Modern Software Experience

2010-08-13

adoption

which parents?

Every once in a while, someone will ask a question about how to handle adoption in their family tree. An ancestral chart has space for just two parents. Should they list the birth parents or the adoptive parents? It is not just a practical question, but an emotional one too. It is not merely a question about what is genealogically the right thing to do. To some extent the question is about the meaning of family; a child adopted at a young age develops a family bond with the adoptive parents instead of the birth parents.

more than one

It is not unusual for genealogists who encounter adoption for the first time to think that the question boils down to what the child's real family is for some definition of real family. There is no such definition. Neither adoptive nor birth parents are imaginary, and neither adoptive nor birth parents are more real than other.
The simple truth is that an adopted child has more than one pair of parents; birth parents and adoptive parents. Genealogy does not prefer one to the exclusion of the other. Genealogy deals with both.

So, the short answer to the question which pair of parents to include is both. That answer may seem a cop-out, but it is not. It is the only short answer that fits the genealogical tradition of listing both the birth parents and those doing the parenting when they are the same.

Adoption isn't special at all, it is a very common occurrence.

not special

Adoption is part of genealogy. The practice of adoption is older than history, and genealogy does not in any way deny that practice or its importance. Sadly, many sloppy definitions and introductory explanations of genealogy are in implicit denial, by exclusively focussing on bloodlines or at least making the silent but erroneous assumption that the birth parents always do the parenting.

It may be tempting to define genealogy using simple cases, and then treat adoption as a special case, but that does not fit genealogical reality. Adoption isn't special at all, it is a very common occurrence. It isn't too long ago that mothers frequently died in childbirth, husbands went to war to never come back, and many parents died before their children reached adulthood. Adoption is a practical solution to the problems created by such events - and children are adopted for many more reasons than those few.
I do not have any statistics on the matter handy, but I would not be surprised to learn that there are more people who do have adoptees in their ancestry than there are people who do not.

charts and diagrams

Genealogy includes adoption, yet most genealogical charts and diagrams accommodate just one set of parents. In some diagram types, you can simply add a few boxes to include both pair of parents if you wish, but things are not always that easy; an ahnentafel and fan chart simply do not offer much space to work with. And even if there is space to include more than one pair of parents per child, there is no standard to indicate whether those parents are birth parents or adoptive parents.

I've recently introduced the Adapted Ahnenlist which allows listing both birth and adoptive parents, together with a adapted ahnen numbering system, but the fact remains that there seems to be little support for adoption in genealogical reports, charts and diagrams. The truth, perhaps somewhat surprising to some, is that there does not need to be that much.

relationship indicator

There may be little explicit support to indicate adoption in genealogy reporting, but that need not stop you from using existing charts and diagrams for adoptive families. Sometimes you want to explicitly indicate that the family relationship is an adoptive one, but more often you do not desire to set adoptees apart at all, so the lack of a relationship indicator is just fine.

It is a hardly recognised fact, but a fact nonetheless, that it is a genealogical tradition to not indicate the relationship of children to their family. A few percent of women lie about who the father of their children is, yet even when we know the truth, we still show both parents.

If you joined a family DNA project, and discovered that the grandfather you loved so much isn't your biological grandfather, would you remove him and his ancestors from your family tree? Would you still include him but make the line that leads to him a dotted one?

Some people have tried to come up with ready-made fill-in-the blank diagrams for adopted children, that either aren't family diagrams at all or simply combine two ancestries on the same page. The latter ones often implicitly state that none of the parents was adopted, that the child's adoption is a very special case - which it is not.

Many genealogical reports, diagrams and chart support biological children and birth children, adoptive parents and birth parents without any distinction.

reports, charts and diagrams

There may be an occasional need to highlight adoption, or to list both the adoptive and the birth parents in the same diagram. There is no need to introduce many special diagrams for adoptees. Adoptees are not eager to be singled out with a special diagram at all, they'd like all of us to acknowledge that adoption is normal. The regular genealogical reports, diagrams and charts should support adoption - and most do.

Many genealogical reports, diagrams and chart support biological children and birth children, adoptive parents and birth parents without any distinction. Sometimes you want that distinction, and sometimes you want to list both the adoptive and the birth parents, but other than those situations, many existing genealogical reports, diagrams and charts support adoptive relationships just fine.
The most common limitation to the use of existing applications is that they generally follow the birth parents when both the adoptive and birth parents are included in the database, with no easy way to specify otherwise.

conclusion

So, which parents and which children to include a genealogy? The short answer to that question is everyone who's related in whatever way. Your genealogy application can handle it and your hard disk is large enough.

When you build your genealogy database, you include both birth and adoptive parents, and you can continue researching both. The real question is not whom to include in the genealogy, but whom to include in the report, or rather, what kind of report to choose; for example, do you opt for a family ahnenlist or a birth ahnenlist, and do you include or exclude the other parents in that ahnenlist?
If you like, you print them all.

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