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A Letter That Would Change Their Lives

Who is Thira Coleman

Thira Coleman is a person of integrity, most of all, honesty. Someone who loves God and believes in him, and everything I have is because of him. He has always been there for me. First and foremost, I am a God-fearing, God-loving woman of Christ.

Can you explain from your experience how you found out you were adopted and how did it make you feel?

I don’t have a specific memory of when I was told I was adopted. For the life of me, I have memories of what I was told, but I do not have the specific time of when I was told. It had to be at a young age because I don’t have a feeling about it, and I just accepted it, like these are my parents, I didn’t question it. I never once asked anyone about my adoption. I just always felt my whole life that the parents who adopted me were black, so I was black as well. I remember very little information. Part of the information I was given was that my father was black, and my mother was white, so I was always black. I think when anyone has a black part of their ethnicity, that is the dominant characteristic or race of what you label yourself throughout your whole life.

From your perspective, what are the pros and cons of adoption?

With the pros, your getting parents who want you. This is somebody who has sought out to have a child—there going to give you all the love that you could possibly get. They're going to raise you where you're going to be the center of their life. Everything they do, every decision that they make it is going to be about you. I can remember growing up, something as simple as television. We watched whatever I wanted to watch because I was the only child. When my mother made dinner, if I was still hungry, my mother would give me her food if there wasn't enough. The only con is that you don't know anything about where you came from. When you're young, you don't think to ask those questions. Both my parents died when I was 18, and I never asked and didn't think to ask. That is the only con I can think of as far as adoption.

From your values, which you carry true to yourself. What are your thoughts about your biological parents giving you away for adoption?

I can't judge my parent's morals and values for giving me up for adoption because I don't know their situation. At the time, I don't know what they were going through that made them give me up. I can only tell you how my adopted parents have influenced my morals and values.

How do your morals and values stem from your upbringing?

My father was a pastor, and my mother was a pastor's wife. I grew up during a time where the church wasn't a business. Today it's a business. My father established multiple churches, but the only one I grew up in was in Utica, NY, New Bethel Baptist Church. My father established that church, but he also had a job. He had to have a job for us to live. His salary was $40 a week, but our church consisted of women, people who were on welfare and just trying to raise their children. He made sure to deliver a message of trying to support the community the best way he can. I grew up seeing that and how we lived at home is what I would see him preach to the pulpit. So that's why I have a strong sense of loving God and the beginning of my foundation. Integrity, be true, be kind. My integrity and having a good heart come from them. They sought me out when I was abandoned, and again I can't judge my birth parents since I never got the chance to talk to them about it. I believe they chose to do what was best for me, and at the time, it turned out to be a great life.

At any given time, was there resentment towards your parent's choices in giving you away?

No, just questions. Not resentment, because like I said, my parents that adopted me wanted me. I know they did everything they could to make my life good, under the circumstances of what they could possibly do.

Moving forward, how is your relationship with your family since you've now found them?

It's amazing. I think people who are familiar with all their family members take it for granted. Every story I've heard on tv about adoption is my story. Those who know about their birth relatives are blessed. Being able to find mine is closer for me because I don't have to be angry anymore. I now have answers. Growing up, I have claimed others as family, and now I can see who my blood relatives are. Discovering I have two brothers, a sister, I have tons of nieces and nephews who I could feel immediately loved me. It's never once been awkward. It's like I been their aunt their whole lives. It's been an amazing journey.

For someone else who can relate to your story, what message would you like to relay to them?

Don't ever give up, and I know that may sound cliche because it was cliche to me too. I went for years getting a second or third cousin. I would email those people, and it wouldn't get anywhere. It wouldn't lead to anything significant until finally the one time. So you never know when that one time is going to be. The connection that's going to have all the answers. Twenty years of my life, and it finally came. I didn't get it in time to meet my mother and father, but still, I got to look at the present and establish relationships with the family that I do have now. You never know when that next text, communication, email that you send out is going to be the one that gives you all the answers that you're looking for.

Who is Siera to Thira Coleman?

Siera is Thira Colemans' niece.

What was the motivation to look into your family's history?

From the start, it was the general curiosity about my family growing up. The first person I was truly curious about was my grandmother, so my moms, mom, Patricia. Who her father was, was always unclear. So given that time, she was born in 1936, and they said it was with one guy, and general names tossed around, and my general curios nature. I was just determined to figure it out. Once I took Ancestory DNA and found this set of connections, I was kind of able to figure it out for myself. Get an answer to something no one else had been adamant about figuring out before. So I kept rolling from there. As I found other close connections to me, I was determined to understand how we were actually connected. So when your mom came up as a close connection to me. I was like, this woman can't be out here in the world, and this close and me not be able to figure out who she is. I was always going to get to the bottom of it.

Can you tell us the backstory of the letter?

Thira and I kept missing one another's messages on Ancestry. When she first reached out to me, I just wasn't paying attention to Ancestry's messaging capabilities and I left Facebook sometime before that. At the onset of the pandemic, I started to really examine my AncestryDNA connections, and ours was one that I had to dig into. I can't really describe why, but figuring out who she was to me and being able to give her answers was simply paramount to me. I knew it was my mission to fulfill and I just... did it. Fortunately, as a business owner, there was good public information available on her... and a location. So when technology fails, we have snail mail and I immediately recognized that the address associated with her business was probably home. So, I went for it.

Growing up with your grandad, what is your reflection of his morals and values, considering the choice to place his daughter up for adoption?

Most of my memory of my grandfather were just me visiting him or him visiting Ithaca. It wasn't as much as I grew up around my mom's side of the family. My thoughts on my grandfather's moral compass are pretty limited. He was always super warm and always made sure I knew I was his grandchild and that he loved me. I really didn't get any sense for what his overall governing principles were as a human. I really didn't see him in that way or in any situations.

How were you able to find her mom?

This was a pure dot connection through DNA and story. Thira's anecdotal hints from the folks that helped with her adoption were that her mom was probably white and a nurse at the Tompkins County Hospital. My father told me he had once met an acquaintance of his dad's that worked at the hospital but wasn't a nurse - she was an admin. Then there was the DNA side of things. Thira connected with cousins on her maternal side who provided her with an ancestral family surname to work with. With all of those nuggets of data, I just started to research and put pieces together, which by that point just felt like a validation process. In this instance, it proved super helpful that white folks are so well documented -- I never expected to find a photo of her mother, but when I did?! Wow. Their resemblance is simply undeniable.

What are your thoughts on parents having to make a decisive decision to give away their child?

Even as a parent now were all doing kind of the best we can. You make the decisions you make when you have to make them with the information you have. And then, of course, we're all products of our culture at the time, so I think parents give a child up because the life they believed they could have is better than the parents are equipped to provide at that time for any number of reasons. I believe that's always within their rights, and I would find it hard to believe that any parents looking back on it wouldn't have experience giving up a child is the most painful one they ever have to do in their whole lives.

Tell us the response of your dad realizing he had a sister

He was so excited, soo excited. He was very like, well kind of like, damn, but okay—also, that side of the family they're all lovers. Their all lovers of families, and he actually recently lost his youngest sister a few years ago. To discover he has another one, like another baby sister, is fascinating. I think it closed the loop on something he thought may have been the case all along, too, because he had asked his father on occasions if he had any other kids out there. Grandad eventually told him, "yea, yea, I think there may be." To have your mom up here it's like yea, okay, it's you. My father also remembers meeting your grandmother, your moms, mom was something else too. He is genuinely excited.

What is next for you, do you plan on doing more research into your family history?

I am still actively researching and documenting my family history -- I've also started to do the same for others! Connecting with Thira truly awakened my passion for this work, and I couldn't be more grateful. I consider tracing my family's origins, unearthing our stories and examining my own journey among the most fulfilling pieces of work I've ever done. Through my interest in genealogy, I have gained a community, a larger body of work to contribute to, a bunch of other skills and experiences that will serve me well into the future AND the opportunity to document history. Priceless.

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