With no blood relationship, is there a standard way of presenting step, foster and adopted children in descendant charts?

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    Looking through some of the answers given so far, I notice that many seem to answer a different question than the one asked. The question is not whether to include adopted children or not, the question is not which software makes it easy to generate reports, the question is whether there is a standard way to include them. Nov 3, 2012 at 20:57

7 Answers 7



The National Genealogical Society Quarterly or NGSQ-style (also Quarterly-Style) is one of the better known and documented standards. NGSQ/Quarterly-style recognizes step-children and adopted children and provides a standard by which they are carried forward (ie., provides for continued reporting about them and their families).*

See Joan F. Curran, Madilyn C. Crane, and John H. Wray, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, rev. ed. (Washington: National Genealogical Society, 2008).

Madilyn Coen Crane's chapter, "Complex Families," pp. 17-25, is fully on point. In the introduction to the chapter, she writes

Traditional numbering systems were designed to present a group of people, all blood kin, who descend from a single immigrant ancestor. When genealogists treat families of the past, their narratives acknowledge multiple marriages and stepchildren; but the numbering schemes, as originally planned, omit step children and adopted children; and they make no provisions for carrying down such lines. ... To handle situations presented by complex families—for example, surname changes, step relationships, and adoptions—the NGSQ System has been expanded in several important ways ...

Whether or how specific genealogical software output follows/would follow the NGSQ standard guidelines is probably a separate consideration. The practices of different software varies (evident by the different answers others have posted). Yet a further consideration, the terms "descendant [charts/reports, etc.]" can evoke some controversy.

*At least as I have read and interpreted the work, foster children/guardianship relationships would follow. Your interpretation might vary, depending on the actual foster-relationship.


You may want to consider including the individual in the chart, but no decendants of that person. Instead, create a new tree for them and descendants.


"... is there a standard way of presenting step, foster and adopted children"

No, there is no standard way.

But there are various ways these children can (and should) be differentiated. There could be dotted or dashed or colored lines, or a word above their box ("step", "foster", etc.), or their name could be differentiated (colored or italic).

There could also be another line connecting the child to their other set of parents, but those connections are often not wanted to be shown (and would additionally mess up the appearance of the chart).

Should they be included? I would say yes, because the majority of the time, these relations are considered part of the "family" and affected the lives of the parents and direct children. They will be important in both your family history research and in your genealogy research.


Each time we ask "What are the rules?" there is an unspoken second question "Whose rules?".

If you plan to follow strict genealogy practice, then the focus is on direct ancestors and blood relationships so the types of "children" you ask about are not part of the scheme. Unless of course, the client or other person of importance is the adoptee (but that is another question).

On the other hand, if you take a broader, family history view of the world then the the working assumption is that all children will be included; and the key question is How?

Some tools make it easier than others to do this. You may need to consider how the data is stored and how it is presented as separate issues.

A key characteristic in storage is flexibility in describing the parent-child relationship. As in most areas, Gramps offers a list of common descriptors for the relationship and the ability to create others. enter image description here When it comes to creating a display chart, Gramps treats all "children" in the same way and does not distinguish how they are presented. A detailed textual report includes details of the nature of the relationship. Other software packages may offer different options.

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To summarise: If you want a hard and fast rule, then you have it -- DON'T. If you don't accept that (as many others here do not) then you need to live with the fact that there are different ways of working around the problem. So do what works best for you and document exhaustively what you have done and why. Then if a broadly accepted standard emerges in the future, you (or a successor who takes over your work) will have a sound basis for adapting without starting again.


In a word: no.

Charts are done by individual genealogy software programs or charting programs and depend on blood relationships.

The only way to include step, foster, or adopted relationships is to lie to the software and trick it into thinking such relationships are really blood relationships.


Yes, you can show them. Brother's Keeper http://bkwin.com/ keeps track of all that and allows you to print (step), (foster), or (adopted) before or after a child's name on both reports and charts.

Personally, I always show legally adopted children, never show foster children, and only show step children in unusual cases (e.g. child took step-father's name when entered the army, thus his descendants share MY surname, and I need to keep track of them.)


I am finding that while my "step" relatives are just that, many actually marry into the family along the way, making it an important part of my research, as I am currently working on a descendants' stories study. I have one ancestor that I descend from in many ways and am researching the different branches that descend from this man because of the inter-workings of my family tree. Even the "step" cousins and their descendants are included because we are more than just a blood trail. Many 18th and 19th century families were melded families due to circumstances and these melding affect the formation of the family.

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    Welcome to G&FH:SE. I'm not sure this actually answers the question that was asked. May 12, 2023 at 22:05
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    If they hadn't married into the family, they wouldn't be step-relatives. That is what the prefix step- means.
    – Chenmunka
    May 13, 2023 at 12:16

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