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We need to consider our definition of family and how social attitudes and constructs have influenced that. I think many of us have heard about, or participated in, the “family tree project” at the elementary school level, where students are encouraged to create a tree that shows their family.

For some, this is an easy task and shows genetic siblings, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Mimi and Pops, and it’s very straightforward. For others, it’s not so simple.

Families are often blended. There could be Mom, Dad, and a stepmom, half- and step-siblings. There could be two gay dads, two lesbian moms, a trans dad, perhaps a child lives with Grandma or Aunt Sue, or they’re in foster care and live with people who are no relation at all and therefore cannot, or don’t want to, share their information.

Some adopted people, like my husband, have shared that they sometimes felt a sort of isolation from the adoptive family—like they weren’t “real family” within their family who are all genetically related—and projects like the family tree left them feeling disconcerted, disconnected, and alone in the world, adrift with no people of their own.

Just Because It’s Written Down...

This leads us forward to the situations that adults face when researching and documenting their own genealogy. First, we cannot assume that what’s written on a piece of paper is indeed a true fact. Documents can be altered, or misinformation entered, for any number of reasons.

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For example, birth certificates are considered a primary source of documentation in genealogy research. My husband has a birth certificate that shows the name of his adoptive parents in a way that, for those who aren’t aware that he is adopted, states their names as a fact that they are his genetic parents. This is because when an infant or child is adopted, their original birth certificate is locked away and only the amended birth certificate, listing the adoptive parents’ names, is available.

Prior to the passage of Louisiana HB 450 (which provides for access to an adopted person’s original birth certificate) in June 2022, my husband was denied access to the original birth certificate that documented his birth and the name of his genetic parents because Louisiana was not an open access state that allowed this document to be obtained. While researching his adoption, we reached out to the State of Louisiana for a non-ID which is a document that outlines medical and other information about the adoptee’s birth mother, and sometimes the birth father, but does not give identifying information about them.

In my husband’s case, the non-ID gave a birth date different than the one on his amended birth certificate, and also said he was assigned female at birth. This is an example of how, for many years across the United States, there was an active campaign of sorts to ensure a complete separation of mother from infant by the manipulation of what is considered fact by means of official paperwork.

The Baby Scoop Era

This fits what was done to millions of adoptees during what is known as the “Baby Scoop Era” that occurred from 1945 to 1973, and during which an estimated four million babies were surrendered for adoption. Documentation during this era, and even continuing into today, does not always reflect the true facts of an individual’s birth.

Perhaps you’ve seen a post on social media from an adoptee listing their birth date and location and asking for information about family? If you have unrestricted access to your birth information, take a moment to consider what it must be like to beg strangers for this basic information about yourself.

The stories of loss, inability to access information, and scenarios of disconnection abound in many people, not just adoptees, and care must be taken to always be compassionate when walking the path of genealogy magic. The adage of walking a mile in someone’s shoes definitely applies.

Absent and Incomplete Information

In addition, there are some other vintage documents that can be quite valuable in genealogy research but that also can contain information that is incomplete, or just nonexistent, usually regarding women’s surnames:

  • Baptismal records often list the infant’s mother by her married name, or only used her first name, or don’t list her at all.

  • Obituaries often listed surviving female relatives by their married name. For example, it is common to see “Mrs. John Jones” instead of Mary Smith Jones in old obituaries. In cases where the husband was deceased, sometimes “Mrs. Mary Jones” would be used, but still with no reference to her family name.

  • Marriage documents will often list the bride’s first name and the name of her father. The mother is either not mentioned or is mentioned by first name only, or with the surname of her husband.

Being Removed from the Family Tree

There are a variety of scenarios in which individuals find themselves removed from the family circle. Marriage to someone outside the family’s social class, religion, culture, or a mix of them, have been the impetus to treat a family member as if they were dead or nonexistent. Interracial marriage is another.

Some people who fall within the cluster of the LGBTQIA+ letters were purposely pushed away from their genealogical family at a young age. One person with whom I spoke shared a story of resilience in the face of heartbreaking rejection. They were expelled from their family at the age of eighteen, their mother took their pictures out of the family album, their father offered them money to change their name and move out of state and, many years later, they were not listed as a survivor in their parents’ obituaries. In short, their parents made every attempt to obliterate their existence from the family story.

Regarding my question about what DNA testing might mean for the LGBTQIA+ community they told me, “For some queer people, DNA testing is the only way they’ll ever find out anything about their genetic heritage.” The person who shared this with me is married for many years now and has a loving family of choice, one created by bond instead of blood. Their family story is just as valid and important to the documentation of the human experience as a hetero-cis person’s family story.

The Importance of DNA Testing

All these situations speak to the importance of DNA testing for those who want to explore their roots but don’t have access to their family and its stories. It also reinforces that we must consider each person’s story and their desire to record the facts of their life as it exists.

In considering their family, and that of others with similar circumstances, we are reminded that there are many ways to have a family. All are valid, and each one represents a place on the beautiful spectrum of how families exist. Each one is worthy of writing down for the future to look back upon.

The Role of Changed Gender in Genealogy

There are other factors to consider, and, while I don’t have all the answers for how to handle them, I encourage each genealogist to think carefully about what will work best and serve the highest good for all involved. It is most important to remember that we should always respect the wishes of those we document and write about.

Here is an example, and a question to consider: Some people are legally changing their sex assigned at birth on their birth certificate and other legal documents after they transition. The change, contributes to the affirmation of gender, among other things, however, it doesn’t change genetic facts. An XY trans woman will still carry within her genetics the Y-DNA that represents her father’s paternal line, for example.

The question then arises: What is the best way to represent a transgendered individual in a family tree? The short answer is that you represent them in the way they choose. If you don’t know, ask! In these instances, especially, genetics must take second place, and the person, and their right to exist within their family tree and the world as their innate self, must take precedence.

The Takeaway

The takeaway from all of this is that we should each make a concerted and heartfelt effort to write in a way that includes each person in the manner of their choosing, and how they identify. Genetic facts are important and cannot be changed, but, along with the science of the family story, there are the aspects of the day-to-day life to consider.

It does well to remember that to fully tell a story, the people within it must be represented as their true and actual selves or there really is no truth to the story at all, is there?

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission of the author/publisher.

Article Source:

BOOK: The Magic in Your Genes

The Magic in Your Genes: Your Personal Path to Ancestor Work
by Cairelle Crow.

book cover: The Magic in Your Genes by Cairelle Crow.The Magic in Your Genes is geared to those with a known recent genealogical history (parents, grandparents) but is also appropriate for those who are adopted or who have other situations, such as a misattributed parentage event. Combines traditional genealogy with magical practices in a unique guide to deepen your relationship with ancestors. 

For more info and/or to order this book, click hereAlso available as an Audio CD, an Audible Audiobook, and a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Cairelle Crow

​Cairelle Crow has walked a goddess path for more than 30 years, exploring, learning, and growing. She has been involved in genealogical pursuits since the late 1990s and began to actively work with genetic genealogy in 2013. She is the owner of Sacred Roots, which is dedicated to connecting people to their ancestral heritage and legacy, and she lectures locally, nationally, and internationally on the blending of genealogy with magic. She teaches the 13-month Priestess of Sacred Roots genealogy magic course and is also an integrative RN and midlife women's advocate.

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