After co-writing the biography of my Irish great-great grandmother, I am now writing the biographies of all four of my great-great grandmothers. They were all born in English-speaking countries – the U.S., Canada, Ireland – during the 1840’s-1860’s.
As these women’s individual biographies unfold, collective insights as well as the variety of individual experiences are becoming apparent:
- Moving with children. All four women moved geographically while raising children – sometimes with very young children. Travel wasn’t as easy as it is today; travelling with children would have been challenging.
- Widowhood and parenting. During their married life, three became widows while still raising children and the fourth left her husband a widower while still raising children. While widowhood-with-children was more common then than it is today, a rate of 100% among four households is a high rate of widowhood-with-children.
- Intergenerational movement and intergenerational households. As these women and their families moved west – during the era of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (only one household stayed within a few hundred miles of where the great-great grandmother was born) – their family’s moves often included multiple generations moving together (grandparents, parents, grown siblings, in-laws, children). Often times, elderly relatives lived with their grown children in inter-generational households. Sometimes, single adults – both men and women – lived with their siblings’ families. In other instances, grown siblings would live near one another – from one community to the next – as families moved west.
- Life expectancies. While life expectancy has increased in recent decades, several of their relatives in the 1800’s and early 1900’s lived into their 90’s.
- Retirement income. In census enumerations during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, older relatives – sometimes including these women – would list their employment or income source as “own income” (or variations on that theme). “Own income” presumably meant retirement income saved up over the years.
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