just confirm my suspicions. One Banister hooked-up with another Banister (distantly related) as he prepared to go to war. Their relationship took place over the Thanksgiving holidays and nine months later I was born. They went their separate ways, married other people, and raised families of their own. I was put into a loving home and have lived happily ever after, just like a fairy tale or a Mother Goose melody. Maybe I’m being a bit too dramatic?

In reality, I’ve found Ancestry DNA matches with one “close family” tie, 4 first cousins, fourteen second cousins, and 264 other cousins, along with hundreds more of really distant relatives that comprise the Jerry Banister Family Tree. It has recently exceeded 15,500 connections including additional 23andMe DNA cousin matches. It’s a giant Ban(n)ister puzzle that forms a fascinating historical web extending across the seas to England and Scotland. The million dollar question is whether or not I’ll ever satisfy my Humpty?:

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”


Retirement is not without Hassles: Son-In-Laws #1132

This year I’m experiencing a new level of family-ties, having recently added two son-in-laws.  Granted, it’s only on the step-father level, but it’s still beginning to develop into a new marital challenge. I’ve noticed there are more conversations between mother and daughters now that the honeymoon is over. These are all non-DNA relationships as if that has anything to do with habits or abilities to get-along. However, I have somehow become part of these discussions, as my habits are now compared with their new husbands. It’s a personal violation of my space. For example, my son-in-law here in Portland was playing video games all day Sunday, and my wife commiserated by describing herself as a “football widow.” The topic of should the husband always accompany the wife to the grocery store was also bantered about? Hopefully, our sex lives won’t be compared!

I think that in the long run I’ll enjoy having son-in-laws if we can keep the wives from talking. I’m not sure exactly what we have in common yet, but that will come together over the many meals that we will share. They both seem to be better educated and more serious than I ever was at their age. Neither of them have the same sports interests that comes natural with my son. It will take a while for me to understand the nature of their careers. I also try to maintain a distant relationship with my wife’s daughters since their father is the primary male figure in their day-to-day growth. He will also most likely be the “favored” father-in-law simply because they are married to his daughters.

I doubt there will be grandchildren from either couple, having not married sooner. Both women are now in their late thirties and highly motivated in their careers. For me, three grandchildren through my son and his wife are more than I ever expected. I’m off to visit them in Florida in another month. I certainly enjoy spending time with my daughter-in-law that has brought a lot of joy into my son’s life. I’m sure she’s gotten an ear-full about me from my former wife in their discussions about the men in their life. 

I’ve added my son-in-laws to my family tree that includes a combination of extended, adopted, and genetic families. As I work on all these personal connections, it’s disturbing to know that we all will someday be just a memory to future generations. It’s good to adding living relatives rather than spending all my time trying to identify “strangers” that may or may not have had an influence in my life. As time goes on, I hope my new son-in-laws are as happy with their new wives as I am with mine. Please, just keep us out of the conversation!

Retirement is not without Hassles: Who Am I? #1130

My wife felt like a football widow these past few days and admittedly I spent a lot of time in front of the “boob tube.” Don’t worry, I did get a 3-mile run in every day to extend my continuous streak to 3,977. Only 23 days until the four-thousand milestone and another 28 to hit the 11-year mark! While not on the run, two I.U. soccer wins and the BIG Championship did not make up for the loss to Penn State. The Hoosier basketball victory over Troy in between was interrupted by our “Meet the neighbors” open house, but the Oregon Ducks game started after everyone left. The Indianapolis Colts game wasn’t televised, while the “Bad News” Bears weren’t worth watching. I will get reacquainted with my wife today on our way  to “Matinee Monday.” I want to see Ford v Ferrari that in her opinion is just more sports, but agrees that it’s getting great reviews. 

While I was sitting in front of the TV, I was also actively engaged on the internet. I won a 1956 Chicago White Sox autographed baseball through the Heritage auction house that included Sherm Lollar’s signature, along with Hall of Fame members Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. It was my first experience with on-line bidding, so I was fortunate to claim the prize after the two-week process. At the same time, I was busy with “Ban(n)ister World,” adding more names to my Jerry Banister Family Tree. I created a list of about 100 names with “Common Ancestors” among my Ancestry DNA matches and performed the tedious task of connecting each them to the tree branches. It will hopefully give me more stories to add to my “Diary of an Adoptee.” It’s all about my curious quest to identify those who gave me life and find out more about their extended Ban(n)ister family members

If you didn’t know it already, I’m an adopted child and running fanatic that turned out to be an Indiana University (I.U.) grad, media alum, sports nut, collector, movie lover, and hobby genealogist. I have time to do all of these interests in retirement, and write about them in this daily blog. This particular post combines all my favorite activities. My wife and I now live in Portland, Oregon but we’re both originally from Indiana. We’re considering a move to sunny Florida to establish a permanent retirement home. My son and three grand kids would then be nearby. In fact, we’re headed to Orlando in a month for a visit and to do some exploration of property on the Gulf Coast. My wife’s daughters will be concerned that their mother is so far away, but both of them are newlyweds with busy lives. I don’t know if our elderly schnauzer, Tinker, will be able to tolerate another move, but the younger one, Tally, will like running on the beach. In the meantime, we’ll continue to be retired world travelers, dining-out enthusiasts, wine drinkers, and party hosts. Hopefully, this all will give you a clearer picture of Who I Am?


Diary of an Adoptee: Family Names #1125

I continue to work on the Ancestry Jerry Ban(n)ister Family Tree, placing over 15,300 names on its sprawling branches over the past few years. The work started after I began to piece together adoption paperwork as well as DNA matches on both Ancestry and 23andMe. I was curious about these “blood” relatives and interested in how they connected with each other. Other hobby genealogists (if I can even call myself one?) were impressed with my dedication and enthusiasm. I also began to compile this written diary blog, outlying each step of my discovery journey, including the many mistakes and assumptions that I made. I searched obituaries, Facebook, Linked In, public records, and even made a few face-to-face visits in the process. The result is a database of first, middle, and last names that form a complicated puzzle of my life. There are only a hand full of people that I actually know on the tree, mostly the adopted relatives that I grew up around. 

My life-long identity as a Johnston is a last name that only appears 45 times, with only about a dozen familiar faces in this close family mix. My birth name of Ban(n)ister accounts for only about 5% of the total, that’s taking into account both the “n” and “double n” spellings. The Legg family also accounts for 5% of my tree, with the Hall and Greathouse names comprising another 5%. The next 5% includes Burton, Anderson, Foist, Taylor, Sweany, Miller and Branham, in order of appearance. However, these prominent names carved into the roots amount to only 25% of the overall total. The remaining 75% are names that appear less than 100 times, most fewer than 25. It just proves that everyone around us is probably related in some way. The world is just one big family!

I spent most of yesterday and today on the Burton branches of my tree, trying to find a connection with my #1 DNA connection on 23andMe, Joyce Gourley. Like me she was also adopted, and we’re supposedly scientifically related as first cousins. Her birth mother was a Burton, complicated by the fact that her biological grandmother was also adopted.  I was Jerry at birth, while she was Nancy. Now, I’m Mike and she is Joyce. Just as the Johnston family made me their own, she became a Thompson, then married a Gourley. These twists in the trunk make it difficult to find where our separate life paths crossed. With 512 Burton names on my tree, I’ve yet to find a connection with her after months of on-and-off research. Joyce and I had initially started an on-line conversation through 23andMe, but she must have lost interest. I find that most people run hot and cold when it comes to their personal lives. I did not hear back from her regarding my speculations on her roots. At least, she didn’t answer my last few questions. I worry that perhaps I made some wrong assumptions when I found her name on Facebook. I could have even found the wrong person. 

I’m not really trying to establish a relationship. I’m just naturally curious – obviously more than even my own birth mother. I still get crickets in trying to communicate with her family. It’s scary when a stranger claims to be related, and I’m certainly sensitive to this concern. It’s not like I’m Sneaky Pete, trying to steal the family fortune. I’m not even looking for an invitation to Christmas dinner. It’s easy to sit here and add names to my family tree, some of them are even probably wrong. I often view it as a game, but in reality each name is an actual person that has lived most of their lives without me in it. Admittedly, I’m a late-comer to the Ban(n)ister Party, but would like to learn more about the family that with a twist of fate could have been a bigger part of my life.  

Diary of an Adoptee: The Match Game #1122

I spent the last couple of days in Ban(n)ister World, hoping to hang genetic matches on the family tree. It’s a game that often requires research and patience, digging into the lives of total strangers that might have  been close relatives if circumstances had been different. The tree also includes my closest adopted relatives that I grew up with, and has now exploded to over 15,300 people, with a degree of duplication. With a lot of work searching Facebook, combing obituaries, and comparing other trees, I was able to identify third cousins Angie Lane Janow, her brother Richard Lane, and Brenda Lee Irelan Smith. In the process, I’m also trusting the accuracy of other researchers and the connections they have found in playing their own version of the “Match Game.”

“You must be in Ban(n)ister World,” I heard my wife say as I retreated into my office. She teases me about my personal historical curiosity. Ironically, my first wife was a hobby genealogist, but I showed little interest since my tree at that time was strictly adopted relatives. It’s just been a couple of years now since I’ve uncovered my biological family. DNA testing provided me with hundreds of matches at varying degrees of “closeness.” I’ve since become somewhat obsessed with connecting the dots with all these people that aren’t really close at all. Does it mean I want to be close? Not necessarily, but I have found some friendly relationships in the process. They’ve been very supportive about my sudden intrusion into their life-long Ban(n)ister family ties. 

The “Match Game” never ends as new people submit to Ancestry or 23andMe DNA testing. I have taken some lengthy breaks frustrated by dead-ends and lack of motivation. In many ways I feel like it’s just busy work, justified by hours of free time in retirement. I’m not really sure what I’m searching for anymore? I know the identity of my birth parents and those closest to them. However, I’ve yet to have any acknowledgement from the bio-mother or her children. Her parents and siblings have all passed, so she’s the only one left that holds the secrets of my birth. The “Match Game” will probably never reveal any of these closely held mysteries, but I’ll keep trying. 


Diary of an Adoptee: Accident #1120

I continue to be curious about DNA matches, hoping to add more names to my Jerry Bannister Family Tree. Sometimes I feel like I’m prying into a stranger’s private life. Other times, I feel like I’m a private detective trying to find a connection between my life and theirs. As an adopted child, I’m hoping to find relationships that will lead to solving the mystery of my life. On far too many occasions, my work leads to a frustrating dead end or maybe even some bad news. 

I took two separate DNA tests, both on Ancestry and 23andMe that provide the foundation of my investigationsIn the discovery process, I have regular communication with two cousins and a half-sister, and have identified hundreds of biological relatives. New names pop up regularly as people submit to the simple saliva test. I try to find a connection with each of these matches by giving them a distinctive mark on my tree. My hope is to find some patterns in determining their relation to either my birth father or mother. It’s led to a massive database of over 15,000 people, mostly strangers.

My most recent target is a woman named Angie Janow, identified by 23andMe as a third cousin. I was able to find her on Facebook as a Lane married to a Janow, but have yet to find her place on my tree. Obituaries gave me the names of her mother and father, along with grandparents and other close relatives. However, I’ve yet to find a connection with the Banister family, despite several hours of snooping into her life. It feels a bit creepy at times delving into the lives of these total strangers, but it might lead to another source of family information. I probably could have saved myself some time if I had just read her 23andMe profile. I don’t know how I could have missed it! It’s not common that people give this much information about themselves, most preferring to remain anonymous. Here’s what she posted:

“I was born Angie Lane. My married name is Angie Janow. My parents grew up in the same little town in KY. I have two older brothers. I have one stepson and one biological son with my husband. My father was from a family of seven children. My mother was from a family of four children. My father has traced his ancestry back for many generations, but that information is not in any web base that I am aware of at this time. I do have documentation from a paternal aunt that serves as adequate for becoming a member of the DAR.”

It looks like her primary motivation for DNA testing was establishing membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. I do have a branch of my tree that leads to several people with the last name of Lane, but they do not connect with any of the members of her family. Her relation to me remains a mystery and one of the few matches in my 23andMe Top 20. I’m also searching for more information on other third cousins like Larry Bogue, Elsa Schneider, Kenzi B, M Graham, and Benjamin Wilson. None of them provided any profile information. I’m also looking at Brenda Smith from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was born Brenda Lee Irelan. I just found her Facebook page and will see if I can find a place for her on my tree. 

I did a Google search for Angie Lane Janow as I was writing this and came across some disturbing news on a Crosstown, Tennessee radio station website (105.7 THE HOG). This just happened in the past two months, so I’m feeling bad for someone I’ve never met, as I examine this troubling article:

“A motorcycle versus a vehicle crash yesterday in Cumberland County left two injured. The Tennessee Highway Patrol says a 2017 Kawasaki operated by Billy John Genovese and a 2014 Dodge Journey driven by 45-year-old Angie Lane Janow were both heading east on Highway 70 West. Genovese was attempting to pass Janow as she was attempting to make a left turn onto Pomona Road. The two collided resulting in the car coming to rest in the parking lot of Pomona Market and the motorcycle in the ditch. Genovese was flown by LifeForce to Erlanger Medical Center for treatment of injuries. Janow was also reported hurt in the accident.”

I’m wishing both victims of this accident a speedy recovery. 


Diary of Adoptee: Adoption Day #1109

On this day 68 years ago, I left the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers in the care of my adopted parents. It may have been the first time that I ever saw them and we probably spent the night at my adopted grandparent’s house. Their home was about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis and the perfect pit-stop for our three hour drive to Elkhart, Indiana. Plus, it was probably a stressful day for my parents who could have used the support of their family during my first night of care. The birth mother, Edna Faye Banister, according to the adoption records, was released from my care 48 days earlier, two weeks after my birth. It was the last time we would ever interact. 

As I try to reconstruct the first few months of my life, I was apparently moved from the Suemma Coleman facility to the State Department of Public Welfare Children’s Home. It was actually called the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home “founded in 1865 to provide care, education and maintenance for the orphaned and destitute children of Civil War Union Army veterans. The Home was located approximately two miles south of Knightstown, Indiana, on State Road 140 and consisted of 419 acres that included an administration building, children’s dormitory cottages, Morton Memorial School, a hospital, dairy farm, camp grounds and recreational facilities. Children from the ages of 4 to 18 were cared for with each child being eligible for vocational training. The Home was owned by the State of Indiana and was managed through a superintendent.” I started life on welfare.

There is a letter in my file from Ruth Henderson, Executive Director of the Suemma Coleman Home dated the day after I was born. It was to schedule an interview appointment a week later to start the initial process for my adoption. Burt and Cathy must have passed the first test to receive me as their prize. A year later, the courts made the adoption official, after constant monitoring of my care in their home. I must have been really spoiled under the watchful eye of state officials. 

I’m guessing that they brought me back to Indianapolis for the official hand-off to my new Johnston family. I was then 11 pounds seven ounces, almost four pounds heavier than birth. I came with written instructions that included Baker’s Milk mixed with water five times a day plus Mead’s Standard Cod Liver Oil with orange juice. I can’t fully read the actual scribbles of the nurse. I was initially referred to as Mickey in correspondence, while all birth records listed me as Jerry Lee Bannister. I still don’t understand the consistent double “n” spelling throughout all the paperwork. Both of my bio parents spell their last names Banister with one “n.” Was it an intentional attempt by the birth mother to disguise our identities? Her actual signature even includes the two “n” version. She also admits the putative father to be Cecil Bannister – no relation. 

Sixty-eight years have now passed since that fateful day when I became Michael Lee Johnston. My beloved adopted father, Burt, passed just over five years ago, just after my only real mother, Cathy, died months earlier. The birth father, Cecil, has been lost to this earth now for over eight years, while the 102-pound, 5’2″, 18-year old that gave birth to me just turned 86. She gave up a lot for me, including her last year of high school and maybe her reputation. She did have four more children in two marriages. There seems to be little chance that we will ever reunite, at her choice. She could probably solve several mysteries about my life for me, while I would just like to say thank you. 

Diary of an Adoptee: More Leggs #1104

As I look back to August of last year, I was searching for a fairly close DNA relative by the name of Phillip Legg. (See Post #635). He was listed as a 2nd to 3rd cousin by 23andMe, and number six on my list from that genealogical service. I had identified everyone else above him on the list and marked them with a distinctive DNA MATCH label on my family tree. It helps me identify patterns that relate to my bio parents. At that point of time, I had 280 Leggs on my Jerry Banister tree and since then have added 470 more in effort to find Phillip. As it turned out, his daughter Lor-Anna, was a 3rd Cousin once-removed match that just showed up today on Ancestry and I was able to trace her lineage back through Phillip to his great grandmother Cora Banister Combs. Cora’s true brother was Henry Otis Banister, great grandfather of my birth mother, Edna Faye Banister. Cora’s half-brother was Charles B. Banister, great grandfather of my birth father, Cecil Ralph Banister. I was the surprise product of this complicated inner-family relationship that led to my adoption as Michael Lee Johnston. 

Phillip Dale Legg was born in Tipton, Indiana on March 3, 1937. If he is still alive, he would now be over 82 years old. Although I tried to contact him through the site years ago to help solve the mystery of our DNA relationship, I never heard back. Instead, I persisted in my tedious search through the rather large Legg family. I finally got the answer today. He joins Joyce Gourley, Marilyn Banister, Janine Marthai, Carolyn Erley and Deb Vaughn as my top 6 DNA matches on 23andMe. Next on the list is only identified as second cousin Kay S. – not much to go on other than she was born in 1959.

As I continued working on the Ancestry site this afternoon, I then found a new fourth to sixth cousin match with Mary Beason, and added her to my tree beside her brother Steve Beason, who had been identified at an earlier date. New names show up regularly once members submit to the saliva test. To be honest, I hadn’t added any names to my tree for several months, having hit a temporary dead end. I typically don’t go beyond a fourth cousin match. There are currently over 15,000 relatives identified on my massive tree that continues to grow. Today, it grew two more Leggs and a Beason. 

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