Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When Genealogy is a Life and Death Search for Truth Denied Adoptees

I tinker with my family genealogy from time to time...was particularly curious about my paternal grandfather who checked out at just 38, intentionally.

I'm not alone. Perhaps it was the book and film Roots that reignited a major interest in genealogy, or the Internet giving us access to census reports, ship registries and sites like the Mormon Library, Ellis island and Ancestry.com. 

"I will suggest that genealogy is indeed a very popular activity among Americans. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million" writes Dick Eastman. Time Magazine reported it as one of the four most popular activities on the Internet in 1999.

I've started and stopped. I guess I always a bit guilty looking for distant relatives when so many of us are denied even knowing their own identify and have never laid eyes on or seen a photograph of their own mother and father.  It seemed somehow selfish and unfair....opulent in terms of the wealth of knowledge available to some, but not all of us. More on this in the conclusion.

Recently, however,  a cousin contacted whose trying to do a major genealogy project on my father's family...and I shared with him what I know...back as far as great grandparents. Not much...and yet....

Through this comparatively tiny bit, I have learned the answer to a question all my doctors ask me: the source of my RA: a great aunt, sister of that paternal grandfather I never knew.

And...at the very same time the person who knew my daughter, Alicia better than anyone found and contacted me and we shared her too short, tragic life and the multiple causes that resulted in her premature suicide...my cousin's genealogical research led to a starting fact:

Not only does depression and suicide "run in my family", but it is far more common and believed to be genetic among Hungarian - which I am on both sides. Suicide rates in Europe vary widely, with countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece reporting rates below 7 per 100 000 inhabitants per year, whereas others such as Hungary and Finland report rates in excess of 27 per 100 000 inhabitants per year (World Health Organization, 1994).
"Hungarians have long had a reputation as being the gloomiest nation in Europe. They are renowned for their pessimism, depression is a nationwide problem, and until recently they had the highest suicide rate in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. Recent surveys also show that they die earlier than most European peoples

"Gloom, depression and suicide seem to be part and parcel of Hungarian culture. "You can hardly meet with a Hungarian who wouldn't have relatives or friends who really committed suicide - it's a kind of national disease, it's a kind of sickness," says Peter Muller, a Hungarian playwright who has written a play about Gloomy Sunday and has studied the suicide phenomenon." Gloomy Sunday
Gee. And some have claimed it's Irish poets and drunks who hold claim to doom and gloom, misery, the maudlin and melancholy. (!)

See also The Hungarian Suicide Project.
The fact that Hungary and Finland had among the highest reported suicide rates in Europe has led to speculations about the possible involvement of a common genetic factor in this phenomenon (Marusic & Farmer, 2001). Both Finns and Hungarians, as some linguists believe, belong to the Finno-Ugrian family of ethnic groups, with certain similarities in their ancient language....Genetic variation in European suicide rates,
P. Hrdina
See also: A Suicide Gene Is there a genetic cause for suicide? Genome News Network
"increasingly, researchers are becoming convinced of an entirely different cause of suicide: a chemical imbalance in the brain....For example, two countries that top the world's suicide rate list are Hungary and Finland, with 40 suicides per 100,000 people. Although the countries lie 1,600 kilometers apart, their people share a language group and, presumably, genes. The Finno-Ugric people lived together for thousands of years in the Ural Mountains of what is now Russia, then migrated to Finland and Hungary.
"When the Ottawa project began 10 years ago, researchers first analyzed the brains of Hungarians who had died at their own hands, specifically looking at serotonin receptors. They found that these brains had an overabundance of 5-HT2A receptors. This suggested improper absorption of serotonin. If cells are not getting enough serotonin, they build receptors in an attempt to soak up more.
"This finding was later mirrored when the researchers tested 120 patients who suffered from persistent suicidal fantasies. Because blood platelets also carry serotonin receptors, Dr. Lisheng Du, the team's molecular geneticist, analyzed blood samples from the patients and from 131 control subjects with no history of mental illness or substance abuse.
"What we found was fascinating," said Bakish. "The patients had 40 percent more of these receptors than normal." Forty-one percent of the patients in the study carried the genetic mutation, compared with 18 percent of control subjects.
"When these patients were treated with a variety of antidepressants, the only medications that alleviated their suicidal fantasies were drugs such as Prozac™, which belong to a family called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These drugs prevent brain cells from overdoing the normal mop-up operation after they release serotonin. This was the true test. If, with treatment, the receptor numbers remained constant, the condition truly was genetic in origin. "The numbers didn't change," says Hrdina. But he cautioned that other laboratories must replicate the findings before the search for more finely tuned drug therapies can begin.
"The identification of successful treatment could have far-reaching implications. In the United States, 13 out of every 100,000 people—about 30,000—kill themselves each year, and suicide has become the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year-olds. And the U.S. is not alone. In 1998, the World Health Organization ranked suicide as the twelfth leading cause of death worldwide—948,000 people died of self-destructive acts."
Adoption - being adopted - in and of itself is an additional known "risk factor" in suicide. When you add this risk as a result of feeling rejected and abandoned, treated unfairly and denied your own truth and identity to the lack of genealogical and medical history...you've got a time bomb waiting to explode.

I can only imagine if knowing this family history could have saved my daughter's life...

Today, it is recognized that creating family trees as a school project is painful for adopted youngsters...yet we continue to seal away their origins and heritage from them and replace the with lies or the vast unknown....  

With such strong pervasive innate and intellectual desire of humans to connect to one another and their ancestry, why should some be disallowed to fill this natural need because it MIGHT possibly, potentially upset another?  No one has suggested preventing same sex marriage because it might upset their mothers...nor has anyone suggested that they need their parent's consent to marry, even though their (unenlightened) parents might prefer to keep their offspring's sexual orientation private or even secret and closeted....not recorded and reported as a marriage. To suggest parental permission for adults is an absurdity...unless you are adopted, then you are a potential perpetrator of criminal harassment in perpetuity and denied rights that convicted felons are granted.

But I guess adoptees are disposable, wretched, bastards; lucky to have not been aborted.  So, if a few take themselves out or die for lack of medical history or a an organ donation match - no big deal. And, after all, their searches could only lead then to the trash who threw them out like yesterday's garbage, anyhow (as opposed to those who paid dearly for them). So why bother?

Over one million people commit suicide every year. The World Health Organization estimates that it is the thirteenth-leading cause of death worldwide. It is a leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under 35. Worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60% in the past 50 years.

And so... my precious angel daughter is in heaven with her great, great grandfather...and I look forward to my heavenly reunion with both of them.


Lorraine Dusky said...

Thanks Mirah for this post with all the suicide research...as you know my own daughter, who was adopted, committed suicide in her early 40s.

All I know is that I have an aunt who did the same, and left behind two children. Apparently it was one her mind for a long time because one of her sisters, my aunt, told me that when her sister, Cecelia, was a young person she would look at old people and say: I'm never going to be like that. I'm not going to live that long.

My daughter's suicide came at a time when she had severe PMS and was not treating it with progesterone, which I believe saved at least my marriage, if not my life. I had contemplated suicide for years--from my teens on--but in looking back, I see that it was cyclical and probably coincided with my PMS. Given that, I'm fully prepared to believe there is a hormonal imbalance that might be prevalent in a certain ethnic group. Thanks again for posting this.

Mirah Riben said...


I'm glad you saw this. I meant to send you a link.

My daughter, like yours, had multiple causations, both hereditary and environmental, any one of which in and o fitself could have led to her taking her life. Or, perhaps for both or either of them it was the combo...

I have read that many violent criminal e.g. serial killers experienced both abandonment - real or emotional - and physiological damage.

We will never know.

BUT...we can work extra hard to protect our subsequent children and grandchildren. It's a terrible thing your granddaughter has to live with...My father and his brothers were very effected by their father's suicide, but that wa sin the day when it was all hush-hush and no one said a word about it.

Survivors of loved ones' deaths always feel a sense of "should-have" and "if only." It is so much worse for survivors of a loved ones' suicide.

Von said...

Yes indeed.What an informative post. I am working along some lines of geneaology at present and will post soon.The more information we have access to the better, whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

I just got a DNA match yesterday to a 2nd-4th cousin via Family Tree DNA. We've been emailing back and forth. She's an adoptee, too and she's way out in Maryland and I'm waaaaay out in California. She's still searching for her natural parents and I'm still searching for my natural father. She says I'm the first person in her life that she knows that she's related to. She's in her mid 40's.

Mirah Riben said...

Very exciting! Was the DNA testing expensive?

Anonymous said...

It was only a couple hundred dollars and it might be the only way I will find my father. I'm holding out hope that Family Tree DNA's database matches me with him or at least a half-sibling from him.

Mirah Riben said...

But they can only match you with someone else who paid to have this done with this same organization. How many people are in their data base?

Anonymous said...

It's a new database, but it claims to be the largest. It also states that many surname projects are using their database.

I'm not real familiar with DNA testing, but I do know that it's linked me to 4 "2nd-4th cousins and 30 distant relations in just two months.

Mirah Riben said...

Wow! Four cousins. That's great!

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