To decide whether or not to include spouses in a family tree, you must first be prepared to answer the question of what it is actually defined as being. According to the dictionary definition of the term family tree, it is a 'genealogical chart showing the ancestry, descent, and relationship of all members of a family'.
An actual tree can turn out to be much more complicated than that term implies, especially if you find previous spouses, adoptive parents etc.
Who do you class as being a family member, however? Do people necessarily have to be related by blood to be a family member? Of course not, but do you include them in your family tree? Some people only wish to include their direct line on a family tree whilst others want to include as many relatives as possible.
Although I have branched out and included other relatives as well as my direct ancestors, I would not want to add spouses’ relations to my family tree, as I feel it would make the tree too complicated (it’s already complicated with intermarriages between families, second and third marriages etc!!), but there are pros and cons to each method of research.
Most people start off a family tree with themselves, gradually moving backwards to include their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on. This will always build up your family tree, but of course the reality is not always as simple as that.
I am sure that as you delve deeper into your family tree, you will come across many people, who, whilst not related biologically, are still considered members of the family, and, as such, should be included in your family tree, but it is entirely up to you who you choose to include.
You never know where family photographs and/or family bibles may have ended up. By including everyone in your family tree, including spouses, you may be able to track down a long-lost cousin who could fill in some gaps in your research, thus leading to you breaking down a possible brick wall.
They may also have some family photographs that could include one or more of your ancestors. My own experience of this was incredibly positive as a distant relative was able to share some family stories and photographs I may not otherwise have had access to, and we met up to discuss the family tree, and were able to help each other with our research.
If you share your family tree online, the more relatives you include the better, because there is a greater possibility that you may find living relatives you are willing share information with you.
I would add a spouse to my family tree if my direct ancestor had been married more than once.
This would give a more rounded view of my ancestor as a whole, and would add more meat to the bones of his or her story.
I am sure that my ancestor John Dunkley’s first wife, Comfort Sturman, who he married on 30 May 1803 in Cogenhoe, Northamptonshire, and her subsequent death on 13 July 1804 in Cogenhoe, made a difference to his life, in just the same way that his second wife, Mary Brown, who he married on 30 October 1806 in Ecton also had an impact on his life.
Do I state that Comfort Sturman has no place in the family tree because she died so soon after John had married her? No of course not, although I would not want to add her parents to my tree. I did, however, add her birth (baptism) and death dates to give a more rounded view of her as a whole.
It is entirely possible, if you trace your family back far enough, and they have not moved from the area they were living in, that you may find that you are also connected in some way to the spouse as well. It is always prudent to write down all the information you discover as your research – you never know when it will become useful!!
It is crucial to always note where you obtained the information – this makes it easier to find the information should you ever need to.
For instance, if you find witnesses to a marriage, and do not know who they were at that point, it is still important to note their names and other information about them because they could turn out to be relations you never knew existed.
One of my ancestor’s sisters, Eleanor Scrivener, married John Smith on 7 January 1756 in Potterspury, Northamptonshire. Further research determined that he was actually a descendant from another of my direct ancestors, but from a direct ancestor living long before the parent of Eleanor.
If one of your ancestor’s parents died whilst they were very young, the parent remarrying, and this person took on the responsibility for raising the child, treating them like their own, you may want to consider the possibility of including their ancestors in your family tree.
This is especially true if they were still alive when you were born and were the only ancestors you ever knew, but if you wish to include them or not is up to you.
It is prudent to start slowly with your family tree, adding only your direct ancestors, and then expanding the tree as you discover more information about your family, but please be aware that your family tree could become ever more complicated, with you quickly losing track of who is on your tree and who is not.
If you begin adding your in-laws families, however, you may feel that you should add all of your other in-laws families too, especially if you find that your grandmother, for example, was one of 10 children.
Should you wish to print off a descendant tree for your ancestor, you must consider that a descendant tree, whilst a great way of showing your research, will not include parents of spouses because they are not descendants of the specific individual concerned.
If you wish to see parents of spouses included on a report you will have to print off an ancestor report or an extended family chart, but this will likely require you to print off hundreds of pages.