A number of years ago, I was involved with transcribing interviews with recovering drug addicts in the inner city. The researchers discovered that the female drug addicts often gave birth to drug-addicted babies who they were in no condition to care for. An older female relative often raised these children. Their relationship to the baby was informal. They did not have legal custody. They simply assumed the role of caregiver.The researchers encountered a phenomenon. The women who were raising the babies were known as Auntie - not Aunt, but always Auntie. An "auntie" (pronounced awn-tee) is really the baby's grandmother. A census enumerator who asks that household about that relationship would almost surely come away believing that those babies are living with an aunt. Those who live in that part of the country and are familiar with the term Auntie, understand immediately what the relationship is. The genealogy database is not easily designed to handle that. After all, where does Auntie fit on the tree when mom is out of the picture? At the very least, include notes explaining these relationships. Otherwise, Mom can easily disappear from this family tree even though she might still be living in the same household. Regardless of lifestyle, a mother should be recognized in the family tree. We don't get to define family. Family defines family. Our job is to document the relationships as accurately as possible. Foster Children Finding foster children can be a real challenge. In fact, they are more difficult to trace than adopted children. Many foster children spend time in more than one foster home. For many foster children, it is important to them that a record be preserved documenting who they considered parental figures. They may not have known their birth parents or, if they did, they might prefer not to if there was abuse or neglect involved. It also creates a situation where, by the foster child's definition, they had more than one set of parents. Again, we are faced with an instance where a family should perhaps be granted the right to define family. My parents were foster parents to twins. By the time this boy and girl came to live with us at age four, they had spent time in their birth parents home located 110 miles and four counties away. Then they spent time in four other foster homes. At age 12, they returned to their birth parents for a time before entering institutional foster care, in yet another county. For a short time, they lived with our family again. Then the boy enrolled in military school 200 miles away while the girl was transferred to another city equally as far away. Without a lot of background information, it would be very difficult to find these two individuals later in life, or generations later. They called at least two sets of caretakers "mom" and "pop." Many people are in such situations. Even those who live with their parents often form close emotional bonds with other people they consider their parents. It is really helpful to identify who posed in the family photos, if you have a fuller picture of who the family considered relatives. It is still important to observe the traditional definition of family, but family doesn't always look the same in every house. Surrogacy This is one we haven't really seen yet, but eventually surrogacy will need to be addressed. The issue is not "outing" a parent. This issue probably comes into play mainly with regard to health issues. If you know whose DNA is in a person's biological makeup, you have better insight into healthcare should a hereditary illness occur. There is no little box in any database where you can identify a surrogate mother if her egg was used to create an embryo. In the most literal sense, she is the biological mother. In the legal sense, she may not be. Again, at the very least, consider whether it would be beneficial to document surrogacy or sperm donor information in your database. If we were going to truly create a family tree for the entire human race from the beginning of time that reflects DNA, we would have to create a space for surrogates and donors.
The Forgotten ChildrenThere are two groups of forgotten children, and they both have sad stories to tell. But they are the stories of real people and deserve to be remembered. The first group of children are stillborn or die as infants. In the past, these babies were often forgotten or overlooked. Sometimes they were not even given names. It has been said that one reason parents name their children at a christening when they are a couple of years old is that, for centuries, the rate of death among babies was so high. In fact, we do sometimes find more than one child in the same family being given the same name - after the first one failed to survive. Is it important to document the existence of these children? I contend that it is if for no other reason than to avoid confusing them with other children with the same name. So how do you find these children? If there are no gravestones and no record of the birth or death, look for a census notation for a married woman that says she is "lying in." That is code for a woman who has given birth within the past few months. If there is no child reported, there probably has been an infant death. The other forgotten children that truly are probably untraceable are those who were the result of rape, where the mother carried the child to term and gave it away. Although, she was not necessarily the person who literally handed over the child. She might not have known who became the parents. If the victim failed to report the rape, she may truly not know who the father was. He could have been a stranger. In the past, these women would often go live with a relative who lived fairly far away - far enough away that the neighbors would never know she gave birth. It is difficult to trace these events through census returns and other documents since they don't document life on a very frequent basis. In many cases, the information is only known within the family. There are few if any records connecting the mother with the child. While it would certainly be a painful part of a woman's family history, it is still fact. By omitting that information, we are denying the existence of a person for a second time. I would suggest at least considering that such information be documented, to whatever extent is possible. When one of my cousins was in high school, she dated her own brother without discovering it until years later. Do we really have the option of deciding whether we want to preserve that information? I propose that we include it. After all, we are not to share family histories until after a person has passed away. Genealogy is not political. Genealogy is devoted to accurately documenting who a person is. As I have said before, families define themselves. We don't. Look for these upcoming titles in this series:
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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