Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who's Your Daddy

I have just been introduced to Carolyn Billingsley's book: Communities of Kinship Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier. For the general historian she introduces some new and exciting ideas about kinship becoming a new category of analysis alongside the trinity of race, gender, and class. This, in itself, is an exciting promotion of genealogy as a substantial topic for consideration by historians and social scientists.
Even more exciting, for genealogists, she has introduced an interesting consideration. According to her research "a significant percentage of children who were not fathered by the man who thinks himself the father, the most often cited figure is about 10 percent of births." I will forgo the standard footnote here, but this quote can be found on page 11 of her book. She goes on to suggest that in some areas, the numbers can reach as high as 25 percent of children have a father that is not the biological father.
Consider this concept. If ten percent of us do not really know our biological father, what is the implication for genealogy? Do we utilize DNA practices to open wide the doors of knowledge and information? Or, do we accept the idea that parentage is more of who raised us rather than who was involved in conception? Legal definitions further reinforce the idea that parentage is more social construct and less a biological concern.
Imagine the possiblities and confusion that can be generated if her information is correct. Lineage and parentage, in the future, may take on a completely different meaning as DNA tests begin to challenge or reinforce the statistics proposed by Dr. Billingsley and other researchers. If Dr. Billingsley is correct, genealogy is going to become a whole lot more interesting.

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