Women of Yesteryear: Themes and Individual Experiences

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.

Learn more about Women of Yesteryear books and Out of Obscurity genealogy services here.

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