I learned a few years ago I have a brother. No one knew, my mother gave birth to him in 1959 and immediately gave him up for adoption. My mother died two decades ago so details are hard to come by. My brother worked for years to find us. I'm glad he succeeded! And I feel sad for my mother's story.
I also feel guilty for my initial reaction. A stranger called me out of the blue and told me he was my brother and in that moment it felt wrong. I went with my gut and told him I thought it was a scam. I still feel bad for my rejection. Fortunately he was persistent and talked to other family members and about a year later I got back in touch and we confirmed with a genetic match. Our first talk felt strange because there's no normal way to have that conversation.
My mother never told anyone. She was 21 when she had my brother. She married my father five years later. No one knew about her secret child. Not her sister, not her best friends, not my sister or me. I don't even know if she told my father but I hope she trusted him enough to. Her parents knew but not her grandparents. This secretness makes me so sad for her, she bore this difficult thing without support.
We found a small cache of memorabilia that makes sense now. Mementos from a summer in New York. A letter from Elizabeth Arden (!) saying what a bright young woman my mother was and how nice it was that she visited her health spa in Maine. Just after the birth, I'm curious whether Ms. Arden was a regular host for young women in trouble.
It turns out that unintended pregnancies and complex family trees are way more common than we acknowledge. Ken's family is full of surprise cousins and grandchildren being raised as children. My mother and her generation treated birth out of wedlock as a source of shame. My generation doesn't quite know what to think. With genetic testing now keeping things secret is much, much harder. I feel no shame but even here I'm avoiding names, for privacy.
We know who the birth father is but my brother has been cautious about approaching him, disrupting his life. I would love to know more, he was in my mother's social circle and I would like to imagine young love or at least a summer fling. Instead all I know is the evidence of her shame and suppression.
But now I also know my brother! He's an interesting and successful man and a pleasant part of my life. I'm glad to know him.
I've written before about learning that my ancestors Leonard and Melvina Ward owned a slave. Today I learned there were more, at least seven.
This marker comes courtesy of Find-a-Grave. It's on a small family cemetery near Bagwell, TX. I'm not positive but I think the land is still in the family. I'm curious who put the marker there, it looks like the same style as one placed in 1969 for a named family member.
One thing that makes it hard to grapple with the mass crime of slavery today is the distance in time. But it's really not that far away and there is documentation to be found with enough work. I keep thinking how there's no names of the enslaved people on the marker, nor the census records I have. I would like to know more.
I’m back to using Goodreads but I lost my friends list, if you use Goodreads please add me as a friend.
After Goodreads lost my account I was furious and of course intended to never use it again. But to their credit, Goodreads did some extra work and managed to get me a copy of all my lost review data that I could import. And in the meantime I’d come to really miss Goodreads and decided I’d prefer to go back to using it.
After my experience I got interested in the IndieWeb idea of POSSE, Publish on your Own Site. You publish content like short updates or book reviews on your own infrastructure, then syndicate it to Twitter or Goodreads as appropriate. I like the spirit of owning your own data. But it requires you have your own infrastructure to publish to. I set up a basic Hugo blog for book reviews but it just doesn’t cut it. Goodreads offers so much more. Reviews are published in the context of a database of books, quickly crosslinked by author and genre and with publishing data and covers. Also Goodreads is social, reviews are shared with friends. That second part is why I didn’t switch to The StoryGraph; it’s a promising product but the community is small.
Still I’ve learned a hard lesson; your data isn’t safe on any cloud service. Making backups of your data is a good idea, I now have data dumps from 15 services. Although you still need a product to make that data useful. I’m still curious how Goodreads lost my data, they haven’t told me. One thing this whole debacle got me thinking is how dangerous account deletion is.