Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Where, Oh Where Has the Family Gone?
Most family researchers today use a genealogy software program to keep track of their families. Prior to the 1980s, however, research was tracked using 3 x 5 index cards, literally thousands of them as additional ancestors and collateral relations were located. The computer revolutionized record keeping forever.
Traditional families, parents and siblings - a male and female, married with children - are easily added to any of several software programs available. Most programs can accommodate divorce and remarriage and even adopted children without stress. Some can account for step and half sibling's relationships.
Now however, the family is undergoing radical change, and software developers are being pressured to find ways to adapt to the new family structures. How do you record same sex marriages, surrogate mothers, sperm donor fathers, in vitro fertilization, single mothers, domestic partners, significant others, adoption by two parents of the same sex, etc.?
According to census data more households today consist of unmarried couples than married, including those where friends share households, rely on each other for finances, and share child care. The New York Times quotes Ann Schranz, chairwoman of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, as saying, "What matters to us is the health of relationships, not the form of relationships."
Besides being a record keeper's nightmare, other problems can be created in these new families. The London Daily Mail reports "John", a U.S. sperm donor, anonymously fathered 24 children. When one of them, an 18 year old boy named Tyler developed heart problems, his mother decided to find the donor. She was unsuccessful, but using Ancestry.com she was able to locate John's sister.
The sister told them about the fatal genetic disorder that had ruptured John's aorta at the age of 43. The unnamed, never before seen defect was shared by John's two brothers and their mother. Tyler was able to have surgery to correct the condition, found also in another of John's sons, technically Tyler's half brother.
The fertility industry in the United States is one of the most unregulated in the developed world according to Wendy Kramer of the Donor Sibling Registry. Her group has matched some 8,400 donor offspring with their half siblings and/or donors.
In July, Washington became the first state to give donor-conceived people the right to crucial health information about their biological parents when they turn eighteen. Previously, they were not entitled to any information and medical records were rarely updated. While the new law isn't perfect it's a step in the right direction.
Currently about one million children in the U.S. have a sperm donor father. The current law requires donors to be screened only for sexually transmitted diseases and some communicable diseases. Another problem as far as tracking ancestry goes, is the lack of records. Adoptions are regulated by state laws with social and medical records filed in court - no such evidence is required with sperm donors.
The next question to be answered is whether relatives of these children are aware of the circumstances of their birth. Will these alternative life styles be kept secret as births out of wedlock were kept secret in the past? Will family historians feel comfortable reporting the truth or will they feel it must be covered up? Will it require DNA testing to discover their real ancestry?
One last issue not yet a family problem, fortunately, is human cloning. Technically, a cloned person would have no parents, siblings, or ancestry. Or would the clone be an identical twin of the donor? Most of the civilized world has legislated against human cloning and wisely so.
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8 August 2011