For most people, genealogy is a fun hobby. Stumbling blocks pop up, but they are more intriguing than painful. Searching for your roots is like solving a mystery, but with very low stakes.
Sure, you might find something scandalous, but odds are it is generations back and no one today is very upset about it.
But for some people, finding their Irish roots is an intensely emotional and very difficult project. The stumbling blocks they hit have been set in place deliberately by a bureaucracy that sought to eliminate or at least minimize any trace of their Irish heritage. For those adopted from Ireland in years past, finding their Irish roots is not a hobby and the stakes are high. They are looking for more than what county they should cheer for in the GAA play offs; they are looking for vital information – Who were their birth parents? Why were they placed for adoption? What is the story of their arrival in the world? What is their family medical history?
This is information most of us take for granted. We know if have our mother’s eyes or our uncle’s musical talent. We know if our grandparents or parents suffered from heart disease or cancer. Most of us know how our parents met and have seen photos of their wedding.
Because in the past, Ireland was nation ruled by shame and conformity, a child born out of wedlock was considered a terrible scandal to be hidden… or sent far away. Unmarried pregnant women were sent off to mother and babies homes, and very often their children were adopted.
Many were adopted by American couples who loved and adored them, but were given tragically bad advice about raising adopted children. Generally, they were told to lie and pretend they gave birth to their children or told to avoid talking about adoption with their children. This is the complete opposite of what adoptive parents are now advised because of the courage many adult adoptees have shown in speaking out about their experiences.
Society is learning from the mistakes of the past, but slowly. The Dail is currently working on legislation to give adoptees better access to their records, including their birth certificates.
Media has reported that this legislation will establish an adoption information register to be managed by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. The legislation apparently includes a year-long awareness campaign before they begin releasing information, which suggests that there is still more concern with shame and secrecy in some quarters than respect for adoptee rights.
Irish adoptees can get help searching for their roots before the legislation is enacted and the year-long awareness campaign finishes. The Citizens Information website explains what adoptees can expect going through official channels right now, and the Adoption Rights Alliance is a goldmine of information for adoptees as well as a champion of adoptee rights and adoption reform. The Adoption Rights Alliance also has a closed Facebook group for those affected by adoption from Ireland.