By Maria R. Perez, MSSW
Genealogy is an ancient study of family descent and history. With the advent of technology and science, research within genealogy has become both a complex, yet simple process that depends on archived and historical records, including genetic analysis to demonstrate kinship. Other useful resources include family stories and photographs, as well as information published in newspapers, and even high school yearbooks.
I have been a member of a genealogy webpage since 2014. My experience and familiarity with the site have allowed me the confidence to use the site to help others. I get great satisfaction, and joy from helping others connect dots while providing hard facts. I have learned that not everyone has the drive required to search for family members.
It would be easy to assume that if someone is desiring to locate their biological parents the effort would be intense and unrelenting. Unfortunately, that is usually not the case. For the person searching there are far too many variables to be considered. Some are rational, some are baseless. The primary issue is fear of rejection, and the permanent loss of family. Though the yearning for the unknown blood family is natural and strong, the fear of being denied such an instinctually desired objective can be equally strong.
This was the case of my dear friend Marta Armijo. Marta and I were both born in 1955, across the US/Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. She was raised as the only child of Maria Elena. Maria Elena and my mother had known each other in Cd. Juarez, prior to our births. They both lived in the same Juarez neighborhood, and daily crossed the border to work in El Paso as sewing machine operators during the hey-day of the textile industry.
Marta and I didn’t become friends until we were both in 7th grade at Henderson Middle School. We both went on to Burges High School where our relationship continued. Marta married soon after our graduation, and she invited me to be one of her bridesmaids. Marta’s life took its course – she was wife, mother, doting grandmother, and fostered a career for herself. Yet, our connection was suspended.
Genealogy is an ancient study of family descent and history. With the advent of technology and science, research within genealogy has become both a complex, yet simple process that depends on archived and historical records, including genetic analysis to demonstrate kinship.
I don’t recall how it occurred, but forty years later we encountered each other again. Our bond had not lessened, and it was wonderful to catch up on each other’s lives. I learned that Maria Elena had died. It seems that Maria Elena had always been very zealous about, and jealous against the woman that had given birth to Marta. The fact that the woman that had raised her, Maria Elena, was no longer alive gave Marta an indescribable sense of freedom.
Marta recounted how by various means, as a teenager and young adult she learned of the many instances that her biological mother had attempted to get in touch with her. Yet, Maria Elena had been firm and determined not to provide Marta with any information and would become extremely upset, at any mention of the subject.
None the less, across the years and through family members, Marta gathered tiny bits and fragments of information which she pieced together to create her own story of origin. Among the long-hidden facts and secrets, Marta learned that her biological mother’s name was Sara Garibay. She also learned that upon her birth at the home of a mid-wife, Sara immediately abandoned her. Marta as a tiny newborn was eventually accepted by Maria Elena who was able to be assisted by affluent friends to forge a hospital registry of her birth. Thus, Marta was never legally adopted. Across the years, despite the many potential opportunities to learn more and maybe even meet her mother, Marta learned to keep her wishes to herself so as not to upset Maria Elena.
To my surprise, Marta shared that her husband had also begun to express disapproval for her desire to search for Sara. Maybe he felt threatened? Inevitably, this added another layer of issues for Marta to contend with in wanting to search for Sara. There are dozens and dozens of layers to anyone’s story of adoption and their search for biological parents. Thankfully, her children were encouraging of her. One Mother’s Day they gifted her a DNA kit. Coincidently it was from the same company whose website I utilized.
Marta’s apprehension was so great that she had not immediately submitted her DNA sample for testing. We would meet and go through various search modes on the website. I showed her all the information I had gathered in building my family tree. I also indicated to her how the website’s algorithms would link her to anyone with whom she shared DNA. In my case I was linked to 863 individuals who were my 4th cousins or closer! She then realized that in her case any DNA match was a family member she was looking for, and one by one her real family would grow. Through these shared matches she would eventually be led to Sara Garibay, her biological mother.
When her DNA test results had arrived, I wanted to grant her the privacy to search at her leisure. We met on several occasions with Marta reporting many reasons why she had not been able to accomplish any searches nor follow-ups. Sometime after those visits, she stated that she had understood all of my instructions, and she was indeed becoming more familiar with the website. Yet, she admitted that when it came time for her to start a search, she would be over-come with inexplicable anxiety, panic, and dread. Her mind would go blank, and she would freeze in front of her computer and even cry. She would be rendered helpless. And indeed, she had much reason to feel this way. There were years and years of desire and yearning that she had learned to bury. She had not realized the degree of cruelty under which she had lived for so many years.
Her desire had not waned. The deep sense of trust, rapport, and relatedness that we shared foster Marta the comfort to permit to search for her. I continued to encourage and support her through the process; always aware of the negative possibilities, but still looking at the bright side.
I wish I had documented the process in detail, but, I remember the first contact that generated a personal response was with a young male distant cousin. That started the proverbial ball rolling. By the winter of 2018 Marta found various immediate members of her biological family. They were to be found in northern Mexico and throughout the US southwest. Today, she regularly visits right across the border with a brother in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua. She speaks very lovingly of him. She also learned that Sara Garibay had died about twenty years prior, when Sara was in her forties.
But I believe that most importantly, Marta learned that she had been desired, loved, and searched for by various members of her biological family. When Marta was born, Sara was living with a brother. Marta met his wife who is now elderly. Upon their first meeting this aunt-in-law cried, lovingly embraced her, and recounted how much she had begged to be allowed to keep the newborn baby girl to raise as her own. Marta has also learned that no family is perfect. Her biological family is no different from other families with their mishmash of colorful characters and even good old sibling rivalry.
– Maria R. Perez, MSSW, Somos Familia Genealogy Services, El Paso, Texas
Maria R. Perez is an artist, a writer, and a retired social worker who also enjoys genealogy. She is a strong advocate for the dis-empowered and a founding member of The Tornillo Collective – Individuals calling attention to the plight of migrant families and children in US detention facilities through the arts. She is highly creative and imaginative. Maria grew up with a disability. Maybe her physical limitations made her mind nurture possibilities!