As genealogists, we reconstruct our family history from genealogical records. We attempt to discover who our ancestors were and what types of lives they led. Marriage and Birth records confirm relationships and essentially tell us who our ancestors were having sex with. Until recently those marriage records only proved heterosexual relationships.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer people have always been. There are LGBTQ people in your family tree, either as direct ancestors or peripheral relatives. The confirmed bachelor or spinster aunt is not by default unlucky in finding a spouse. Perhaps they did have long-term partners but there was no legal record nor family acknowledgment to carry their stories to future generations.
Acknowledging homosexual relationships should be no different than documenting heterosexuals in our family history. However, LGBTQ relationship may be more difficult to prove. A genealogist will need to look carefully at the available genealogical records for clues toward sexuality. Clues can be found in photographs, census, newspapers, obituaries, cemeteries, military records and in LGBTQ archives.
Understanding our ancestors’ sexuality is important in genealogy. Living in hiding or openly affected the decisions our ancestors made. It affected their choice of profession or where they felt safe living. It also affected their relatives, friends, associates and neighbors. Did family members know and keep the secret of their sexuality? Were they shunned by those around them? Were there family rifts or unexplained separations? Some family stories can be put into context by understanding our ancestors’ sexuality.
Knowledge of LBGTQ history is also important for putting relationship and records into context. Laws and social attitudes of the time determined how open a person could be about their sexuality. Knowing history illuminates the genealogical records. Knowing LBGTQ history will equally illuminate the lives of our ancestors.
I will be publishing a series of blogs on finding our LGBTQ ancestors in the genealogical records and how to put those records into the context of LGBTQ history.