Who Cared for the Kids?

[posted to our Facebook page and am sharing because I think it’s always worth thinking about]

Who watched the kids?

Have you thought about who took care of your ancestor’s children? If the mother died young, what happened (since typically the mother had childcare responsibilities)? If the mother worked outside the home, who took care of the children? If the father died young, was the mother able to support them herself? Were there relatives close enough to watch them without them having to leave the home? Were there older children who could help out? What if all the children were too young for one of them to help care for the others?

This is something to consider no matter the time period or location of your research. Families with more financial means usually had more options and potentially less disruption for the remaining family members than did those families with fewer financial resources. When my male ancestor in his late 40s lost his wife in 1888, there were young children in the household, but there were daughters in their late teens who I am assuming helped with childcare. This family, while not “well set,” did not live a hand-to-mouth existence. Another male ancestor, about the same age, with two children under ten lost his wife about the same time in about the same location (rural western Illinois-USA). There were no children old enough to help out and this family lived pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence. There were no relatives in the area and his two daughters ended up being raised by neighboring families as foster children. Women usually had additional challenges. A 50-something female ancestor lost her husband in 1913. Her children ranged in age from ten to nearly thirty. She had a small farm, paid off, and children to help her with the labor. She never remarried and managed the farm herself. I have other female ancestors who were not left in such a situation and for many another marriage was the option. It just depended on the situation. My thirty-something female ancestor whose husband died in Kentucky in 1815 never remarried and farmed the land with her children–her two oldest sons at the time would have been in their mid teens.

Have you thought about who took care of the children? It should always be on your genealogy plate if a parent dies (or becomes incapacitated) when there are still young children.