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Gay Parents Claim Their Place in the Modern Family Tree

Do you remember those gay pride t-shirts, the ones that said The family tree ends here? I used to see them a fair bit in the ’90s.

You can’t even find them anymore. Not even a Google search turns up a picture of an old one.

How much things have changed! Twenty years ago it was a little cheeky to take pride in our non-procreative relationships. Now lesbian and gay parents are everywhere, and the options for building our LGBT families are plentiful.

The family tree sure doesn’t have to end with you if you don’t want it to. (Of course I do realize that gay parents are not a recent phenomenon but there are certainly more of us than ever before and I believe we’ve entered the public awareness in a way that’s unprecedented.)

I started thinking more about family trees and genealogy a few weeks ago when I stumbled across an online forum where members were discussing how to indicate a single mom with donor-conceived kids in a genealogy record.

Gay Parents in the Family Tree

Though donor-conceived families are a more modern trend, adoption goes back for as long as there have been families. Presumably, then, there’d be a precedent for how to indicate that a child may have biological parents, as well as social or legal parents.

I turned to the one genealogy expert I know: my mom. She’s traced my family tree back through more than seven generations on both her and my dad’s sides of the family.

I asked her how genealogists are handling the representation of families that come about with help from sperm donors, egg donors, or surrogates, and how adoptions have traditionally been shown. Here’s what she said:

While some genealogists still insist that only biological information belongs on a family tree, most agree that a family tree is about love and family – that is, the people, the histories, the stories, the experiences that make up the family, and in most cases this would involve the adoptive parents rather than the biological ones. The common point, though, is that adoption should be recorded as such – perhaps with a different color of line or a notation. The same would apply to a sperm donor, I would think.

If biological parents (in either case) are known and wish to be recorded, you could use a record that shows the adoptive parents on one side and the biological parents on the other.

Like a lot of things, what used to be hard and fast rules have become blurred with the advent of the Internet, popular usage, and changing society. I don’t think there are many hard-core old stylists left, and that’s likely as it should be.

Showing up in the family history is important. I’d like my descendants to know there was a lesbian couple in their family, a couple who married and proudly raised children.

And I look forward to the day when I can share with my daughter the work my mom has done in tracing my family tree, the long line of families she comes from.

If, one day, she decides she’d also like to know more about her biological father, then I’ll help her trace those roots as well and we’ll incorporate them into the official record of her place in the world.

Jarrett D. Terrill, writing in the South Florida Gay News about “rainbow tree genealogy,” sums it up nicely:

Should there ever be some gay, lesbian or transgender descendant from one of my many cousins in the future, I want them to look at our family tree and see that they are not alone. I want them to take pride in our shared history and feel that they are loved, included and valid. Gays and lesbians have been systematically deleted from history for far too long and it’s time we started owning our rightful place in the records of our families.

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