Posted by Tana L. Pedersen on August 9, 2010 in Family Tree Maker

I recently found a death index entry for an infant that bore the unique surname of my great-grandfather. I didn’t want to add the infant to a specific family because I wasn’t certain that they were related. But I also didn’t want to lose the information in case I discovered a relationship with the baby at a later time. In these cases, you can add the individual to your tree without linking them to anyone.

Months later when I was able to view the actual death certificate, I learned that this baby was indeed one of my great-grandfather’s children. Because I had already added this infant to my tree, it was easy to simply link her to her parents.

Have you had similar experiences finding individuals whom you can’t make fit in your tree yet? Do you usually find that these “unrelated” individuals do belong in your tree? Feel free to share tips on how you handle the mystery people in your tree.

To add an unrelated individual to your tree:

1. Click the People button on the main toolbar.

2. Click Person>Add Person>Add Unrelated Person.

3. Enter the person’s name (first name, middle name, and last name).

4. Choose a gender from the drop-down list and click OK. The new individual becomes the focus of the pedigree view and editing panel.

Note: Because the individual isn’t connected to anyone else in your tree, you can navigate to him or her by clicking his or her name in the index on the People workspace.

To attach an unrelated individual to a family:

  1. Go to the People workspace and select the individual you want to attach to a family.
  2. Click Person>Attach/Detach Person>Attach Father/Mother.
  3. Select the name of the father or mother you want to attach the individual to. Then click OK.
  4. If prompted, choose which family you want the individual attached to. Then click OK.


  1. worshacf

    Uck… I’m getting “Member Connect Activity” notices from ancestry regarding people (names that are not in my tree) regarding several census records that were saved in another members public tree.

  2. grim

    How do you do this in an Ancestry tree (not FTM)?

    On a related topic, I have found a few dozen records of individuals who end up not being related to my tree. These are records I ordered from GRO, Cook County, etc. After I obtained the original record I discovered it was not the person I was looking for. I would like to share these records/docs with folks on ancestry but there isn’t really a good way to do so. I created a new tree for all these unrelated records and then created a story for each record that I thought would then be searchable by everyone. It looks like I have to create a person for each and attach the story to the person before it is searchable – too much work for folks I’m not looking for.

    It would be nice to have an area where records or documents could be uploaded for everyone to see without having to create entire trees.

  3. Aylarja

    This raises a point of frustration I have with Family Tree Maker: the inability to link unrelated people in my database. The clear assumption in the development of FTM is that family relationships are the only ones worth tracking.

    What about when I find a previously unknown individual with the same surname enumerated on the same census page? Are they related? Very possibly they are. But until I can prove it, wouldn’t it be nice to have a “neighbor relationship” by which I could link that individual with my known relative?

    What about the names of witnesses on a death certificate or a marriage certificate? A possible relative? An important relationship regardless? Probably yes on both counts. Wouldn’t it be nice if FTM provided a witness relationship to maintain the known connection unless and until a family relationship can be established? (And even if there is no family relationship, the relationship that existed was part of the tapestry of the life I am researching!)

    To my knowledge, apart from the ability to create various marriage and marriage-like relationships and various parent-child relationships, tracking other types of non-family relationships in FTM is simply not possible.

    In the past, many genealogists were primarily concerned with establishing a family tree – often neglecting research methodology and documentation that would allow their conclusions to be independently evaluated by others. In recent years, research scholarship and documentation have gained recognition and importance in the field of family history. Unfortunately, Family Tree Maker is primarily a product of the former, outmoded approach. Yes, it does accommodate source citation, but it does little to enable research. As an FTM user, I find the inability to record non-family relationships as one of those crippling weaknesses that serve only to inhibit my family-research efforts.

    I have submitted as a request to the ability to add non-family relationships to FTM, and I also posed a related question in a recent FTM webinar. However, I received no response to either submission, and see nothing in the FTM 2011 pre-release publicity that leads me to believe I will see such a feature any time soon.

  4. Aylarja Re: #6

    In Genealogy family relationships *are* the only relationships worth tracking. Non-family relationships are, per se, not a part of genealogy and thus most genealogy programs make no provision for handling them. Once you start wanting to track non-family relationships you have moved from the field of genealogy to the field of family history – and they are two vastly different and distinct things.

    In fact, other than The Master Genealogist, I know of no genealogy programs that allows linking of non-related people.

    Unconnected individuals can always be added with a note as to why they are in the database but that is as far as most programs can go

  5. Anne

    If you are really interested for whatever reason in saving information on an individual not related to you, you can always start a family tree for them. I did that for a Union soldier who has a monument less than a mile from where I live. He died unmarried and without children; some of his sibings had children, but only one person seemed to be researching the family on ancestry. I figured I would start a family tree so that anyone who was interested could quickly locate the information that was available and take it from there.

  6. Aylarja

    Andy Hatchett (#7),

    Yes, genealogy is the mapping of family lines. But while strictly correct, I think this largely misses the point that increasingly, modern genealogists understand the value of disciplined research methods and evidence-gathering. Part of that process is piecing together evidence from which definitive conclusions cannot yet be drawn, but which may point to probabilities, possibilities, or even just hunches that fuel additional research. And maybe someday some of those relationships would be confirmed as actual relatives. But to effectively gather and assess evidence, maintaining relationships between pieces of that evidence is critical.

    Modern relational databases – on which presumably nearly every current computerized genealogy program is built – are designed to store and retrieve complex relationships, and lots of them. That is one of their key benefits over paper-based filing systems of past generations, and the reason they have largely replaced flat-file databases in most computer applications that store complex relationships. The technical capability to store neighbor relationships or witness relationships in most genealogy databases is already there. Determining how the software would manage such relationships would require thought, but is hardly insurmountable.

    So why be satisfied with having to place a note in one entry that simply states a relationship to another entry, lacking any programmatic tie between the two? If the limitation is not a technical one, why be content to accept “that is as far as most programs can go”? How is such a solution any different from what I would do with an outmoded, paper-based filing system?

    My primary argument is that I would like Family Tree Maker to become more a research tool than simply an electronic filing system. Having the ability to record relationships not confirmed to be family relationships would not require that anyone use them who chose not to. But it would provide a much more robust approach to researching and maintaining interrelationships for genealogists who found them beneficial while asking only a little more from the software itself.

  7. Aylarja

    Anne (#8),

    My interest really is not so much in researching someone who is not related to me. It is in having a toolset that allows for ambiguity in research. I want to record relationships that may – or may not – prove to be family relationships, but at a minimum may provide additional handholds for further research. Currently, FTM provides no satisfactory way that I know of to do this.

  8. Paul Roberts

    Grim (#4),

    You can add an unrelated individual in an Ancestry tree by temporarily adding them as a relative to someone in your tree then detaching them.

    If you click on “help” then search on “add unrelated individual” the second result should give the detailed instructions.

  9. Carol A. H.

    #2 worshacf:

    Did you by any chance save something about a particular person in your SHOEBOX? The Ancestry system also gives you “member connects” on any one whom you saved a record in the shoebox. Of course Ancestry’s system occasionally gives you a “member connect” that has nothing to do with any of your trees or shoebox. That has happened to me a few times. I notified Ancestry and it stopped happening. They said it was a glitch.

  10. Carol A. H.

    Thanks, Paul #11.

    You gave me an answer to a problem for which I never found an answer, and always wondered why it wasn’t possible. It would seem even if you have an unconnected person, you could still get the benefit of the automatic Ancestry search for records system.

  11. Carol A. H.

    Aylarja #6, #9, & #10:

    You present a good idea, and one which I have dealt with by adding an “unconnected” person, as a reference to a fact or event. If an unrelated person was in the life of my relative, the relationship, though distant and/or not by blood or marriage, may help verify my work. But I’m not sure Ancestry/FTM would go for it. I’ll bet there is some software in business that implements your idea. But it is probably out of the genealogist’s range, cost wise. And not on Ancestry’s priority list.

    I guess I’m both a genealogist and a family historian. I will occasionally save information on a “possible” connection, if I have a strong reason to think there may be a real connection just waiting for me to find it. (The computer can’t do this kind of thinking.) My hunches have been correct several times. And yes, I do have the unconnected person or two who won’t show up in a printed genealogy until I can make a connection through research. It usually happens when I have so much information that is coincidental but not conclusive with documentation. My program (not FTM) will allow me to connect people later. I don’t know of any program, which will save a person, as a, say, business partner, neighbor, or witness, etc. except the one Andy mentioned: The Master Genealogist. I have a friend who uses it and she loves it. Steep learning curve, though. Otherwise I guess you have to use some kind of note.

  12. worshacf

    Carol A. H. #12

    Appreciate your response. No, didn’t save those names to my shoebox, nor did I ever do a search for those people.

    I don’t buy into “any record in my shoebox” creating a “Member Connect Activity” notification either. I have about 25 saved there and have never had a “Member Connect Activity” notification.

    Ellen Anderson is the name saved in my shoebox (25 or so different records under her name). Obviously she has a very common name, therefore if your theory is correct, then I’d be getting an enormous amount of notifications, but I have not received even one.

  13. PamDj

    Aylarja #6
    I’m with Carol #14 on this. Have you considered adding the unrelated person in FTM, then adding a custom fact against them and the person with whom you want to record the relationship, in order to cross-referece them?
    It’s not creating any relationship but seems to be a way of keeping track.
    It’s a shame that when you set up a custom fact which has the attribute ‘shared’, you don’t get a choice of individual to share it with – FTM seems to assume that facts can only be shared with a spouse and none other, so it means twice the work to set them up.

  14. Aylarja

    Carol (#14) and PamDj (#17),

    Thanks for your suggestions. I have tried in the past to create a “shared” fact for two individuals not known to be related by blood or marriage, but FTM seems to assume that any shared fact means either marriage or some marriage-like relationship. That to me is a deal-breaker for using shared facts for this purpose.

    I have resorted to including names in other custom facts, and creating custom facts for the purpose of tracking, say, witnesses on a marriage or death certificate. But, as PamDj noted, this does not create a relationship. It is possibly a little more elegant than a simple text note, although I am not honestly sure that it is actually any more effective.

    Others have cited The Master Genealogist as the one application that does currently provide for relationships apart from strict family ones. I have not yet tried it, though I am tempted to. But even though I do not feel too threatened by its learning curve, I am not overly impressed by its user interface. Having powerful features does not excuse poor design or user-interface inconsistencies – and on this point I do credit Family Tree Maker. It is an elegant program that is relatively easy to use and understand.

    I agree with Carol A. H. that adding a non-family-relationship feature to FTM is likely not on Ancestry’s list to-dos. If true, this disappoints me because I think the usefulness of such a feature would be obvious. FTM has added new features in the past (although I find the updates from version to version are usually tweaks to the user experience rather than actual new features). My hope is that this idea will reach the attention of someone who might be willing to explore it further. But until then, I guess I’ll be a voice in the wilderness!

  15. Aylarja Re: #18

    You should try the 30 free trial download TMG offers. It really is worth the learning curve and once you are accustomed to it the interface isn’t really that bad.

  16. Jan Murphy

    Calico Pie’s program Family Historian has an ‘associated person’ feature which can link two individuals, and you can record the nature of the relationship. Like TMG, a free trial is available. If FTM isn’t meeting your needs, why not try something else?

  17. I have a simple solution that has works for me. I make several folders of POSSIBLE family links. First folder for the particular FAMILIY NAME, with sub folders for obituaries, census, or documenents and pictures. I like to make folders in My pictures and keep everything in JPG. Many times I have gone back to these folders and found one that was a link to my family. I can print or copy and paste the info with ease in many cases or just pick out the information you need. I can delete those that I find are absolutely not related or save them. When I search the Obituaries I find my greatest connections later so I save all of those with my snip it tool. Works Great.I keep My Pictures folder minimized to I can look as I search. It also keeps me from duplicating a Possible Relative. Why do I choose Jpg and My Pictures? Because I can double click to enlarge for reading and print if I want it.

  18. Aylarja

    Andy Hatchett (#19) and Jan Murphy (#20),

    I do appreciate your recommendations, and will likely download and investigate both The Master Genealogist and Family Historian when I have more time to do so.

    I would like to bring this comment back around to the original blog post, which essentially recognized a gap or a weakness in Family Tree Maker (although Tana didn’t specifically use those terms), and asked how users work around that gap. As a current FTM user who likes many aspects of the program, I wish that Tana or someone from would at least consider this response to her question: bridge the gap programmatically in FTM itself. Add the ability to create unspecified relationships to FTM so that researchers can maintain those connections of evidence for future investigation.

  19. Carol A. H.

    #15 worshacf:

    Sorry my idea didn’t help you. I agree, Ellen Anderson is a very common name and with 25 records in your shoebox, it would seem you would have some member connects. I only know that occasionally I have had these “connects” and couldn’t figure why I was getting them until I checked my shoebox. I can’t explain the Ancestry inconsistencies. I have read in the blogs of people having all kinds of weird problems that I don’t have and can’t explain that either. Customer support does their best but even they don’t always have the answers.

  20. Chris R

    I think FTM needs three things to sort this out properly:

    1. A filter on the index to show only unrelated persons, to make it easy to find them again.
    2. A new report that shows all unrelated persons and their facts and notes.
    3. A way of linking an unrelated person to someone in your tree. When you display the person in the tree there would be a hyperlink to the unrelated person and a category (‘witness’, ‘possible brother’ etc.)

    The first two would be very easy to do as they are just additions to mechanisms that already exist. The third would require work as it would need an extra link in the database.

  21. It IS possible to generate a list of disconnected induviduals in FTM 2010.

    Create a Source called “DISCONNECTED INDIVIDUALS” and then link this as a source to every such individual’s name. Then if you select this source in the “Sources” view, the “Links” tab displays a clickable list of all disconnected records.

    I go one step further and associate a custom fact called “Reason Disconnected” with each such record where I give brief details of the item’s relevance.

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