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Non-Parental Event (NPE)

Non-Parental-Event (NPE) is more of a cross-over term used mostly by the Genetic Genealogy community now. It is a catch-all to explain that a surname is different from the expected, documented biological, family inherited one. That is, for most western European cultures, the believed biological fathers surname. With the DNA testing now common and prevalent, this is used to label an “investigation” into why the yDNA results are implying different than the expected or historical surname passed down.

In most cases this unexpected event occurs with the male child as the male usually retains the surname of their father in the cultures we tend to be able to research. Unexpected maternal events are more rare as the birthing process tends to be traceable and better recorded. How often do you find a birth record listing the father but not the mother? NPE’s with girls or women are simply rarer in occurrence as well simply because the woman tends to lose her surname upon marriage. But the term applies to men and women.

Reasons for the change can be many and may never be fully understood. We list here some of the more common occurrences; especially with no deception or ill-intent.

Sometimes the mother’s maiden name or that of a grandparent is given to the child. Various reasons can be justified for this but often because either the father is not in the life of the child, the mother or parents chose to use a different surname than the father’s, they chose to use a more familiar, recognized surname in the local community, or possibly there is some negative issue attached to the father’s surname. (Would you want to be named Blackbeard in the time nearer the legend; for example?) As the surnames covered here started to sound like a slang word being used in North America, this was definitely viewed as a reason for introducing variations and deviations. Why not complete changes as well though.

Sometimes the parents die early and the younger child is orphaned. If no family is known, often in the early days of the settling of North America, a neighbor would take the child in. If young enough, the child simply assumes the surname of their now adoptive parents. No formal process or legal system as now. Simply done for survival. This is likely the most common explanation in many cases when occurring in the early settling of North America and Oceania; and can be supported by finding evidence of geographic proximity. This most often occurred before legal systems of adoption were setup.

Maybe the child was simply given up for adoption. This was not so formal a procedure before the 1900’s in North America and could be done for any number of reasons. A pseudo-adoption occurred in performance families such as vaudeville theater and the traveling circus. A child was given (or sold) to the troupe to then train, perform and travel with the troupe. The leaders (or parents) of the troupe would give the child the surname of the troupe. As records became more formalized and this could not so easily occur anymore, this led to stage names different than documented legal names. But before 1900, used surnames simply changed.

Lastly, the one no one wants to hear, but it did occur more often then one might think, is that the child was fathered by another and this fact was simply not documented. Whether it be a neighbor coveting the wife of his neighbor, a slave owner coveting the female slave, or simply any act of procreation not recorded; whether by force or consent. An example here might be a young, unmarried woman who is sent away to a charity house to give birth “quietly” and then forced to give the child up without public record being made of the whole affair.

Some define the P to mean Paternal; and in fact this was likely the original defining term for the initial. We prefer to use Parental because this is really about the DNA testing being accurate for what happened biologically. And us trying to explain why the traditions of surname inheritance did not follow that biological act.