Tips from the Pros: Family, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

This recent Thanksgiving got me thinking about the definition of family. Several years ago one of my grandchildren had a family history school project. She corrected me on the charts we prepared together. She asked why we weren’t including one aunt, one uncle, and one grandpa. They are certainly family but not relatives by blood. The aunt is a family friend, the uncle is my brother-in-law’s brother, and Grandpa Bud is his father. Additionally, I have others who call me Mom or Grandma. The oldest granddaughter calls them my fake children and grandchildren. (Don’t get upset, the term fake is used lovingly between us; that is a story for another time.) My children and now my grandchildren have always had many “relatives” that don’t fit into the spaces in genealogy software or paper charts. This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations were spent with many good people who are not blood relatives. I have some special genealogy families, too. Will future generations know who all these people are in my life and yours? Don’t forget to include them as you document your family’s history and add their names to pictures. Have you written the story of their connection to you? Maybe it is time. 

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

12 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Family, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

  1. I have people like this too. The family tree thing is new to me. I had started on but had invited all family with email and well, some just started deleting people they did not want on the tree and adding stupid things for fun that were all taking away the accuracy I am aiming for….

    This program so far is decent I think but I must say I am not loving that I am listed as my maiden name and would rather be listed by my married but not sure if that is an option!

    Could you tell me how to add people like this that you were talking about (considered family but are not blood)?
    Thanks for your help and thanks for posting this!

  2. Oh Yes!!! My mother would NOT let us call older people by their first names, and after much discussion I was allowed to call them Aunt or Uncle, so I had Aunt Henri, Uncle Carl, and Aunt Mary, among others. Aunt Mary was honorary aunt to a whole community. And one pair of grandparents had a housekeeper, whom I called Grammie T. My kindergarten teacher asked about my grammies and grandpas (it was allowed in those days!), and I said I had three Grammies. This precipitated a visit to my mother for an explanation! In today’s world it would have been viewed as quite accepted! Grammie T’s grandchildren were and are good and dear friends.

  3. I have the same thing my best friend Keith who has been my friend for almost 30 years I called his Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike and my nices now call Keith Uncle Keith. Have and many other who were not related by were very close that I called Aunt, Uncle, Mama or Papa. You don’t always have to be blood related to be related

  4. What a great thought! Genetics are not everything. I had a number of family friends and not relatives that were indeed much more important to my life than blood relatives. I recently did research on my godmothers family and children. I spent much more time with them than many of my “real relatives”. You choose your friends and get your family by birth.

  5. My Dad’s first cousin grew up in my grandparent’s family because his parents had passed away. He married one of my mother’s best friends from high school. Consequently they were always included in both family reunions and remained so even after my parents were divorced in the early 40’s. They were a part of both families until their own deaths. I wrote paternal and maternal books and this family, with photos, are included in both books. Just thought you would like to know.

  6. And this also brings up protocol questions and linking issues. I am still fairly new to genealogy, I do my work on line and puzzle these issues–how do we plug these important people into our trees? I am still puzzling how to incorporate step families also, so may be these “chosen” family members come together in some fashion such as that.

  7. For years I’ve jokingly talked of my Italian “boat people”–that being the “pseudo-family” who arrived from nearby towns or on the same boats as my grandparents who themselves had virtually no family or very small direct families. Indeed, many of those pseudo-family folks were related to one another, just not directly to me and my family. But they were the zias and zios and cousins I grew up around. Glad to have the reminder to include them all, even if I haven’t exactly figured out a clean and direct way to do that just yet except in narrative.

  8. We also have “honorary” aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents in our family as well as people my mother referred to as “shirt tail relatives” which seem to have been related because someone in our family married into their family. I’ve not attempted to include these people in the family tree because I believe it would create confusion, but I am including them in a family photo album under “Family Friends.” I caption each photo identifying the subjects and explaining how they were connected to the family, i.e., friends, neighbors, godparents, blood or marriage relatives of other family members. I do a bit of research on these families and, in some cases, the connections have been rather surprising when researched. Some who have turned up on the west coast came from the same town in the midwest. Some names I thought were not connected turned out to have connection.

    There can be some further confusion in that some people who are actually more distant cousins, have been given the title of aunt, uncle, grandmother or grandfather for various reasons. These need to be explained in a narrative. What is clear to us now, may cause some real consternation for someone researching the family a generation or so distant.

    I too would like to see more on this subject. Step families were mentioned by one of the responders. My software makes including step families simple, but I have not yet figured out how to include adoptive birth families without creating a separate family tree. Can anyone help with that? These are definitely areas that could use more discussion.

  9. We were fortunate to live in Hawaii for 7 years. While there, we were addressed as “auntie” and “uncle” by children — we had no family with us.
    Plus, Ohana is a wonderful word we use a lot now — it means extended family and includes whomever you are close to. The Hawaiian culture and the rich spirit of aloha have included all for centuries.

  10. My grandfather was adopted and we know as much about his birth family and his adoptive family. In fact, one of his brothers played an important role in our family. I had to create a separate tree for his adoptive family and would like it to be more cohesive. When he was adopted, his name was changed so there is nothing linking the two trees together. Any ideas?

  11. Good Eening: I have a “Family” photo whih has annoyed and intrigued my for several years after I found it in my Mother’s phot box. There must be 15 or so people in the picture. My Father is the first one on the left in the first row, with my big brother – aged about 2 – on his lap. The rest of the people are strangers, except for the ladies in the middle of each row. They are the Schwartz girls – Aunts – unrelated dear froends and colleagues of my Mother and my Aunt Marguarite, her baby sister. “Aunt” Lorretta is in the middle of the first row, “Aunt” Alma is in the middle of the second row, and “Aunt” Henrieta is in the middle of the 3rd and last row. For several years, I couldn’t place anyone else. After studying this photo a few months ago, I suddenly realized that there was an eldrly Lady standing behind “Aunt” Henrietta. I enlarged the photo very carefully and recognized her Moher, Grosmutter Schwartz. That made the unknown Lady at the far right of the first row – who was scowling at the photographer -my Lady Mother. The photographer has to Gros Pappa Schwartz, who was with his family and my family and some other persons in the Catskills at a summer resort in August of 1922. The dating is easy…my older brother was born in 1920. The scowling young woman has to be my Mother, who hated having her picture taken but who was probably “ordered” by Mr. Schwartz to be in the picture, One of the other young women in the picture resembles my Mother…agewise, she has to be my Aunt Marguarite, who was 4 years younger than my Mother. Mr Schwartz – Gros Pappa Schwartz – was a very old man when I was born in 1927 but I remember him taking pictures when I was 4 or 5 years old. Too bad I do not know who the other people are or where his pictures have gone. Sincerely, RAHelm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *