Genealogical complexity: writing it up

Penny at podium_croppedYesterday, Scott wrote about genealogical complexity: addressing all the different ways we make modern families and write about them genealogically. As it turns out, many family historians ask questions about just such things:

  • How do I talk about a child born out of wedlock?
  • Do I list my sister’s stepchildren?

As Scott said, we think you should report it all – without judgment. Well, what does that look like? The first place a child appears in a Register­-style sketch is in a child list, and it’s the child-intro line where you give the salient information. Here are some examples:

Adopted children of John10 and Mary (Smith) Doe:

Child of Georgia Charles (Clark) Jones, adopted by John6 Jones:

Children of Mary (Smith) Doe, stepchild of John10 Doe:

Child of George and Ellen (Stein) Mather, adopted by Samuel and Ann7 (Stuart) Williams:

Child of Ann7 Stuart: [father unknown to you, the writer]

Children of John10 Doe and Mary Smith: [unmarried parents or parents not sharing surname]

Children of John10 Doe and Harry Smith:

Children of Mary10 and Jane Smith-Doe:

If a parent has another child outside a marriage, make two lists:

Children of John10 and Mary (Smith) Doe: <list children of marriage>

Child of John10 Doe: <list child of relationship, giving date of birth, which will speak for itself>

If your subject has children from several different relationships, whether married or not, simply make separate lists of children for each relationship. If you don’t know the father of any, just make one list. Back to Scott’s point: you’re reporting what you know, without judgment.

Now, what about long-term relationships? How do you talk about them in a genealogical sketch?

. . . He is in a relationship with Mary Smith [or his life partner is Mary Smith], who was born at Boston, Massachusetts, 23 May 1985, daughter of Harry and Jane (Doe) Smith.

If the partner has died:

. . . His long-term partner, Harry Smith, was born at Boston, Massachusetts, 23 May 1985, son of Henry and Jane (Doe) Smith. He died there 27 September 2013.

If your subject is transgender and has adopted a different name, handle it the same way you would handle any other name change. That is, give the birth name in the child list, and lead with the current name in the main sketch:

365         i.  Allan James12 Smith, b. Boston 23 May 1985; m. there, 16 Feb. 2013, Jane Elizabeth Doe.

365. Ellen Jane12 Smith was born as Allan James Smith at Boston, Massachusetts, 23 May 1985. She married at Boston, 16 February 2013, Jane Elizabeth Doe, daughter of John and Sarah (Roe) Doe.

Or, in another variation,

365         i.  Allan James12 Smith, b. Boston 18 April 1975; m. there, 16 Feb. 2003, Jane Elizabeth Doe; div.

365. Ellen Jane12 Smith was born as Allan James Smith at Boston, Massachusetts, 18 April 1975. As Allan, he married first at Boston, 16 February 2003, Jane Elizabeth Doe, daughter of John and Sarah (Roe) Doe; they divorced in 2010. As Ellen, he married second at Boston, 20 September 2012, Terry Davis . . .

If there were children from each marriage:

Children of Allan James12 and Jane Elizabeth (Doe) Smith:

Children of Ellen Jane12 Smith and Terry Davis:

Again, just report the facts: they speak for themselves.

Penny Stratton

About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.View all posts by Penny Stratton