Adoptive parents. Step-children. Half-siblings. Previous spouses. It doesn’t take long for a “simple” family tree to not be so simple. As you’re compiling your family tree, who should you include?
Twitter user @jerrycarbone recently tagged me in a tweet regarding Dear Abby’s advice about who to include in the family Bible:
I agree with Dear Abby’s advice to include the step-children and their offspring in the family Bible. I would also include them in my genealogy software.
Who else would I include in my family tree? In a word: Everyone.
The step-children, the half-siblings, the adoptive parents, the godparents, the previous spouses that my ancestor didn’t have any children with… well, you get the idea.
I’ve been working on my collaterals — the siblings of my ancestors — trying to get at least the vitals for all of them. (Get them “hatched, matched, and dispatched.”) As I was researching Margaret Luella McKitrick, the sister of my great-great-grandmother Lavada Jane McKitrick, I found the death certificate for Margaret’s husband Joseph Broome.
The certificate identifies Joseph’s parents as Felix and Victoria (Rhodes) Broome. Do I include them in my family tree? You bet!
Why I Include Everyone in the Family Tree
There are three reasons why I include everyone. First: It’s a matter of identity. If there are multiple people with the same name, including these “other” people is a way to sort them out. If there was more than one Joseph Broome in the area, I could identify Margaret’s husband as being the one who was the son of Felix and Victoria. (You can learn more about building identity in this post.)
Second: People do not live in vacuums. They interact with any number of other people, including the step-, the half-, and the in-law people in their lives. By including them in the family tree, I can have a better idea of who these people are and how they fit in. When I see these names pop up later in other records, I can look in my genealogy software and see if I already know anything about them.
The third reason is cousin bait. You never know where the family Bible or the family photos ended up. By including these “other” people in my public tree, I might make a connection with a “shirt-tail cousin” who can help me with my research.
But, Doesn’t This Clutter Your Family Tree?
Adding people like the parents of your 3rd-great-aunt’s spouse to your tree adds more names. However, I contend that it isn’t “clutter.” One of the ways we avoid combining people with the same name is by their FAN club (the friends, family, associates, and neighbors). If we have those people included in our family tree, it ends up making our research better.
Including Them vs. Researching Them
Just because I add Felix and Victoria (Rhodes) Broome into my family tree does NOT mean that I’m going to go out and start researching them extensively. I’m not going to spend my valuable research time tracing them back 8 generations. I’m just going to record what I have in relation to the people who I am researching.
Ultimately, including these “other” people in your family tree has benefits that outweigh the “clutter” to the family tree and the time it takes to add them.