FamilySearch, same-sex marriage, and the risk of obsolescence

We genealogists use family trees to reflect the past, not to morally judge it. Our trees contain many family situations our churches then and now have disavowed. But we’re the historians of families; it is our job to gather, interpret, and present facts. In FamilySearch Family Tree (FSFT), I can reflect unwed parents, infidelity, common law marriage, and even incest. But FSFT blocks me from recording the legal marriage of two men. As a historian, I then have a problem: FSFT, great gift to the world that it has been, now risks obsolescence. (Welcome to my newest, and rather disturbing, addition to the Wish I’d Known Series.)

Before we begin . . .

Let me start by saying, this is not a debate on the morality of same-sex marriage. If you opened this topic to pick a fight, please take it elsewhere. I write today about what genealogy software must be able to do, if it is to be a viable tool for us.

And let me also assure you, this is not a show of disrespect for the FamilySearch organization. If you have been following this blog, you know how grateful I am to this group for all it does for us. I cast this appeal to the masses in hopes that this honored tool will not find itself unusable in the modern age.

I ask you all to extend to FamilySearch your encouragement that it bring our shared online tree technology up to date. Assure them that you will not view this much-needed software change as a sign of moral laxity in the creed of the Latter Day Saints.

Becoming aware

I only noticed this serious limitation in FSFT a few weeks ago. My tree has not required this feature until then, and so it never came to my attention. I would imagine a number of you have been similarly unaware.

And then, some of you have long known it. You have been raising the alarm for years and can be thanked that most genealogy software has already been changed to allow same-sex relationships. (See “Evolving Online Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships and Genealogy” below.) There are among us LGBT genealogists who cannot add their own spouses to FSFT without assigning them the wrong sex.

That’s why, for the first time, I’m describing a topic in my Wish I’d Known Series as disturbing. I’m disturbed for FamilySearch, I’m disturbed for LGBT genealogists, and I am disturbed for me — a historian who needs this feature to do my work properly.

Qualified hope for FamilySearch Family Tree

I have not lost all hope. I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, while FSFT’s online help says that it is “currently not designed to show, record, or accept same-sex relationships,” it also says, “This feature will be available soon.”

FamilySearch_Same-Sex Marriage_Feature Available Soon

But here’s the bad news: that message has been there since at least as early as June 2015. A pretty intensive search in recent days yields no sign that there is progress toward this. Or if there is, FamilySearch is not advertising it.

Why FamilySearch Family Tree needs to offer a same-sex marriage option . . . now

The practical reason

The failure to address this long before now already damages FSFT in ways it likely cannot measure and might never repair. Thousands of new genealogists enter our circle every week. As they pursue this new passion, they will soon choose the tools that will take their research forward and likely remain their tools of choice for decades.

The perception of looming obsolescence will be a deterrent to choosing FSFT. For thousands also enter the courthouses to marry same-sex partners as the days pass. With each new marriage, a genealogist somewhere encounters this dilemma. And any genealogist worth his salt wants to record this correctly.

We will be drawn to the tool that can handle the realities of our family stories, as they exist today. The absence of this feature causes me to question whether I should put any more effort into FSFT. Why should I invest time in what appears to be an obsolete tool?

The psychological perceptual nuanced reason

Those who are writing on this disturbing lack of functionality in FSFT have suggested that the FamilySearch organization avoids this software change out of the fear of how people might interpret it. According to this theory, FamilySearch fears that we would interpret such a change as evidence that the LDS Church has weakened in its stance against same-sex marriage.

Here is the problem with that logic, if indeed such a logic explains this delay. FamilySearch offers explicit access to tools that reflect common law marriages. It makes room for the capture of FamilySearch: add-child-with-unknown-fatherbirths to mothers without marriage partners. It allows you to reflect that a married woman had a child with someone other than her husband. We can reflect  a child conceived by incest.

Common Law Option in Family SearchIf FamilySearch dawdles on the same-sex marriage software change on moral grounds, are we to assume it therefore finds the above situations morally acceptable, since they are allowed in the software? I’m sure no one among us sees the presence of these features in FSFT as tacit approval of the behaviors. Nor will we see the ability to reflect same-sex relationships in FSFT as tacit approval of the choice.

It simply makes no sense to dawdle on moral grounds.

Is FSFT a tool for accurately capturing family history? For if it is not, I cannot use it.

Therefore…

It is both impractical and morally questionable to delay further, dear friends at FamilySearch. If you delay this development because of the complexity of the software change — and I am sure it is complex — please just give us an estimated time of delivery. Let us decide if we can wait that long before moving to another tool — one that has made this a priority.

And, please, don’t make me give you up. I value you.


The Evolving Online Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships in Genealogy

Here are some online discussions of the problem of reflecting same-sex relationships in genealogy software as it evolved over the past decade and a half:

2002

Donna Przecha, “Marriage in the Modern Age: How to Record Non-Traditional Relationships in Your Family History,” Genealogy.com, http://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/69_donna.html, accessed 11/6/2016.

2007

Thomas MacEntee, “The Hidden — LGBT Family Members and Genealogy,” Destination: Austin Family, http://destinationaustinfamily.blogspot.com/2007/10/hidden-lgbt-family-members-and.html, accessed 11/6/2016.

2008

“Same Sex Marriage,” Ancestry.com Message Boards, Posted 15 Nov 2008 by Cameron Rowe, http://boards.ancestry.com/topics.ancestry.membertree.membertrees/151/mb.ashx, accessed 11/6/2016.

Jaysays, “Ancestry.com Evolves with the Definition of Family,” Jaysays.com, http://jaysays.com/2008/12/ancestrycom-evolves-with-the-definition-of-family/, accessed 11/6/2016.

2011

Laura M. Holson, “Who’s on the Family Tree? Now It’s Complicated,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/us/05tree.html, accessed 11/6/2016.

Randall J. Seaver, “Who Should Be on the Family Tree?” Genea-Musings, http://www.geneamusings.com/2011/07/who-should-be-on-family-tree.html, accessed 11/6/2016.

2015

Thomas MacEntee, “FamilySearch Family Tree to Allow Same-Sex Relationships?” The GeneaBloggers Daily, http://www.geneabloggers.com/familysearch-family-tree-samesex-relationships/, accessed 11/6/2016.


You can send a message to FamilySearch by filling out a form here:

https://familysearch.org/ask/help

Thank you for making the effort to keep FSFT viable.


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