When studying a family unit in the census, it can be easy to miss a “blended family.” A blended family denotes his children, her children and, possibly, their children. Blended families can be obscure if civil or church marriages are incomplete,destroyed or non-existent in an area. They also may be uncertain when death records and tombstones are absent. Here are some tried and tested clues to consider:
- Among the Irish, a man could marry three times and all of his wives may be named Mary. Noting the ages of the various Marys or gaps in the children’s ages can provide more evidence.
- Gaps in the ages of the children are a giveaway. However, historically there was a high rate of infant mortality, this can also explain gaps with no blended families involved.
- Common-law marriages can conceal the presence of a blended marriage. This occurred with some regularity in bygone times. When it is not obvious, how do you know if you are looking at a blended family when the paper trail makes it look otherwise? Which children belong to whom?
- In the case of children from blended families, with what surname do you see them listed in the census schedules? They may all be under the stepfather’s surname, making it look like they are his biological children. If the father dies and the stepmother remarries, then his children may be under the name of her new husband. Be careful and never assume anything.
- If two children in the same family have the same first name, (ex. two Thomases or two Catherines) but a few years apart in age, this may be a clue to a blended family. One of the Thomas children may be a stepson.
While these principles may appear as common sense, it’s important to remember blended families can be complex. This is especially true when civil or church marriages are not evident. Happy hunting!
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