Should we add a "Non-Biological" Relationship Status to improve handling of adoptions?

+44 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

We're thinking about an addition that would improve how we handle adopted children.

As experienced WikiTreers know, you can only have one set of parents on WikiTree. One mother and one father. If a person was adopted, a choice needs to be made between using the adoptive parents or the biological parents. For living or private people, it's up to the family to make the choice. For public and non-living people, the biological parents should be used. This is explained here:

This has never been a completely satisfactory system.

One of the growing problems with it is that we can't distinguish between adoptive and biological connections when making DNA test connections. An adopted child may end up with DNA tests attached to their profile that don't apply.

What we could do is enable you to set "Non-Biological" as a Relationship Status for the mother and father, as an alternative to Uncertain, Confident, or Confirmed with DNA. (Calling it "Non-Biological" instead of "Adopted" would leave it broad enough to be used for step-parents, etc.)

We could then have our DNA systems account for this, and it could be shown in Relationship Finder results.

This wouldn't satisfy everyone. Ideally we'd have a way to toggle between adoptive and biological parents so you can view either tree, but I don't see a practical way to do that.

Our general recommendations would not be changing. Biological relationships would still be recommended. In fact, one possible downside of this addition would be that it would encourage inexperienced WikiTreers to add adopted children deep in history because they saw the option without reading the policy details. But that doesn't seem like a reason not to do it.

Any thoughts or input?



in The Tree House by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
I think that if adding an adoptive parent is possible or permitted, it should at that moment automatically force generation of a new profile for "unknown birth father/mother" to handle any dna tests done on the child. The known birth location, date, hospital etc will propagate, and it can then be later merged with another profile if the dna relative is discovered.
Don't forget that not every child that's adopted has unknown parentage.

10 Answers

+6 votes
Chris I agree that it should not be changed for the reasons you stated and also a personal reason.  I have one nephew we recently reconnected with if it was not for his name and birth being under his father the connection would not be known though I plan to add his parents to his bio.  My sister (shaking me head) has 10 grandchildren 9 of whom are adopted by others. I know their birth info but not their adoptive info. How could they find themselves on WikiTree if they go looking in the future. Plus we have some in our family that are adopted by aunts or grandparents. We list them under their parents with notations of the adoption and link to the adoptive parents.
by Jacqueline Clark G2G6 Pilot (159k points)
I think that if you are able to add multiple parents, then this could conceivably work. But what we're trying to accomplish is to build a genetic tree and by intermixing it with both genetic parents, adoptive parents, and other variants (like: I want to list my Aunt, because she raised me) will not bring us closer to that goal. Unfortunately, I don't know how this might be accomplished with the current system. Having a radio button that allows you to interchangeably introduce random people to the mix just confuses the matter.

If we want to go a different direction, perhaps we could consider a middle of the road approach? We could add an optional "other" person on the file and allow you to define the relationship. They would not be included in the "genetic tree" and would just be listed on the file with a "fill-in-the-blank" relationship. Maybe we could have the option of up to 2 per file. This could be used for adoptive mother and father or potentially other relationships where a legal marriage or otherwise non-typical relationship has been established. We might even exclude this from the connection checker, as it would not be truly valid from a legal or genetic connection standpoint. I'd recommend having this optionally turned "off" on all existing profiles, so that someone has to go to the edit page to turn on one or both of the optional fields.

Just a thought.
–5 votes
I have two different opinions on your question - one for each of the embedded questions.

Adding a radio button to the parental relationship status would be helpful for the occasions when DNA testing reveals a previously unknown dalliance resulting in the - ahem-  "non paternal event". The surprised parties, child & one parent, might find this an easier way to transition into comfortable acceptance of their newly discovered relationship information.  I don't think it is a psychologically healthy long term solution for all four parties - the child, the 2 presumed parents and the newly discovered parent who created this child's life and contributed his DNA to that end result. If anyone doubts that, try spending an afternoon watching the Steve Wilco, Maury Povich and Bill Cunningham shows. They have hardly any guests with issues OTHER THAN figuring out who has been having sex with whom and who is the resulting child's father. Drama is intense and emotions run high.

Part two of the opinion is that I think it is an EXCEEDINGLY bad idea to encourage people to portray legal connections as natural ones. The records we leave on this site will (hopefully) still be available to future genealogist and family members long after we each have gone onto the next life taking our memories with us.

Every day, laboratories are working toward getting closer and closer to being able to treat disease with pharmaceuticals designed specifically for YOU. Your condition will be treated based on your genetic make up. What kinds of tragedies could occur for people who have convinced themselves that nurture trumps nature? We know what the answer could be. Heck, even two generations ago we knew that mixing a set of parents with opposite Rh factor is OK for the first pregnancy but could have fatal results for additional pregnancies. As we become more sophisticated in creating genetically based medical treatments the greater the likelihood that nearly everyone will eventually have to have their DNA results or have to opt of older, possibly less effective treatment. We might as well begin the process of getting comfortable with reality and truth now, instead of waiting until a loved one has a cancer diagnosis and NEEDS that genetic information.

Likewise we ALL need to stop pretending about a lot of things that are not negotiable. If a child is born with an X and a Y chromosome, it is male. He can change his name, wear women's clothes, take female hormones and surgically remove his penis and HE WILL STILL HAVE THAT Y CHROMOSOME. He will still be a man. What's Wikitree going to do to accommodate the delusion that gender is selectable at will? You know that it's only a matter of time before you get lobbied on that point. We've already heard from the camp that wants to pretend that people with the same reproductive organs can "marry" and "have children". They can't. No man is going to gestate a child for 9 months. No woman is going to have an ovum fertilized without a sperm. But it is a topic that has been discussed by people who hold opinions that run counter to the facts about sexual reproduction of our species.
by Michele Camera G2G6 Mach 1 (10.3k points)
edited by Michele Camera
I agree with the usefulness of identifying relationships that are 'family tradition' or otherwise suspected and later proven to be NPEs.  I found one of these in my family tree, and it would be really handy to mark this relationship as non-biological.

Regarding the latter remark of gender identification and its role, this is a slippery slope.  The traditional tools as well as most modern ones fail to account for edge-cases like the separation of gender identity from gender biology and hemaphrodites (people who physically express both genders).  The former could be handled by a tag or trait "gender identity" which defaults to the gender at birth but could be changed as appropriate, whereas the latter could be fixed by adding one more option to the existing choices.

Carrying the edge-case concern to parentage acknowledges the increasing complexity of these relationships as well.  3 biological parent relationships are now possible (father - sperm, mother 1 - egg nucleus, mother 2- egg mitochondria). Beyond the additions of step-parents and surrogate mothers, more complex parenting will likely be possible in the near future, including but not limited to gene replacements and the eventuality of cloning.  As stated by one of the other commenters, if the intended purpose of this tree is to be able to contain the entire human family tree, then it must be flexible enough to handle even the very rare edge cases.

As to your opinions about those edge cases, you should keep in mind that having a framework that can handle those edge cases does not constitute a preference for or against their existence.  Likewise, whether or not you hold an opinion on them does not change the reality of their existence.  However, preventing the system from being able to handle these edge cases makes our work more difficult and less accurate.  For this effort to continue to thrive, it must tend toward being inclusive and forward-looking.
Oh good grief!

I actually SAW a hermaphrodite in 1982. I paid $5.00 to get into the Freak Show at the Bloomsburg County fair to do it. Now the Freak Shows have moved to daytime television and no one seems to be able to recognize when something is "not quite right".

Birth defects have existed since the beginning of time but it's only been a recent development that bullies have insisted that every freaky thing is normal and no one is allowed to recognize it as such.

It's comments like this that make me want to find a new hobby to occupy my time.
Thank goodness you weren't born with any of these "freaky developments" and sought acceptance and to be considered a normal part of human variation.
+7 votes
I like the idea of allowing both adoptions and biological parents to be recognized on profiles.
by Sabrina Combs G2G6 Mach 1 (18.9k points)
+4 votes

It would be a Good Thing to be able to show both adoptive and biological relationships for a person, using a "non-biological" relationship status.

One place where I would want to do this is in the profiles of a 17th-century family in my ancestry. Niclaas Schoonhoven was the son of Debora Davids (my ancestor), born while she was married to Hendrick Van Schoonhoven, but apparently universally known to have been fathered by another man. Niclaas was legally the son of Hendrick and carried his name, so it seems reasonable that he should have a link to Hendrick's profile, even though he wasn't his biological child. This change would allow that. 

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+6 votes
No, don't add adoptive parents. (And my son has an adoptive parent, so this is not totally theoretical.)  

it's already possible to add adoptive parents or other adoptive relations to a biography by using the "double brackets-pipe-double brackets" format shown to the right of the biography field.  Perhaps more emphasis on how to use this, and situations for using this, could be added to the instructions for using this format on the person's page?
by Gayel Knott G2G6 Mach 2 (27.9k points)
I agree. The Biography is the place for everything else, that is not genealogical and genetic, including adoptive parents and adoptive children. Relationship Finder recently connected me to another Wiki genealogist as xth Cousin, but then she turned out not to be descended at all from our ''most recent common ancestor'': she was connected to her adoptive parents tree. How wide-spread this confusion really is, i do not know. But it makes me doubt WikiTree's seriousness. Why then bother posting all those DNA test results for six generations, if they too might be false? Is it really too much to ask, to keep adoption details in the biography, and not in links that are meant for blood relationships? Errors in genealogy can and do occur, but to compound them deliberately seems diabolical to me.
+13 votes

I think this would be a great addition to the site. The goal is to make a world wide family tree, not just a world wide genetic tree. Family is not only made up of who provided the sperm and the egg. In many cases, one or both biological parents are unknown, and may never be known. The option of a "non-biological" relationship status would serve the purpose of keeping an individual with their known parents, without messing up the DNA linkages.

by Leanne Cooper G2G6 Mach 3 (35.1k points)
edited by Leanne Cooper
I agree that there should be a flag for 'non-biological' parents (with the option for biological when known.

In a tree I am working on, I have 2 children adopted between 1901 and 1911. There is no way to find out their LNAB, as in the UK records, and 'proper' adoptions did not start until about 1921. They show on the 1911 census as 'adopted', but that is all we know. Because of this, I have linked them with their adoptive parents.

Any man can be a dad, but it takes a father to bring up a child.
Obviously someone needs to create a real family tree with genetic links only so we can jump ship and go there.
Where does that leave my adopted children?  Are they not part of the family? Would you suggest that they should not belong to a family that cares about their welfare? They are part of our family, with a wide circle of cousins uncles and aunts  Genetic strictness cannot undo the family relationships that have formed over a period of more than fifty years of real living.
+3 votes
After reading both sides of this discussion I feel that I can add my comments now. There are some times when the biological connection can not be made and also some times that an additional connection would be helpful so as long as there remains a possible way to both connect both natural and adoptive parents I say go for it.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+2 votes
Currently my profile is attached to my adopted family, Which links to other profile showing my biological family and my DNA. Both profiles show links to the other profile. Per reasons we discussed previously.

I think the only practical way is having two profiles for one person and should be the exception for a duplicate profile.Having the adopted and biological profile prevents DNA being attached to the wrong family.

This is an extremely touchy issue depending on the individuals circumstances. My adopted parents are my "real" family. To be honest I don't want my biological parents attached.

My biological family

Adopted family
by Michelle Hartley G2G6 Pilot (152k points)
edited by Michelle Hartley
I think I'd vote for multiple parent relationships over multiple profiles for the same person. It is perhaps more technically challenging though.
+5 votes
I would like to see this feature added, for a couple of reasons that others have touched on in their answers:

1) Sometimes we know someone's adoptive parents but not their birth parents. In that case it's not a question of which parents to connect to, it's a question of being allowed to connect to their adoptive parents or leaving the profile to float around unconnected.

2) Isn't the main reason for our rule about using biological relationships that we don't want to mess up the DNA lines? So if this status would stop that from happening, there wouldn't really be any harm in having adoptive connections in the tree.

Of course, I would love to see the ability to have multiple sets of parents attached to a profile... :) But I'll take what I can get and I think this would be an improvement.
by Lianne Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (423k points)

I completely agree with Lianne.

I have in my tree : 

2 grandsons adopted from abroad and with likely no hope of finding bio parents  (these boys would be floaters without family or each other if not connected to adoptive parents)

1 nephew adopted from abroad who was able to find bio grandparents because of fluke, an address was left in his "papers" (this boy could now list both sets of ancestors)

1 first cousin (bio) who was adopted by our common grandparents (this one is biologically related, but does not connect to birth father at the moment)

1 second cousin adopted in the hospital when my great aunt's baby was stillborn (I found both birth records - but no bio parent for the cousin) ‚Äč(we might eventually find a bio link for her, but if she were not connected to our family, she would float around with my grandsons somewhere without the adoptive link).

Not providing a way to link to both bio and adoptive families seems like a problem to me.

+2 votes
I realize that adding this additional option is the most expedient solution, but I believe the system should begin to separate out the DNA support.

My preference would be to have the parents treated the same as all the other fields. Certain and Uncertain to reflect the certainty that the documentation supports the conclusion.  Currently, there are actually 3 choices, which includes, not selecting either.  This can be remedied by providing only a check box that when selected means 'Certain', otherwise it means 'uncertain'.

Just as more than one spouse is supported,  I believe that more than one Parent could be supported. The processing change would be to Connection Finder, allowing a connection between Non-Biological Parent ,in the same way, the process connects a spouse, who is a non-biological member of the family.
by Ken Sargent G2G6 Mach 5 (56.7k points)
I agree -- more than 2 parents is the reality, once you consider adoptive parents. One may not have or wish to display, for living or recently living people, all such information, but adoption does entail more than 2 parents.

How does the new setting behave with respect to family trees and DNA? I hope it doesn't gum up the works when using Wikitree as part of the genetic genealogy toolset.

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