52 Ancestors Week 11: The Double Edged Sword of Large Families


I\’m both blessed and cursed with having large families in my tree. This is one maternal line:

  • My mom was one of 17. 
  • My maternal grandmother Mary Mallais was one of 10. 
  • Her mom Annie McLaughlin was one of 12. 
  • Annie\’s mom Mary Louise Fournier was one of 12. 

That\’s four generations on just one line of my tree, and I\’m already at 51 children. Here\’s a paternal line:

  • My grandfather Edward McDonald was one of 5 and had 5 half siblings. 
  • His mother Edna Johnson was one of 5. 
  • Her father James Johnson was one of 8 and had 5 half siblings
  • His father James Johnson was one of 3 and had 2 half siblings that I know of so far, but I suspect there\’s more.
That\’s another 4 generations through a different line and there are 31 children accounted for so far.
This is a blessing because I have lots of genealogy cousins to collaborate with. My DNA results on Ancestry and My Heritage are proof of that. I\’ll never run out of lines to research. There are some downsides and pitfalls though.
Name Repetition
Every family loves to recycle names. It becomes even more of a problem in large families. The amount of times that the names and assorted variations of James, Joseph, John and Edward that appear in my tree makes me want to pull my hair out. My Mary/Maries and Ann/Annas could fill a banquet hall all by themselves. One reason for this is the practice of naming patterns. My blog post What\’s In a Name? A Look at Naming Patterns gives some examples from different ethnic and cultural groups.
What is endogamy? This is when intermarriage of family lines happen. Have a person or couple in your tree that is a degree of great grandparent more than one generation? That\’s endogamy at work. The common misconception is that cultural isolation is the reason for this. However, you also have to look at geography, especially if your paper trail goes back to the early colonization of areas in both the US and Canada. There simply wasn\’t enough of a population for intermarrying NOT to happen. If you\’re delving into genetic genealogy, taking endogamy into account is a must. Some people will have higher degree of DNA matches to you than they should because you share multiple ancestral couples. I\’ve even found one fellow who appears to match on BOTH my maternal and paternal side. For Canadian research, if you can trace your tree to one of the following groups or areas, you will need to look into endogamy:
  • Catholic
  • French Canadian
  • Acadian/Cajun
  • Jewish
  • Colonial Americans
  • Foreign Protestants
  • Newfoundland 
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy has a great Wiki on endogamy. Even if you haven\’t delved into the DNA side of genealogy yet, it\’s a great resource.
Endogamy isn\’t all bad though. Because of so many descendants, these groups have become quite well documented. There are many websites devoted to researching these groups of people, and they can be exceptionally well researched. A few that I have used in my own research:
There are others that I have also found extremely helpful. This is just a sampling. 
You\’re going to have to be more organized following all those descendants of your ancestor couple. So how to organize? Family group sheets are your best friend. The more tech savvy of you can create something in Excel. However, if you\’re like me and like a piece of paper in your hand, there are several versions of the basic family group sheets kicking around the internet. You can find one that works for you. Here\’s a few to look at:
If you\’re a purely digital person, you can still organize. From what I understand most of the genealogy software programs have ways to organize and sort people. I\’ve been dabbling in moving my Ancestry tree to one of these programs, but haven\’t decided on one that works best for me yet. 
One of Ancestry\’s big announcements at RootsTech this year was tagging features being added both with DNA matches and within your tree itself. I find the tagging within our trees quite exciting. Called MyTreeTags, they have pre made tags but you can also create ones that work best for you. If you haven\’t watched Crista Cowen\’s presentation of the new tools, you should. You can access it through the Video Archives section of the RootsTech website here. Crista is an excellent presenter so be prepared to have your mind blown at the possibilities. I reached new levels of genealogy geekdom after watching it. It took an extreme amount of self control not to babble to the non genealogy people in my life.
Do you have any tips on how you handle large families? Or a go-to website for certain cultural groups or settlement areas? Let us know in the comment section.

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