Cousins are Cousins.
I have very few first cousins. First cousins once removed, second cousins, and third cousins abound, including two second cousins who are adopted. Because my great Aunt Mary’s daughter was lucky enough to adopt a girl and a boy, adoption has always been in my life. I am not sure when they were adopted, in the 1960s sometime (hmmm, why have I never asked that or if it was an open or a closed adoption? Don’t know, didn’t ask, it was a non-issue.) They are younger than I am, so they haven’t always been in my life, but they have always been in my memory. When I read The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss, her adopted family seemed very exotic compared to my cousins, who were just like all my other cousins, run of the mill relatives. Upon reflection, it was no big deal. A first cousin once removed adopted a son and then had three more children. One of my second cousins adopted a little girl from Guatemala and a third cousin adopted two children from China. Again no big deal.
When a relative gives a baby up for adoption, that child and its descendants would be followed in a printed genealogy for DNA reasons,if possible. When an adoption was between relatives, an aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin, or grandparent adopting and raising a child, the adoption should be mentioned under the biological parent, and the children brought down and numbered under the adoptive parent.
In a standard genealogy, stepchildren are mentioned in the text and/or the footnotes, not given a consecutive family member personal number, and their children or grandchildren are NOT followed further. However when a beloved stepparent is honored in the naming of a baby, this highlights a special relationship. It is possible some late-in-life remarriages include stepchildren who have never lived with the nuclear family formed by that marriage. These stepchildren may have families of their own, live elsewhere, just not interact with their new stepparent, or be unknown and in that case, they will not even be mentioned in a footnote.
Some researchers make a conscious choice not to include descendants of women, adopted children, stepchildren in genealogies and family histories; women because their children do not carry the surname, adopted children because they do not carry the genes, and stepchildren because they carry neither the name nor the DNA. All that excluding may be defensible from a DNA aspect but not from an emotional, legal, or surname standpoint. For intra-familial adoption, it isn’t even true from a DNA aspect. Then there is the inclusive way, including descendants of women, adopted children, stepchildren and foster children. Numbering systems have been designed to include adoptions and distinctly but unobtrusively demarcate adoptive lines. If you are searching for a kidney, or tracking inherited genetic traits like left handedness, those distinctions are important.
The emotional standpoint is more important, so I include the descendants of every child, adoptive and biologic, who genetically, emotionally or legally belong within a specific nuclear family. When known, stepchildren and foster children raised in the family, are included in the text or footnotes. Foster children who might have been with the family for less than a year or a family with so many foster children, that they don’t all know each other, might be left out. Stepchildren, acquired (or lost) in post childhood remarriages or divorces, may not be featured or even mentioned, especially with serial monogamists. If a couple married and there are no biological children, no stepchildren in the house, no step-grandchildren at the holiday dinner table, that’s one thing. But if one of the couple is raising children from a previous union, adopted or not, attending dance recitals, ball games, celebrations and graduations, then emotionally they are a family. Maybe these children don’t technically belong in a genealogy, but they do deserve mention in a family history. Adopted children are part of a family in every way except genetically, so they are always included with a notation of adoption to differentiate for genetic reasons or DNA research comparisons, a superscript number one (1) instead of the generation’s superscript shared by others in the same generation from the immigrant. Children of an adoptee are given a superscript number (2) instead of the number shared by their first cousins.
I have a friend who is raising two of her son’s ex-wife’s children. One of them is her biological grandchild or might be her biological grandchild, the other one isn’t. Or maybe one is a biological grandchild and they thought the other one was and that isn’t so. Five or so years ago, she lined it all out for me because she knew I am a genealogist and wanted to get the lines straight. I have since forgotten, as she certainly doesn’t care. I don’t think she can adopt these kids, since both parents are living, but she is definitely raising them. They live with her and her husband. I have forgotten if they call her Grandma, or Mom, or Grandma Amy, or Mama Amy, or some other variant. It doesn’t matter, she and her husband are the nuclear family for these two kids, adoption or not, genetics or not, emotionally they are it. Researching her family, I would include them both. Family is not just genetics, but what you make it.
The more inclusive your research, the better picture you reconstruct of your ancestors’ lives. Leaving adopted children out of the story for genetic reasons is short sighted. Emotional reasons are just important. It goes back to the eternal question of nature vs. nurture which I prefer to phrase, nature and nurture. Both count.
Adoptions in the nineteenth century were not always formal, compared to the legal proceedings that evolved in the middle of the twentieth century. Compare the adoptions in the book Mrs. Mike and those in the book Who Gets the Drumstick? Some adoption statistics and adoption history have been compiled in the Adoption History Project by the University of Oregon. There is also a book by Barbara Melosh, Strangers and King: The American Way of Adoption, that may throw more light on how adoption forms families.