Tuesday 17 January 2017

Two (or more) Families in One

As I look at information about my ancestors, both direct and otherwise, I find there are many where one partner in a couple had been married before and, in most cases had a child or children from those unions. Those relationships can sometimes get in the way of identifying what the situations really were and who was directly related to whom.

I wrote about one such family in a post on 15 September 2013, Mistaken Assumptions from Register Notes: Nicholls-MacKenny Case Study. I also commented on 13 January 2015 about these blended families and half-brothers and sisters in my post, Don’t Forget About Those Half Brothers and Sisters. And then there was the story about my wife’s great-grandfather Hugh MacKay who married successive women named Isabel (blog post 29 September 2015, Hugh and the Isabels). I pointed out in a post of 18 August 2015 that the photo on this blog is of a mixed family, Moving 3 – Mayfield Family. The children of the ladies on both ends of the back row of the photo, are my “Half 1st Cousins – Twice Removed.”

Anyway, I keep running into these kinds of families. They seem to be very common, especially those who lived hundreds of years ago. That may be partly, or mostly due to the fact that life was more fragile and diseases or accidents often had tragic endings with one parent succumbing leaving the other to look after a young family. Often a sibling of a deceased individual married the survivor. At other times, two widowed people, each with their own brood found solace in a union together – in part out of compassion and in part from economic necessity. And sometimes a lady with an illegitimate child (or two) found a fellow to fall in love with and marry. Children of these marriages were undoubtedly lucky, to gain a father, protector and supporter.

I have noticed that many family trees online do not seem to take into account, or possibly even notice that one partner or another had been married more than once and had more than one set of offspring. Many children are confused among the group and are attached to a mother or father that really was not their own, biologically speaking. Occasionally there is a young child shown on a census as a son or daughter of the head of the household who was actually the illegitimate offspring of one of their own near-adult children. These youngsters end up being raised by their grandparents and unless their birth records are found their origin may well be confused.

On my wife’s side, both sets of her grandparents were part of blended families. Those were somewhat easy to sort out as we had first-hand accounts from her parents as to whom all the siblings were. It does not mean we have been able to find out everything we would like to know about all of them. That is proving to be a challenge. On her paternal side, both sets of great-grandparents also had mixed families. So she has a lot of half-cousins, half-aunts and half-uncles!

Interestingly, my Legacy program shows one such person from her paternal grandfather’s family as her Uncle but his spouse as Wife of Half-Uncle. Their children are identified as 1st Cousins, and the spouses or those individuals as husbands or wives of Half-1st Cousins. In a different branch it identifies the son from her maternal grandfather’s first marriage as Half-Uncle. The connection through bloodlines is the same. The program did indicate the mother of her half-uncles and aunts as Wife of Grandfather rather than Step-Grandmother. I did go back further and found a Half-Granduncle and his Wife of Half-Granduncle.

Now I am curious why it does not recognize all such relations with consistent terminology. Do other programs do the same thing? Perhaps Legacy can provide information about this one. The one thing the program does do with mixed families is show the children differently, with the designation “1/2” in front of their names depending on which spouse you are looking at.

So why am I writing about this aspect again today. Well, a return to searching for information about my wife’s family, in particular her grandfather that I referenced above, led to me looking for one of her Half-Granduncles. He is shown on the record of his marriage as “Robert Milne, known as Robert McKay.” He was illegitimate, born in 1898, and grew up in the family of Alexander McKay after Alexander married Mary Ann Milne in 1902. What is interesting is that he was identified occasionally under both surnames.
Robert Milne, aka Robert McKay – ca 1925
Sometimes children from the children of one marriage may end up living with members of the second family. This may particularly be true where grandparents are involved. That was the case with a granddaughter of my wife’s great-grandfather, Hugh MacKay. Her presence on both the 1891 and 1901 Scotland census allowed me to identify children from his first marriage and, thus, the name of their mother in that post about Hugh and his wives named Isabel.

Families get mixed up! Most of us will find ancestors who married more than once and had children with different spouses. Sometimes both parents will have married previously complicating the relationships further. On our family trees these half-cousins may also have half-siblings and half-cousins of their own, completely unrelated to us. It can be a challenge to work out all the relationships that make up our “Family” but those people are still part of our overall history.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated