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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • July 27, 2016 in Columnists

    That’s royal bastard to you

    History records the names of royal bastards, but cannot tell us the origin of wheat.
    Jean-Henri Fabre

    In November of 2014, I officially and legally became an orphan when my adoptive father succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis — something that would not have killed him if the arrogant surgeon who did his second coronary bypass had corrected his fecking hiatal hernia while he was in there. The man’s smarmy assertion that “we don’t fix those on the very elderly” didn’t hold a lot of water given he was in there already doing the bypass and could bloody fecking well have fixed it then. So instead of making his century, my feisty, cranky, irascible, damaged, beautiful, brilliant, loving adoptive father slowly suffocated over two years. And yes, I do want that surgeon to get a whacking good case of hemorrhoids so that every time he  sits down, he remembers my father, who could indeed be a pain in the ass.

    Be that as it may, with his passing — the last of my immediate family — I at last felt free to embark on my adoption search, goaded somewhat by elder daughter who told me “it’s my heritage, too and I need to know it.” Canny woman she. She knew darned good and well I probably wouldn’t’ve done it for myself so she gave me a motivation.

    To my delight, after a month or so, the adoption search turned up my father’s identity — but my biological mother had vanished as if she had never existed.  This created a bit of a quandary. As they hadn’t been married and my bio mother had not told my bio father I existed (as far as anybody knew), and she wasn’t available to give the needed permission for me to contact my father, the searcher couldn’t legally divulge her identity. However, because, tragically, my bio father died in his late 40s, leaving me now to grieve two fathers (hard, believe me), the court made the decision to tell me my bio father’s identity.

    I have written several  other columns about finding my biological father (The journey of adoption – lost and found, part one, Part two, Part three, Part four) if you care to read them, but of my mother, there was nothing except the documents that came with me — fully papered, just like a puppy. It said that my birth name was Dionne Parsons. It said on the paper that ensured I had no congenital venereal diseases that my birth mother’s name was Pam (which turned out, perhaps, to be malicious humor as that was her sister’s name. Families were tangled back then, too).  The nonID information said that my biological mother was 23 in 1955, which would have made her born in 1932 and that she had an older sister. It said her father was in advertising.

    As it turns out, this was enough for my genius of a retired PI sister-in-law to find them. I had found a few other possibilities, all of whom felt tenuous, but this one felt right to the point that, when I saw the information in online social security records, it snapped into place for me with a nearly physical click.

    These were the people. This was my biological mother and her family. This was it.

    I felt the rightness with a nearly physical click

    I felt the rightness with a nearly physical click

    Further research revealed that my biological grandmother’s full name was actually Janet Berrien Parsons and that the Berriens were a pretty amazing family in both the best and worst senses. They had war heroes and statesmen, but they also had slave owners — in fact, I believe that if you are an African American person named Berrien, my relatives owned your relatives and for that, I am mostly heartily sorry and quite horrified. In fact, I had two relatives in the American Revolution which qualifies me to be a member of the DAR, I believe, as long as illegitimacy doesn’t count.

    It didn’t take long to find the Berrien family tree online — Janet was generation 9, so I would be generation 11 and I don’t think they track that far, but that’s okay. I don’t officially exist anyway, although who knows if they would care about the circumstances of my birth. My biological father’s family welcomed me with open arms (bless you guys — I love you so much!). But there are still people who care, and perhaps these number among them.

    Still, it’s my real heritage, tacitly affirmed within legal limits by my adoption searcher, so I began to poke around the site until I came to the “extras” button.

    Honestly, I thought it would be something like “buy a Berrien t-shirt and support the site” or some such. Instead, it was this:

    Yup, that's my lineage. Zowie.

    Yup, that’s my lineage. Zowie.

    Um…wait. What? REALLY?

    The reality is, in the scheme of things, I am a nameless, faceless bastard by literal definition. Bastards have historically been a scandal, a shameful thing, hidden. When I was growing up, finding out someone was illegitimate was shocking — and there were enormous social consequences for being one, despite it being no fault of the bastard in question. On the other hand, royal bastards — or even high-ranking noble ones — were routinely accepted. Even in this list, there is an Alice Fitz Alan — Fitz is an indication that Alice was an acknowledged bastard of Alan WhoeverHeWas. So now I am not just a nameless, faceless bastard. I am a Fitz! Which means yes, that’s royal bastard to you.

    You have to understand that my adoptive mother had real ambitions to be socially superior to as many people as humanly possible. She was unduly proud of being related to Sir Francis Drake, who really was nothing more than a glorified pirate, through one of his brothers. She wanted desperately to be a member of the DAR, despite not having a relative in the American Revolution, because she knew — just knew — that she was more than good enough to be counted in their august number.

    I suspect that she had always secretly felt superior to me — a nameless, faceless bastard (said so on the adoption papers, if rather more politely). After all, nobody even knew where I came from, but it was from people having illicit sex, which tarnished my origins considerably. I don’t even think she realized I knew she felt that way, but she did and I knew.

    So imagine how it felt to see that lineage — and then to go out and research Berrien and find out that I had two ancesters in the American Revolution, plus a there is a town in France (Wikipedia on Berrien, France (photo by By Henri MOREAU – Own work, GFD)), a county in Michigan (Wikipedia on Berrien County, Michigan) and a village in that county (Wikipedia about Berrien Springs, Berrien County, Michigan)!

    Berrien probably in the late 1800s and Berrien a lot more recently. Not much has changed. I have to go there.

    Berrien probably in the late 1800s and Berrien a lot more recently. Not much has changed. I have to go there.

    Is it bad to experience this degree of schadenfreude over outranking my snobbish adoptive mother literally exponentially and being eligible to be a member of the DAR? After all, even if I was so inclined, I can’t rub her nose in it. She’s been gone since 1999, never suspecting that the adoptive daughter she disdained came from rather loftier stock.

    Not that it matters, actually. I still put my pants on one leg at a time and I am no more attractive than anyone else in the throes of the stomach flu. Oh, and I am definitely not rich.

    It is kinda cool to be a Plantagenet, though.

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