A parent moves in with one of the children. Generally, the move comes after their spouse dies. Safety and/or health reasons often precipitate the move. Other times, financial well-being is a major consideration. Loneliness can be another factor. Any combination of these or other reasons occur. Genealogists look for residence patterns. Does the older person stay with one child or appear in different homes? What prompts the move to one place or another? These are the family stories to be explored and told. In this post, I give two examples from our family tree.
Census and other records show an older person living with a younger person. When there are 20 or more years difference in ages, we often guess that the older person is a parent of the older relative. Did the older person move in with the younger person? Did the younger person move in with the older person? What factors determined the action?
EXAMPLE #1: Unmarried child as designated caregiver for older parent
Wright Roswell Ellerbee, born in 1875, was 6th of seven children born to James John Ellerbee and his 2nd wife, Elizabeth Hayes. James John died in December 1877, leaving his wife with 6 children and her aging parent, Moses Hayes in Georgia.  Within a few years, Elizabeth joined her stepson, William Green Ellerbee, in Cherokee county, Texas. The 1900 census  shows 24-year-old Will [Wright] R. Ellesbee [Ellerbee] as head of household with his mother, 58-year-old Elizabeth and his brother, Asa, age 23. Next door lived Wright’s brother, James Walter Ellerbee, and his family.
Roles reversed for the next census. E. Ellerbee, widow, is now listed as head of household with Wright, her 35-year-old son.  Again, the two brothers, Wright and James, lived close to each other. Elizabeth died in 1917. Wright continued to live with his brother, James Walter Ellerbee, until Wright’s marriage about 1934 to Effie Susan Wesley. Wright delayed marriage while his mother was living and did not marry until he was in his 50s. Wright died in Cherokee county, Texas in December 1940 at the age of 65. 
Wright Roswell Ellerbee was the only unmarried child. Did he remain single from a sense of responsibility for his widowed mother? He lived with his brother, James, for about 15 years after the death of their mother.
EXAMPLE #2: Parents living with child, widow remains with same child
Mary Ann Selman Holcomb, age 64 and her husband, 79-year-old George Creager Holcomb, were recorded as living with their son, Garrett, in 1900. After George’s death in 1902,  Mary Ann remained with Garrett, his wife, Minnie, and their seven children according to the 1910 census.  Presumbly, Mary Ann lived with Garret until her death in 1913 in Cherokee county, Texas. 
When did Mary Ann and George move in with Garrett? Garrett married about 1892. He and Minnie may have moved in with his parents or vice versa. George’s advancing age likely determined this living arrangement . Was Garrett living on the family homestead or in the family home? Did George and Mary have a closer relationship with Garrett than other children? Answers to these questions remain speculative. A will, probate file and cause of death for George Creager Holcomb may give clues.
I recall seeing other examples on our family trees, such as:
- Adult child moves in with parent after death of other parent. Sometimes this child was a widow or widower, with or without children.
- After death of spouse, remaining parent moves in with child
- Widow/ widower moves from home of one child to home of another child
TELLING THE STORIES
My examples give only the barest facts. I plan to expand on these facts later. To tell the story, follow journalistic guidelines and search widely:
- Who is the parent? Who is the child? Is the child oldest, youngest or in-between? Later census records show relationship between the head of household and others. In some cases, a parent is listed as a ‘boarder’. An older person with a different surname is most likely to be the wife’s parent but could be a relative of either spouse.
- What reason is suggested for the move? What is the child’s marital status? What are the ages of both the parent and child?
- When did the move occur? Estimate the time frame. Look for those wonderful newspaper tidbits – “Mrs. Mary Jones visited her daughter, Wilma Stone, this weekend then returned to her home in Wabash where she lives with her son, Phillip.” Obituaries give clues – “Mrs. Mary Jones died yesterday at the home of her son, Philip, where she had been living for the past 5 years.”
- Where were both parent and child living before the move? Where are they living now? Look for similar addresses.
- Why did the move occur? Consider elderly parent’s age, declining health, no longer being able to work, financial status. Look for cause of death as reported on death certificate as a clue. Is the child the only one still living on the family farm or in the family home? Consider this clue- “The daughters of Philip Jones are the 4th generation to live in the family home.”
- How did the move occur? Was it a fairly simple matter of moving some furniture from one place to another place in the same community? What type of transportation would have been used – wagon, car, truck, train, other? Consider the effort of downsizing and the effects on the whole family.
In summary, look beyond the basic facts of an elderly person, or other relative, living with a younger person. If the census does not give relationships, consider whether the older person is really the parent of the younger person. Delve deeper into these stories to enrich your family’s story. Even a best guess may have some truth in it!
For additional information about writing a story, read this article: How to write like a journalist
The topic for this post came as we prepare a room in our home for my mother-in-law. My father-in-law died last year. Since then, my mother-in-law requires more help to care for her home. She maintains most of her self-care. Social isolation associated with Corona virus accelerated her decision. Yes, my mother-in-law and I get along. Both of my parents are deceased.
As usual, as I write for my blog, I make progress on cleaning up paper and digital files. Five census records, 3 cemetery records, 2 marriage records, 1 death record done and 100s to go! This post helps me to do more than simply recite facts.
What I learned: Aging parents living with children was not uncommon. In one case, the parent lived with a different child over a 30-year period (3 decennial censuses). I have to look through all of my files to find that one again! I realize that there is more to each story than what the census records tell.
What helped: family tree with names and dates already recorded. Sources listed for facts.
What didn’t help: Incomplete citations. Not all information in the records had been transcribed to computer-based family tree.
TO-DO: Include living arrangements and my best guess in notes. Write stories that go beyond the facts. Begin journal about current move.
© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2020
 Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1986), pp. 14-42 & 14-43.
 1880 U.S. Census, Early Co, Georgia, pop. sch., Damascus, enumeration district (ED) 026, p. 214A, family #, Elizabeth Eleby; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 4 September 2011); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. NARA Roll 144..
 1900 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., Justice Pct 8, enumeration district (ED) 30, p. 284A (printed), Family #22, Wright Ellerbee (head); digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : downloaded & printed 4 September 2011); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Roll: T623_1619..
 1910 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., , enumeration district (ED) 24, p. 14B, family #272, E. Ellerbee, head; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : downloaded 2012); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Microfilm publication T624_1619.
 Find a Grave. Elizabeth Ellerbee. Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : viewed 8 August 2020), memorial page for Elizabeth A Hayes Ellerbee, Find A Grave Memorial # 35222677, citing Mount Hope Cemetery (Wells, Cherokee, Texas), memorial created by Wanda Karr Ellerbee, photograph by Wanda Karr Ellerbee..
 Marriage of Wright Roswell Ellerbee to Effie Susan Wesley estimated from 1940 Census showing Wright, wife Effie and son, Omar Lee, age 5.
 Texas Death Index. “Texas Death Index, 1903-2000,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 August 2020), entry for Ellerbee, Wright Roswell; citing Texas Department of Health, State Vital Statistics Unit, Austin, TX.; page 7166, certificate no. 54106.
 1900 U.S. Census, Cherokee county, Texas, population schedule, Alto, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 13A, dwelling 221, family 227, George Holcomb age 79; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed 8 August 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T623_1619.
 Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : viewed 8 August 2020), memorial page for George Creager Holcomb, Find A Grave Memorial # 32434400, citing Shiloh Cemetery (Alto, Cherokee, Texas), memorial created by Susan Harnish, photograph by Denise Brown Biard Ercole.
 1910 U.S. Census, Cherokee county, Texas, population schedule, Alto, enumeration district (ED) 0014, p. 20A, dwelling 367, family 371, Mary Ann Holcomb age 74; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed 8 August 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. , microfilm publication T624_1538.
 Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 8 August 2020), memorial page for Mary Ann Selman Holcomb, Find A Grave Memorial # 01196611 , citing Shiloh Cemetery (Alto, Cherokee, Texas), memorial created by Judy Murphy, photograph by Judy Murphy.