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WHY NOW? WHAT SPARKED MY SEARCH INTO MY PAST?

I keep asking myself: Why now? What made me decide to finally go to my birth country of Korea for the first time at the age of 48 (last year)? 

We wore our hanboks to Gyeongbokgung on the last day of our visit! Felt amazing (and gets you in free!)!

It felt like the perfect storm of Impulse (My 2017 Year of Yes and vowing to experience everything), Vulnerability (My 2018 Year of giving in to feel everything), and absolutely my Mindful Midlife (My 2019 Year of trying not to regret anything). While it looked like a sudden whim, my decision built slowly. Along the way, roadblocks sent me down deadends, speedbumps slowed me down, but I’m stubborn and love a good mystery – I needed to see this journey to the end. Surprises rewarded me along the way.

 

OK, this is a Korean pothole not a rabbit hole, but I loved the pattern!

  • DNA SENT ME DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: When I finally did my DNA to see where my other non-Korean half originated from, I became fascinated by all of my cousin connections!  I read their faces, over-reacting when I noticed any similarities. I’m not really interested in meeting most of the hundreds of cousins, but it amazes me to now see the generations of people that I’m linked to. I’m curious to learn how my ancestors travelled around the globe to wind up where I magically came about in Korea.
    Roadblock: There aren’t that many Asians (from the US and especially not Korea) in all 3 of the big DNA companies: FamilytreeDNA, Ancestry, and 23 and me. The companies are just now trickling into Korea and Korean Asians have their large national ancestry ledger and don’t feel that they need DNA to tell them about their relatives.
    Speedbump: It’s hard to navigate your genealogy as an adoptee because the minute you surprise someone with your existence, they clam up.
    Suggestion: If you’re trying to find relatives, test with all 3 companies and download your raw data into other larger databases.  Many people test 1 time because they are only curious about ethnicity so you could miss large chunks of your genealogy that could be listed in a different database. Leave DNA in the area you’re from. In Korea, the database connects the police departments if there are any matches. Also, enlist professionals – or, as I call them, DNA Angels.
    Surprise: When the Angels got involved, they shot a laser that parted the seas of cousins to find people so fast it made my head spin.

We were able to meet Molly Holt – daughter of Harry Holt who started my adoption agency.

  • INFORMATION OVERLOAD: My neutral attitude towards putting much effort into finding ancestors centered around the number of decades that have passed since I left Korea – not to mention the required language I’d need to communicate what little story I knew. I felt no reason to NOT believe the story in my file and assumed that the record keeping would be poor if files even still existed.
    Roadblock: As an infant found abandoned in the street by a police officer, this enabled me to be logged in the Korean Ancestry Registry – though with a family name given to me by the police. However, no note indicated whether my birth year was accurate, or where I came from.
    Speedbump: Different information existed at the US vs. the Korean Holt International offices.  In some areas, they filled in the blanks from the other file. I learned I’d lived with a foster family and started out as the youngest in the family (before I became the oldest in the family I grew up in). In other areas, the files contradicted each other.
    Suggestion: Ask for all of your files and get translators involved if necessary. Request immigration files through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I saw pictures I’d never seen and read snippets about my preferences and my day as an infant that shed light on my current behavior and preferences. My inner child wept with gratitude after learning that I’d been so carefully cared for by a foster mother. It also wept at the hint that my history could be woven with that of another adoptee listed in my file.
    Surprise: Turns out one of my files mentioned which orphanage I came through which suddenly changed my birth city to Busan. My file also hid the name of the person who turned me into the agency. A woman. 

We learned to make kimchee from a master! I now love fresh and fermented kimchee!

  • MINDFUL MIDLIFE: At the age of 48, I felt an urgency inside sternly warning me that my life would feel wasted if I never visited my home country. Considering all I have and everything I’ve done, perhaps that sounds harsh and even a little selfish. I started to feel as though I lived to meet this society’s markers, but that my life didn’t feel like my own if I didn’t chase after my roots and learn about Korea.
    Roadblock: Korea’s complex culture – they’re just starting to put down the large stigma associated with adoption. The dark veils of secrecy in our adoption files – to help us move quickly into new lives – still hides much of our histories. Conversations are still awkward, and explanations still hazy. It’s unsettling to me when people apologize.
    Speedbump: The relationships that yielded mixed Korean adoptees is vast and still ongoing. It felt shocking to learn the whole history when only searching for my first 8 months. Overall, I’m at peace with the past because I can’t change it. We all harbor  messes somewhere in our families.
    Suggestion: Go when the time feels right. I wasn’t confident beyond every doubt, but failed to convince myself that I should not go. I recognize it’d have been a much different, more superficial and touristy trip had I visited when I was younger or a different crowd, even full-Koreans (who travelled a different historic path towards adoption). I feel like I would most likely have deflected, not absorbed, the impact of my trip back.
    Surprise: Though almost a half-century old, I found my inner child somewhere along the journey in Korea.  I’m now conscious of her existence and learning to care for her.

 

Beautiful Bomunsa temple at the top of a steep hill in Incheon.

In my opinion, adoptees looking for their history hope to answer questions, feel their roots, find their center and perhaps shed light on their purpose.  Of course, family members may be a part of this discovery, but for me, that would be secondary to learning my story. I would love to make connections, to see behaviors and facial expressions, but not in a sense to replace the family I have. This is just my experience, every adoptee’s journey and story is unique and their own to share.

So why now? It’s been a year and I’m finally unravelling and untying the threads of information that connect me to my home country. More than anything, I want to get it out and make sense of it. Though I’ve fully touched my Korean history and feel myself rooted in that country, I still haven’t married my Korean and white sides here in America. When I do Korean things, it still feels like a field trip for me: Spend a day in the life of a Korean woman!

The famous 💩 Emoji cookies and the cafe where you drink out of mini toilets! We stuck with the delicious cookies!

Since October is #Blogtober, and I love me a strong deadline, I’m using this as a means to try to push the rest of the story out! I look forward to sharing more of the surprises and stories with you! It may be slightly messier than usual just to get it out. I appreciate you staying with me through this exercise!

What about you?
Have you researched your genealogy?
Did your family come here from another country?
Have you visited your birth country?
Are you adopted?
Have any additional questions? Ask in the comments!

#Blogtober #Day1 #Adoption #Adoptee #KoreanAdoptee #KAD #MixedKorean #MyHistoryIsAMystery #ancestry #heritage #DNA #family #relatives #writeyourtruth #SeoulSearch #memoir #personaljourney #OMagInsiders #makesmewander

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. reverieacupuncture
    Oct 02, 2019 @ 13:58:42

    Wow, this was such a cool read! I have a friend who is part Korean because her mom was adopted from there. It’s been really interesting watching as she’s learned about herself and I see a lot of parallels between her story and yours.

    Also, fresh kimchi is the bomb.com.

    Reply

    • Sarah Harris | MakesMeWander.com
      Oct 02, 2019 @ 14:38:47

      Love it! So glad you love kimchi!
      Tell your friend’s mom to introduce herself!
      Thanks for wandering by!

      Reply

    • Diane
      Oct 04, 2019 @ 21:15:57

      This summer my sister and I visited Scotland. We wanted to visit partly to see the place some of our ancestors came from. We are descendants of a Scottish clan. It was fascinating to feel so at home in Scotland. I was born and raised in Oregon. I felt just as at home in Scotland as I do in Oregon. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Reply

  2. Taylor Deer
    Oct 02, 2019 @ 14:07:34

    This was a very interesting read. I definitely want to do a DNA test because I’m interested to learn more about my background. You definitely inspired me to do so. 🙂

    Reply

  3. Sarah
    Oct 03, 2019 @ 06:09:33

    I am glad you are finally getting answers to your many questions. Though not crucial to life knowing our past, and from where we came, does play an important part in helping us on our journey. I am currently helping my son with a school project researching and documenting both sides of his family history. A family keepsake book if you will, with ancestral background and any interesting tidbits and info. I have found researching my ancestry and the cultures and skills has answered so many questions on weird quirks I have had for years. Lol

    Reply

  4. momelite2
    Oct 03, 2019 @ 07:56:41

    I loved reading your story! I’m so glad you visited your home country and did so much research. You have inspired me to get back into my genealogy. I totally geeked out on research 15 year ago and traced my family back to Germany.

    Reply

  5. Mia
    Oct 04, 2019 @ 00:02:25

    Thanks for the interesting reading. I am still searching and I need to find my family to find peace in life. I think actually that is my main purpose of my life.. I don’t know. I am now 42. I have searched most of my life – ongoing but very much the last 20 years..

    I have done dna tests; FTDNA, Ancestry, 23andMe, my heritage and Gedmatch. I have also done dna in Seoul mapogu police station but not in the city where I was found.. do you know of other bigger databases?

    Best regards
    Mia from Denmark

    Reply

    • Sarah Harris | MakesMeWander.com
      Oct 04, 2019 @ 00:06:54

      Hi Mia!
      If you left DNA in Seoul I’m told that they can access it anywhere. I think you hit all of the databases but depending on how close you get, perhaps someone who knows how to take the information and help you narrow it down would be helpful. What is the closest cousin match that you have? Also, if you haven’t, try to get your files. Sometimes the agencies hid any relatives’ information but when you get your files there could be information in them. Thank you for wandering by!

      Reply

      • Mia
        Oct 04, 2019 @ 03:23:41

        Hi Sarah,
        thanks for your reply! I have done sooo much trying to find any relatives.
        No info in my file at all.. only where I was found..
        my closest cousin is 3rd-4th.. so i’m Hoping. I have been in tv 3 times in different situations. Brought out flyers, news paper, etc… :-(..

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