Adoption and Surnames
A son was born with one surname. At about age two, his mother remarried. From this time forward, records show him with the surname of his mother's second husband: Hoskins. Notably, the death record and Find A Grave show his surname as Hoskins, which is not the surname of his biological father. To date, there's no available legal adoption record. Is there a FamilySearch webpage explaining the dos and don'ts of this issue?
There is logic which addresses this issue. First, if the child has not used a surname after the age of 2, that means that surname will literally be in no records except for an original birth cert. It also means that everyone who knew that child as an adult will not recognize the name. You will really hurt your ability to research by using the birth name because nothing will come back in the search result. Second, when a name was LEGALLY changed, there should be an obligation to use it. I have a deceased cousin who was adopted as an infant. Even tho her birth parentage is known, her death certificate and marriage certificate use her legal name and names her legal parents. There is NO mention of adoption on her death cert. For my (living) adopted relatives whose family histories I am doing, I attach the birth father with his legal name to the record of my adopted relatives with their legal name. Different names, still a birth relationship. My husband has a first cousin who was adopted out and that tree also has the name switch between son and father with different names. For every ancestor of mine who changed their name in a naturalization process, I use the legal name, but there the nuance changes. I also have an AKA for what the surname used to be prior to the naturalization.
Do NOT use a name for a person if they did not use it past infancy. I lump age 2 into that as well.2
Before the 20th century, in the areas of the world I'm familiar with researching, adoption by a stepfather was seldom legally formalized. People often simply used the surnames of the fathers who raised them. If families were combined when children were older -- especially if there were step-siblings with the same given names [a not-infrequent possibility] -- then the biological parentage had greater sway in naming, but it could still go either way. (This is one of the many possible reasons for people appearing in different register entries with different surnames, sometimes with later corrections or additions of the other surname.)
FS's guidance on name entry tends toward the vague. This is at least partly understandable: a lot depends on the specifics, and there is a lot of variation by time and place. My own personal rule of thumb is that the best-known name goes in Vitals. Thus, in your specific case, where the birth name was basically unknown after the age of two, the actually-used name should be in Vitals, and the birth name can be entered under Other Information. ("Birth Name" is one of the choices, after all.)3
Thanks. Julia Szent-Györgyi!
In this case, the boy was born in Utah in 1908. His mother remarried in 1910. His birth surname was Day, but he is called Hoskins the 1920 Census, 1928 death certificate, his burial record, and etched into his headstone. I don't know if legal adoptions were recorded in Utah this early in Utah's 20th-century records.0
@Kenneth L Shelley if you are concerned about people forgetting his birth lineage, then you should add his birth father and put in the notes what the story is and why the surnames are different. Also make sure all relationships are correct, ie who is the birth father and who is the adoptive (presumed) father.
I have a cousin of my grandfather's who has an unusual story and I have spent much more time on him than one would think for a person that distantly related. One of the things about him is he, too, died young, leaving a 4 or 5 year old child in the 1950s. Mom remarried and I presume there was a legal adoption but I do not know. That child has since grown, had a family and passed on himself. What I have confirmed is that all of the descendants of that boy have taken the surname of the second husband.
Out of concern for DNA matches who may not know about the correct surname ancestry, I actually put both surnames in the child's last name. A bit unusual for me, but I think this exemplifies how every situation can be different.1
All of these answers are great! Definitely you can add more than one set of parents. FamilySearch Family Tree is built to handle multiple parents you can even set the parent-child relationship to reflect the type of relationship (step, foster, adopted, biological...)
I just wanted to let you know that sometimes the stepfather did legally adopt the child. I have one in my family also in Utah; his father died 1912, mother remarried in 1914 and his son had the actual adoption paperwork. Which became a funny story because they got his age off by one year...he was given a legal birthdate that made him one year younger than he actually was (found him on the census at 9 months old).
However, I have no idea how often in early 1900s Utah that a step-parent legally adopted his step-children. My family may have been unusual.0
And my experience is very like @Julia Szent-Györgyi's. My great-grandparents were both widowed, with children, when they married in 1892. A son born in 1890 to my GGM and her first husband is listed in the census, his 1901 newspaper death notice (age 11), his death certificate, and his burial record with the surname of my GGF, his stepfather. Only his baptismal record shows his birth name, but his name was never officially changed; no adoption occurred.0