When diagramming a family tree, is there a typology or visual display rule set for the new methods of creating genetic lineage: sperm, egg, uterus donors or surrogates?

  • Hi Dr Who, welcome! Interesting question! I've just updated the title to better reflect your question.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


There is no one correct method of displaying these types of complex relationships. However, for health professionals there are some conventions that are used when producing a genogram.

The following list of diagrams and captions about genogram conventions come from the paper: Standardized Human Pedigree Nomenclature: Update and Assessment of the Recommendations of the National Society of Genetic Counselors by Bennett et al. (2008, J Genet Counsel 17:424–433).

In the following diagrams:

  • D represents egg or sperm donor
  • S represents surrogate (gestational carrier)
  • P represents the pregnancy

Possible reproductive scenarios:

  1. Sperm donor

    Sperm donor diagram
    Couple in which woman is carrying pregnancy using donor sperm. No relationship line is shown between the woman carrying the pregnancy and the sperm donor.

  2. Ovum donor

    Ovum donor diagram
    Couple in which woman is carrying pregnancy using a donor egg and partner's sperm. The line of descent from the birth mother is solid because there is a biologic relationship that may affect the fetus (e.g., teratogens).

  3. Surrogate only

    Surrogate only diagram
    Couple whose gametes are used to impregnate a woman (surrogate) who carries the pregnancy. The line of descent from the surrogate is solid because there is a biological relationship that may affect the fetus (e.g., teratogens).

  4. Surrogate ovum donor

    Surrogate ovum donor diagram
    Couple in which male partner's sperm is used to inseminate a) an unrelated woman or b) a sister who is carrying the pregnancy for the couple.

  5. Planned adoption

    Planned adoption diagram
    Couple contracts with a woman to carry a pregnancy using ovum of the woman carrying the pregnancy and donor sperm.

These conventions are primarily designed for use in a medical setting, but they can equally be used on any family tree. You may wish to add explanatory notes to your tree because I doubt these conventions are very widely understood even among genealogists. Some of the key points from this paper are:

  • dashed lines are used for non-biological parent-child relationships (such as adoption)
  • solid lines are used for biological relationships
  • with surrogates and donors, there is no line of relationship between the biological parents, instead the lines converge directly on the child

Presumably in most cases the donor is anonymous (so not a line of ancestry a genealogist would research), but as more people are born through assistive reproductive techniques, genealogy software will have to adapt to be able to better handle complex relationships.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.