Thursday, October 11, 2007

For National Family History Month — One Definition of Family

For someone who professes a great interest in family history, I have dragged my heels on mentioning the fact that October has been designated as National Family History Month. As I mentally planned this post, I intended to link you to some terrific ideas on how to celebrate the month.

Instead, I find myself squirming about writing on the subject. Preferring instead to put the laptop down, and go foraging for something to eat, or something interesting to read. Or, when I finally make myself sit with laptop in hand, I suddenly feel the need to find spoilers for “Grey's Anatomy,” or a good recipe for crock-pot Chile or googling about any errant thought that flitters through my brain — anything but actually writing this post.

The sticking point for me is I'm suddenly self-conscious about the definition of family. If human beings conducted their lives in a nice orderly fashion, and if we all lived to be ninety the concept of family would be easy. But we don't. We sometimes die in automobile accidents, or get cancer, or we find the love of our life isn't, or we somehow derail a perfectly good life for liquor or drugs or lust. I'm not making judgments; I'm stating that human beings lead messy lives. And these messy lives have consequences, one of which is that the definition of family gets bruised and muddied.

Is a favored uncle by marriage who died more than 40 years ago, still part of my family? Is the Aunt of my youth, no longer married to my biological Uncle still my Aunt?

The grade school project of making a family tree seems innocent and straight forward, unless you happen to be an adopted child, or a foster child, or child of a blended family. What tree does that child make? What genealogical chain does he follow? What family history should she celebrate?

Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, author of “The Family of Adoption,” talks instead of a family tree, a family orchard that includes as many trees as necessary for an individual's identity. The concept allows for both biology and reality, for inclusion of nature and nurture. In my family, it allows the man who adopted my grandfather when he was 10, and whose last name I carried until I married, to be recognized and honored in our family orchard.

It allows my orchard to include four beautiful grandchildren for whom I am not grandmother by blood, but rather grandmother by heart. It is a concept I embrace.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, October 11, 2007, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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