Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obits and phone books

My adoption was closed, as was the norm in the early ‘70s. One nugget of information that I did have however was the name I was given at birth, presumably by my mother. Colleen Wilson. It’s nothing like my name today, and I can’t “picture” myself as a Colleen but it is a name that will always be special to me.

I was able to know what my name was because it was on the official Adoption Decree form from the courts that finalized my adoption. One little line at the bottom stated “…and the child known as Colleen Wilson will be adopted by Mr. and Mrs. SoandSo and will hence forth be named Andrea SoandSo.” Or something along those lines.

Throughout my childhood I clung to that name. It, along with a few lines of non-id’ing info that my mom wrote down as the SW read from a file the day they picked me up were the only links I had to who I was and where I came from.

Unfortunately Wilson is a pretty common last name; 8th most popular English surname in North America. If I had had a name like Shrapnel, or Doodyman I might have had an easier time searching for family members. But as a kid I didn’t know that Wilson was common, after all I didn’t know anyone with it. I decided that my mother’s first name must be Colleen and that she named me after her to make it easier for me to find her. So I was on the hunt for Colleen Wilson.

Another snag that I had was a bit of mis-information that my mother gave the SW when she placed me. Actually, mis-information is too nice a word, it was a lie. She told them that she was widowed, presumably to avoid the stigma of being an unwed mother twice over (she was already raising my ½ sister as a single mother when I was born). Since I had a basic sense of biology, I leapt to the conclusion that Mr. Wilson must have died within the 9 months prior to my birth.

And that is how my “search” went during my teenage years. I scoured every phone book in every new city that I went to in Southern Ontario looking for a Colleen or C. Wilson. And on the rare times that I found one, I would actually dial the phone. I don’t remember now anyone ever answering, or what I planned to say if someone ever did.

And I hit up every library that I could (oh what I would have done to have the internet then!) to search through old newspapers for obituaries for a Mr. Wilson dying in 1969 or 70, who left behind a wife and 7 year old daughter. Not surprisingly I never found one.

Even now, 7-8 years after I have found my mother (whose name is Iris, not Colleen) and have straightened out the lies and stories, I still find myself slipping into old habits. I still check phone books. I have no idea what I’m looking for, other then reading the name Wilson gives me some weird sense of connection to the unknown people who share my birth name in the city I happen to be in.

And I still read the obits, looking for the name Wilson. I am no longer looking for Mr. Wilson, long deceased. I now look for Iris Wilson. That seems odd you ask? Well, my contact with Iris is sporadic at best, and she is getting on in years – she’s 78 and not in the best health. So every day I check her local paper on-line just to make sure she is still alive.

I guess some habits are just hard to break.


Anonymous said...

Oh Andy..that is a hard read...and hard to know that one day you will see IRIS in the paper...something I never knew a half you have contact??


Lori said...

I think the wondering must be so difficult.

I'm glad you were able to find Colleen/Iris. It's too bad that shame caused people to lie and hide, creating such a void for the child.

How open are birth records in Canada today? Is there a movement there, too?

Heather.PNR said...

I'm imagining the emotional cost of all those years of searching. And of seeing her name in the obits one day. I'm glad you finally found her, even though the contact turned out to be sporadic.

luna said...

I'm so happy you were able to find her, and now share this story here too. how hard that must be.

I am curious about the trend in canada too. certainly in the US the movement is towards open, but in california where I am, 99% of adoptions are open with a trend towards even greater openness.