Monday, January 3, 2022

Following the Ex


What do you do when your family history research brings you up short in front of a second spouse? Do you follow the story of the "ex" and all the kin connected to that new add to the family? Do you bother organizing all those step-relatives in their proper place in the family tree? Or do you prefer to remain satisfied with direct-line-only pedigrees?

Lately, I've been working on a fourth cousin descended from my Tison ancestors in Georgia. One particular line presented the "his, hers, and theirs" scenario for the children (sometimes with multiple iterations of the process), and I didn't just want to glean the direct-line relatives and then walk away.

That meant seeking out the subsequent obituaries for the previously-deceased or divorced spouse's other wife or husband, gleaning the names of all the children in common for that couple, then transposing the details into the blended family's picture. When a research goal is to find a place in the family tree for each of the descendants of one's ancestors, as mine is for DNA testing purposes, it is important to know who is who. That includes those collateral lines—and even all the details of children from their multiple marriages.

In selecting the final choice from my father-in-law's ancestors to pursue for the upcoming year's research goals, I feel the need to linger a little bit longer on the founding immigrant ancestor of his patriline, John Stevens. Immigrant John Stevens already figures in my Twelve Most Wanted for 2022 as my eighth choice for the upcoming year's research duties. However, what I find in the ninth month may help fill in some blanks if I miss the mark with August's research project.

The reason I'm confident of this possibility is that, like my Tison cousins, John Stevens had a second marriage. Of course, in that era in which he lived—the 1800s—his first wife was not exactly an "ex" but a wife who died following childbirth. Still, the research process is the same when it comes to sorting out the children. Though my father-in-law descended from John Stevens' first wife, the second wife bore him three daughters. They, too, have descendants who may be DNA matches—if only I know of their existence and can trace their line back to our mutual Stevens ancestor.

In addition, just as I've always wondered whether the Stevens surname was truly my father-in-law's "real" Irish patrilineal surname, I have questions about John's choice for a second wife. The reason? Though she also claimed to have emigrated from Ireland, her maiden name—Murdock—seems more likely to have been Scottish.

Running on the F.A.N. Club theory—that those who stay together through thick and thin may have an abiding reason for their connection, whether family, associates or long-time neighbors—I find it curious that the Irish immigrant patriarch claiming a not-particularly-Irish surname should choose, for his second wife, someone else from Ireland with a not-particularly-Irish maiden name. Could the association point us in the right direction to discover where John Stevens really came from?  


  1. Murdoch/Murdock is fairly common in Counties Antrim, Down and Armagh. Check at

    1. You're on the right track with this, Kat, but I just ran into a clue that my destination might be another northern county, instead. I'll still need to check for documentation, though. This lead was courtesy of a family tradition...and you know how misleading those can be.


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