Genealogy Q&A: Charting Your Modern Family

Genealogy Q&A: Charting Your Modern Family

Unsure how to include an open adoption, surrogate child or same-sex marriage in your software or online tree? Our guide to charting today's families will show you how.

Diverse Family Trees Online 
 
More often than not, family trees look more like a twisted, gnarled old crabapple than a stately oak. Documenting ancestral relationships get complicated as cousins married, couples divorced and remarried (or didn’t marry in the first place), and families cared for adopted (whether formally or not) children. Of course, these situations have been around as long as there’ve been families. Today, genealogists also want to document relationships and life events that weren’t possible for our ancestors, such as same-sex marriages, assisted reproduction and gender transitioning.  
 
Although strictly speaking, genealogy focuses on bloodlines—biological parents, grandparents and siblings—our definition of a family often doesn’t. In the personal endeavor that is genealogy, belief systems and feelings also influence your perspective on what constitutes a couple, a marriage and a family, and how you might want that perspective reflected in your family tree. But how do you record your unique, diverse family situations using genealogy tools that may or may not have kept up with the times?
 
The answers here focus on four popular family tree programs and online tree sites, but you can apply these suggestions to whatever tools you use. No matter how complicated and diverse your family may seem, these tips will help you clearly record those relationships and events in your family tree. 

Q. How would you record an adoption, whether in an ancestral family, a modern open adoption or an adoption from overseas?

 A. Genealogy traditionally follows biological linkages, but many adopted individuals and their descendants want to honor the history of the families that raised them—while at the same time recognizing their birth parents. And in the case of ancestral adoptions, researching both families can be part of a brick wall-busting, “cluster genealogy” approach. Tips for tracking adoptive and birth families together include:
 
Family Tree Builder:
If you added biological parents to the child, and now need to add adoptive parents as well, you first will disconnect the child from the natural parents under the More option on the child’s personal card, then add adoptive parents and mark them as such. Then connect the child back to his or her natural parents under the Relationship to Parents dropdown menu A. Find detailed instructions at the help center.
 
Family Tree Maker:
If you want to list both the biological parents and the legal parents, first enter one set of parents in the normal manner. Then go to the adopted individual on the Tree tab and click Add in the upper right corner to add the parents. Next, go to the Person tab and click on the Relationship button. Click on the adopted parents and change the relationship in the detail panel B to Adopted. You also can choose which parents are “preferred” parents (they’ll show up in the pedigree chart) by clicking Change in the detail panel. To list a child as adopted in an Ancestry Member Tree, go to the answers page.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
You can add more than one set of parents to a person, such as birth parents and adoptive or foster parents. From the Family View, make sure the individual to whom you want to add parents is in either the Husband or Wife box. Then, from either the Family or Pedigree View, right-click the individual’s name and choose Add>Parents from the shortcut menu. The Parents List is displayed so you can add the new parents. Detailed instructions for this process are here. If you want to record a name change on adoption, click the child’s AKA icon (for Alternate Names) and add the new name.
 
RootsMagic:
You can add multiple sets of parents to a child, then specify the relationship of each parent as biological, adopted, foster, etc. You also can add an adoption fact for the actual event and tie it to any set of parents. For specific situations and other tips on handling different types of adoptive situations, visit the RootsMagic help forums.

Q. What’s the best way to display stepfamilies and combined families?

A. Genealogy tools are pretty flexible when it comes to blended families, which were common in our ancestors’ day. Here’s how this works:
 
Family Tree Builder:
This program, as well as the MyHeritage online tree, connects children to a husband and wife family group. That means that when a new spouse of one of the biological parents is added, the children of the former marriage stay with the former family group and aren’t shown as belonging to the family group made up of parent and the new spouse. Find more information at the MyHeritage Help Center page and here.
 
Family Tree Maker:
When an individual with children remarries, Family Tree Maker knows that the second “parent” is the child’s stepparent. Running a kinship report shows the proper relationships. The relationship calculator tool also will show the correct half- or step- relationship. You can check the parent/child relationship in the Family Group chart in the People workspace on the Tree tab. To see children of either parent, or those from the current union, click the Show Blended Families button. This adds a column toward the left of the child section of the Family Group View, which shows if the child is from the mother only (with another father), the father only (with another mother) or the current union.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
If either the wife or the husband or both have two spouses, this will be indicated by a number 2 next to the spouse icon. To add a new spouse, go to Add>Add Husband/Wife. Then to add children to the current marriage or relationship, just go to Add>Add Son/Daughter. The children of the current marriage/relationship will be shown in the children list. These step/combined families will also show up in the Chronology View (the timeline of the person’s life). In the Children’s Settings screen, you can indicate the specific relationship of the child to each parent.
Children who share one of the parents are indicated in the children list with a ½ symbol C. After the child’s name is the name of the other parent in parentheses.
 
RootsMagic:
When you add another spouse to a person who already has a child, the child automatically becomes the stepchild of the second spouse. You can change the child’s relationship to a parent by opening the edit screen for the child, clicking on the set of parents with the relationship you want to change, and clicking on the dropdown box next to the father or mother. Then select “step” from the list of options.

Q. How do you include a same-sex marriage in your family tree?

A. At press time, same-sex marriage is legal in the United States as well as Canada, Britain, Ireland and 16 other countries. You usually can add a spouse in your software or online tree, then designate the spouse’s gender, but there are some exceptions. Here’s how to record same-sex marriages in the tools we’re focusing on:
 
Family Tree Builder:
When you click to add a person to a family tree, you have the options Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Son, Daughter and Add Another Partner. Then you could choose to add a husband to a man or a wife to a woman. Online trees work similarly.
 
Family Tree Maker:
You’ll attach a spouse to the person and select the appropriate gender and relationship. The display looks like husband and wife, but that’s only the visual; the status is correct. The relationship will show up correctly in the online tree as well. For a step-by-step example with screenshots, see How to Record Same-Sex Relationships.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
Although Legacy Family Tree wasn’t initially designed with the ability to record same-sex relationships, developers are in the process of providing this functionality. In the meantime, this article explains the workaround you can use. The relationship will display correctly in your tree, but some functions and reports might not work properly.
 
RootsMagic:
Enter the couple as you would any other couple. Then on the person’s edit screen, highlight the Spouse and set the labels (husband, wife, partner, etc.) you want RootsMagic to use.

Q. How do you record families in which the parents are an unmarried couple?

 A. You could just add both individuals as parents in without linking them by marriage. Some genealogists might, though, want a family tree to distinguish between never-married parents who’ve lived together as a family, and never-married parents who didn’t have a relationship. If so, they usually can set a suitable label other than “spouse”:
 
Family Tree Builder: When you add the second person, use the Relationship status menu D to select options such as Engaged, Partners, Friends, Unknown or Other. You can then add notes of explanation in the person’s biographical details.
 
Family Tree Maker:
In one parent’s Relationships tab E, you can select from Spouse, Partner, Friend, Single, Other or Unknown. Ancestry Member Trees allow similar functionality; see these instructions.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
You can add just one parent when, for example, the mother never married and the father is unknown. Here are the basics for entering more than one set of parents and single parents: In Family View, open the Marriage Information for the single parent.
 
If the parents were unmarried, indicate this on the Marriage Information screen. From the list that appears, you can select Annulled, Common Law, Divorced, Married, Other, Separated or Unmarried. Choose whatever status makes sense. In addition, you can add a custom status, such as Alternate. At the bottom of the Marriage Information screen, you can change the wording for the labels you see in Family View. For an unmarried set of parents, you could change Husband and Wife to Father and Mother. You also can change the phrase appearing on reports from “married” to “lived with” or other wording. On the Wording Options screen, you can adjust the wording of the sentences so the predefined “John married Sally” would read more accurately, “John and Sally had children…” See what this looks like here.
 
RootsMagic:
Simply enter the couple, but don’t add a marriage event. RootsMagic won’t treat them as formally married unless you add a marriage event. If you know they were married but don’t know a date or place, you can add a blank marriage event. For more help, check this forum.

Q. How would you show surrogacy or artificial insemination from an anonymous donor father?

 A. Different reproductive assistance arrangements might call for different recording. For example, you could treat a surrogate mother or donor father as a biological parent (in the former case) or “unknown” (in the latter case). Include notes to explain the relationships. Here’s what our experts suggest:
 
Family Tree Builder:
You can follow the same steps to add more parents as in the case of an adoption and select the most appropriate parent/child relationship. You also can add as much or as little information as you prefer in the person’s bio. To find it, in the person’s profile, click the link “Edit more (bio, more facts … ).”
 
Family Tree Maker:
For these situations, follow the instructions for entering blended families above. You also can add explanatory notes to the person’s profile.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
Because you can link a child to more than two parents, you could enter the surrogate mother as another parent. Then with her in the Father/Mother box in Family View, click on Children’s Settings, highlight the surrogate child, and click on the Status menu. Here you can select a status or add one, such as “surrogate.”
 
RootsMagic:
Enter a surrogate mother as a biological parent, and enter the other parents as a second set of parents. You could enter an unknown father in the case of a donor whose identity is anonymous.

Q. More than two parents can be named on a birth certificate in British Columbia, Canada. How would this be recorded?

 A. A birth certificate doesn’t serve only to name biological parents. It also establishes legal guardianship (which is why many adoptees are issued new birth certificates with the adoptive parents’ names). If you know which parents are biological, you may be able to specify this in your tree, and add the other parent(s) with a different relationship.
 
Family Tree Builder:
You could add parents for the child as needed, and choose the best parent/child relationship for each person.
 
Family Tree Maker:
Several factors come into play, depending on what the birth certificate officially records. For example, does it list all three parents as “natural parents”? A good guideline is to record what you see. You can add parents and designate a relationship as described on page 52. You could enter two biological fathers and one biological mother, or two biological mothers and one biological father. You can’t claim one as a “donor” parent, though. The sensitive issue is in the “output,” or how the information is displayed for someone who’s not a user of the program. For additional tips, click here.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
You can enter more than one set of parents for an individual as described on page 52, and select the most appropriate relationship (or create a custom one). For more details, see these tips and how-tos.
 
RootsMagic:
A family can have only two parents, but you can add a “shared event” to the child’s birth event to tie another person to that birth. You can create any role for that shared event, including creating one called “parent.”

Q. What’s the best way to show a relative who is transitioning gender?

 A. There’s no official genealogical standard (yet). You usually must choose a sex or “unknown” (for example, if you know a couple had a child, but don’t have a record showing the sex—not the case here). Should you use the sex as recorded on the person’s birth certificate, or the sex that a person identifies as? Your preference and that of your relative dictate how you proceed—just be sure to note explanations and any name changes.
 
Family Tree Builder:
For a person’s gender, you can choose Male, Female or Unknown. Be sure to record appropriate information (including if available, fully transitioned sex, date, etc.) in your research notes. 
 
Family Tree Maker:
There isn’t a setting for Transgender, and no option or setting for multiple gender facts. The choices are Male, Female or Unknown. One suggestion is to enter the sex at birth, and make a note in the person’s profile on the fully transitioned sex. You also could add a custom event for the transition.
 
Legacy Family Tree:
Currently the best option is to include the details in your notes.
 
RootsMagic:
You’ll need to pick one sex or the other for a person in your tree, but you can create a user-defined fact to indicate when a person has transitioned. The user-defined fact can include a date, place, notes or sources to further elaborate.
 
Whether you use a traditional genealogy software program or an online tree, keep in mind that these tools are constantly evolving—just as our families do. Keep good notes and cite sources, and your family tree will be as accurate and inclusive as possible.
From the September 2015 Family Tree Magazine

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