Birth Certificate, Death Certificate, Whatever

I just saw the strangest thing.  My adoptive great grandfather’s death certificate.

Death cert.

What’s so strange about that?  He doesn’t share a name with either of his parents.  There is a totally different name at the top of that document.  That’s because he was raised by another family and took their name.

His real parents names are on his death certificate.

I haven’t been able to locate it yet, but I know his real parents names are on his birth certificate.

He was born in 1862.   The story that has come down through the family says that his mother died when he was a toddler and his father could not care for him.  He was taken in and raised by another family.  He took their name and so have all of his descendants.

Years ago a member of the family compiled a book about my adoptive family.  The usual thing with newspaper clippings, charts, amusing stories from the past, etc.  It pulled together all the resources that were so hard to find in the pre-internet age.  She traveled to West Virginia and England to find these things.  All of it was bound up in an impressive looking hardback book that every member of the family bought.

My aunt delivered these books on a holiday, I can’t remember which, but the whole family was gathered.  As we all sat there in my grandparents house looking through the book, commenting on how we were descended from English royalty, my grandfather said something.  Something very telling, “None of it matters, we’re not part of that family, my father was adopted, we’re all Allens. ”

That put a damper on things. Grandpa was never worried about offending, and he was right.  That whole book was bullshit.  We were Allens.   Well, they were Allens, I didn’t have a clue what I was.

I don’t know any more than that about how my grandfather felt about adoption.  It seems that he was well aware of it.  I’m not sure if he made that comment to knock my uppity aunt down a notch, or he really felt like an Allen.  I don’t know how he felt about me either.  I’m not even sure if he ever as much as noticed me.

The fact that Grnadpa knew he was really an Allen means something though.  It wasn’t a big secret.  It was on the documents.  I assume his father talked about it.  There didn’t seem to be any shame involved.

My great grandfather was born in 1862. There was no lying, no secrets, no changing of records.  His adoption was just a fact.  My grandfather was born in 1901, he wasn’t embarrassed about his heritage.  So why was it when I was born in 1965, it was a big  secret?

I really don’t understand why everyone has to insist that my adoptive family is my real family.  Nobody ever did that to my great grandfather.  He was never asked to deny who he really was.

My great-grandfather had a choice.  He could have been an Allen if he wanted to.  No court made that decision for him.  No judge denied his right to know where he came from.

Maybe that’s why he decided to take their name.  They gave him a family without taking his identity.  They didn’t have to change him.  They didn’t have to claim him.  My great-grandfather was allowed to decide who he was.

Even when my grandfather decided to take a different name, he didn’t forget the other one.  Seems like a good compromise to me.  I wish I had been allowed that.

My great-grandfather died as he lived, with the name he decided to take, and the names of his real parents.  I will also die as I live.  My real parents names will not be on my death certificate.

No one will look up my name over 100 years from now and know that I was adopted.  I will live a lie even after my death.

Please tell me how that makes any kind of sense.

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