Large Families – Then & Now

Photo WG2 smallHi!  Winnie Griggs here.  My latest title, Her Holiday Family, which released this month, features ten orphan children who invade my heroine’s home and that upset her orderly life in a BIG way – especially since their handsome caretaker comes with the package 🙂

Anyway, that got me to thinking about large families and how the average family size has changed over the years.  So I did a little research that I wanted to share with you today.

Since the National Birth Registration system wasn’t put into place until 1933, it’s hard to identify exact trends behind the existing census data, but even so we can see general overall trends in the numbers themselves.

Most experts in the field of census data research, however, estimate that in 1800, the average household in America included seven to eight children.  A hundred years later in 1900 this figure had dropped to three to four.

There were many reasons for this.  In earlier years, there was the expectation that not all children a woman bore would survive early childhood.  As our medical knowledge increased, this became less of an issue.  There are also economic reasons – in the 1800s, when most Americans lived on family farms,  children were expected to help support the family by taking on chores around the place.  As the industrial age dawned, however, and many families moved from farms to cities, children began to be seen as more of an expense to be budgeted for.  And of course changing mores on the issue of birth control contributed to this as well.

But large families haven’t completely disappeared.  I’m a prime example of that.   My own father was one of twelve siblings.  I’m the oldest of five.  My husband is one of six.  And he and I have four children of our own.  So extended family gatherings on either side of our family tend to be large and boisterous.

So what about you?  Do you come from a large family or a more intimate one?

And in honor of this being release month, I plan to give away a copy of Her Holiday Family to at least one visitor who leaves a comment on this today.

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What happens when a straight-laced young widow’s home is invaded by ten rambunctious orphans and their handsome caretaker just in time for the holidays… 

Reserved widow Eileen Pierce never considered herself the kind of woman who was cut out to be a mother. She wouldn’t know what to do with one child, much less ten. But when handyman Simon Tucker is stranded in town with a group of young orphans just before Thanksgiving, she discovers she can’t just turn them away.


Simon knows there’s more to Eileen than meets the eye. Though his easygoing demeanor immediately clashes with her buttoned-up propriety, Simon’s kindness soon melts Eileen’s stern facade. Simon and the children have already upended Eileen’s quiet, orderly life. Will they do the same to her guarded heart?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

46 thoughts on “Large Families – Then & Now”

  1. Hello Winnie. I came from a family with 8 siblings, my dad’s mother had 8 children, one of his sisters had 9 children,. I had 4 kids, plus having 2 sister had 5 children and a brother had 6, the others less. I now have 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grands. Already one granddaughter has 5, so we have helped populate the world like GOD told Adam and Eve. I loved being part of a large family. Know what you mean about big gatherings. I would love to win one of your books. Thanks for a chance. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

  2. Hi,

    I am one of 7 children. 6 girls & then a boy. My father & brother were terribly outnumbered, but I don’t think they minded at all.

    • Hi Mary – LOL, I know what you mean by outnumbered. There were five of us siblings but only one was a boy. He was the middle child and I think he loved being outnumbered, though he wouldn’t admit that when we were kids!

  3. I had a more intimate family. I am an only so growing up I had to go down the street to find a playmate. I feel I have missed out on not having a sibling but those that have them say I’m better off. It the old grass is greener thing. I have cousins but we aren’t close. All of my mothers family, she was one of 6 and my dad’s family 1 of 2 and a half. Mother’s family is all gone but one aunt and Daddy’s family is gone but the half. Holidays were fun but limited. I had a great family though and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I would love to have one of your books. I read a couple but more are always appreciated.

    • Connie, My mom only had one sibling and they were separated by many years so she was almost an only. Her sister never had children so we were it on her side of the family. Gatherings for that branch of my family tree were always much more subdued, but the upside of that was we were spoiled by being the focus of their attention 🙂

  4. Hi Winnie, I am the eldest of 7 children and my mother was one of 13 as was my father. My husband was an only child.
    We have four children and 7 grandchildren. I had so many cousins around always and I always hated that my family moved to another state after I was married so my children never really got to spend much time with their cousins.

  5. My mom and dad both came from families with 3 children. They also had 3 children. My brother has 3 children, my sister 2 children and I have 4 children. My brother has 5 grandchildren and I have 2.

    My husband’s parents came from families of 4 and 3. My in-laws had 4 children. Out of those only one of my husband’s siblings had children. She has 2 children and 1 grandchild.

    3/4 of my grandparents came from families that had 6-7 children.

  6. Hello Winnie! I grew up with just one sibling, my younger brother. He’s the best, but we live about 1800 miles apart. Wish we were geographically closer!

    Here’s another indicator of family size . . . My sons have no first cousins. Between us, my husband I have three siblings and we’re the only ones with kids. Our two boys received tons of stuff at Christmas, but they missed out on sharing the day with kids their age.

  7. My. Mom is from a family of 10 children and she then had 4 children . We have 2 children. Thanks for your post.

    • Hi Janine. I guess it’s all a matter of what you grow used to. I had several ‘onlies’ as friends and they definitely had a different family dynamic going. There were times when I really envied them them. But I wouldn’t trade my siblings for anything!

    • Melody – I know exactly what you mean! We also had four children and I often got looks that said ‘what were you thinking!” 🙂 But I can’t imagine my life without any one of them.

  8. Though I grew up in a small family, our neighborhood was full of big Catholic families. Those large families have their own unique dynamic. It’s kind of fascinating to think back on it now!

    • Goldie – I’ll go you one better – I’m the oldest of my siblings and was twenty when my baby sister was born. Can you imagine being a college sophomore and getting word the your mother was pregnant 🙂

  9. There are two extremes with my family and my husbands. I am an only child and he is the youngest of six…..talking about a shock the first time I sat down to a family dinner at his house! I was told, “You better grab something because it is about to all be gone!”

  10. My grandfather came from a family of 9 kids… my grandmother was from 7… my dad was one of four kids… my mom one of three… I am one of three…

  11. what a wonderful post,,that book sounds awesome,,my husbands mother had 7 siblings and his father had 11 siblings,,he and I both have 2 siblings,,we adopted one chlld and have 5 of our own,,so big families are the norm for us,,lots of love and hugs abound

  12. Hi Winnie! I came from a family of 4 siblings and have one child. The average number of kids in a family in my neighborhood growing up was 10-12. My father’s parents were actually stepbrother and sister….. a widower with 9 children married a widow with 10 children and that was how they met and eventually married.

  13. I come from a small family of 2 other siblings (one still living). However, my mom came from a family with 10 children, and my dad from 7 children, and neither one lived on a farm. I think small or large should be based on how many the parents can emotionally as well as physically support and nurture. Of course this is also more importantly based on what God has planned for them. I loved my small family.

  14. Winnie, Thanks for an interesting post. Family size is more closely related to economic factors than almost anything else. When I was overseas working in a developing country, we operated on the premise of improving infant mortality and family health. Once survivability improved, the pressure to have so many children is reduced for help on the farms and as the parents’ “social security system.” It isn’t something that happens in a short period of time and sometimes takes generations.
    Anyway, I have rambled again. My mom was the second oldest of nine children and my dad was second oldest of seven. I am the oldest of 6 and most of my mom’s brothers and sisters had 4 or 5 children. It did make for fantastic great family gatherings when I was a kid. We are all so scattered now, that doesn’t happen any more. We have 3 children and my daughters have one child each. We have been informed not to expect anymore. I do understand. It is so expensive to raise children today, plus my oldest daughter has a career she loves and really couldn’t handle another child and keep up her job and a husband with cancer. I do miss large family gatherings, but enjoy our smaller ones. In our case, religious views on birth control did have some affect on the number of children. Societal and personal beliefs have influenced decisions over the years.

    I wouldn’t mind being in Eileen’s situation. You could have dropped in with 10 children any time. I would have loved it. It would have been easier to cope in my youth, but I could still handle it. HER HOLIDAY FAMILY sounds like a book I will thoroughly enjoy.

      • I never said I would keep them.
        I was once told I had the Kool Aid House in the neighborhood. I had never heard the term before. It was the house where the kids always seemed to be. If it wasn’t the neighborhood kids just playing, it was a Girl scout troop or Boy Scouts. Good times.

  15. I love this post and reading everyone’s comments! My husband and I have three children, which is a bit larger than most other families we know. I can’t wait to read Her Holiday Family!

  16. I’m right in the middle from my other 6 siblings so it was seven here. Too for my parents, they said they knew they would have a large family as it was that way related to my dad’s side of the family with their Catholic religion not allowing birth control. They had told me it was much stricter in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

    I had a girl first, then my son and that was perfect for us being a family of four. I do love reading series too with many siblings so I get to read all their HEA’s or beg you to write their stories too. 🙂

    Beautiful cover Winnie and can’t wait to read the book.


    • Hi Cathie! I also had a girl first and then a boy. I wanted one more but apparently Good Lord wanted me to have four because that last time aroud I ended up with a set of twins. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!

  17. This sounds like such a sweet story! I am an only child. I love family gatherings. Being a few states away now we love hosting friends in our home. Most of us are out of staters that have moved here and become like family.

    • Hi Nancy. I believe a family can be about more than blood ties. The people you love and surround yourself with can become a family of sort as well. It sounds like you are blessed with friends like that.

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