Am I My Father’s Son, or Genealogy Revisited

By René Péron, Ottawa, 2015

Have you ever considered? At a certain point did you ever imagine that ………………?

We are inclined to approach our genealogical research in a manner which may not be quite exact, if not incorrect! That is particularly so in our present day context, with our so-called free lifestyle, not to say libertine one, when words such as marriage and spouse seem to have lost their importance, their value as transmitted to us by our ancestors.

I would say that we are all guilty! In this our twenty-first century, it would seem less important and more difficult to try to find out who is the father of a given child, often for reasons of divorce or of couples splitting up. Children are bounced hither and thither, given the father’s or the mother’s family name, or even the name of a new father or mother.

And what can one really say about those new partnerships between women where one of the two, or even both, claim the right to have or to bring up children, to adopt one or to pass on their name? All of this over and above the present system when one can adopt a child whose mother is perforce almost always known by the very nature of things, but where the father may be anonymous. Etc…. Etc….

However, let us not cast stones on our current era or on the twentieth century only. Take an honest look at the past here in North America, as well as in Europe. Without casting that same stone on any one of our female or male ancestors, what do we perceive through the ages?

So many children were born of incest, of concubinage, of adulterous unions! How does one view the matter of those children born during a gestation period which does not at all correspond with the presence of the father, or whose features or other characteristics have a strange resemblance to those of the village priest, of the uncle, of……..and so on?

And now we have come into an era where one openly discusses the merits of the egg being fertilized by frozen, donated or bought sperm, supplied through a sperm bank. In such an event, because of requested anonymity or confidentiality, the biological father or mother are often unknown.

Facing this situation, would it not be more logical to trace the ascendancy of a person or the descendancy of a family from one female to the other? Save but in a few rare occurrences today, the biological mother is nearly always known in the normal course of events. The father?????

And just as such a solution seems simple, we now find ourselves in a period where one woman’s egg, fertilized via the sperm of a man, either known or unknown, may be inserted into the body of another woman known as a surrogate. Tackling the question head on, who would be the mother, who would be the father, what should be the child’s name?

In The Seven Daughters of Eve (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), author and scientist Bryan Sykes describes how all humans share one ancient mother in Africa: Mitochondrial Eve. In the future, where will our descendants find themselves in their genealogical searches? Already some researchers have hit an almost insurmountable wall in the past, dates which did not correspond with reality in timing, or mysteries hidden in confidential orphanage records.

For the last twenty years or so, authors relate for us that very obscure past which was that of our ancestors here and abroad. And what can one say of the situation, mainly in the United States, where, in order to clarify a dubious lineage, people have begun to use the new science of DNA? What normally confidential situations will be encountered there?

Will the future bring clarification as well as problems to the field of genealogy? It will be up to the younger generations to watch for this, as the whole matter risks becoming clouded at the expense of serious genealogical research. At least that is what I surmise, whilst hoping that I am in error.

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