I am adopted. I grew up knowing one thing about myself: I am the mistress's daughter. My birth mother was young and unmarried, and my father was older and married with a family of his own. When I was born, in December of 1961, a lawyer called my adoptive parents and said, "Your package has arrived, and it's wrapped in pink ribbons."
In 1992 my birth mother found me, and through her I contacted my father—who asked me to take a DNA test to prove I was his daughter. My relationship with my biological parents wasn't exactly smooth, and ended abruptly when she died unexpectedly in 1998; he and I spoke for the last time a few months later.
Years passed before I felt able to deal with the story again. By 2005 I was the mother of a small child—for the first time in my life living with a blood relation—and feeling I needed to know more about who I was and where I came from. With little to go on, I began a kind of electronic dig—a virtual search for self.
Genealogical research is one of the top-ranked hobbies in the United States—in some ways it's like a sport, collecting ancestors like baseball cards. And it's addictive. As soon as I start, I am at it round the clock. On the Internet, one can within seconds locate the long lost and create a family portrait out of scraps of information. Every clue leads to another; you find that there are several versions of the person you are looking for—the wrong ones, the almost right ones, and then the one.
I begin with my father's parents. I do not know their names; I know only that my birth mother told my father she was pregnant on the day his mother died—so that had to be sometime in 1961. I search the Washington Post obituary archive for the last name, Hecht. And there she is—my grandmother, Georgia Hecht—who passed away on April 11, 1961. And then I put her name into a search of the 1930 census and find her living with my father, who is 5, at her parents' house in Washington, D.C. Now not only do I have her maiden name, Slye, but I have her mother and father, my great-grandparents—Mary Elizabeth Slye and Chapman Augustus Slye.
My father's father is more difficult. And then I find him almost accidentally one day when I am again in the Washington Post archive looking up the Slyes. There, buried in the January 25, 1955, obituary of my biological great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Slye, is a notation, mother of... "Mrs. Irving Hecht" (a.k.a. Georgia Slye). Here is the information I've been looking for. Irving Hecht—my father's father.
Each time I locate a detail, a fact, a missing fragment of information, I have the sense of having made a match—something lights up, bingo. We have a winner! And for a moment everything is incredibly clear, and then just as quickly, I am all too aware that still, always and forever, there will be an enormous amount that remains a mystery. I believe we all know things that we don't know we know—bits and pieces of information visit us as if somewhere between dream and reality. The trick, if one can call it that, is being open to identifying where they fit in.
The search becomes more and more urgent; I am up in the night surfing, connecting the dots. When I find Irving Hecht's obituary, I also find his brothers, Nathan of New York, Arthur S. of San Francisco, my great-uncles!