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

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Marrying of Cousins

In a 30 December 2016 post on his blog, Genealogy’s Star, James Tanner discussed whether there is a prohibition of cousins marrying: Can you marry your cousin? What is or was the law?

James described what the current law is in Utah, where he lives. He also cited the restrictions imposed by the Roman Catholic Church under Canon Law. In both instances marriage is prohibited between first cousins, except in very unusual circumstances.

I wondered what the rules were for the Church of England, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, since I have a few examples in my family of first cousins marrying, including my own 4th great-grandparents – married in 1791 in Devon, England. I had thought about the question before but had not bothered to look up the answer.

In my search for information I came across a paper on the subject by Jill Durey, The Church, Consantuinity and Trollope, in the Churchman, v. 122 (Summer 2008), pp. 125-46. The Churchman is the international journal of theology produced by the (Anglican) Church Society.

The Church of England, of course, was set up in 1534 specifically to allow Henry VIII to dump his first wife and marry a cousin. He employed some devious means to get around the prohibitions of the Catholic Church, setting up his own church with different rules on the matter of marriage. In so doing he had his daughter, Mary Tudor, from his first marriage, declared as illegitimate. (She eventually got her own back after taking the thrown, when she annulled Henry’s “divorce.” But that’s another story.)

In any event, as part of the establishment of the Church of England, marriage between cousins was allowed. Over the years there have been other Church of England regulations that controlled who could marry who. I blogged about one such example, on 15 September 2013, of a man who married his deceased wife’s sister – Mistaken Assumptions from Register Notes.

List of prohibited unions in Church of England, and the changes made over time: Genetic and Quantitative Aspects of Genealogy website - No cousins are mentioned.

There have been many studies about whether cousins marrying have an adverse biological effect on offspring. Certainly inbreeding over long periods of time can lead to unwanted and undesirable physical and or mental conditions. Recessive traits can manifest themselves because the genetic makeup of the individuals is similar. Offspring may be more likely to exhibit conditions that might otherwise be overridden by more dominant traits. Where a family has no prior history of birth defects or other deleterious conditions, though, it is unlikely they would appear because of the union of closely-related cousins. It is possible children may actually be healthier as a result of inheriting strong attributes from both parents having similar familial traits.

The idea of prohibiting the marriage of related people, of course, developed within small tribes or communities to prevent inbreeding over several generations and a general deterioration of the gene pool. It was a practice decided long before the study of genetics but it was solidly based on observation. At any rate almost every religion organized since has kept the policy in the form of rules under which adherents must abide.

King Henry made the exceptions acceptable by replacing the dominant religion in his domain with a new one, certainly with his own personal intentions in mind. The result was that the prohibition of cousin marriage was made acceptable for the first time in Europe. It had long been allowed in Middle East. Marriage of cousins was also permissible, and widely practiced in China for many centuries, but has been banned under the current regime. In many parts of the world culture plays at least as strong a role as religion.

In the United States the rules are very different from state to state no doubt based on the views of the original settlers.

In Canada, the law is relatively simple and parallels, as one might have assumed, the rules of the Church of England: “…persons related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption are not prohibited from marrying each other by reason only of their relationship, but no person shall marry another person if they are related lineally, or as brother or sister or half-brother or half-sister, including by adoption.  A marriage between persons who are related in this manner is void.” From Marriage (Prohibited) Act.

As James Tanner pointed out, the subject is worth investigating in the various parts of the world where family research is being undertaken in order to understand the legalities of inter-cousin marriage but in particular how local rules may have impacted particular family members.

Other References:

See these articles for more references on the subject.

Cousin marriage (Wikipedia) The maps shown above were sourced from this website.

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

Monday, 2 January 2017

Using the GRO Index Search – Another Example

Happy New Year to all my readers! We took the opportunity to enjoy a nice break over Christmas to visit children and grandchildren in China and Vancouver. Now it’s back home and back to reading, research and writing.

In my last few posts before the holiday I commented on the use of searches of indexes of the General Record Office (GRO) for England and Wales, especially to find the maiden names of the mothers of individuals born since 1837. I have continued to find the resource of great value in establishing the identity of many family members.

As the Online Parish Clerk for the parish of Plympton St. Mary, Devon, I had a recent request from a family researcher to see if I could find information about a family who had lived in the area in the mid-1800s.

What he thought was that: William Collings may or may not have been born in Plympton St. Mary about 1815; his wife, Mary Ann, was born there about 1829; and all their children were born in the parish. He provided a list of seven children born between 1852 and 1871. Mary Ann’s maiden name was not known, which he was also interested in learning.

Very quickly I found the family on the 1861 England census, living in Plympton St. Mary with their first four children. William had been born in Sowton, Devon. I also found them all on the baptism register for the parish. Many of the entries also had their birth dates. I was able to show there were actually eight children born to the couple. A daughter born in 1868 died in 1869, though. The eighth child was named for the deceased sibling.
1851 England Census - Collings family in Plympton St Mary, Devon
None of the children had second names that might give a clue as to their mother's maiden name. I tried a search of the GRO index for all of the children and found most of the births were registered in Plympton RD with a mother's name of KENT. That led me back to the parish baptism record where I found Mary Ann Kent, daughter of John and Betsey Kent, baptized 19 April 1829. I was able to give the researcher most of the GRO registration data from which, if he wished, he could order the birth certificates.

The researcher also was looking for information on one of the sons of William and Mary Ann, Frederick, born in 1857. Because of what was shown on the census, he believed Frederick had a son named Harry F., but he could not find any information as to a wife/mother. The problem with his logic was that the census showed Frederick as being single. Sometimes information can be entered in error. To check his status I looked for him on the 1901 census and found him living with his mother and still single.
1891 England Census - Collings family in Plympton St Mary, Devon
The census did show Harry was born in Plympton, Devon. A search of the GRO birth index found an entry for Harry Ford Collings with a mother's name of Ford.

A search of FreeBMD for a Collings/Ford marriage found that a Charles Collings had married Mary Jane Ford in 1885. Charles was Frederick’s brother, so it seemed then that Harry Ford was their son, not Frederick's.

I have not yet found a marriage for William Collings and Mary Ann Kent. I am wondering whether she was briefly married before and then whether she might then have been registered with a different surname. Another possibility is that William’s name was not indexed correctly or at all. On the FreeBMD marriage index for the March 1848 quarter, there are three females listed – one named Mary Kent, but only two males. The date is about right and Sowton, where William Collings grew up, is part of the St. Thomas Registration District. One way to find out is to order the marriage certificate for Mary Kent and see who the husband was. It’s a bit of a longshot that I will leave to those actually researching the family.

The point here is that, with the new GRO search resource, two problems were quickly solved: we learned the maiden name of William Collings wife and the names of the parents of Harry F. Collings. With that information it was easier to find much more about the various families.

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