Humans have always lived in an ever-changing world. From the time our ancient ancestors hunted wooly mammoths, we have adapted to fit our environments. But at no other time in human history have things never moved so quickly. When my grandparents were born, the United States had not yet gotten embroiled in Word War I. The average life expectancy for men was 52 and for men, 55. Horse-drawn carts still brought groceries, milk, and other wares through the streets. Houses were heated with coal, and cast-iron stoves were used for cooking. By the time my grandparents died in the early years of this century, science fiction had become a fact of life. We use microwave ovens to cook our food. We carry around our own personal communication devices that look just like communicators from Star Trek.
Modern medicine has created many miracles. We can cure, or at least treat, dangerous diseases that in the not too distant past had no treatments at all. And we can now help people achieve things that were previously not possible, due to age or physical conditions. These changes in medical technology now require us to change some of our basic research methodology. I was reminded of this recently when reading the AARP Bulletin.
One article talked about women having children later in life; much later than we have experienced in the past. One of the women interviewed was Sarajean Grainson. She and her husband David have quite the family. Sarajean already had three children from a previous marriage, and now they are also raising their 8-year-old son Luke and two 5-year-olds, Matthew and David. The twist? Sarajean is 59 years old. She was 51 when she gave birth to Luke, and 54 when she gave birth to the twins. And this is becoming more and more common.
As a rule, Anglo women rarely have given birth later than their early forties. And even women in other cultures who might remain fertile longer rarely had children after their late forties. Now, thanks to in vitro fertilization, age is becoming less of a restriction. The oldest known birth mother to date is Rajo Devi Lohan of India (as far as we know, she is not related to Lindsay) who was 69 years old when she gave birth.
All of the rules we used to follow now have to be reevaluated. We can no longer rule out older women as mothers. In the old days, when we saw a 74-year-old woman as the mother of a five-year-old, we knew it was a mistake. Such is no longer the case.
Advances in medicine and technology mean that genealogist will now have to re-evaluate many of our standing guidelines. And as things change more and more, we shall have to keep re-evaluating them. For example, it is no longer uncommon to see someone living to be more than 110 years old, either.
Another can of worms for genealogists is opened up by in vitro fertilization. Donor eggs and donor sperm are now frequently used to help couples have children. In the future, “non-paternal events” will become more common. But the reasons behind them will be less scurrilous. And how will people know the difference, unless it is well-documented by the parents.
As technology continues to bring changes to our lives, it is important to remember how they impact our genealogical research. Long-standing rules of research need to be re-evaluated in light of these changes. And extra care must be used to prove kinship connections going forward.