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Thursday 19 July 2018

Dear Mary: My adoptive aunt told me I have a brother and sisters that I don't know

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

Mary O'Connor

I hope you might help me out, Mary. I was born in May 1951 and adopted one year later. My brother in my adopted family told me my real name and where I was from, but he wouldn't say any more. But an aunt told me that I had a brother and sisters that I don't know.

My husband died two years ago and I would love to know more about my original family.

Mary replies: Anybody setting out to trace their birth family has to be aware that it can be a difficult and sometimes very painful process, as they may face rejection when the birth mother and father are found or they may have already passed away. In your case there are siblings involved who may be either half-sisters and brother or, if you had the same father, then full blood relatives. You will have to be prepared for difficulties in their acceptance of you if you find them, although hopefully they will welcome you into the family.

You have given me all your details regarding name, address and actual birth date which for reasons of anonymity I am not printing. If you don't have your birth certificate then this is a good place to start. You should apply to General Register Office, Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon, which is now the centralised office for all birth certificates.

There is no central location for adoption files in this country, so you may have to apply to a few different organisations to get the information you are looking for. Your first step should be to contact the adoption agency responsible for your placement. This will either be a registered adoption society or the Health Service Executive (HSE). The HSE replaced what were previously Health Boards in Ireland, and in the past adoptions were handled by the Health Boards. If you don't know the name of the adoption agency then you should write to the Adoption Authority (formerly the Adoption Board) and give them all the details that you gave to me.

The Authority has details of all registered adoptions dating from 1952 and should be able to give you the name of the agency that dealt with your case. The address is: Adoption Authority of Ireland, Shelbourne House, Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4.

Most agencies have long waiting lists of people trying to trace their birth families so it may take quite some time. When your turn comes, you will be contacted by a social worker from the agency and asked to come in for a meeting. At that meeting you will find out how long the search will take and if the agency will offer you any support.

You should not expect a lot of information to begin with. Generally, the agencies will only give out what they call non-identifying information (no full names or addresses), unless the consent of all parties has been obtained. So there may be problems if your birth mother asked for anonymity when placing you for adoption.

If the adoption society that dealt with your case has closed since your placement, your records will have been transferred to the HSE. If this is the case, you should follow the same procedure that you would use for the Adoption Authority. That is, contact your Local Health Office of the HSE and let them know that you are trying to trace your birth family. They will hopefully let you know what you need to do next.

From speaking to people who have been down the route of seeking their birth parents and/or siblings, I understand it can at times be frustrating and you will have to be prepared to persevere. Hopefully things have improved in more recent years and I wish you the best of luck in being re-united with your siblings.

I feel very let down by my supposed friend

I had a high regard for someone in my outer circle of friends. I knew her via her business and I was one of her regular customers. We got to know each other reasonably well and we shared the ups and downs of life and then she retired. I had hoped we could meet occasionally for coffee after that. I had no home address or personal phone number for her so I managed to pass on my own contact details to her. A few weeks later I bumped into her and I asked if she had got my details and she said she did. So I suggested coffee again some week.

She suggested that I meet her where she parked her car after doing voluntary work during the week. I saw her in passing once or twice after that and she was getting over the flu or talking away to me, but no sign of our going for coffee.

I began to have a sense she was pulling the wool over my eyes and had no intention of phoning me to make a proper appointment to meet for coffee. Then I bumped into her again and she remarked she was thinking of me that morning. It came to a head as I was feeling hurt and let down and I told her so. She tried to apologise, but I wasn't convinced.

I didn't feel treated with respect and I let her know this. She suggested coffee then and I said no, that my heart wasn't in it anymore. I felt really low, like she didn't see me as a person standing in front of her. I noticed she talked about herself a lot, but didn't ask how I was doing. She seemed, to my disappointment, self-centred and taking my good nature for granted as I was always nice and a reasonable sort of person.

But we all have our limits and most of us like to be treated well.

Mary replies: We certainly do like to be treated well and I'm sorry that you felt slighted by this lady. You obviously feel very strongly about all of this as you have taken the trouble to write to me.

You seem to have put far more emphasis on the friendship than she did, although you do refer to her as being in your outer circle of friends. I feel that you expected too much from her and so were disappointed. She saw you as a customer and because she had retired she probably felt that you no longer had any connection.

We all make friends at different stages of our lives. Some continue to be lifelong while others fade out of our sphere as circumstances change. People generally have a very close inner circle with whom they remain close to all through their lives, and it doesn't matter if a long time has passed since they have been together - they are able to take up the reins and continue on as before. Some reach a natural conclusion and yours is a very good example of this.

You and this woman were friends while you did business together but then she felt that it was time to move on with the next chapter of her life. She must have been a bit taken aback when you explained to her how you felt. You are obviously a very sensitive and caring person and expect the same sensitivity from others. I hope you haven't been too hurt and if you bump into her again that you will be able to smile and pass the time of day with her.

In the meantime, I am sure that you have very close friends with whom you can continue to share your life, rather than spending time on what you wish might have happened with this lady.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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