Top Row: Left to right – Elzie Chenoweth (grandfather), Dollie Swise Chenoweth (great-grandmother), Eleanor Senate Lawrence Harrison (2nd great grandmother)
Bottom Row: Left to right – Elias Birdine Chenoweth (2nd great grandfather), Della Margaret White Swise (2nd great grandmother)
Back in college, I took a class about families. It seemed like a blow-off class with little information of importance. Boy, was I wrong! We studied birth-order of children. It was fascinating and I still relate to what I learned there. With the topic of oldest this week, I went way back to this class and comments my sister often makes. “I didn’t have to remember that family trivia, you’re the oldest. You always remember for me,” is a comment she frequently makes. The other has something to do with the fact if something is not functioning at home, I quickly try to fix it myself which once led to me taking the one toilet out of our house to repair it.
Oldest children to have a tendency to do things differently. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist, was one of the first to develop this theory. Supposedly the first-born child is the high achiever, the middle-born child the peacemaker and the youngest child is the outgoing charmer. It’s difficult to tell if that’s accurate. Science sure can’t do it, but here is what I do know.
As a first-born or oldest child, I was my parents’ experiment. They developed their parenting skills on me as do most parents. By the time the next child comes along, they have skipped the books, discussion groups, forums, and advice giving columns. The oldest child is the one who was an only child for a while. They are the child who had the adults’ single focus. In the beginning, they didn’t have to share the adult attention. It does make a difference.
After considering the topic for the week, I began thinking that most of my direct ancestors are not first-born children. The first four – Elzie through Elias – were all first-born children as am I. FIVE first-borns out of 31 possibilities – (16 – 2nd great grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 4 grandparents, 2 parents and me). In fact, most of my ancestors were youngest or near the youngest 1/3 of their family. Families were much bigger in the old days, so if you fell in the bottom 1/3 of 9 children, you might as well have been the youngest.
It did make me consider what kind of effect it had on my ancestors, their choice of spouses, their occupations, the way they interacted with their siblings. Just some deep thinking for a rainy Sunday.
The last young lady in the group of photos is Della Margaret White Swise. She was #5 of 5 in 1862. As her mother came west to Illinois, leaving Virginia and the Civil War and Della’s father in the Army, the four oldest children and their mother contracted diphtheria in Ohio. Family history says they were nursed by an Indian woman. The other four children died. Only Della – being under the age of two – and her mother survived. She went from being the youngest in the family to being the oldest.
The story of Della and her family ends happily. Their father, apparently after his term of service in the Army, went west to find the family in Illinois. He must have been very happy to see his wife, Eliza Jane Hulvey White and Della. You see, Della went from being the youngest of five children, to the oldest of 10! How’s that for a switch from youngest to oldest!