How do you navigate the steps in your family tree?

What am I talking about? Steps in a tree? What I mean is the step relationship, step parents, step siblings etc.

I am a stepmother to my husband’s six-year-old son from his previous relationship. I’ve been in his life since he was 2 and he has grown up knowing me and hopefully I haven’t been a wicked stepmother! At times it can be tough because although I love him very much, it isn’t the same and I don’t expect it to be the same as having a child of your own, but I’m sure I’m not the only one in the world to feel like that! I may never have any kids of my own but my stepson is part of my family and to an extent his mother is too. My sister very much treats him as her nephew and doesn’t treat him any differently than if he were my own son, as do my parents.

It can be difficult when we are out and about and people assume I am his mother and will refer to me as Mum, I used to correct them but it’s not really worth it anymore. He knows who his Mum is and although we haven’t really talked about the whole stepmum thing, he just gets that I am married to his Dad. I’m sure when he is a bit older we will talk to him about it all.

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My stepson some years ago enjoying a trip on the Welshpool Steam Railway. (Photo by me.)

So why am I blabbing on about all this? Well families are complicated things, people marry, divorce, remarry, get widowed, remarry etc. If you have someone in your tree – like a direct ancestor who was widowed and then remarried – do you look into their new spouse? Do you record any half siblings or step siblings?

My husband’s mother’s paternal grandfather was widowed in 1948 and in the same year remarried, so my mother in law would have grown up knowing his second wife as her grandmother, although biologically she wasn’t. I was drawn to look into her mainly because she had quite a grand sounding name and sounded quite well to do. I found that her birth didn’t seem to have been registered and that her parents had fibbed rather a lot on their 1911 census return about how long they had been married for – when in actual fact they had married a few years after their daughter was born. That her mother had an older illegitimate child while pretending to be married to another man and that she too had been illegitimate. I have tried to make contact with her granddaughter from her first marriage via Facebook but haven’t had a response yet. I guess I just want to know more about them.

Similarly my Dad’s maternal grandfather’s father Adam Hallas died in 1907 and his widow remarried about ten years later and was widowed again several years later, we have two photographs of the stepfather and just one of Adam and I was pleased that my Dad knew the surname of this stepfather – even if he didn’t know anything else – in fact he thought it was the maiden name of his grandfather’s mother!

My husband’s family is a great large mixture, his parents divorced when he was young and they both remarried. He has a half-sister (who now lives in Australia) and it was nice to go to family get togethers where both his parents were there with their partners and everyone got on just great. Sadly his mother passed away four years ago, and although his stepfather has a new partner, we still see him every now and then (not as often as we would like.) In some ways it is a bit different as my husband didn’t grow up with his stepfather so doesn’t really see him in that kind of way, more of his Mum’s husband, but he is still very much part of the family.We also have a good relationship with my husband’s stepmother’s family – his step-cousins. Initially I found it a bit overwhelming, having come from a family where my parents have been together for eons and not really being used to the step-family dynamic, but I think they are all great and feel rather happy being welcomed by them into the ever-expanding family!

It is nice to not make people feel any different because they aren’t related by blood to the ‘step’ in the family, especially if it is a child, they certainly don’t deserve to be excluded in any way just because they happen to have been born to a different relationship.

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My husband and stepson on the same train journey. (Photo by me.)

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4 thoughts on “How do you navigate the steps in your family tree?

  1. Navigating step-relationships can be a beautiful journey, or it can be a minefield. I’m glad in your world it has been the former. And you’re absolutely right about looking into the new spouse. When I first started genealogy, I didn’t do that, thinking they weren’t blood relation. But then I discovered a relative who had kids by a second husband, so I was curious about these half-relatives. Well, that investigation led me to her mother’s maiden name, which I hadn’t been able to find, and the location of some relatives I had no clue where they went. Because of an internet contact, I was able to locate descendants of that relative. Sadly, it seems they have not much interest in this part of their tree. I am not receiving much reply from my inquiries. We just have do the best with what we get.

    • Yep, people are a bit different I suppose. I think as you go further back you are so much more likely to come across these sorts of relationships with people dying young and their widowed spouses remarrying – often to ensure young children had a stable home.

  2. I research them all. My grandma has been married more times than I have fingers on one hand. Her current husband is the only one she has had during my lifetime. He is my grandpa. Maybe not biologically, but in every way that matters. I research his line and my mom’s dad’s line. While he is technically my grandpa, I call him Vince. I’ve met him once and spoken to him on the phone twice. The dynamic on that level has caused me to realize that family is far more complicated than biological lines and definitions. So, I research them all. And thankfully this usually leads to important discoveries about biological lines that would otherwise have been missed. I love the photos of your stepson. Really lovely.

    • Thank you. Yes, I think that it can all be pretty complex! I don’t have a huge amount of multiple marriages in my tree, but I did do one for one of my parents friends and his entire family have more marriages than I think some villages have in a lifetime!

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