Thursday, November 06, 2008

Genealogy one hundred years from now...what will it look like?

I am sitting at my desk, getting ready to watch Maury Povich. A few days ago I found a tiny portable television in our shop and was thrilled to think I could watch MoPo at 4:00! Yesterday was the first day I got to break it out and was pretty impressed with the results. The reception is pretty bad and the picture is grainy but I can still find out who is the father or not. If you are not well-versed with Mr. Connie Chung, Maury is a talk show host that mostly does DNA paternity tests.

I am sitting here today, getting ready for Maury, and I had a thought. My newly-found thrill is going to be gone soon. The government is getting rid of all analog television signals and I doubt I can hook up a D-TV converter box to this 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch screen! This poor little guy is going to be worthless come February 2009 and that is just a shame. I guess my productivity between 4:00 and 5:00 will resume, at least starting in February.

Anyway, I just love Maury. It is a step above Jerry Springer but lower in class than Oprah or Dr. Phil. He usually has a bunch of women on the show who do not know the father of their child(ren). Sometimes it will be a man who wants to see if a kid is his but mostly it is the women. Their stories are either "I got drunk and cheated on my husband and I am not sure if our third child is his" or "I had sex with six guys in three weeks and one of them has got to be the father." I watch for the shock value but, if you think about it, this is a pretty sad situation. How will genealogists in a hundred years ever get it right?

I am sure people have been cheating and hooking up in the woodshed forever. My grandmother was pregnant when she got married...first children come early remember! But back then people that got married. Now people get pregnant and just move on. Babies keep the mother's name and not that of the father. You also have artificial insemination and various types of adoptions and foster care where the birth parents are never disclosed.

There are a lot of twists to tracing these types of family trees. I get tons of requests from adopted people, trying to find their parents. Imagine what it will be like when the descendants of these Maury kids try to trace their heritage. What will a family tree look like in one hundred years? I can just see the write-up in the family history now..."Great-great-grandma Jane Doe hooked up with three guys at a drunken party and one of them was probably the father. They went on Maury but two of the guys refused to take the test so our last name may really be Jones or Smith or none of the above."

Again, I am sure this stuff has been going on a long time, but not this out in the open. I really feel bad when a girl tests like fifteen guys and none of them are the father. She has been on the show five times, with five guys each time, and none of them are the baby's daddy. Then, without fail, she always shouts "I know who it is Maury" and he brings her back on the show to test that guy next week.

I am not trying to judge anyone here. I am simply thinking about how, even with modern record keeping, there are going to be huge hurdles for genealogists in the future. You think we have trouble with records from burned counties. They might pale in comparison to records from burned relationships!

I wish that people would be a little more discrete with their relationships and help reduce these potential genealogical nightmares. I have all the respect in the world for foster and adoptive parents, those situations I can live with. They cause unique problems for researchers but at least the child is wanted and loved.

My wife and I had a hard time getting pregnant the first time. It took over five years and five miscarriages to have a baby. My wife asked one time, "Why is it that some drugged-out teenager can get pregnant by mistake and a loving family cannot have a baby to save their lives?" It does make you wonder why things happen the way they do but I feel that everything is part of some master plan. I accept what comes but do not pretend to understand why.


Tina Merritt said...

Kevin - I have wondered the same thing! My husband was adopted and has always considered his adoptive family his "real" family and that is what has been included in our genealogy research. But, what is 5 generations from now, someone orders a DNA test? Will all of my research be for not and tossed away as "incorrect"?

Kevin Lett said...

I did not think of that but...I would be the person that ordered the DNA test and wants to know the truth.

I actually know someone who is an example of this. He ordered a DNA test kit, as part of the Lett & Lott DNA project. The results proved that he could not have been a member of the line that he knew to be true on paper.

Our DNA is from Scandinavia and his is from the Middle East! He made the DNA test company re-run the results three times, kinda in a bit of denial. Now I think he feels kinda cheated, not knowing where the line went astray. He also does not know what last name he "should" have.

I think adopted families mean more to your generation than future generations. They will probably value the "truth" more than the emotional bond that you feel.

I think future generations would probably appreciate you calling out an adoption as an adoption. They would also probably appreciate that you give any clues that you have about the genetic parents or relatives. They might be interested in making the connection with genetic family, even if you were not.

Tina Merritt said...

But isn't there also merit in the adoption line for research as well? We are who we are based off of who raised us as well. Now, with same sex unions being legal in California, sperm and egg donations becoming more sort of skews the whole process, doesn't it? If I were born from anonymously donated egg and sperm to a family with deep, long ties in Richmond which I could trace back for centuries, are THEY my ancestors or do I toss all of that, get a DNA test and attempt to trace my roots based on 2 people who never even met to actually "create" the fertilized egg from which I came to be?

I really torn by husband is the only grandson to carry on the family name. I have awesome stories and documentation from his grandfather and their deep rooted history in Augusta County, but is that the correct way to drive my research?

I have the biological information for my husband's birth parents. In your opinion, how should I document that and add it to the tree?

Thank you so much for your blog - I have learned so much just by reading this for a few months.