This week, I read an article in the latest issue of NGS Magazine entitled What is a Family? by Harold E. Hinds Jr. The subject of this article was based on his Grandmother’s two bibles. These two bibles outlined two very different concepts of his family. Like many families, there were sometimes aspects of our ancestor’s lives that were considered in appropriate and so some of our relatives took it upon themselves to rewrite their families’ history.
Today, we have a different situation. Our society is very welcoming to all varying degrees of blended families. We have traditional marriages with a husband and wife. We have gay marriages or relationships, as gay marriage is not yet legal everywhere. We have children conceived in test tubes, with unknown fathers. The list goes on; there are as many different styles of families today as there are people. I have no problem with any one of these styles of families. Love is love. However, my genealogy software certainly does.
My concern is that unless we give proper due diligence to recording our families’ histories, 100 years from now when our descendants take on the task of genealogy, they may be at a lost. For example, how will a gay relationship appear on a census? Will it appear as two men or two women living together, possibly with children in a family unit? Our censuses today do not define these non-traditional families. In many cases, marriage certificates for these relationships will not exist, one less document for the genealogist to find. If census records don’t record these family units properly, then they may not be identified in history as a family unit.
Many men and women have now multiple partners in their lifetime. This was quite uncommon in the past. Usually multiple spouses were a result of the death of a partner at a young age. Divorce was not an option. Today men and women have multiple partners and never marry. They may have children from many different relationships. Sometimes a father is listed on a birth certificate, sometimes not. Many times, there can be several relationships in a lifetime, with no marriage certificates for any. Let’s face it, there are many more variables today when defining a family then our ancestors could even imagine.
I am not here to pass judgement on any of these relationships. However, as a family historian, writing a family history book, I can attest to the fact that recording these relationships and noting their make-up is very important. Our genealogy programs today are limiting, and if we don’t take the time to record these families with truth, then future genealogists are surely going to be at a considerable disadvantage.
So as I read the article What is a Family? I am appreciative that society today is open to all families no matter what the make-up is. The fact that we can talk openly about the many blended families that make up our communities today is one advantage we have over the past. No longer are we so traditional, so strict in our thinking that families need to rewrite their stories, hide secrets and deny families’ members their identity.
However, we must also be responsible for recording these families properly. There will be a shortage of marriage certificates, proper censuses, completed birth certificates, that will define today’s families. They deserve to be recognized in history for the family unit that they are.
Eventually databases and software programs will catch up and give us the options to record them with accuracy. Quite possibly, even our census takers will record these records with truth, however until then, there will be a gap in our history and some families may get lost in the shuffle before our methods of recording catch up with the families of today. The next Canadian Census is in 2011 and there is a movement in place to insure that questions do not discriminate against same sex marriages. It will be interesting to see if our government, will rise to the challenge of ensuring today’s families are recorded and defined in history.
In the meantime, these special family units should look to their own resources, such as writing their own family history books, to insure that their family is recorded in history. Particularly those families of today and recent history, who have yet to be recorded in past censuses and have no marriage documents to define their relationships, they need to give serious thought to writing a family history book for their descendants.