Funny-looking Family Trees


 This is a personal story but one I think applies to many, many families. My grandson, Chris, was enthusiastic when his student teacher in fifth or sixth grade (a few years ago) announced that they were going to study their family trees! (And so was his grandma who fervently hopes that somebody in the family will keep this tradition going. Now there was hope! It looked like he was getting "hooked.") He asked a million questions and wrote his little heart away until finally he turned in his genealogy project. A couple of days later he came home in tears and stomped around the house yelling "I'm not gonna do it! I'm not gonna do it!"  

We calmed him down only to discover that his teacher had informed him that he had to remove something from his pedigree chart. His Grandpa Otis!

Here I need to back up for a minute to explain my marital history. [Sheesh! The things we do for the sake of forwarding genealogy education!]  When Chris's mom was a little girl, her father and I divorced. When I remarried,  her new stepdad ... Otis ... became the loving father in our household ... even though someone else was the father-of-record. Despite the fact that he never was able to legally adopt her, she was his daughter in every other sense of the word. And when she had children they were his grandchildren ... as sure as anything could be! And they knew it! 

It wasn't hard for them to understand. They knew their mom had two fathers (actually, one father and one dad) and they had two grandpa's. (On just one side of the family!) But they had room in their lives and their hearts for two. It was simple to understand. Right?

Wrong!  The teacher said that since Otis was not a "blood" relative ... he could not be included on Christopher's family chart.

Hooooboy!  Not a good move. Chris announced that if Otis couldn't be on his tree ... he wasn't going to turn one in. Simple solution!  If Otis wasn't on the tree ... it wasn't his ... and he wouldn't sign it or turn it in.

The ensuing parent-teacher conference was really something. My daughter, who is herself a teacher, felt compassion for the young student teacher. (After all, she was only trying to do things the "right" way and going by the book. She was too inexperienced to yet know that sometimes you have to throw the book away to do the right thing.) Anyway, it was gently pointed out that the number of children growing up in families that don't look like the family in the Dick & Jane readers ... 
is (usually very sadly) huge. We label those kids as somehow abnormal and invalidate their own personal family structures if we teach that the only "correct" family tree is one that looks like the traditional pedigree chart.

Yes, if you are only tracing "blood-lines"  then DNA is what counts. But if you are helping kids to represent their families and take a look at where they come from ... love is what counts. Love would put Otis on Christopher's family tree even if it could not look like a pedigree chart.

The outcome was brilliant! His tree has more branches. Sure some of the lines were made a little different. But Chris didn't care about that.  Grandpa Otis was there where he belonged!

[end of genealogy lesson]
taught by a 10 year old ...