Nontraditional Family Trees

Nontraditional Family Trees

Expert answers on recording ex-spouses and stepchildren on your family tree.

A reader asked, “I’m confused. Do I put the names of divorced relatives on a family tree chart if they have biological children on the chart? If the descendant remarried and had children with another spouse, do I list them separately with the descendant?” 
The answer depends whether you’re putting together a family tree for research purposes or for another reason, such as a decorative display.

For genealogy research, you’d record all this information, but not on one chart. On your five-generation ancestor chart, you record only your biological ancestors—parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. No aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings. Spouses or partners who aren’t your ancestors aren’t listed, either.

That means you’d put your mom’s biological parents on a five-generation chart even if they divorced and remarried other people. Also, because no siblings are listed on a five-generation chart, you don’t have to worry about any half- or step siblings your mom may have.

You’ll record siblings and other spouses on a family group sheet (also available on FamilyTreeMagazine.com) for each family. Here, you write the parents and children of a nuclear family; this form also has spaces to name each parent’s previous or subsequent spouses. If your grandmother was widowed before she met your grandfather, you’d make two family group sheets for her: One for your grandmother with her first husband and their children, and another for your grandmother with your grandfather and their children.

You may be thinking that five-generation charts aren’t very adaptable to blended, adoptive and other nontraditional families. In a purely genealogical sense, ancestors are biological parents, grandparents, etc., whether or not they lived with their children. But if you want to trace your adoptive or stepfamily, you can find charts designed for nontraditional families, such as our adoptive family tree. You also can record people on a traditional five-generation chart, though we recommend clearly indicating the step or adoptive relationships.

If you’re filling out a decorative family tree for display or a baby book, rather than one for your personal research, how you handle relationships is really up to you. We do recommend that to prevent confusion for future family historians, you indicate relationships clearly and/or also keep a five-generation pedigree chart with biological relationships.

If you’re designing your own tree, you can use dashed or colored lines (similar to those on a type of family map called a genogram) to indicate various types of relationships.
Whether you’re breaking through brick walls or just getting started, Family Tree Shop has resources for every genealogist.
If non-traditional family trees are something you’d love to learn more about, our Finding Biological Family: A DNA Case Study webinar will be live Thursday, September 7th, 2017 at 7:00pm EST. You’ll learn how to use DNA  to to find unknown ancestors, strategies for tracking down biological relatives, and what resources are available to you. Head over to the shop to reserve your spot!

This article was originally posted on December 15, 2009

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