Blended families, those with one or two multiple marriages leave different subsets of children up to and including those in the movie “Yours, Mine and Ours.” One of my favorite parts of the book, Who Gets the Drumstick, about the Beardsley family in California, was the litany of names listed for the mass adoption, starting with Colleen Marie North. Step-family stories are as old as Cinderella and Snow White with really evil stepmothers and then Henry the VIII who managed to take the whole marriage story to his own level, cause international rifts, create a new church and alienate his children by various marriages. Yikes.
Researching Step-Families and Blended Families
Two hundred years ago most blended family situations arose because of the death of a spouse and the subsequent remarriage of the widow or widower. A young husband dies in a farm accident, the family sends over a younger brother to help out with the harvest and chores, six to twelve months later, another young widow marries her first husband’s younger brother. A young wife dies in childbirth, the family sends over another daughter to help out with the children and new baby, six to twelve months later a widower marries his first wife’s younger sister. It happened frequently enough to become a cliche.
Proximity and economic circumstances had a lot to do with second marriages. A widow left with a farm and children needed help on the farm. A widower left the same way needed help in house with the children. If a young woman was not available in the family or locally in the neighborhood, the new infant and maybe the next youngest child might be farmed out to relatives on either side who could take care of an infant or small children. If the immediate econmic burden was relieved by older children, neighbors taking the infants, servants, or siblings arriving to help, then time could be had to search for the perfect spouse. If the family was well off enough to have servants, farm hands or slaves, then the remarriage issue was not as imminent and could wait a while. Death happens, life continues, babies need milk, children need minding, crops need tending. Remarriage was the likely solution.
Those families are especially tough to untangle, a woman marrying two brothers still pulls names from the same stock and sometimes names the first son of the second marriage after her first spouse, the beloved brother of her second husband. The same goes for a widower marrying a younger (or older) sister, the names come from the same stockpile and sometimes the first daughter of a second marriage is named for the first wife, an honor and an act of love. Unrelated second marriages don’t have that extra layer of confusion. There is apt to be a longer lapse between the last birth of the first family and the first birth of the second family. The second set of children have another pool of names to draw from and the first spouses’ names are less likely to be used (except of course unless the names are also the new in-laws names). Positioning in census enumerations can offer good clues.
Fast forward two hundred years, blended families still exist, many more step-families caused by divorce and remarriage than death and remarriage. In that scenario marrying two brothers or two sisters sequentially seems more like a tacky soap opera plot than an economic rescue. As the divorce rate skyrockets there are part time blended families. In general, but not always, kids stay with their mother, so as her second husband raises her children, his children are being raised by his first wife’s next spouse. The mother’s first husband is also off raising some other woman’s children. The lines cross and tangle and create their own sets of step-families with step-siblings and half-siblings. All of which is up for grabs if the second marriages don’t work out. Then there are the issues involved in stepparents adopting stepchildren. However you research, blocks in the way may be step-families at the crux of tangled path.