As a young child, “heritage” did not have any meaning to me. When I was in middle school, during a science lab experiment, I discovered I was adopted. Suddenly, the heritage I’d taken for granted, with the nonchalance associated to youth, was stripped away. My adoptive parents had destroyed any records they had about the adoption, believing that I would never find out that they had adopted me. As a result, I had nothing to connect me in a biological sense to anyone in the world.
This knowledge – or rather, lack of knowledge – affected the way I thought, in unexpected ways. In history class, when the teacher would lecture to the class “your ancestors built this country”, I would be thinking “maybe or maybe not… I don’t know who my ancestors are”. In science classes, when the teacher would be trying to draw on similarities between parents, children and siblings as part of lectures on genetics, I had no one to connect to. Whenever I started with a new doctor, I would leave my family health history blank, a source of frustration to doctors and nurses who had difficulty believing I knew nothing of my genealogical history.
The Door Opens
The state I was born in had all adoptee’s records sealed. Then, the impossible happened: a group of adoptees brought a class-action lawsuit to the state. As a result, the state agreed to set up a system for “older” adoptees and birth families to be able to indicate interest in contacting. I quickly signed up – and then waited and waited.
In 2006, I received a copy of my adoption records and a neatly-penned hand-written note from my birthmother, saying she wanted any contact I was willing to give. As it turned out, my maternal genealogical/biological background is well-documented with an up-to-date family website. I’ve developed a good relationship with my birthmother and am friendly with several other family members from that side of the family. I can actually provide family health history information to my healthcare professonals too.
First Stabs At Paternal History
Finding the paternal side was more difficult. The state had tried to find my birthfather and extended family members, with no success. It was time for some sleuthing. I searched the usual genealogical websites and at first, did not find anything definitive. There were too many people with the same last name as my birthfather’s for me to figure anything out. As far as him, I couldn’t find any traces. Then, I happened upon an inquiry on a board from a woman looking for a “baby Gilbraith” born in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. She turned out to be a younger half-sister and knew all of the other paternal siblings. As far as my birthfather, he had changed his name from William Gilbraith to Jay Gilbert, which explained why I couldn’t find him!
Satisfied that I had learned enough and exhausted the then-available records, I kept in contact with some of my siblings and stopped my genealogical research. Recently, I decided to try seeing if more records had become available – and they had.
Stepping Back Through Time – To 1608
I was completely surprised to be able to trace back up one family line to the Jamestown, Virginia colony of 1608, to a Captain Thomas Graves. As I learned, one of Thomas Grave’s sons was John Graves; amongst his sons was a Ralph Graves, married to a Rachel Croshaw. Their son, also named Ralph, married Unity White. One of their sons, Henry White Graves, had a son named John Williams Graves, who had a son named William Graves. William Graves had a son named Henry C. Graves, who had a son named Marcus George Graves. After a length of service as a Confederate infantryman who fought at Shiloh, he was a farmer; I wonder if my love of gardening is biologically wired?. Marcus had several children, including Maggie B. Graves, who turned out to be one of my grandmothers. Maggie married Martin R. Gilbraith, a carpenter, producing William Gerald Gilbraith, my biological father.
And so, it turns out, that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was Captain Thomas Graves. There is a website devoted to researching the name Graves (and variations thereof) – http://www.gravesfa.org/gen169.htm. I highly recommend budding genealogists to check to see if there is a similar group that have already done the research for them!
According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Thomas_Graves), he was one of the original stockholders in the Virginia Company of London, which founded the first permanent English settlement in North America. He first arrived in the fall of 1608. He later was a member of the First Legislative Assembly in America and also helped found Hungar’s Church. His name appears on the left side of a Jamestown monument, immortalizing the first House of Burgesses.
The Journey Forward
Still, I am not done researching my genealogical history. My adoption paperwork indicates that I was 1/8th Native American Indian, but did not specify where that came in from. In discussion with one of my paternal siblings, we suspect that it was from Maggie B. Graves. Maggie’s father, Markus Graves, had been married three times; Maggie’s mother was “Loe Murray”.
We have not found anything so far in any ancestry site about Loe and speculate that she may be Native American. One of my older paternal siblings remembers “MawMaw” Maggie – who would have been half-Native American – as being darker skinned, with long, straight black hair. She also remembers hearing that there was Cherokee blood in the family. So, as much as I have already found, I have yet more to discover.