The thing about cemeteries is that secrets aren’t always taken to the grave. I found myself walking among the dead almost weekly while I was searching for my birth family. After using DNA testing to find some biological matches, I learned my family was somewhere close, or at the very least, my ancestors were at one time. As it turned out, they were all around me my entire life. And somewhere deep inside of me, I knew this.
I was born in Houston, Texas and placed for adoption shortly after my birth. My adoptive parents were from the North, but settled in Houston as my dad was working for Shell Oil.
I was raised just north of town, near the town of Klein, Texas. From the moment I could read and make sense of street signs, names and places , I was on the hunt for something….
I would be riding in the car with my parents down Kuykendahl Road and I would wonder to myself and sometimes out loud, “Who were the Kuykendahls and did they still live here, and why is this road named after them”? I chose the Kuykendahl road example for reasons that will become apparent as this story goes on. Anyhow, my point is that I was curious about names and places more than the average person, and certainly more than any child I have ever known.
As I grew up, this curiosity became almost what I would consider an obsession. I didn’t talk to others about it much because even I didn’t understand it and thought for certain, they wouldn’t either.
Names on schools and public buildings really got me wondering…street signs and older neighborhoods with rich history drove me wild with curiosity. I gravitated towards certain parts of the city and did not know why. A very early suburb of Houston, The Heights, had particular appeal to me, I just wanted to be there. The Heights was a decaying area by the 1980’s. It was actually quite scary to be there after dark in some parts, but if I could find an excuse to go there, that’s where I would be. On 19th street, there is an old movie theatre. I would visit it each time I was in the area. I loved looking up at the old sign. I wondered what it was like back in its glory days. There was just something about that neighborhood.
In 2014, my DNA tests started coming in and I quickly realized my birth family was from the Houston area. I had Blaylock, Fannin, Voss, Rice and Allen cousins turning up…if you are from Houston, you know I just gave you a tour of downtown with that list. Driving through town became a genealogical nightmare…my birth family is close, real close, should I just follow the street signs? Instead, I followed the gravestones.
I found myself in Huntsville after hearing from a third cousin on the 23and me testing site. From his research, we were able to piece together a few branches of my family tree starting with my great great grandparents. This ultimately led me to my birth mother and older brother….but that is another story for another time. Those cemeteries in and around Huntsville told the story of my early ancestors in Texas. They were all there! I sat with them, I talked to them, and I grieved the fact that I would never know them in this life. I did after all, begin with them. They belong to me, and I belong to them. No closed adoption law or contract could change that fact. I found them, and thanks to Texas law and closed adoption, I missed the chance to know them. Oh Texas, how you have betrayed me.
There are many arguments against closed adoption and archaic laws that keep our identities locked away forever. This entry is about just one of the many….genealogical bewilderment. We all have a need to know where we come from. Even birds fly back home after winter is over. Humans are built that way too. For an adoptee, the need and longing can be unbearable. No one could ever convince me that I didn’t have a right to search for my roots. Genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States. For an adoptee, its much more than a hobby, it is vital. With each relative I identified, a part of me healed up. The parts that were always blank spaces finally had writing on them. I did what the law in Texas says I don’t have a right to do, I found my roots. They are deep, and they are mine.
A few words about serendipity….it should be my middle name!
My birth family was in fact from Houston. My mother grew up in the Heights and often went to the old movie theatre. She tells me the story of how Dale Evans and Roy Rodgers came there for a movie premiere when she was a kid. My brother is three years older than me and attended the all boys Catholic high school, St.Thomas. We frequented the same hangouts as kids and I’m certain our paths crossed on a few occasions. My aunt, my mothers sister, she lived and raised her son, my cousin just a few miles from me. I always knew I was home, I just took the scenic route to find my way back.
I wouldn’t leave you hanging regarding Kuykendahl Road. Although you may not have the curiosity issues that I have and have forgotten all about it…..
Week two after my DNA results came in, I received a message from a fourth cousin. She wrote:
Dear Shawna, So good hearing from you. I wonder what ancestors we share.
Regards, Sandra Kuykendahl.
Shawna Hodgson is a Texas born adoptee and adoptee rights activist.