Recording Children with Foster/Adoptive Parents


Many people feel they are researching their family history, not just their genealogy, and foster/adoptive parents are just as important as blood line parents.

This article was prompted by the Forum thread Adoption problem​.


Those outside an adoption situation often use “Natural” and “Adoptive” parents to describe the two sets of parents. This can cause offence for a number of reasons.

Within the UK “natural” often has suggestions of “illegitimate”. “The natural daughter of …” in a parish register, means illegitimate daughter of … . Adopted children are not necessarily illegitimate.

Adoptive parents are often very apprehensive about their child tracing their birth parents worried that the child might get hurt and that they might be sidelined. This is particularly the case when genealogies are being researched and shared. Referring to birth parents as “natural” can imply that the adoptive parents are in some way “unnatural” which can be hurtful. “Real mother” is even more hurtful to a mother who has raised a child.

In general (within the UK) it is safer to refer to such parents as either “birth parents”, “biological parents” or “genetic parents”. Some but by no means all are tending to use “birth parents” to describe the names on the original birth certificate and “genetic parents” to refer to those traced or confirmed via DNA analysis – they are not always the same and with the wider use of DNA analysis the difference can become important. Within the UK “birth parents” tends to be the officially used term to describe the pre-adoption parents.

In some countries however there is a feeling that “birth mother” is demeaning of the first mother indicating her only role was to give birth and the role ended at that point – when many first mothers feel that despite the child being adopted (possibly against their will) they remain “the mother”. In these cases there is a tendency to distinguish between the “parents” and the “adoptive parents”.


Family Historian (ƒh) and GEDCOM allow more than one set of Parents for a Child. The following scenario may not exactly match your family, but provides the necessary tips to record the details.

Natural Parents

The natural Mother is usually known, but the Father may not be known, so in the Property Box of the Mother add a Spouse even if their name is <unknown> and set the Status to Never married (or Unmarried couple) so that Reports do not say they were ‘married’ but just had a ‘relationship’. Otherwise, enter the usual Father’s Name and Marriage details, etc. In the same Property Box use Add Child to add their natural Child.

Foster/Adoptive Parents

The foster/adoptive parent Family couple are entered just like any other married couple, and may have their own natural Children. In either parent’s Property Box use Add Child to add their fostered or adopted Child. Click on the Rel. column and set the f=foster or a=adopted relationship.

Foster/Adoptive Child

Now navigate to the Property Box of the Child and on the All tab there will be two Parents family entries. Ensure the one linked to the natural parents is above the one linked to the foster/adoptive parents. If necessary select one and use the up/down buttons top right.

On the Facts tab add the Adoption Event (there is no standard Foster Event) and enter the usual details, including Source Citations if known. Alternatively, use a Residence fact to record the Dates and Address where the child stayed with their foster parents.

(There is a little known, rarely used, and poorly supported feature of the Adoption Event that allows the foster/adoptive family to be linked. On the All tab, for the Adoption fact, there is a Parents family entry for this feature, but is best avoided.)

Reports & Diagrams

Now in Reports both sets of parents should be listed, and in Diagrams you will be asked to choose which set of parents to show as Ancestors.

Last update: 19 Aug 2021

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