Family tree and adoption collide

15 Dec

First off, thank you all for reading the guest post by Tiffany, the shares and number of visitors tell me how much everyone appreciated the story told, the comments were also appreciated and the conversation good.  If you missed it, read it here.  My hope is that Tiffany will write other posts here as well.

This last week I’ve filled in gaps in Dad’s family tree by researching the siblings lines of dad’s direct line ancestors, there’s plenty when you go back 400 years and I’ve been hit or miss in this area because they all seem to have had 10+ kids, who then had 10+ kids.  Having said that, until now, I thought us kids were the only adopted ones in the family, but it turns out there was another adoptee. 

Dad’s great uncle’s daughter and husband adopted a son named John according to the 1920 census.  It was easy to find his biological family, took me less an a minute, and you’ll see the reason it was so easy later in the post.  John’s mother passed away around 1914, leaving behind her son born in 1911 and a daughter (Elizabeth) born in 1913, then his father passed away in 1917.  I haven’t found out what happened to Elizabeth, although I suspect as she was still a baby, her adoption would have happened shortly after her mother’s death, whether John was adopted around the same time as his sister or later after his father passed is unknown.  It made me sad to think about it, not just the parental loss, but the sibling loss as well.

Several things made me want to write about it here, I have pictures of what I’m trying to explain below, but it is unclear in the rules of use whether I’m allowed to post screen-shots from ancestry pages.  Anyone know?

John was listed in the 1920 census as their ‘adopted son’, rather than son.  I always check the actual census record to make sure I’ve got the right person and saw it.  Adding John to the tree as their child from that census, also gave him his original surname, back then, they didn’t change the child’s name at adoption.  While in this case his adopted status was included in the census, as was his surname because this parents noted he was adopted, I’d also assume some parents never told the census taker about the adopted status, so the child would be listed simply as their son or daughter and be shown under their surname on the census.  Nowhere on his (adopted) parents personal record pages does it note their son is adopted, not even in the details/blurb attached to the 1920 census, their privacy is maintained in the tree.

Ancestry does accommodate a person having more than one mother and father and you can choose from eight choices; biological, step, foster, guardian, adopted, related, unknown, private when you are linking a parent to a child.  You can link multiple parents to the same person.  At the same time, it makes you choose which set of parents is set as the preferred parents.

The preferred parents (adopted in this case) are the parents who show up on John’s personal record page in my tree.  What it lacks is showing the ‘non-preferred’ parents (biological) anywhere, not even a hint there is more than one set of parents assigned to John, you wouldn’t know unless you were an editor on that tree and happened to edit that relationship.  Without the details/blurb of the linked 1920 census “Relation to head: Adopted Son”, his personal record page wouldn’t show it, nor who they were so I added adoption as an event for John and listed the details of his biological parents and sister so it’s documented.  John shows up with his original surname in the 1930 and 1940 census, he’d married and they had children, he passed away in 2000 still under his original surname.

It’s notable that I can find his biological parents personal record pages in the tree, yet I can’t find them linked to John, in either his or their personal records pages, nor in either version of looking at multiple generations of family in the tree, the parental link is severed.

I do understand that most people wouldn’t be comfortable showing both (or multiple) sets of parents linked to a relative, yet they are comfortable showing a step parent on the person’s page when they have half-siblings by that step parent, but that is only triggered by the half-siblings.  It shows how far we’ve come, but still not far enough to be comfortable recognising a person can have multiple sets of parents, without taking anything away from the parents who parented them, and in whose tree they belong.  One day I hope we get there.



Posted by on December 15, 2017 in Adoption, adoptive parents


Tags: , , , , , ,

17 responses to “Family tree and adoption collide

  1. Judith Land

    December 16, 2017 at 12:19 am

    Build a family can be a wonderful exercise for learning about ourselves, our ancestors and where we came from. I am an adoptee that started with nothing and thanks to my DNA, I am now in contact with many relatives around the world that look a lot like me. Knowing something about the cultural backgrounds, social customs, cuisine, music, occupations, and geography where our ancestors came from is very enlightening. Judith

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sheryl

    December 16, 2017 at 3:08 am

    I appreciate this post. This is a sensitive topic for me because my son’s adoption was totally unnecessary (I should have fought my parents on this) and I believe he belongs on his natural family tree. His dad and I stayed together, got married a couple years later and had three more children. He’s fully part of the family now but it makes me sad that he has a different last name and family tree than the rest of us.


    • TAO

      December 16, 2017 at 4:12 am

      I have four trees – one for each if that helps.


      • beth62

        January 28, 2018 at 6:31 am

        Do you have a page for yourself on all four trees? Are you the home person on any of them?
        I have two trees, bio and adopted. 2 pages for myself.


    • Tiffany

      December 19, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Sheryl, this might be too personal and if so, I fully understand a refusal to answer, but would your son’s APs be ok with him changing his last name if that’s what he wanted?

      We struggled with this when we adopted our daughter, and ultimately went with giving her only one last name (my husband’s- I didn’t change my name when I married) so she and our other daughter have the same last name. We talked about giving her another last name from her mother or father, and hypenating, or making it a second middle name or something. Ultimately, based on input from friends who are also adopted, we decided that as she was growing up, it could feel isolating to have a different name from the rest of us, and it would instantly “out” her as different. But when she is a teenager, we will discuss with her what she wants to do about her name, and we will help her and pay for the process if she would like to change it to whatever she wants.


      • Sheryl

        December 20, 2017 at 1:19 pm

        I don’t mind the question at all and I really appreciate what you’ve shared. And believe me, I’ve thought about him changing his name, but it would hurt his APs. We have a great relationship with them, however, they believe they are the real parents. This is just another example of why adoption is so complex and complicated. I have to accept this realty and be grateful that he is part of the family now. And it’s okay to have more than one family tree, like TAO stated. It does concern me when I think about the grandchildren arriving. How will they draw their family tree? But then I decide it’s best not to let myself go there just yet….


    • Tiffany

      December 22, 2017 at 12:12 am

      Thanks for the reply, Sheryl. That’s a shame.

      Our school districts do family tree project around 3rd grade or so. I am anxious for when my younger daughter hits that project. It was such fun with my older daughter, but it will be very sensitive for my younger daughter, who is adopted. I am ok with her doing any of her family trees, but it’s not easy to get all the info for one set, and will she want to share that with the class? Or will she want to use our family’s, her adoptive family tree? That’s ok, too, but will she feel any real connection past the grandparent level? Likely not, and it will only serve as a reminder that she is different. It is very complicated. (as a sidenote for anyone reading who might suggest this, I already have in my back pocket that I will also offer her to opt out of the project as well and will get it ok’d by the teacher through whatever means I have to use.)


  3. Cindy

    December 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I wish someone *would* give extra thought to the grandchildren. I being one. I wanted my biological truth…but, without having to go to court and it all looks like just a whim of a name change anyway. I want my truth/reality. Oh well.


    • Sheryl

      December 21, 2017 at 10:48 pm

      I’m sorry it’s been difficult to get your truth. I wish I had been told how Adoption would affect my son, his siblings and future generations. I had no idea of the life long impact and consequences. I will certainly ensure our family tree accurately reflects our truth.


      • Cindy

        December 22, 2017 at 1:00 am

        Sheryl please don’t feel badly. I should have worded my comment differently. It’s the system and the legal process that destroys the truth.

        I have the names, what I want is the -legal- right to my truth. What I don’t want is to have to carry a name that is not my true name. Growing up I always cringed and I still do when giving my (legal) maiden name. It felt like a lie and it still does. My Dad was not born to his adoptive parents. Bold faced lie on a legal document. Makes me want to scream. Even if Missouri ever allows descendants to have their parent’s original birth certificate it will still say, —for genealogical purposes only—. Only! Not to be used for identification. Not legal. Sigh. It means that I’m an adoptee too. Adopted into by falsification of a document.

        I’m also a mother who lost her child to forced adoption. Oh goody, another generation with another name instead of their genealogical truth. Plus I have a grandchild out their somewhere in adoption land too. Another branch ripped off the family tree.

        Has anybody ever really looked at a tree after an ice or wind storm has torn it’s branches off? That’s a great example of what the legal process of amending birth certificates does to the truth/genealogical facts. Does a line of trees with a huge branch ripped off each one look good? Of course that’s about how adoption feels from this side anyway but….

        ‘Born to’ is a repulsive lie.


  4. beth62

    January 23, 2018 at 7:38 am

    I hope we get there too.
    Just recently I realized no one else could see the type of parental relationship, and I couldn’t see it on others. I’ve started putting it in the facts with a link to the hidden one. I wish more than one tiny set of squares could be next to my square on the tree page. Is it really impossible? Looks like plenty of room right under the lonely little set of squares for another set to me, if you preferred to have it that way.

    I’m making this… this thing, a very basic family tree to hang on the wall for my daughter, my first born. This spring she is expecting a new son to be born to the family, a new level on the tree, the star on the top of the tree I’m making. And yes, omg, I am trying my best not to freak out over that in every way there could be, sheer joy, fear and excessive worry are with me today :/

    So, back to this tree thing. :/ I stole the idea from a Christmas tree thing that was popular to make this year. Sticks or branches of some kind tied together, the sticks getting gradually longer toward the bottom, decorated so it looks like a Xmas tree hanging on the wall. My plan was to keep it simple, last names only and it’s made out of sticks for crying out loud. I sliced up some cedar branches into circles and hung them on beaver trimmed sticks (special meaning to my daughter, growing up the kids used to collect them and play with them, after I soaked them in bleach for a day lol, and the cedar branch from her tree house tree, good grief) I even kept the bottom level of the tree at a simple 8 people, 16 or 32 or more seemed a bit much for baby 🙂 and me! Great grandparents is enough to get him started.

    Simple right? Oh no, My original plan was to burn the names in each circle, then I started looking around in my junk, cause I’m crazy, and found plenty of metal and stone to inlay into the wood instead. Many, many, too many hours later, my star on the top is embellished in gold, of course, and a little diamond too, and what ever else he might want 🙂 The dad and his side has blue turquoise around the outside of the circle and the names are in copper, the Mom and her side has red and the writing in silver. I hang all the circles on their sticks with pieces of necklace chains, and finally hang it on the wall, happy and done. Yay.

    I eventually realize what I’ve done. It hit me right in the gut. I was thinking my first born grandchild and his ancestors in Ancestryland, pretty simple. Nope, not so simple still. This thing will be hanging in my daughter’s home. The likelihood of anyone from my bio families coming to her home is slim, too distant in relationship and actual distance. She was with me when we found and met everyone, they keep in touch. She is very close to my aparents, and their sons and grandkids, they are her lifetime everyday gma/gpa/uncles/cousins, like they are my mom/dad/brothers/neices/nephews.. Really at this point we’re all just happy the gparents are still living, and for so long. Upsetting them in any way is what we try hard not to do now, and this tree thing would upset, even tho they’d handle it with grace as usual. They will be at her house, live in the same town. It would be terribly awkward for my daughter mostly. She feels very sick in the middle, so she typically hangs to the left. She’s feeling the middle stronger by the day with baby on the way.

    Okay, simple right. I come up with a fix, I turned all my red/silver circles over except for my daughters, and mine dammit, found some green turquoise and bronze and put my mom and dad and their parents names on the other side. I could have two sides, because I do, so could my daughter, but the color would be different than her Dad, which won’t work here at all, we are his maternal blood grandparents, we are red and silver like his mom. She is not adopted. Was really hoping to keep it simple for my grandson, I guess even the greatgrandkids don’t get simple either.

    And now? Dammit! It’s just like the trees on Ancestry, you have to choose one side or the other, and no one will know to flip the coin over unless you tell them the secret. But! It’s safe to hang in front of anyone you choose, maybe, I think. Oh, I guess daughter and i do need a green side for that.

    I give up! Going to find something special I can just buy that has no meaning whatsoever and she can sell on eBay after the shower with the rest of the stuff she doesn’t want!


    • TAO

      January 25, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      Oh Beth – I never thought of the grandkid dilemma and showing the child not just have two sets of grandparents but three (providing only one parent is adopted). Heaven help you if you tried to incorporate all the great-grandparents. I couldn’t quite figure out the last part – can she flip the grandparents over depending which grandparents are coming over?

      As to the ancestry thing – I put into the individual record details but next time I log in, I’ll put links to the parents with the details – thanks for the tip.


      • Cindy

        January 26, 2018 at 4:21 am

        No, it’s not simply. Then add multiple generations that were surrendered/lost/’placed’ to/in adoption…it’s a nightmare.

        When I was young I would try to make a family tree on my own and it confused the stuffin out of me trying to put everybody where they belonged. Well, it really frustrated me more than anything else. I wanted my true family listed, not the ‘by law’ one. I couldn’t do a darn thing to change it. Now that frustration is worse. Birth records, marriage records, census records…list legal family name/s, not the true one and one can only attempt to leave a trail of breadcrumbs and hope somehow that it can be found.

        Truly, how many great grand-kids, or great, great grand-kids (which our family is into now) are going to be searching for anything but their biological origins?

        I’ve been trying to do a nice hardbound family tree volume for my son. It’s been a work in progress for over 3 years. 5 generations affected by loss of parents or child…sigh. It hurts.


      • beth62

        January 28, 2018 at 5:10 am

        The puzzles were getting to me 🙂 I couldn’t figure out the last part either LOL and it didn’t work anyway. But that was the idea, flip and choose her preferred grandparents depending on the day. Yeah, file that one under constantly processing adoption as life changes, or Either/Or doesn’t work, or how adoption can mess up your brain….!

        I see what happened now. I restricted myself with the puzzle itself.
        Like Ancestry restricts the puzzle. Like Adoption restricts the puzzle.

        I was going for simple, for my grandson, only included bio, same as the paternal side. Simple til it gets to his greats. Like Cindy kinda said, grand and greats would be most interested in their bio info. It just can’t be that simple still. I can’t leave out pieces, no Either/Or, have to include them all or it just won’t work right, for me and mine anyway.
        So I get more circles, more chains, redo a few.

        My math is different. Have a different equation for MY puzzle. The balance is a bit off, but certainly workable.

        My math is just not 1, 2, 4, 8 like in the typical ancestry puzzle… It’s 1, 4, 8, 16. My daughter’s is 1, 2, 6, 12. And grandson’s is 1, 2, 4, 10. Ha!

        That’s just how it will always add up, when I’m in the puzzle. If only my financial funds compounded with that formula!

        So I made my own damn puzzle. And now I know the names that go on those other circles that are red like mine. I can only find great peace with that. The thought of those circles still being blank…nearly 20 years later… I don’t think I’d be strong enough anymore to handle that well in any way today. Having children without knowing it just did not work for me, at all, can’t imagine the state I’d be in having grandchildren without it. I can’t even imagine it, everything in our lives would be very different. I can’t even stand the anxious thought of it.

        My circle is complicated, it is what it is. My name in the circle = adopted maiden name. It’s my name, and I kept it as my middle name when I got married, so I didn’t get lost, I kept and added these names given to me by men. So my color code matches bio and name matches adopted.

        My name is written in silver and has red stones, like my daughter and all her other bio ancestors. It has 4 chains linking to my 4 parents. 2 red circles, 2 green. I added a small green stone to my circle… Thought about it and added a green stone of influence 🙂 to my daughter and grandsons circle also, they carry it with them too. I added a red and a blue stone to grandson too, just to make sure he has everything up there 🙂

        Now mine is the only circle that flips over, as it should be. On the other side it shows my full name at birth, the one on my OBC that my mother chose – with my fathers name added. So it doesn’t get lost. It’s written in red stone, no other embellishments. Different, hidden, but not lost. And that’s simply the truth.

        I hope that made some kind of sense, especially to anyone working on their puzzle.
        I think I may have figured it out for me on this one, not real sure tho, thought that last time. I know it has actual blood, sweat and tears on it this time :/

        Now maybe we have a chance at explaining this kids family to him. And I have a rule, well maybe a statement or proclamation, my daughter is the only one that gets to call awkward with this thing. Any and everyone else can suck it up, with or without grace. I have and will always give her a free out of the middle. She can keep it in the closet if she wants 🙂


        • beth62

          December 8, 2022 at 4:49 pm

          Ha! My daughter of sons ain’t scared. That blood, sweat and tears tree thing is hanging prominently in her living room on the wall right next to the Christmas tree.

          Why do I do these things to myself! LOL I think I didn’t notice that I was mixing my tree with my Christmas Adoption story history, while I was doing exactly that. Until now. What was I thinkin!
          But the tree puzzle works, my grandson gets it. That’s what it is all about, and he wants his new brother’s star on top of his, because he says that is how this puzzle works!
          I’m working on a second star to add on top of the first star for next year.💖

          And of course I think on what in the world will I do when I’m made a Great…
          I intend to still be alive of course, and I have decided they will each get their own new tree. And the saving grace? I will be on the last rung at the bottom of the tree, meaning it will be all bio lines, 1,2,4,8. Simple! Unless they adopt, but I can do that too now that i have figured out the puzzle

          Liked by 1 person

          • TAO

            December 8, 2022 at 5:07 pm

            You always make me smile Beth, always.

            Liked by 1 person

            • beth62

              December 8, 2022 at 5:52 pm

              I like it when you smile. I’m rethinking again. I think I’ll go with a guest pass to their tree and simple Cash. lol I’m gonna be really old!



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