Our Changing World is Not New

Last month I wrote about my family constellation. It is unique and complex, but I am not the only one with a unique and complex mix of people I consider family by DNA, by adoption, by step, by fostering, or by choice. To tell a family history, all persons who are part of the constellation must be included, not just the DNA connections.

For those of you who know the biblical story of Moses, then you know he was adopted as a foundling. How would you document Moses’ story in software and include both his Jewish and Egyptian parents? Would you give the DNA parents equal weight as the adoptive parents? Or would you favor one relationship over the other?

We do not have to be part of an LGBTQ family to recognize there can be as many as five parents for a child.

  • Father – who raised the child
  • Biological Father – who provided the DNA via sperm
  • Mother – who raised the child
  • Biological Mother – who provided the DNA via egg
  • Gestational Mother – who carried the child to term

Usually, the biological parent and the parent who raises the child are one in the same. Although, it’s not difficult to find an exception to that expectation, even in your own tree. Then there is divorce and remarriage with the introduction of step-parents.  The number of parents a person can have is NOT two.

What of new technologies with gene splicing? It may become possible to give a child indigo eyes, increase stature or boost intelligence. These traits may be taken from a gene donor. How do genealogists document a human that has more than 2 gene donors? Today, gene donors are called biological parents. But the future may make the number of gene donors as numerous as the genes in our genome.

In many ways, the future is already here. The documents genealogists use have already been modified to include non-traditional families, such as third parent birth certificates, non-gendered documents, or more than two options available for sex.

Third parent birth certificates often arise from a lesbian couple having a child, then adding the sperm donor/father as a legal parent. Other combinations, such as divorce and re-marriages, can also create a need for three legal parents. Family courts or laws in Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maine New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have all allowed for three parents.[1] [2] Though the cases in each state may be different, and not all involved LGBTQ families, the third parent is a reality that genealogists much recognize and include in the family history.

In 2013, California passed SB-274 which explicitly allows for more than two parents to share custody and responsibilities for a child.[3] British Columbia has allowed for three parents on a birth certificate. [4]

California bill AB-1951 went into effect on 1 January 2016 stating, “instead require the State Registrar, with regard to identification of the parents, to modify the certificate of live birth to contain 2 lines that both read “Name of Parent” and contain, next to each parent’s name, 3 checkboxes with the options of mother, father, and parent to describe the parent’s relationship to the child.” [5] This bill essentially removed the “mother” / “father” fields, which then allows for two fathers to be recorded without having to decide which of their names will be forced into the “mother” space.

Oregon allows for more than two sex options on driver’s licenses. [6]

A child born in British Columbia, to a non-binary transgender parent, has been issued the first known birth certificate without a specified gender listed.[7]

Australia, Germany, Chile, and New Zealand allow “indeterminate” on birth certificates.[8]

The above examples from the past decade are only a few from our changing world. The documents we genealogists use are changing to suit. It is time for genealogy software to recognize this changing world by modifying available functionality. Having more than two parents has been a part of our family histories well before biblical times, yet our genealogical software options persist with a two-parent model. Now we have three or more parents documented, and more than two sexes. If genealogy software does not adapt then it will become useless and obsolete.


[1] Jennifer Peltz (AP), “Courts and ‘tri-parenting’: A state-by-state look,” article, boston.com, 18 June 2017; (https://www.boston.com/news/national-news/2017/06/18/courts-and-tri-parenting-a-state-by-state-look : accessed 15 March 2018).

[2] Angela Chen, “The Rise of the 3-Parent Family,” article, The Atlantic, 24 September 2020, (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/09/how-build-three-parent-family-david-jay/616421/ : accessed 15 February 2021).

[3] California Legislative Information, “SB-274 Family law: parentage: child custody and support,” (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB274 : accessed 15 February 2021).

[4] Catherine Rolfsen, “Della Wolf is B.C.’s 1st child with 3 parents on birth certificate,” CBC, 6 February 2014; (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/della-wolf-is-b-c-s-1st-child-with-3-parents-on-birth-certificate-1.2526584 : accessed 15 March 2018).

[5] California Legislative Information, “AB-1951 Vital records: birth certificates,” (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB1951 : accessed 15 February 2021).

[6] Mary Emily O’Hara, “Oregon Becomes First State to Add Third Gender to Driver’s Licenses,” NBC News, 15 June 2017, (https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/oregon-becomes-first-state-add-third-gender-driver-s-licenses-n772891 : accessed 15 March 2018).

[7] “Canadian baby ‘first without gender designation’ on health card,” BBC News, 3 July 2017; (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40480386 : accessed 15 March 2018).

[8] Wikipedia, “Intersex Human Rights,” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex_human_rights : accessed 15 May 2018).

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