The Mildner couple in my tree became foster parents of a young girl in the early 1900s. In 1912, they were sued by the birth mother of the girl for custody, but the judge ruled that the girl could stay with the foster family, after which she was apparently adopted by the family. The adoption was reflected in the change of the girl's last name between the 1910 and the 1920 (and later) censuses.

I had recorded the Mildners as foster parents of the girl. Now if I change the relationship as "adopted" I will lose the foster state.

Is there a good way of dealing with this situation other than through extensive notes?

Ancestry.com doesn't seem to provide a way to record date ranges with relationships, and only allows one set of relationships between a parent and a child.

In a comment to a question about names, Jane recommends creating explicit name change records.

How would one do that with Ancestry.com?

  • Changing the title of this question has shifted the emphasis to a specific site, and to invalidated my response. This needs some moderation.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 14:45

2 Answers 2


If I were using Ancestry.com, I would add a fact to the individual and choose "Custom Event" to create a name change event. I think your options are limited to this plus extensive note-making.

The software package I use allows the creation or multiple sets of parents for an individual, with the type of relationship recorded (adopted, birth, step, fostered, illegitimate and so on), so it's capable of recording the messiness of the lives of real people, to quote @Fortiter. I supplement it with extensive notes, and will be adopting JaneT's suggestion of custom name change events where appropriate.

Unlike @acproctor here, I don't limit myself to recording strict biological descent, but that may be because I'm doing Family History research and he may be doing Genealogy.

  • 1
    Ancestry.com does allow multiple parents, but doesn't allow multiple relationships between the same set of people. So you can have birth, foster, and adopted parents, as long as they are different individuals. I will look into creating a custom event. That seems like a good way to go. Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 18:03
  • I don't limit myself to recording strict biological descent. I use lineage links to record only biological lineage, and other links to record all other types of relationship and event. This is a misrepresentation of another answer, and scheme described is probably the only one that is not limited.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 14:40

This is a good question but the answer - as with many questions - probably depends on the software you use, or indeed whether you use any at all.

I took the approach that parents (as in the up-links in my data) could only be the biological ones. These were the only unambiguous persons I could refer to. Every person has just one progenitive father and mother, even if they're not yet identified. Hence, every Person entity in my data has just two potential up-links.

I also have several cases of fostering and adoption - including when one relationship was legally changed to the other - and guardians (for want of another word) at a time before fostering and adoption became formalised. I still represent these non-biological relationships but in a different way, using 'roles'. Roles relate to the part a person played in a given event (e.g. census night), and can vary with time.

You might be asking why I don't simply have alternative types of up-link, e.g, one for biological, one for adoptive, etc., and there may be products that do it this way. Well, validation was one criterion. There can only be two potential biological parents (one M, one F), and they are always the biological parents (no time limit), and there can never be any linkage loops for biological lineage. All other types of relationship, including adoptive/fostering/guardian but also extending to generalised non-blood relations, have no such rules.

  • 1
    If we adopt a ultra-strict definition of "parents", then you are linking to a birth mother and a person she publicly nominated as the father. In some families, that second link has no genetic basis and in practice is a fluid as any fostering arrangement. Family historians need to balance the (undoubted) advantages of strict data modelling against the messiness of the lives of real people.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 2:12
  • The loop in your system can appear because of two reasons: complex relationship including incest events and when one person has several sets of parents because we are not sure who is the real biological parents, but the family tradition and rumors stay in conflict. Of course, good explorer will take into the account all available information and try to make truthful model of relation between different persons.... Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 20:23
  • There is no "loop" George. Lineage is a DAG (Directed Acyclic Graph) and not a 'Tree'. It only becomes a problem if you try to force it to be a tree. The handling of unconfirmed events (incl. uncertain parentage) belongs in a different layer, along with supporting sources, analysis, and proof arguments.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 14:37

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