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: , , , , , ,

9 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.


    • 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.



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