Is Genealogy Only for Genetic Family?

This post is an adaptation of a response I created for a question on a genealogy forum. The poster was asking (practically begging) people NOT to put adoptive or step family in their family tree.

I can understand why someone would omit their biological, adoptive, step, or foster family if there was dysfunction in those relationships. But asking others to follow suit?

For a more definitive answer, let’s look at the definition of genealogy from the Genealogy Standards book, revised 2021.

Definition of genealogy: “A research field concerned primarily with accurately reconstructing forgotten or unknown identities and familial relationships in the past and present, typically covering more than one generation and including adoptive, biological, extramarital, marital, and other kinds of family relationships; also, a narrative family history covering descendants of an ancestral couple.”

You are asking people to do something other than a complete genealogy, if you ask that they eliminate part of their genealogy from their tree. Eliminate adoptive family from your tree if you want, but then it’s not going to fully meet genealogical standards. Which is just fine, for you. But expecting that of others? Wow.

Genealogy comes from two Greek words, one meaning “family” and the other “theory” or “science.” The word genealogy doesn’t come from the word for gene; genetics and gene come from the Greek, meaning “family” too. Common roots, but not a limited meaning.

Again, I can FULLY understand personal reasons for omitting biological or adoptive or step family from your own personal tree. That’s not what my response is about. Sometimes those you omit don’t feel like family, and it’s your tree. Add Adam and Eve in, despite there being no reliable connection, if it makes you feel good.

Just don’t ask others to do things in a non-standard way, because of your issues (or non-issues) with your family.

But even with dysfunction, consider that denial may not be the best way to handle the long-term hurt or trauma of those relationships. I had training as a family counselor. We were trained to develop genograms, with particular formatting conventions for family trees, because family patterns often influenced how we were raised and the behavior patterns we then maintain. Thus, adoptive and foster and stepparents may have had profound influences on us, because of patterns in THEIR ancestry. So even when there are poor results from being part of the adopted family, the family tree of that adopted family may have some answers we need.