Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's an NPE?

A Non-Paternal Event (NPE) is an instance where a child’s biological and social fathers are different. The old saying, "Mama’s baby, Daddy’s, maybe", sums up one view of this situation. This blog explores the different varieties of NPEs and their complexities -- including a child’s biological and social mother being different (with some recent novel variations).

If you are researching your family history, you may encounter situations that suggest that a child is not the son or daughter of the couple raising them as their own. One of my great-grandmother’s, for example, had three more children after her husband died but indicated in public records that he was the father of all three. Now the one born nine months after his death we can probably accept, but the next two are the results of NPEs.

Because of European surname inheritance customs that developed in the last 500 years or so an NPE is often seen as a mismatch between the child’s biological inheritance and their social father’s surname. There is a persistent concern among some genealogists with what’s been called blood inheritance. That is, the rejection or disregard of social inheritance and an insistence on actual biological inheritance as the only ‘true’ genealogical link.

Although the family historian’s traditional methodology was limited to tracing the social family, there were some records, such as guardianships, adoptions and orders of support for children born out of wedlock that documented NPEs in the past. We now have the additional complication of DNA testing, which can show that various members or entire branches of a socially coherent family tree are, biologically at least, not related and thus the product of an NPE at some time in the past.

As I explore the NPE concept, I hope you will join in the discussion and provide examples from your own experience or family history that shed additional light on the subject.

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