Recording Non-married Partnerships in Your Genealogy Database

This is a sensitive topic. Although the last two topics I have covered, divorce and adoption, are sensitive as well, this has the potential to be more so. As a genealogist, I feel it is my duty to record facts, and I also feel that every individual has the right to know who their parents are and what their history is. But some people might be offended to find out that someone in their family tree was not married at the time they had a child, or that anyone in their family tree was living with someone of the opposite sex but was not married to them. I record information that I feel needs to be recorded, but I try to be careful who I share sensitive information with and how I talk about it.

In my family tree, there are at least two women who I am a direct descendant of who fit in this category. Each of them left her husband without divorcing him, then moved to another state and lived with another man, claiming to be married to him. Children were born and raised in these unions, so I feel it is important to record them.

The genealogy programs I have used do not have an option for “never married” in couple relationships. However, most of them do allow me to not add a marriage “event” or “fact” for the couple:

Rootsmagic marriage event

One option is to not add a marriage event and then attach a note to the couple explaining the situation. Another option is to add a marriage event, but in the “date” field, write “never married.” Always add a note to explain why you have concluded that they were never married. Explain yourself well so that you and future researchers don’t go hunting for a marriage record that was already searched for but doesn’t exist!

This is how I have handled this situation for one of my ancestors on FamilySearch:

Never married familysearch

I could probably attach some sources to show my reasoning, and I will in the future, but I have at least included this note to explain things:

No Marriage note

Again, I hope this is helpful. Leave a comment if you have any questions.

More articles in this series:

2 thoughts on “Recording Non-married Partnerships in Your Genealogy Database

  1. Recently, I was just kvetching about this very thing, so I am glad that someone else has questions (and possible solutions) for this issue.

    Although I have found some people in my past who were not officially married, the problem is occurring with much more frequency recently, as more and more people are opting to parent without marriage.

    Sadly, Ancestry.com does not provide its users with an easy way of naming a child’s father or mother without assuming that the two parents are married. And what about domestic partnerships? Or adoptions—What if someone wants to document both his/her biological family and his/her adoptive family?

  2. Yes, while in Ancestry.com it is possible to add a spouse to an individual without adding a marriage event, adding the marriage event is the only way I know of to attach some kind of explanatory note to the relationship. Adoption and step families are easier to record in some programs, as I described in my other posts. But in Ancestry it is very difficult. You can only add one set of parents! In FamilySearch and RootMagic you can add multiple. This is very frustrating.

    Thanks for the comment. I think this kind of thinking about genealogy software will be increasingly helpful in our modern world to help map out families when their shapes keep changing.

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