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

  • Have edited the question title so that it reflects spirit of the question body. Please make sure all still reflects the spirit of your intended question, @Gerald. (Separately, sometimes "should" elicits opinion and debate. See the faq.)
    – GeneJ
    Nov 3, 2012 at 16:56
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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
  • I feel that in today's (and I'm finding yesterday's) civilization, the majority of people have had multiple spouses. Today, usually via divorce. In the middle ages, usually via death due to the short avg. lifespan. While geneology can be used to track bloodlines only, I feel strongly that step relationships play a significant formative role, so have chosen to include 'steps' or related by marraige only relationships in my geneology. It truly just opens the door to more interesting and exciting past histories that formed a part of my heritage. :)
    – user5019
    May 5, 2016 at 0:26

6 Answers 6



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.

  • The quote you give doesn't answer the question of whether or not they should be included in charts and reports. It only deals with numbering. And even then it is ambiguous on its recommendation, because it goes into the expansion of the NGSQ system but does not recommend yes or no.
    – lkessler
    Nov 3, 2012 at 23:15
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    Disagree with @lkessler. The quote does not actually provide a standard, but it does mention that the "NGSQ System has been expanded" for these situations, and includes a link to the publication that has the details. Nov 4, 2012 at 1:09
  • @lkessler I had thought the comment in bold answered the question. Should I change that to read, "NGSQ/Quarterly-style recognizes and carries forward step-children and adopted children"?
    – GeneJ
    Nov 4, 2012 at 1:11
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    Brief comment just for those surprised about my comment on a decidedly traditional genealogy answer to a traditional genealogy question. Previous comment does not mean I agree, merely that I recognise this answer as actually answering the question. Nov 4, 2012 at 1:19
  • @lkessler P.S. In these standards, the numbering systems are part of the backbone/framework for the genealogical [narrative/report/output/chart ...]. As such "numbering" has greater significance that just enumerating.
    – GeneJ
    Nov 4, 2012 at 1:58

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.

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    That may be an acceptable way if doing genealogy, but if family history, the descendants could be included.
    – Edward
    Nov 3, 2012 at 8:35

"... 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.

enter image description here

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.

  • 3
    Not all software needs to be lied to, they do not differentiate. One that seems to not 'know' the difference is TNG - The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding . Whether adopted or not, all descendants are included in descendant charts. It may also be that the researcher does not know the relationship and the program would not know to include or not.
    – Gerald
    Nov 3, 2012 at 8:39
  • Do programs export and import this details correctly?
    – Amy
    Nov 3, 2012 at 9:01
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    Up-voted to counteract a downvote I believe to be unjustified. Andy has answered correctly within his frame of reference. I do not agree with his view, but I recognise that it exists.
    – Fortiter
    Nov 3, 2012 at 12:51
  • @Amy Export/import issues likely involve more considerations than "...details correctly." For example, what is the transfer format; are their features in the exporting program that are not in the importing program and/or the transfer format. If you have a specific family circumstance example and have identified specific import and export programs, I hope you'll consider posting all as an additional question.
    – GeneJ
    Nov 3, 2012 at 16:53

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.)

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