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October 9, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Listing Adopted Children in an Obituary Story

How to include non-biological family members with tact

Listing Adopted Children in an Obituary Story
Families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. In the case of a family that has adopted, there may be some extra things to consider before writing an obituary. (Getty Images)

It can be tricky to find the perfect way to phrase a list of predecessors and survivors in an obituary. This tradition of noting the kin of the deceased dates provides a record of familial relationships for the public. This information helps readers connect genealogists in their research.

While it may seem obvious how to list close relatives like parents, siblings, and children, many people struggle with wording this part of the obituary. When members of the family were adopted, the obituary writer needs to understand the nuances of adoption, and the family's preference.

Rule of thumb

There's a quick rule of thumb that will work for listing adopted children in any obituary story.

Treat adopted children exactly the same as biological children. 

There is no need to mention adoption in an obituary story, unless specifically requested by those directly concerned in the matter (either the child or parent). 

Adoption etiquette

Families with adopted children are often on the receiving end of insensitive and intrusive questions that other families don't experience. Often, these come from curious people who have the best of intentions, but lack the awareness to realize it's not polite. 

  • Don't exclude

It should go without saying, but adopted children should always be included in obituaries if names of relatives are being mentioned.  

  • Don't differentiate

An adopted child is as much a part of their family in every way a biological child is. There need not be any distinction between a child that was conceived by their parents and one that was adopted. That means not mentioning their country of origin, adoption date, or the circumstances of the adoption without a good reason and express permission.

Don't mention the adoption, unless the people involved specifically ask for this. Children who were not adopted are usually listed only by name and relationship (eg. "She is survived by sons Sam, Chris and Adrian.).  

  • Don't praise the adoption

Don't praise adopted parents for adopting. Many people admire adoptive parents, but praising them can be negative for the children involved:

"...such praise can be unsettling: If parents are "special" for adopting, it implies that it takes an extraordinary person to take on an unlovable child, a charity case."


  • Praise the deceased's character

An obituary wishing to praise an adoptive parent in an obituary should instead highlight their parenting, relationships with their children and kindness, without reminding the children they should consider themselves 'lucky'.

  • List children by age

When listing children in an obituary, write their names in order of age. This helps remove any preferential bias when there are both biological and adopted children. 

  • Use sensitive language 

Don't use language that is disparaging to adoptive parents or their children. A mom who adopts is a 'real' mother;' a child who is adopted was not 'chosen', 'lucky' or 'unwanted'. Keep the language in the obituary unbiased, and speak to the strength of the relationships rather than how the relationships came about. 

  • Above all, don't reveal an adoption that is not public knowledge

If the deceased person was not open about an adoption in their family, the obituary story isn't the best place to reveal this information. Consider the family's preferences and comfort level before writing any kind of private information into an obituary story. 

What if the deceased or their children want to mention adoption in the obituary?

It's not inherently offensive to discuss adoption in an obituary story. If specifically desired, the writer of the obituary may include information about an adoption in the written life story. There are some cases where more details about the adoption could enhance the life story. 

Create an Obituary

Including adopted children in an obituary is simple: List decedents and survivors by name and relationship as you would in any other obituary, regardless of the family history. 

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