“I’d Rather Have Something than Nothing”

Presence and Absence in the Records of Transracial, Transnational Adoptees

  • Mya Ballin


In the last decade, archival scholars have begun to deeply reflect upon the experiences of individuals and communities as they interact with administrative and bureaucratic records. They have found that there is a significant gap between the emotional experiences of records activators and the preparedness of archival repositories to address these experiences. Emerging from these realizations is a call for archivists to better understand the experiences of the personal in the bureaucratic and to design and take up reparative, caring, and rights-based frameworks to respond to these previously unaddressed needs. Drawing on semi-structured interviews conducted as part of the author’s master’s thesis, this article maps out connections between transracial, transnational adoptee experiences and ideas about the archival imaginary. In addition to acting as a space for participants to share their stories – which directly demonstrate the ability of records to both create and collapse space for unanswerable questions – this work seeks to take up existing calls to archivists and recordkeepers to consider the impact of the bureaucratic on the personal and to recognize the urgent necessity of addressing these experiences as we move forward into more caring practice.

Author Biography

Mya Ballin

Mya Ballin is a PhD candidate at Monash University. She gratefully acknowledges the people of the Kulin Nations, the Traditional Owners of the land on which she now has the opportunity to learn.

Mya is interested in exploring how records inform and interplay with personal and cultural identity/ies, particularly by examining the relationships between government records and the lives of adoptees and care leavers. As part of the Real-time Rights-based Recordkeeping Governance project, her doctoral dissertation research will investigate how social contracts and professional ethics are embedded within the design of records of childhood out-of-home care and consider the role of recordkeeping analytics in regulatory frameworks that protect rights in records and promote an ethics of care.

In 2022, Mya received her MLIS and MAS from the University of British Columbia’s School of Information, which is located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəyə̓m (Musqueam) First Nation. While there, she had the opportunity to act as a co-guest editor of Archivaria’s special issue on person-centred archival theory, alongside Jennifer Douglas, Jessica Lapp, and Sadaf Ahmadbeigi.

How to Cite
Ballin, Mya. 2023. “‘I’d Rather Have Something Than Nothing’: Presence and Absence in the Records of Transracial, Transnational Adoptees”. Archivaria 95 (May), 136-64. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/13909.
Gordon Dodds Prize