If you’ve read Before We Were Yours, the fictional account of a family torn apart by Georgia Tann and her Tennessee Children’s Home Society, you might be interested in learning what happened to some of those children who passed through Tann’s hands. Lisa Wingate, the author of Before We Were Yours, collaborated with journalist, Judy Christie, to bring us Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
After reading Wingate’s first volume, Before We Were Yours, I connected with Deborah, one of the children adopted out of Georgia Tann’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society (TCHS) in 1949. She allowed me to share her story via Family Locket and you can read it here: “Before We Were Yours” and a True Life Adoption Story from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
With more than 5,000 children placed with adoptive parents by Georgia Tann, I wanted to know more of their stories. Some of these children were orphans and others were stolen from families undergoing duress. With the publication of Before We Were Yours, many adoptees read the book and began to suspect they might have been a product of Tann’s TCHS. They started contacting the author, Lisa Wingate, and one, in particular, expressed the need for a reunion of the adoptees. She even offered to organize the gathering.
Wingate, recognizing the opportunity to learn the rest of the story, enlisted the aid of her friend and journalist, Judy Christie, to seek out the stories. Before and After is both the story of the adoptees and of Wingate and Christie’s journey in discovering those stories.
The common thread of Georgia Tann and TCHS runs through each adoptee’s unique narrative. We read of people petitioning state governments to open their adoption records. Others turn to DNA to discover their birth families. Some adoptees were overjoyed to be reunited with siblings separated from them as children. Intermingled through the drama are Georgia Tann’s nefarious methods of obtaining children. Her web of deceit and lies unfolds in each story – how she preyed on young mothers without many options or on those too destitute to raise another child.
The book culminates with the reunion of a few of the Tann adoptees in Memphis, Tennessee, the center of TCHS. Healing takes place as stories are shared. The authors offer an afterward giving the reader a sense of how lives have changed because of the reunion and the connections made with other adoptees. We all need a sense of our past and Before and After truly illustrates the importance of knowing our family history, however painful it may be.
As we explore the stories in our own family history, we may uncover disturbing situations and wonder how to write about them. Before and After offers examples of both interviewing people with a difficult narrative and then writing that story with compassion and integrity.
Best of luck in all your genealogical writing!