Choosing Family


We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t choose your family.” I said this very statement while discussing family outcasts in our family tree with a new-found cousin. Good, bad or ugly, it seems we are just born, raised, and no matter what, we are stuck with the family we have. Serendipity played quite a hand to me over this past week, as did the U.S. election, which made me undertake a full emotional review of what or whom family really is.

Over the last two months, I have been working with an AncestryDNA match of mine at 32cM who was listed as a 4th cousin. It was on my paternal side and because I am estranged from that side of the family, I haven’t really pursued my matches on that side. What made this person unique is that he was related to me and didn’t know his birth parents, he was chosen by his adoptive parents.

Using his DNA match results, I immediately found high matches to him, at 1st cousin range as well as an Aunt. I branched out on my tree and added these new family members. Scouring old newspapers and obituaries, I was able to pinpoint who I thought could be his mom.  As luck would have it, I found her. I also found a half-sister for my new-found cousin. I had worked day and night to piece together how they belonged to each other, and how they belonged on my tree. I spoke with his half sister over Skype and marveled at how familiar she looked to me and how much there was a family resemblance on that side.

What really struck me was how open this new sister’s heart was, as well as that of her new-found half-brother. They’ve now spoken to each other and need to figure out how to move forward in each other’s lives, as real blood family. He chose me, an unknown cousin, to help him find his mother, who made the very difficult choice of letting someone else be the family who raised him. Now, they’ve chosen to be part of each other’s lives and mine. As a genealogist, this is beyond thrilling and quite a highlight of my passionate work!

In the span of a week, I went from the elation of finding a person’s birth family to hitting rock bottom over the choice in the U.S. election outcome. I’ve remained professional and kept any discussion of politics off of my professional presence in social media for the entire election.

For most of my adult work life, I have sat side by side with a widely diverse group of colleagues. We’ve solved problems on the job together, celebrated weddings,  babies and birthdays, traveled together, encouraged each other through tough times, and socialized outside of work. When you spend that amount of time with people, you really get to know them, experience them, and appreciate them for who they are, where they come from, and what’s important and of value to them. You see how they treat others, who they associate with, what they stand up for, and what they stand against. If I could choose family, many people in this group would be leaves on my tree.

What I have witnessed on both sides of this moment in U.S. history is how the divide is so great, even real family can’t build a bridge. It’s during the most trying of times, that you see who’s got your back, and who doesn’t. I have chosen to be a safe haven for chosen family and other alienated members of society, and made the easy choice to let some blood family members go. If beyond the likes on a Facebook post, there’s no real connection, no dialogue, no attempt, no common values, and instead a chosen side with privilege and/or ignorance, I choose to be on the side of history that protects all members of our global family.

A fondness for table scars


Cleaning the kitchen table after dinner tonight I discovered all of the new scratches and scrapes. I shrugged and said to myself, this is life. We didn’t spend much on this table but the value it holds is immeasurable.

This table was the ideal replacement for the one the previous occupiers of our home had used when they owned this house. I remember loving their cute little table in the eat-in kitchen and we even offered extra cash at closing for it, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They had spent so much time and memories were created over that table and it was going with them. I never realized then what importance that table brought to them, I just thought it looked cute and we wanted to have that furnishing taking care of when we moved in.

Fast forward almost 7 years and I am getting teary-eyed over our current table. There’s nothing special about the furniture itself, but there’s no way I could ever part with it. Why? The chairs for one have seen baby booster seats strapped to them and have worn away the finish from the milk and countless other sticky items that have been encrusted under the seat. Both of our girls have stabbed the table with forks, we’ve planted countless herbs and vegetable seedlings, hosted parties, stripped some of the finish with nail polish remover as we’ve painted nails, and the grooves along the edge are filled with dried yogurt–yes this table is a keeper.

My oldest daughter in the past week has remained quiet on the car ride home and refused to tell me how her day was, what she learned at school or why she’s sad about something until our family is sat at the table so she can tell us all at once. I live for the moments at our table. Whether it’s a meal, a card game, a science project, a craft or playing under it with blankets and figurines, this is the precious time and memory that this table absorbs.

My youngest daughter likes to steal food, solicit hugs and kisses, climb across, jab and scrape with any sharp object, and spill any drink (on purpose) on this table so it must be important to her as well. This table is a living thing in this house.

Both kids without prompting (and mind you they are 5 and 2) both offer to clean the table and chairs when they see me cleaning it. They wipe the dirt, food smudges, drips and we start all over again the next meal, moment, memory.

Do you treasure your table like we do? Share your story with us!