Modern Software Experience


genealogy theory

Classical Genealogy Framework

genealogyrecord types
family historyall records
non-vital records
vital records

A Framework for Classical Genealogy introduced the Classical Genealogy Framework. The Classical Genealogy Framework distinguishes between biological genealogy, official genealogy and legal genealogy. This basic framework focussing on genealogy was immediately extended to show how family history relates to genealogy.

Simplistic Genealogy explored how the Classical Genealogy Framework is fundamentally different from traditional genealogy and solves the problems inherent in the traditional approach, yet how it is flexible enough to accommodate existing traditional genealogies.

This article explores how what the Classical Genealogy Framework means in practice, by exploring how several issues fit in the framework.

family history

Many genealogical organisations encourage genealogists to become family historians; to not just record the genealogical facts, but tell family stories as well. Just like the genealogical facts, these stories should be sourced.

The Classical Genealogy Framework highlights the difference between genealogy and family history in a way that practically defines the difference; while genealogy uses a relatively small group of records to build a genealogy, family history uses whatever records help to tell those stories.

Family history is not about biological relationships, and does not restrict itself to official family relationships either, but includes all family relationships. Therefore, family history builds on top legal genealogy.

everyday life

Family history is about everyday life.  The genealogy of everyday life is legal genealogy, so family history builds on top of legal genealogy.

Although legal genealogy is two steps away from biological genealogy, in everyday life we generally act as if it is the same. We know it is not, we know that others know it is not, yet we all pretend it is. Somehow, lying to each other is the socially acceptable and polite thing to do.
In everyday life, we act as if traditional genealogy is honest; everyday life is about legal genealogy, but we generally pretend that it is biological genealogy.

family trees

Classical genealogical research tells you who your official and legal ancestors are. It does not tell you who your biological ancestors are.
The Classical Genealogy Framework emphasizes this fact, by noting that are no records to build a biological genealogy from. The vital and non-vital records are associated with official and legal genealogies respectively.

Most family trees document an official genealogy including many legal changes, a legal genealogy. Therefore, the argument that some people make that adopted children do not belong in the tree because they are not blood relations is nonsense; a legal genealogy isn't a genealogy of blood relationships anyway.

Adoptions do not belong in an official genealogy, and marriages do not belong in there either. As soon as you include marriages, you are creating a legal genealogy instead of an official genealogy.  Adoptees do not belong in biological genealogies, but do belong in legal genealogies.

The Classical Genealogy Framework provides a definitive, logical answer to the question whether adoptions and adoptees belong in a genealogy.


Adoption is a change of legal parenthood from one set of legal parents to another set of legal parents. Legal parenthood defaults to the official parents, who are often, but not always, the biological parents; in a chain of adoptions, the official parents are the first legal parents.

The Classical Genealogy Framework provides a definitive, logical answer to the question whether adoptions and adoptees belong in a genealogy. Adoptions do not belong in a biological genealogy, nor in an official genealogy, but do belong in a legal genealogy.

It is no longer a matter of opinion or choice, it is simply a matter of which types of records are included. A biological genealogy may not include adoptions, an official genealogy may not include adoptions either, and a legal genealogy must include adoptions.


Guardianship and foster care are important changes that do affect a child and its families significantly. Guardianship and foster care do not change legal parenthood, but do affect a child and its families both emotionally and legally. Therefore, guardianship and foster care must be included in legal family trees.

Once again, the decision depends on the record type. An official genealogy is based on nothing but vital records, a legal genealogy includes all non-vital family relationships. Thus, a legal family tree shows foster children in addition to legal children while an official family tree does not show foster children.

same-sex marriages

Neither biological genealogy nor official genealogy includes marriage. In both the biological and the official genealogy, a child has a father and a mother. Either or both may be unknown, but it is not possible to have two fathers or two mothers. In a legal genealogy, what's possible depends on the applicable law.

Marriage isn't a biological relationship and it isn't a vital event either, therefore marriages do not occur in either biological or official genealogies. Marriage is a social and legal event. For the law, marriage is a legal contract. A legal family tree includes all legal family relationships, and that does include all marriages as well as other legal partnership forms.

Again, it is not a matter of opinion or personal choice. The framework does not allow, forbid, encourage or discourage any type of legal partnership, that are matters of law and society. The framework simply prescribes that all legal family relationships are included in a legal genealogy.


When you make an official family tree, you do not include marriages, adoptions or foster children. When you make a legal family tree, you do include marriages, adoptions and foster children.
Perhaps more important than what is included or not is consistency; you always either include all marriages, adoptions and foster children or none at all. There is no room for personal preference.

The Classical Genealogy Framework is  a conceptual framework for making sense of a messy genealogical reality; a reality in which official records do not proof biological relationships, and legal relationship are different from official ones.

The framework is neither political nor religious, it does not favour any political viewpoint or religious dogma. Research guided by the framework is not influenced by either. However, politics and religion do influence the law, so a legal genealogy will reflect the ruling opinions of each region and period.

The framework naturally associates particular record types with particular genealogy types. You can choose a type of genealogy, and from that choice follows what type of records to include or exclude. You are not allowed to pick and choose from these records as you like; each genealogy either uses all relevant records of that type or none.
A family historian may have a lot of freedom in choosing records, but must still base that history on the legal genealogy.


All genealogies ever published are approximations of the facts. Most published genealogies are really traditional genealogies, but traditional genealogies can be classified and interpreted as legal genealogies. If you leave out the legal changes and focus on the vital records, you are left with (an approximation of) the official genealogy. The official relationships are supposed to be biological relationships. When you are planning to establish a biological genealogy through DNA tests, you will generally want an official genealogy to determine whom to test, but nothing stops you from trying your luck with the legal genealogy.

The Classical Genealogy Framework provides many benefits over traditional genealogy.


The Classical Genealogy Framework provides many benefits over traditional genealogy.
Traditional genealogy is dishonest, deliberately muddling the truth by pretending that there is just one genealogy. The lack of a conceptual framework that tells you what to include or exclude even allows traditional genealogists to pick and choose according to prevailing religious or political dogmas and their personal preferences. That freedom does not encourage consistency from one traditional genealogist to another, nor consistency in the face of changing social mores.

Moreover, when you pretend there is just one genealogy, that genealogy is not stable in the face of discoveries about the bloodlines, but likely to become the subject of contention instead.
The Classical Genealogy Framework leaves the traditional pretence that official records document a biological genealogy behind. The framework demands that biological trees be built from biological proof. At the same time, the framework asserts that discoveries about the biological genealogy do not affect either the official or the legal genealogy, that only new official or legal documents do so. The official and legal genealogies are based on and must correspond to the official and legal documents. Thus, these genealogies remain stable in the face of discoveries about the bloodlines.

The Classical Genealogy Framework is an honest approach to genealogy that provides clarity of thought unburdened by political viewpoints, religious dogmas and personal preferences. The framework offers three logically defined types of genealogy, that can all be consistent with the proof they are based on, and remain stable in the face of proof relevant to other types.