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Family Size in Your Family Tree


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I've gotten into genealogy as a hobby. I find myself wondering how my ancestors dealt with pregnancy and family size. I noticed the following pattern:

Great-grandparents on up came from families of 6 or more children.

Grandparents came from families of 4-5 children.

Parents on down came from families of 2-3 children.

My ancestors were orthodox Ashkenazic Jews, and I can't imagine they had access to any type of family planning--the closest any of them came to birth control was my paternal grandfather's father staying in America for years at a time (and, judging by the timing of his immigration records, conceiving children on return trips to Europe.) And yet, none of my ancestors had families the size of the Duggar family.

My maternal grandfather had a brother and sister who were close to him in age, and one sister who was twenty years younger. From what I heard, my great-grandmother could have gotten on an episode of "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant." She was in her late 40's, didn't tell anybody she was pregnant, and she was overweight to the point where no one noticed. She just went to the hospital one day and came home with a baby. My grandfather adored his little sister, but she wasn't treated well by their mother. As soon as she got old enough and had saved up enough money, she moved to California and cut off contact with the rest of the family.

The most surprising stories I've discovered were about my matrilineal great-grandmother. She was the matriarch of the family and I'm named after her. One of the first documents I uncovered was her marriage certificate. After blinking a couple of times, I realized that she and my great-grandfather got married 7 months before their first child was born. I told my mom about this, and she replied, "There HAS to be a mistake. She was a religious Jew! Maybe we've been celebrating my aunt's birthday wrong all these years." Two minutes later, I found my the aunt's birth certificate--nope, we had her birthday right all along. Later, I was told a story about how, after having four children, my great-grandmother had some kind of surgery that had bad complications, and she was told that carrying another pregnancy to term might kill her. Then she got pregnant again, and she actually went to get an abortion illegally. My great-grandfather found out and went to retrieve her before she could get one. Everything turned out well, and she eventually gave birth to her youngest child.

Have you found out any stories of how your ancestors handled unplanned pregnancies or unpredictable family size?

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One of my great-grandmothers had five children spaced about 2 years apart. Then she learned great-grandpa was doing more than plowing when he went out to the fields every morning. He had a fling with one of the sharecropper women working on their land, and the woman had his child who was about the same age as their 3rd child. I've always suspected great-grandma had a chronic headache for the next 12 years because it wasn't until then that she had their 2 youngest. There's no evidence she lost any other children during those 12 years.

That was a unique case, but people have found ways to avoid pregnancy since time began. I'm sure you could Google the subject if you're really interested. :)

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My parents had 3 children.

One set of grandparents had 3 kids, the other set had 4 kids.

My great-grandparents had 2 kids, 11 kids, 8 kids, and 3 kids.

I don't know beyond that.

This generation- The most so far is 2 kids with one on the way. The least is me with zero (not by choice).

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My great-grandmother was one of 13, 11 of whom survived, all single births. There probably would have been even more but my great-great grandfather dropped dead in his mid 40's, while my somewhat younger great-great grandmother still had some fertile years left.

My grandmother had 6 kids in a 15 year span, one before WWII, and five afterwards. She was told after the 2nd that she wouldn't be able to have any more kids. 5 years later, she had three kids over a 27 month span. Thought she was done, and then a few years after that got pregnant with my youngest aunt. After that one was born, she requested and received a hysterectomy. Her own mother, my great-grandmother, had had a "surprise" baby when she was 44, after a brief reconciliation with her usually estranged husband- and as a result my oldest Aunt and my youngest Great-Aunt are only a few months apart in age.

My husband's very Catholic grandmother (wouldn't come to our wedding, because as we didn't get married in a Catholic Church, it was a "real" wedding) was a pregnant bride. My husband figured this out when he started working on his family tree. The family had always said that his grandparents got married in February 1939, when his grandmother was 16. But the marriage certificate said February 1940. His aunt was born in June 1940. Hypocritical much??

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Well my great grandmother was one of 17. All single births (eat your heart out J'Chelle). They lived in a 2 up 2 down back to back house - no idea how they did it.

My gran was one of 6 and my mother was an only child as my granddad died young. I am one of 4, and I have 2 kids myself.

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My great-grandparents were all immigrants, so I don't know back farther than that.

But, of those 4 sets of great-grandparents: 3, 2, 2, and 3 children. Born between 1880-1915. One family was limited by the father's suicide, one by father's accidental death, but the others just only had that many. I suspect either they didn't like each other much, or they limited with artificial means (abortion or barrier method, both were available.)

Oh and 3 of the 4 I know the first child was started before marriage, with one actually having a child by a first husband nobody ever saw or documented, then immigrating to the US with her baby and getting married and having another.

My grandparents had 3 children on one side, 2 on the other. Each of my aunts and uncles had 2 or fewer children. I have one sibling.

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One of my great-grandmothers had five children spaced about 2 years apart. Then she learned great-grandpa was doing more than plowing when he went out to the fields every morning. He had a fling with one of the sharecropper women working on their land, and the woman had his child who was about the same age as their 3rd child.

This reminds me of a story I heard from a former Mormon who found out his great-grandfather was the result of an affair. The "illegitimate child" turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because his branch of the family was the only one not effected by Huntington's.

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My great grandparents actually had smaller families than my grandparents. I think they only had a few siblings (at most) each. My fraternal grandpa came from a family where he had three sisters and two brothers. Both of his brothers died young, but his sisters had 2-5 children each. My fraternal grandma only had two brothers. My mom has five sisters and four brothers (my grandpa was married twice; four children from first marriage and six from his marriage with my grandma). My dad's family is tiny by comparison, only one brother and sister. My parents have four kids, but everyone else in my family strictly abides by the two kids maximum. I love family history, I wish we knew more. But my mom's parents have passed and any information they had is gone with them.

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This thread just made me realize something: Going back in my maternal line:

- Grandma was one of 5

- Mom is one of 4

- I'm one of 3

- I have 2 children and don't plan to have more

My dad on the other hand is one of 2, so he has a bigger family than his parents. Both his parents came from huge families. I think 12+ on his father's side.

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My greats only had 3 children of all the same sex on my father's side. My grandfather lost his youngest brother when that brother was 2 yrs. The other younger brother died in WW2. My grandmother's sisters all lived to adulthood.

My mother's mother's parents had 5 daughters, with one daughter who died from a playground accident at age 10. And my mother's father's parents had 13 children live to adulthood, but maybe 23 children. The husband was the town ho and rumered to have up to 60 children.

My father was oldest of 2 children and had a younger sister who had 3 bio and 1 step child. My mother was the oldest of 2 daughters and her sister only had 1 and didn't want another. Both set of children were planned and my mother's parents tried for 12 but no other pregnancies.

My parents had 6 children in 14 years. 5 of us lived to adulthood.

Oldest sister had 2 children. a boy who now has 5 children under 6. A girl with 2 children 12 years apart in age.

Brother has no children thank the stars above.

Next sister has 3 children and the oldest has 2 bio children, 1 step and a baby on the way. her other 2 children are 19 and 16 and are too young yet.

Next sister has 2 sons and the youngest son has a son.

I have 5 sons and no grandchildren yet as far as I know.

So for my family the family size is all over the place. I can say that the size of the families were do to personal wants rather than birth control. Even going back into the 1800's it was more about personal wants than BC.

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Neat question.

I (born 1977) have one sibling. Neither my sister nor I have any kids yet, but I expect to have none or two. If I were younger, I'd plan for three.

My parents (born 1944) each have one sibling.

Three of my four grandparents (born 1918, 1918, and 1899) had three siblings each. My grandmother (mom's mother, born 1908) had ten siblings, but two died very young, possibly in infancy.

My mom has recently gotten into genealogy and is learning about slightly more distant branches of her family. No one else had the large family that my great-grandparents did; most of the families in her lineage seemed to have had about four kids. I have no idea how they controlled conception.

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My generation: me = 2 kids, brother = 0

Parents generation: Dad is 1 of 2, Mother is 1/7 - one of whom died young

Grandparents: Pat. Grandfather 1 of 3, Pat. Grandmother 1 of 3

- don't know anymore about maternal grandparents

Great grandparent: the only one I am sure of was 1 of 11 children.

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They died. One of my great-grandmothers had something like 12 or 13 children, and half of them died before the age of 5. When I started researching that part of the family, I found out about children no one ever knew she had. I was able to confirm the story my aunt remembers being told that there had been twins at one point, although the details she had were wrong. She thought one of the daughters (her aunt) who lived to adult-hood had been born with a twin who died as an infant. The real story is that it was twin boys, who only lived a day.

I find it interesting, but I suppose biologically makes sense, that of the children who survived to adulthood, most of them were born in the earlier years of the marriage. Going off memory, I think her last four births all died before the age of 3. And then her husband was killed (coal mining accident), and that's the really sad story, because she was pregnant when he died, and then that baby died at about 9 months.

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My family is riddled with second families, and a few bigamists. My great-great-great grandfather abandoned his wife with 7 children (the youngest was still a babe in arms) to join the Union Army in 1863 and he didn't bother to return until Reuben (the babe in arms) was 3 years old. The legend goes that H. leveled a shot-gun at him and told W. to keep walking. So, W. kept walking straight up to northern Indiana (they lived in southern Indiana) and started a whole new family, without benefit of a divorce. :) H. also started a whole new family and had another 4 children. W. actually had another 9. Reuben only had 3 surviving children. His daughter is who I named my daughter after. She had 3 children survive also, but had 5. This was my maternal granma's side. They did tend to have smaller families though.

On my maternal granpa's side: The families were largish. My great-granpa was one 8, and he had 7 (2 died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, as did my great-granma). My granpa had the smallest family, with only 3 His sister had 8, his other sister had 5. I have a very large family. And some of them are still having lots and lots of babies. And we aren't fundie, at all. Not even close. Just very very fertile. Heck, my brother has 5. (All boys, how scary is that. I swear my maiden name translates into buzzard from old german Long story, not related but suffice to say, my family sucks)


As far as unplanned pregnancies, my family just dealt with them. My gran was married at 15 because she was expecting. My uncle was born 7mos later. (He thinks he was born 1 year and 7mos later but we did the math. Ain't know way!) My grans step-mother had over 14 children of her own (and only 5 of those were born in marriage). We had bigger fish to fry. It got cold in southern IN (and KY, OH, IL) during the winter!

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We're not exactly sure beyond my great-grandparents, as they were immigrants, but my great-grandmother was one of 14 kids. Great-grandfather was one of 10 kids, but he was the only one that survived to adulthood.

In my dad's family, up until my dad's generation family sizes of 5-6 kids were pretty standard for them. Nothing too crazy.

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Maternal side:

grandmother - 1 of 4, grandfather - 1 of 3

mother - 1 of 2

me - 1 of 4

my kids - 1

Paternal side:

grandmother - 1 of 2, grandfather 1 of 8

father - 1 of 2

Nobody really knows about the great-grandparents.

Have a history of working wives/mothers and smaller families here despite one side having evangelical religion.

Incidentally that grandmother (1 of 4). She grew up during the depression. Her brother had to be sent to an orphanage for fatherless boys because her widowed mother could not support all 3 children. (Later her mother remarried and had another daughter.)

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My mother have 4 children. She had an abortion back in the 70s. She received us other children in the 80s and 90s.

One set of grandparents had 8 kids (Sweden), the other set had 3 kids (Poland).

My great-grandparents had 5 kids (Ukraine), 3 kids (Sweden), 4 kids (Sweden).

My great-great-grandparents had 4 kids (Sweden), 6 kids (Ukraine).

My great-great-great-grandparents had 7 kids (Sweden).

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Both of my grandmothers had menopause babies. My dad is one on his side, and my uncle is one on the other side.

My maternal grandma was Catholic. She had a life and a "career" before she got married. She worked full-time as an ironer in a dry cleaning shop. It wasn't a glamorous career, but she made enough to support herself and had plenty of independence. She and my grandpa were older when they got married, which I think was mid-30s. They had two daughters and were satisfied, and I know they used condoms because my mom found them and thought they were water balloons. They lived in a tiny 2-bedroom, 1-bath house with no basement or attic, and my mom shared a bedroom with both her sister and grandmother. Over a decade later, she had one more kid, a son this time. He slept in the parents' room until he was about 3, when they finally scraped together enough money to add on another tiny bedroom, and they had to take room away from the other bedroom to make a hallway. I've seen this house because my grandpa still lives there and it is tiny. Being a strict Catholic, my grandma was once questioned about why she had only three kids. She joked that it's because her husband wasn't Catholic. I'm glad she had that out because there's no way they could have supported more children. My grandma had some pretty severe anxiety issues but mental illness wasn't really taken seriously back then unless you became violent and psychotic.

I don't know as much about my paternal grandma. She and my grandpa were extremely poor, especially because my grandpa was blind and couldn't do manual labor. They were both uneducated and couldn't get desk jobs anywhere. They had three kids, and then no more for a gap of over a decade. I assume they were using some type of birth control, even if it was just they rhythm method. Again, around menopause she had one more kid and it was my father. This grandma also had severe mental health issues, including hoarding and OCD.

I recently found out that my maternal grandma had some sisters that died in childhood. She never talked about it except to tell my mom how much she looked like them. She had a whole bunch of other siblings that lived, maybe 4 or 5. Her own mom came from a family of 16.

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My grandma (Lutheran, not fundy but very religious) got married to my Grandpa while he was in the county jail and she was pregnant with my oldest uncle hehe! They had a total of 6. She (my grandma) was one of 4 girls and 2 boys including a set of identical twins.

I love that story, mostly because at 17 my Grandma used to tell me I looked like a whore for wearing too much makeup and I was a virgin at the time.

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I only know my mom's family. Great grandparents had nine kids in 17 years. Grandparents had five kids in nine years. Four of those five kids had two kids each. One had six (he is the fundie relative who chose to have nothing to do with us about 20 years ago). Of my generation, one cousin has three kids. Four have two kids. The rest of us have none.

My great grandmother is one of 12, but eight of them stayed in Norway when her parents immigrated when my great grandmother was a year old. Her three younger siblings were born here and were the only ones she grew up with, or even knew. The plan was to save money and bring the kids over - that never happened.

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My dad is #4 of 8 (#5 died at 4 months old of SIDS). The first 5 were with my grandpa, the last 3 were with her second husband, and she had no more with her third husband. On that side, 1 uncle had 3, an aunt had 2, another aunt had none (infertility; she has always dreamed of having children though), my dad had just me (plus my half sister, see below), and of the last 3 kids on that side (I'm not super close with any of them), 2 had 2 kids each, and one had no kids. My paternal grandma is one of 9 and my paternal grandpa was one of 4.

My mom is one of four. Her older sister had 2 kids, my mom had 2 (she was married, had my sister, divorced, then married my dad and had me; my dad helped raise my sister from the time she was 5), my uncle had 4 (1 and then triplets 2 years later--one of the triplets died because they were born 3 months premature and so tiny), and the last had 2 (1 gave up for adoption because uhh, she's a little wayward, to put it politely). Same numbers as above--grandma 1 of 9, grandpa 1 of 4.

My sister has 1 boy but she refuses to use birth control and would rather get abortions so instead of having 6 or 7 little nieces and nephews, I only have one. :( She won't use the pill because she "can't remember to take a pill every day" (her words). We suggest the depo shot "Oh but I don't like getting shots" (so you'd rather get an abortion than a freaking SHOT?!). IUD? No, that's too weird. No, she'll just sleep with every guy she spends more than 5 minutes talking to (she's had more boyfriends than Amy Duggar) and go get an abortion instead. We tried to get her to give her most recent (aborted) baby up for adoption to some good friends of ours who would make WONDERFUL parents, but nope!

I don't know how many miscarriages anyone had, but I know that my mom's older sister with the 2 boys had a hyesterectomy, and my mom had a hysterectomy, and would have loved to have 5-10 kids, just because she likes kids so much, not out of any religious belief. After me she was bleeding for 2 weeks out of every month so byebye uterus! I know she was on birth control until she was ready to have me, and then a month later she was pregnant.

And me... I have an almost-2-year-old (next month!) and would love to have a bunch more. No birth control for me. Nursing for 19 months just happened to work that well for me. Clearly I didn't get my mom's fertility.

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Mothers' side:

My mom had my sister and I, with one miscarriage along the way. Her three brothers have 1, 2, and 2.

My mom's was one of 4 in four years. Fun fact: my grandma was about two months pregnant when she married, but didn't know it at the time, so she acts like that doesn't "count." My mom is so oblivious that she didn't realize this until last summer. :roll:

My grandparents were both from families of 4-6 (?).

My dad's side:

My dad was one of 6 in 11 years, and his siblings have 3, 4, 3, 2, and 2.

My grandparents were each one of 3 (I think).

One grandparent on each side was Catholic by birth, and both made their spouses convert, so by the time my parents were born we were 100% Catholic. Although I suspect my mom's parents "had something done," since her mom had four kids in four years from the ages of 21-25, and then nothing. Hmm... :lol:

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Are you using Ancestry.com or something else? I have had trouble doing our geneology and haven;t forked out any money yet, but would like to get back at it.

MY family is very hard to trace, as my grandfather(Dad's side) came from Poland in the 1800's and changed his name. MY Mom's family is Iroquis/Mohawk and it was NOT discussed. Calling someone an "indian" was an insult in her family because they were supposed to assimilate. My Mom doesn't know the history and we cannot find "Native" records because it was NewYork/Canadian border and everyone who would know is dead. I have found a little, but I can only go back to my Mom's grandmother(who assimilated to "White American" first as an adult )

MY Mom is one of 11 kids, all still living.

She had 3(she wanted many more)

I have 3(wanted 4)

We don't know about my Dad's dad as he died of old age when my dad was 17( My dad is the youngest,his dad was like 30 years older than Gramma and chosen by her father because he was also Polish).My Gramma had 5 kids(1 died as newborn),my dad is the last surviving one at age 75. My Gramma and her sisters all lived to age 100 or close to it.

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