Some Doors to the Past Stay Closed For a Reason

On complicated ancestry, adoption, grief, and confused instincts

Steffany Ritchie
7 min readJul 12


A woman in dark silhouette stares out a window
Photo by Kaitlyn Jade:

When my dad died last summer, there was one thing that happened that excited me a little bit while going through his things. We found his birth certificate, which I had never seen before. It was a relatively new copy that I believe he had obtained when his dad died for legal purposes.

My dad was adopted as a baby, and it was largely a mystery as to what the circumstances were. He never told my mom he was adopted for the first few years they were together. One day my aunt (my dad’s brother’s wife) blurted it out when talking about my dad in a fairly rude/blasé manner. My mom was stunned, this was all news to her.

My dad didn’t like talking about it, clearly. He had good reasons for this. His adopted mother died when he was fourteen, and he was told in a cruel manner by another family member to stop crying so hysterically, that she wasn’t even his real mother. So it’s understandable to me why he had issues around his back story.

We knew a little bit, but I had never seen his birth parents’ names before. Just seeing them in black and white was a small thrill, a tantalizing piece of a mystery I had never thought would be solved. I saw my dad’s birth name, it felt so foreign and strange.

It felt like a breath of fresh air to have a piece of a mystery about him expanded in a way. Likely due to our estrangement and the sadness of how he had ended up, I guess some part of me wanted to find out something good or new about his life.

I found out in speaking to a family member of my dad’s a bit more about the circumstances of his adoption. She also confirmed my mother’s recollection that my dad remembered his birth mom visiting him a few times as a child.

Coincidentally, a couple of months after my dad died I had a relative on his side reach out on 23 and Me. She and I were bizarrely in a very similar boat. Her dad had passed away and had also been adopted, and she was curious to find out more. We were both each other’s closest relative that we had found on the site on our fathers’ sides.

She was able to tell I was related on her dad’s side, and the DNA results indicate we…



Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I write memoir, essays, music, and pop culture. American in Scotland.