Follow TV Tropes


Tangled Family Tree

Go To
Omitted: Wanda (top left, framed in red)'s robot husband and their own Tangled Family Tree. Or Cable's adopted daughter who may or may not be his mother reincarnated. Or the various retcons that have happened since this graph's creation. Let's leave it at that for your sanity's sake. (See full table with annotated names here)

"If you wannabe a Summers
You have got to live
Through time travel, death, and cloning,
But that's the way it is."
X-Men filk, to the tune of "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls

Tropes like Luke, I Am Your Father, Family Relationship Switcheroo, Separated at Birth, Everyone Is Related, My Own Grampa, Cain and Abel and Seth, and the Evil Twin make for drama, and they're an easy way of shaking up the dynamics of a long-running series. Sometimes a little too easy. Layer too many of those tropes onto the same group of characters, and what you end up with is a Tangled Family Tree.

This isn't just a Dysfunctional Family; this is a family with members so numerous, relationships so tangled, and circumstances so bizarre that it's impossible to keep track of them without a flow chart.

Tangled Family Trees are commonly seen in comics and soap operas, both of which have long-running continuities focusing on one group of characters through decades of changing hands from writer to writer. It is also a common phenomenon in mythology, folklore, and oral traditions for much the same reasons (with "long running continuities" being measured in centuries, and different "writers", including oral retellings by people who may or may not have been literate). Indeed, tropes like Continuity Snarl and the Tangled Family Tree happening in modern works of fiction can help us understand exactly how ancient mythology evolved.


Incest, Time Travel, cloning and genetic engineering, reincarnation, Practically Different Generations, Extra Parent Conception, Related in the Adaptation, and Alternate Universes can all contribute to creating a Tangled Family Tree. For obvious reasons, any family with a Tangled Family Tree is likely to be a Big, Screwed-Up Family as well. If it's a case of Royal Inbreeding, this probably overlaps with Royally Screwed Up. Often this is a Continuity Snarl looking for a place to happen, as sometimes a single genealogy can become so complex that even the writers can't keep it straight. This is the kind of family that you want to in-breed just to consolidate the branches.

Compare One Degree of Separation, Everyone Is Related and Love Dodecahedron (which this trope can result from). Contrast Single Line of Descent.


SPOILER WARNING. These convoluted relationships tend to be tied in with every event in the plot, especially the family secrets.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fairy Tales 
  • Tatterhood has a rather odd ending, where the title character marries a prince while her twin sister marries the prince's father.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Devil's Rejects, how the members of the Firefly clan are related to one another is complicated and never fully explained. Otis and Baby refer to each other as brother and sister throughout the movie; Captain Spaulding is Baby's father but doesn't appear to be related to Otis; Mama Firefly is presumably the mother of Baby, Otis (in House of 1000 Corpses they say she adopted him into the family) as well as Tiny, the deformed giant, and Rufus (from the beginning of the movie). Then we meet a black pimp named Charlie who Captain Spaulding says is his brother (presumably his adopted or half-brother). Really, this goes for almost all Hillbilly Horrors-type films, due to presumed inbreeding, rape, and forced "adoption".
  • In Transformers, Sam's family tree apparently suggests two generations of inbreeding. It's more likely, however, that Sam just did a very poor job on his school assignment. Partially justified, since he likely used the assignment to advertise his stuff from eBay. However, the fifth movie reveals Sam's family is part of an ancient clan known as the Witwiccans, going back to Arthurian times. In an attempt to keep the family alive, inbreeding might have happened.
  • Wolves: The three Wills Brothers and Cayden are second cousins, but it is unclear whether they are related to him through his father (Connor), his maternal grandmother (the sister of John Tollerman) or his paternal grandfather. Neither Connor nor John indicates any closeness or kinship with them, but they could just be estranged.
  • You've Got Mail: Thanks to his father and grandfather taking up with and having children with younger women, 40-something Joe has an 11-year-old half-aunt and a 4-year-old half-brother, both of whom are naturally mistaken for his children when he takes them out for the day.
    "She's my grandfather's daughter, he's my father's son. We're an American family."

  • "I'm My Own Grandpa," which manages to create the eponymous situation with neither incest nor Time Travel, just a couple of unlikely marriages. If you marry a widow, and your father marries that widow's daughter, you become your own grandpa... in-law. Most of the song is working out the relationships when both families start having children.
    • Also, though this isn't pointed out in the song, the two children that are born are simultaneously each other's uncle and nephew, biological both ways, again, without incest.
  • "None but the Lonely Heart" — A Spike Jones Soaperetta.

  • In a collection of puzzles called A Tangled Tale, Lewis Carroll poses a problem: The Governor of Kgovjni wants to give a very small dinner party, and invites his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father. Find the number [minimum possible number] of guests. The optimal family tree is, of course, very tangled. The answer given is one guest. However, it is possible to create a family tree with zero guests, meaning that the governor is his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father.


    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • One of Jeff Foxworthy's indications of being a redneck:
    "If your family tree does not fork, you might be a redneck."

    Tabletop Gaming 
  • The Great Houses and their vassal lords in the Inner Sphere in the hex-based tactical game BattleTech is a tangled mess. One particular knot revolves around one Victor Steiner-Davion and his progeny. Born to Melissa of House Steiner, the ruling family of the Lyran Commonwealth, and First Prince Hanse of House Davion, ruler of the Federated Suns. His mother was daughter to one of the greatest Archons in recent Lyran history, and his father was the Magnificent Bastard of the story. Victor would later sire a son with Omiko Kurita, daughter of the ruling family of the Draconis Combine and ancestral enemy of the Davions (and he would only learn of this son long after he had grown to adulthood and Omi had been assassinated). He would also wed Isis Marik, illegitimate daughter of the "Real" Thomas Marik, of the ruling family of the Free Worlds League, the ancestral enemies of his mother's family. He then fathered three children with her. Did we mention Victor's sister Katherine stole his DNA and mixed it with her own to create Alaric Wolf?
  • Deadlands has the Whateley family. Not only is it absurdly incestuous, gnarling the whole family tree into something of a shrub, but due to all the manners of messed-up magic and romances with Things it also has plenty of non-euclidean branches to make it worse. Seeing an accurate portrayal of this family tree drawn out in the Whateley Family Bible can actually dent your sanity pretty severely.
  • Exalted:
    • The Scarlet Dynasty. Eleven Houses, most descended from a particular child or consort of the 700-year-old Empress, all of whom are mostly marrying with each other in all shades of Kissing Cousins. And since they live to be 300 and are physically in the prime of their lives until a few years before their deaths, there's a lot of 200-year-olds marrying young 20-year-olds, making for kinship relations more convoluted than almost anywhere else.
    • Try living in Malfeas, the Demon City, where a significant portion of the local vocabulary is devoted to describing such phenomena as being related to someone's twenty-seventh soul, being the whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts of hundreds of demon lords, or living in a portion of the landscape that happens to also be your father.
  • The original Black Box edition of the Ravenloft setting included a series of family trees for such prominent bloodlines as the Boritsis, d'Honaires, Weathermays, and Von Zaroviches. As the purpose of these was to seed people's Ravenloft campaigns with story ideas, each tree had several built-in plot hooks, and a few were connected to others through intermarriage or the like.
  • Scion being a game about the modern children of the gods of myth, it's entirely possible that any given PC is part of this (as seen under Religion & Mythology).
  • Enforced with the Navigator houses of Warhammer 40,000: the gene that allows Navigators to "see" into the Warp and lets them guide ships through it isn't expressed when a Navigator breeds with a normal human, resulting in massively inbred families (and the results aren't pretty: freakishly elongated, blind, and growing a third eye that has to be blindfolded otherwise it instakills anything looking at it).

    Visual Novels 
  • Princess Waltz. It's hard to get into too much detail without major spoilers, but let's give it a shot. A man and a woman (let's call them Bob and Alice) got married and had a son, Charlie. Alice's sister Denise had two daughters, Emily and Faye. When the second generation grew up, Emily married Charlie (her cousin) and had a son, Greg. However, Faye seduced Charlie as well, and had a daughter, Hannah. When Greg and Hannah grew up, they became the protagonist of the game and his primary love interest, Arata and Chris. Interestingly, no one ever mentions this.
  • In the backstory of School Days, thanks to the exploits of Makoto's father Tomaru, practically all the characters in the expanded universe are related to one another. As shown by this page, Tomaru has someone who is his daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, great-great-granddaughter, great-great-great-granddaughter, half-great-great-great grandniece and lover (and, thanks to drugs, pregnant with his son at the age of five).
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, Kinzo and Beatrice I had a daughter, Beatrice II. Kinzo then had another child with Beatrice II: Sayo Yasuda, also known as Shannon/Kanon/Beatrice III. Now realize that Sayo Yasuda is in a relationship with three of Kinzo's grandchildren, and how those guys are actually connected in the family tree. Yep.
  • In the Zero Escape series, you have to literally account the fourth dimension to draw Sigma's family tree: Sigma himself exists as both his 22-year-old self and 67-year-old self during Virtue's Last Reward. They switch consciousnesses, so you have 67yo Sigma in his 22yo body participating in the Decision Game shown in the sequel Zero Time Dilemma while his 22yo self takes part in the third Nonary Game during VLR in his 67yo body. During the Decision Game, 67yo Sigma falls in love and impregnates Diana with their twins, Phi and Delta, who are then sent back in time, grow up separately, and later both participate in the Decision Game (as participant and mastermind respectively) by the time it happens. Between ZTD and VLR, Sigma and Akane start making plans to save the world from Radical-6, and Sigma creates a clone of himself that he came to see as his son, Kyle. When Kyle wants a mother, Sigma creates a robot called Luna, made in the likeness of Diana, who falls in love with Sigma, while he sees her as another daughter that was meant to be a mother to Kyle, who goes on to see Akane as his real mother. So yeah, things are complex.
    • Also, due to the way the time machine works, Phi is her own adoptive mother. Sigma and Diana sent Phi and Delta back to 1904, when a team of German scientists were in possession of the machine. As part of their experiments, they sent Phi to 2008 by herself. However, since the machine only transmits data and makes a copy at the other end, there was still a Phi left in 1904. That Phi became a scientist and got a job at the American facility that purchased the time machine from the Germans, adopting "our" Phi when she came out of the machine in 2008.

    Web Original 
  • Creative (ab)use of the relationship settings on Facebook can result in these.
  • Found (obviously) in the Charles II of Spain episode of Fat, French and Fabulous, but this goes for both hosts as well. Jessica's family is apparently two families that "got Brady-Bunched" in three different places, making her related to several people multiple times. Janel, on the other hand, has a grandmother who was adopted after the family lost a daughter and decided to simply replace her with their servants' child who was around the same age.
  • Madgie, what did you do?: It's hard to explain Bunny and Madgie's family tree, but it is clear it is this trope. The two have so many relatives that it's hard to tell who is related to which. There's also the fact that they are so numerous they are scattered throughout the world, with some of them all being younger than Madgie.
  • After the Tinker Family of The Mad Scientist Wars discovered that The Tinker Twins had adopted Desius and that Vladimir was the long-lost father of Chic Geek, Wallace Cane set out to create a complete family tree. By the time he was done, it took up most of a table.
  • The Bright family from the SCP Foundation is... complicated. Even by SCP standards. One of the five main siblings, TJ, hasn't physically aged since he was 16 and has a daughter who's a fully grown adult. Pretty much all spouses of the family members are only vaguely mentioned in passing on account of the fact that they don't have Bright blood, with the exception being Adam and Evelyn (which, yes, means what you think it means). The family also holds very little standards in concern to sexual partners, resulting in there being dozens of bastard children all over the place. One of whom eventually leads to Joey Tamlin, who travels back in time and kickstarts the whole bloodline. Also, one of them is green. No, not a guy with green skin. The actual color green. There's a reason the family often uses the term "family wreath" instead of "family tree."
  • In Souls RPG, the Lykoi and de le Poer families are quite tangled and intricate.
  • The majority of the cast in Thalia's Musings. It's the Greek Pantheon.
  • Behold the Sparklez Family Tree, an attempt by one Tumblr user to record the romances and honorary family relations between numerous Minecraft content creators (centered on CaptainSparklez, hence the name) using information gathered from numerous SMPs (e.g. Dream SMP, Empires SMP, and Life SMP, to name a few) as well as the general dynamics between said content creators. The results are definitely something, considering there are at least 56 content creators listed in the diagram, on top of the fact of it still being incomplete.
    OP of the post in question: i re-made the entire thing. i hate minecraft youtubers.

Alternative Title(s): Summers Family Tree, Family Thicket