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Episode 6: Crooked Branches on my Family Tree

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Episode 6: Crooked Branches on the Family Tree

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OPENING: This 6th episode is a call out to listeners. I want to hear from people who have thoughts on the limits of traditional online platforms for building trees and what solutions there are, or your thoughts on what the future holds for how we represent our family connections and stories.

Ep. 6 – 1: Since starting this podcast, the Maple Family Treehouse, I have begun to wonder how my life will look in a future family tree. Will I be reflected adequately in a string of government documents? I do not think so. How can we change the binary tree branches of the current online tools for doing genealogical research? Could an online family tree ever have the flexibility to capture parents who are transgender, in all the shapes and forms that can take? I have spent a fair bit of time working on a few online genealogy platforms. Trees and the documents used to connect the branches are limited. And the recent introduction of DNA in family trees seems to have only exacerbated the focus on the binary nature of family tree branches.

Ep. 6 – 2: Some of the first feedback I received about this podcast was a person who thanked me for including my uncle Fred in the podcast, Fred never married or had children. And it made me think – yeah in traditional family trees you really do not get to recognize extended family members like my uncle and the influence he has had on me. I like feedback like this, and I want to hear from people who are thinking about these same issues or have experiences that might help other people adjust how they construct their family trees. Our created families, connections, identities, and supports need to shine in our stories. And these stories can capture the complexities of our lives. If enough of us use our voices to speak out about our unique family networks, flexible family trees will follow. OK, I may have to pester some of these family tree websites just a bit.

Ep.6 – 3: So, here is a good example of one of the limitations my family has experienced. I am a transgender male. I was born assigned female at birth. I had a biological daughter before I transitioned. Just a year or so back, I gave my daughter a subscription to a genealogy site along with a DNA test. She got started doing her tree, but after a few days she came to me and asked how I wanted to be represented in the tree. Knowing the limits of the website she was on, I replied, I know the platform really does not leave you with many options. So rather than have her leave out her biological father in order to acknowledge me, I told her to t me as her mother. I would love to have my current masculine gender expression honoured, but I too have a history…one that IS profoundly female. I am not ashamed of that. I have to tell the listener at this point that, saying what just said, does not come easy for many trans folks. I am privileged to be in a position where I can discuss the 40 years presented as female without much dissonance or pain. Not all people can say that.

Ep. 6 – 4: In the last episode it was demonstrated that writing our own narrative can be powerful especially when our story does not fit in with traditional norms and values. Within the structures of the family tree, we are faced with limits, sure, but take a big step back to consider the bigger picture. In the same way that I must consider the historical moment that my ancestors existed, before I tell their stories in each episode, we also have to consider the current historical moment that we exist in, right now. Unfortunately, it is one that is deeply averse to acknowledging gender and sex diversity. Ground zero for that aversity is genealogical work that traditionally relies on birth records that are gendered, marriage documents that are heteronormative, and now DNA that runs on the presumption of male or female, even though it is much more complicated than that.

Ep. 6 – 5: Gender is currently a common feature found on most government identification. You do not have to go too far back in history to find government records and ID that used race. If that were to happen now we would be shocked, it would not be acceptable. I think gender markers on identification will have a similar fate. There is beginning to be more flexibility for how we report our gender and sex on government identification. There is also a considerable amount of tracking when you want to change your gender along with your name as part of a gender transition. As these documents accumulate and make their way into the archives, they will be evidence used by genealogists in the future. I know this because I have legal and government documents produced during my gender transition. These government documents did not even exist 2 decades ago. The paper trail that my life has left will reflect a time period where there was a changing understanding of gender, and even identity. And while some folks might protest the very notion of a paper trail that leaves evidence of a gender transition – as an armchair historian I think if there are people willing to tell the story – it needs to be told. If the thought of a paper trail about gender transition horrifies you, remember what I said last episode, get in front of any attempts to put you into a family tree, and tell your own story the way you want it told. Don’t just leave your story to the documents, tell your story any way you can.

Oh Hey, before you leave, I want to introduce myself, I am the author of my own story. That story includes being a visible woman for 40 years, to a visible man who is a big hairy, bearded, balding. But, at 52 years old, I am more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been in my life. The comfort I experience has been hard won though. Access to healthcare has had its challenges. I have had to garner the support of my provincial ombudsmen to challenge the policies of the ministry of transportation to change my drivers license and was successful. I also had to use the service of my provincial ombudsmen to confront pricing in hair salons that is discriminatory. Regardless of my XY chromosomes, I have a luscious full beard and bald head. I socially and legally transitioned more than 10 years ago. My medical transition is ongoing. Covid-19 has delayed my very last surgery, so I am struggling to complete the medical part of my transition. It has been a long haul. As I wait for my spot on the surgery wait list to come up, getting back to genealogy has be my saving grace. I want future generations to know that I have dedicated most of my life to being a great parent, partner, and teacher, who restores the land with mindful conscious living and gardening. Telling my story, and the story of my family within the backdrop of colonial settlement is part of the legacy I want to leave. It is not only healing to me, but hopefully contributes to intergenerational healing. If you are still hear listening at this point you are my people. Thanks for your support.

CLOSING: Thank you for listening to the 6th episode of the Maple Family Treehouse. Your feedback is most welcome. I also want to know how your own family research is going. You can let me know with an audio message at or at my facebook page for the maple family treehouse . I look forward to hearing from you – Cheers!

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