Family Trees -- an editorial
My father and I recently began a project to document the geneaology of our family. He is in his seventies, and as older members of the family
have died over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear that it's now or never. My maternal aunt (also in her seventies) is also helping to gather the information on her side of the family, and is quite excited about the project. We've been talking about doing this for a long time, and I've been urging my Dad and my aunt to take on the project. However, it was the purchase of a computer program that helps organize geneaological information that provided the needed catalyst.
On a trip to visit the family a few weeks ago, my dad and I gathered some documents and family bibles together, and began the process of getting the information together so that I could start plugging it into the program. One of my adopted
daughters accompanied me on the trip, and observed all the activity and the discussions with polite, but clear disinterest. The trip was brief, only a long weekend, and we spent a good deal of the time visiting relatives and family friends, as it had been some time since we'd both had the chance to visit the family.
As we sat in my aunt's den, visiting with her, her son and his wife, we all discussed the project and what we were planning to do. I saw my daughter's eyes glaze over, and said to the group, "I'm going to include the girls' birthfamilies in this family tree too, since they're connected to us as well." My daughter perked right up, and said, "Really? That's great! Can you do that?" "Sure," I said, "It's very similar to how families combine when there's a marriage. It's a connection that's not blood, but choice." All of a sudden, this project included her and her sisters.
And of course, given the general level of awareness of adoption on the part of computer programmers, it isn't really that easy to accomplish. Adopted children are easily included in the family tree program, but they can only have two parents. The only connections that mattered to the people who created the program were the adopted ones, not the biological ones. This is not a limitation for this program only--there have been discussions online about similar programs, with similar limitations. One frustrated geneaologist contacted the vendor of her program, and got them to make a modification allowing more than one set of parents! This flexibility is clearly an advantage to this vendor, given the increasing complexity of modern day relationships, which include all flavors of step relationships as well as adoptive ones.
Family trees and the assumptions they convey about important relationships have long been a source of frustration for adoptive families, who, as a minority in our culture find themselves constantly not fitting in to the general model. Parents continually confront school systems on the issue of family tree assignments in school, which expose adoptive kids to additional stress and scrutiny by their peers. AFA, responding to some of these needs, has resources for parents concerning troublesome assignments, and is hoping to provide opportunities to educate teachers
on how these assignments can be used sensitively and modified to retain their educational usefulness.
But the issues of family trees don't stop after school, they continue on through adulthood. The underlying issue---who belongs and who doesn't---is one of the defining identity issues for adopted individuals, one that changes over time but doesn't go away. I was glad that I'd made the effort to make my daughter feel included. All I have to do now is contact the creator of my program, and see if I can get them to modify the one I'm using. For the short term, I'll plug the information in any way I can. After all, who am I doing this for anyway, if not my children?
From: Newsletter of the Adoptive Families Association of Tompkins County
© ROOTS & WINGS Adoption Magazine
Credits: Diane I. Hillmann