Families come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are small with only one child, and some have 15. Some are mostly boys, some mostly girls and some more even mix of genders. How do those kinds of differences impact a couple when they marry?
I’ve seen firsthand what some of these differences look like. I’m one of six children and my father is one of eight. Our holiday celebrations were big to-do’s with lots of relatives, and tables set up in dining rooms, kitchens and family rooms to seat all the cousins, aunts and uncles who gathered to celebrate. How proud you were when you finally “graduated” to the grown-ups table. But my husband had a much different experience – he was one of three boys, his father was an only child, and his mom had two sisters who lived half-way across the country. For me, a big table with lots of people around it seems a requirement to a proper holiday celebration, and it’s taken some time for Mark to understand why I might be a little blue when it’s just us and the kids for Easter (and worse now, when it’s only the two of us as the kids grow up and establish traditions that involve their spouse or partner and what a holiday means to them!)
But it’s not just holidays. Birth order and family size shape our personalities. Parents like to think they make all the mistakes on the first born, but that first born also gets a lot of attention and expectations heaped upon him. Imagine the experience of a baby boy born into a house with four or five older sisters who may dote on this new little doll and spoil him rotten – the woman who marries that little prince better be prepared for a man who expects he will continue to be treated like royalty. And in how many families is the youngest daughter expected to put her life on hold and tend to her aging parents – my great-aunt Brownie was just such a daughter, and didn’t marry until she was 40, after her parents had passed away (and then she managed to have three babies in 31 months!)
To help me look at this phenomenon of how family size and birth order might play into peoples’ lives, I’ve created a chart. On this chart, I’ve captured both my husband’s and my ancestors, just to see how different we are in some generations and perhaps how similar in others. Genealogists out there might recognize it’s a bit of a different presentation than your standard generation chart because I wanted to show husbands and wives right next to each other to try to make some sense of the impact their childhood experience might play in their union. It’s not necessarily a straight-up “genetic” chart because in those instances where one parent died and the remaining parent remarried, I tried to include the half-siblings wherever they fell into the family.
For the nitty-gritty of the chart, I’ve used those standard (aka sexist) colors of pink for girls and blue for boys. I put an X for ourselves and our direct ancestors’ places in their families. And because I recognize that the loss of a child impacts the siblings and parents in powerful ways, I used an exclamation mark “!” to designate siblings lost sometime in childhood. With my own research, I could come up with the family size and structure from my generation up to the great-grandparent level fairly easily, but ran into some trouble beyond that. For instance, with some of my Irish and German immigrant ancestors I don’t know much about their family of origin or their place in it. I’ve got a lot of question marks…
A shout-out to genealogist, J Paul Hawthorne, who started the colored chart phenomenon. It really has captured my imagination as to how a graphical representation of data can make it come alive. If you want to do your own chart, I’ve created a blank chart, all ready for you to fill in with names and pink and blue boxes. You can see it on my website at http://www.mkrgenealogy.com/links.html Fill in your family and let me know if you find any insight into your ancestors' couplehood!
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.