This week’s Ancestry Sunday post is about multigenerational families. Multigenerational families include grandparents living with grown children, grown children returning home, and children living with grandparents. Each of these has waxed and waned in popularity. A century ago, grandparents living with grown children and their families was the most common type. Families tended to take in older relatives, but as life expectancies have risen and medical care for the elderly has risen, this declined. In the last few decades, grown children returning home has made a comeback. You can read more about multigenerational families here.
You don’t have to go far to find examples of this on either side. My paternal grandfather Jim (“Paw-Paw”) was four in the 1920 census. He lived with his three brothers, his parents Val and Annie, and Annie’s brother, sister, and widowed mother in a house on North 6th Street in Memphis. By 1930 and 1940, Annie’s mother had passed away and her brother had married, but her sister Margaret still lived with them.
My paternal grandma Geraldine (“Grandma”) was nine in the 1930 census. She lived with her two brothers, two sisters, parents Robert and Nellie, and Nellie’s widowed mother Nell on North 2nd Street in Memphis. Nell had passed away by 1940, and Grandma’s sister Dorothy and her husband Martin lived with the family in the same house on North 2nd.
My maternal grandfather Walter (“Grandsoddy”) was 3 in 1930. He lived with his parents Cecil and Helen (“Pappy” and “Nanny”), his older sister Cecil Lerlene (“Aunt Lene”), and Nanny’s parents Walter and Ora (“Papa” and “Good Mama”) in Bemis, Tennessee. Papa and Good Mama were only 45 and 41 and were listed as the heads of the house, meaning Nanny had stayed there after getting married, rather than Papa and Good Mama had moved in with their daughter in their old age But by 1940, Pappy and Nanny are the heads of the house, and Papa and Good Mama lived with them.
My maternal grandmother Carrie (“Grandmama”) only had one living grandparent in her lifetime, and even that one passed away when Grandmama was six. As a result, she did not live in a multigenerational home with any of them as a kid.
My husband Michael’s paternal grandfather, Art, was two in 1920. He lived with his parents Arthur and Catherine, his younger sister, and Catherine’s brother Andrew. That’s not exactly multigenerational, but it’s not the typical nuclear family, either.
Michael’s paternal grandma Catherine (“Gree”) and her siblings were raised by an aunt for much of their life. Like I said above, also not technically multigenerational, but different nonetheless.
As you can see, most of my grandparents had at least one of their grandparents in the home when they were children. There were not a lot of options for the elderly in those days, so it made sense to bring them back into the family home. Families tended to not spread out as much, as well. People are living longer nowadays, meaning the elderly are more capable of living on their own. We also have nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and the like.
I think the most important thing to take from this is that families are not just two parents and children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, anyone who lives in the home (or not) is family. Even people who are not blood can be family, but that is a post for another day. Thanks for reading.