On Tuesday, with great care, I took a tube full of my DNA, stuffed it into a box and shipped it off to a lab full of faceless scientists — so I could find out who I am.

No, I was not adopted. I am confident of that fact, even though my older sister spent years of our childhood attempting to convince me that the contrary was true and that my real name was Molly.

In a true journalistic fashion, I used my birth certificate as documentation to debunk her falsehoods: I was born to Traci and Todd Higginbotham at 8:30 a.m. on May 23, 1994, at St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois. My mom, a primary source in this case, said I came so quickly the doctor could not administer the epidural, and she definitely would be able to confirm my biological ties.

I was not adopted — but my father was.

He told us as much when we were children, but I think I was too young to grasp all of what that meant. He said he was a baby when my grandparents adopted him, and all that he knew about his birth mother was that she was from Mexico.

When I would ask if he was curious about his biological parents, he always said, “No. My parents were my parents.”


I never found that answer satisfying. To me, not knowing who his biological parents were, who my grandparents were, raised the real possibility that there were people out there who shared my blood, and maybe, my smile. I wanted to know those people.

As I’ve gotten older, I still have questions: whether his parents are still alive; whether I have aunts and uncles and cousins; whether any of them are writers, like me. But now, despite the questions, I have no real expectations of getting answers.

Even if my dad were game, I don’t believe it would be possible to track anyone down.

Still, I feel that I’ve missed out on a culture and tradition, not to mention that we know nothing of my biological grandfather’s ancestry.

So I decided to find out. I ordered a genetic ancestry test online. In about a month’s time, I’ll know what percent Hispanic I am, and whether my great-grandpa, Eugene Moore, was exaggerating when he said his family was 100 percent Irish.

I’m anxious to get the results, and to have one less question that needs answered, but I have this nagging feeling that I’ll never get the whole picture. Because the person my father has become, and who I am, was shaped far more by George and Shirley Higginbotham, who were my grandparents in every way but by blood, than by genetics, and I feel as though I hardly knew them.


My Grandpa George passed away when I was only 4 years old, and I have no memory of him. What I can tell you are just specks of detail of his life: He served in the military during the Korean War, later worked at Caterpillar Inc. and would take my dad and Aunt Terri to Long John Silvers on Friday nights when my grandma was out. In one of our home videos he had filmed, you can hear my grandpa laughing as my sister lies to my parents about dragging her finger along a cake to eat the frosting. Yeah, I think I would have liked him a lot.

We had my Grandma Shirley for another eight years after his passing, but in that time I learned few facts about her life. In many ways, she was a hard woman to know. She wasn’t like my other grandma, Donna, who made us French toast whenever we spent the night and volunteered to be the subject of a makeover when my sister and I played beauty shop; that wasn’t Shirley’s way of being grandmotherly. She even showed her dog, Heidi, more affection than she did us; but looking back, who could blame her?

There were certain things we didn’t really like about going over to her house, such as how she always made ham instead of turkey for holiday meals, how she’d get mad and ask if I was going to pay the electric bill when I’d forget to turn off the bathroom light, and how she filled our Christmas stockings with fruit instead of candy. I even found her hands to be cold and scratchy.

So I never asked her any questions, and it soon became too late to do so.

Near the end my seventh-grade year, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor — and it was inoperable. My dad moved her to a care facility near us and we spent that summer visiting her often.

Any kind of coldness I detected from her melted away in those months. She became that affectionate grandmother who would reach out for us at her bedside and hold our hands — and she even let my sister paint her toenails.


When my other grandparents came to see her — at this point she had difficulty speaking — she tried to wiggle her foot free from underneath her blankets, and it took a moment before we realized what she was doing; we pulled the blankets away and she proudly presented her orange, polished toes to them. It’s a memory that breaks my heart every time it surfaces in my mind.

On my first day of eighth grade, she passed away. I regret that I didn’t spend those last months asking her the questions I now want to know: What was the world like when she was growing up? What were her parents like? How did she meet my grandfather? What were the things she liked to do? What was my father like as a boy?

These are questions an ancestry test won’t be able to answer, but, in the highly unlikely scenario that I do meet one of those long, lost blood relatives, I know that I won’t pass up the chance to ask them.

Emily Higginbotham, originally from Illinois, is a reporter at the Morning Sentinel. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmilyHigg. Or reach her by email: [email protected]

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