Open Thread Thursday – Blended Families

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George Geder at his blog Geder Genealogy has begun a great series of posts on blended families and how to handle their data in genealogy research. Specifically, George has taken several genealogy database software companies to task over their inability to handle certain types of data related to blended families.

While it may seem very 21st century, the concept of a blended family is not new. Our ancestors knew that sometimes families did not just connect along blood lines – there are instances where children were adopted or simply “taken in” by a family. Or instances of unrelated persons living under the same roof for various reasons.

Consider your own modern day extended family and you’ll likely see families with multiple marriages, same-sex pairings, adoptions,  children produced via in vitro fertilization with a sperm donor or even a child carried by a surrogate mother.  Admittedly, due to medical advances and changes in society acceptance of different types of family constructs, blended families can hardly be avoided in genealogy research.

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Please either post on today’s topic of blended families at your own blog and then post the link here in the comments or simply add your two cents in the comments section:

  • What is your definition of a blended family? Have you encountered such family types among your ancestors?
  • How do you document blended families in your genealogy research? Is your current genealogy database software able to handle data for blended families?
  • Have your personal opinions on blended families influenced how you document them?
  • Have you ever sent feedback to a genealogy software vendor about the inability of their product to handle certain types of data involving blended families?

This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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14 thoughts on “Open Thread Thursday – Blended Families

  1. I know I struggle with the automatic “step son/daughter” that appears in the charts my software produces for cousins of mine. Sure, legally it’s accurate, but they’re not viewed that way by the families.

    My software handles well assigning the children to their proper parents, but I have to write in the notes who lived with who, and why. But it’s genealogy software. Not family history software.

    I haven’t yet had to deal with same sex partnerships with children, but I think I experimented once, and my software can handle them. I’ll have to check when I get home.

  2. FTM 2010/2011 handles this very well by allowing you to assign adoptive, or other types of parents, along with the biological ones.

    I guess the problem starts when you want to print out a family tree, which parent(s) to display?

  3. I have a TON of “blended” in my family.

    For example, my grandparents chose to take in a boy (who we’ll call Sam for privacy reasons since he is still alive) because his parents weren’t really fit to be parents. He lived in my Grandparents’ home and became part of the family. He eventually got married and had children. I have always called Sam a cousin (not sure why… perhaps that is the label I’ve always given to family members with an unclear relation).

    Sam’s kids were always considered cousins of mine too. One of Sam’s kids, (who we’ll call Adam for privacy reasons), got married and had two sons. Then he divorced his wife, became true to himself that he was gay, and has a partner. Meanwhile, his now ex-wife got pregnant again and had the baby. Her sister now raises the baby and Adam, knowing that this is the sibling of his sons, decided to act as a parent figure to the new baby. That baby is now almost 12 and calls Adam “daddy”. Adam is in every way her dad, even though he isn’t her biological father.

    Have I tried putting all of this into RootsMagic? Yes and No. Some of it, I don’t even know how to label it. I know that Sam, Adam, and their entire family isn’t really related to us. But they are at the same time. We’ve always called everyone cousins even though they aren’t biologically. I don’t really know how I even want the software companies to allow me to enter this information.

    Hmmm…. kind of a pickle I got there huh? I do however, have all of this in notes sections.

  4. So many perspectives on this.
    Genealogically I want the software to reflect the realities – cultural and legal – of the families we research. Software manufacturers should have no problem with the database aspects of this, though reporting and charting modules would be challenging.
    From the research side I long for a program that allows me to link individuals without forcing them into a parent/child or spousal relationship. It would allow me to connect families that migrate together, individuals recorded in the same households in census records, or act as witnesses for legal documents, non-custodial guardians (women frequently were not the legal guardians of their children), etc. I’d be delighted with a report that would simply list linked individuals.
    Researcher defined links would work from a family history perspective as well. One could link individuals to their families of choice while still showing their families of origin or show friendships that are more important than familial relationships in some cases.

  5. Like it or not, software manufacturers need to address blended families and less-than-traditionally-legal partnerships. Many couples have children outside of marital bonds, so something is not right about entering “husband” and “wife” for an unmarried couple. For example, the celebrity Jolie-Pitt family (who happen to be cousins of a friend of mine). The software should provide options for other than “husband” and “wife” regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple. Being tied down to traditional unions is restrictive for genealogists attempting to record the truth. And having children outside of marriage is nothing that just came along during our lifetimes.

    I would also like to see the software companies provide an option, where, instead of always having an option of adding a spouse, provide a field for “Never Married.” So, once that is confirmed, a researcher doesn’t keep going around in circles trying to find a possible spouse.

    Same goes for providing a field like “Died as Infant” – you don’t always know when the baby died, but the child never reached adulthood. So add that as a database field so a researcher doesn’t keep looking for this person in a census 30 years later. Another good field would be for “died without issue” for childless persons.

    A lot could be done to enhance the software programs, all it takes is some thinking outside the box.

  6. I really like this whole conversation because even though, as someone pointed out “it’s genealogy software. Not family history software” I think there is no reason not to expect both!

    One of the reason I currently use TMG (the Master Genealogist) is the simple reason that when I am displaying my Grandpa Quick’s screen there is a box labeled “Children” and it shows my mom and her 2 (half) brothers. In other softwares that I’ve used I always had to pick a spouse and it would then display the children of that couple only. My mom and her brothers are a family – they grew up together and never knew anything else really. I like a software that lets me see it like that.

    I haven’t experimented much with other types of issues – but I do agree that software companies need to be proactive in addressing them!

  7. After the death of his wife, my paternal grandfather chose to adopt out, legally, the four youngest of his nine children. Two of these were identical twin girls. I have struggled with how to show these children through several versions of “My Family Tree” software.

    When they were adopted, not only did the children’s last names change, but because they were young, their first names were also changed by the adoptive parents . And then one of the twin girls was given to another family (not legally) to raise and she went by that family’s last name.

    I have never been able to settle on whether to call the children by their original given names, or by their adopted names, etc. Maybe I would like to show both set of families, the natural and the adoptive. Is that possible? And on and on. You get the drift!

    Yes, family history soft ware needs some modifications when it comes to ways to show extended family relationships.

  8. Thanks Thomas for the mention!

    “it’s genealogy software. Not family history software”. True dat!

    So, should there be a separate ‘family history software’? At least one of the major companies hooks us by using the word ‘Family’ in its name. And that’s the place where my rant comes from. There doesn’t necessarily have to be two separate categories of software.

    BTW Diana, Family Tree Builder displays siblings, half-siblings AND step-siblings on the main page without a fuss! And that’s the joy of this conversation – sharing!

    Wow! I re-read all of the comments and the #1 concern is documenting ‘Family’. The software manufacturers need to recognize!

    Peace,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

  9. Checked my software (iFamily). Had no problem setting up a child with two fathers. (Software did ask me if I was sure, and I clicked yes.) I could only select Natural/Adopted/Step/Foster or “Not Related.”

    I’ve set the default couple relationship to “spouse/spouse” instead of “husband/wife”

    iFamily does offer the option of an “Associated Person.” That is, not a parent/child, but someone you still want to draw a line to. I’ve used it twice. Once for a slave, and once for a business partner.

    An “associated person” can also be associated with multiple people, however, they don’t seem to appear on most of the reports.

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