This weekend my adored nephew was staying with us. Apart from the fact that he was born nine weeks early and is none the worst for it, he is no different to any other child. All children are by turns adorable and frustrating - particularly your own - and all children are special.
However, my nephew appears to be the last holder of my family name - Shaller (see previous blog posts!). Me being female and married, my children bear my husband's name (we were terribly traditional about the whole thing). My cousins on that side of the family are all female and married and likely not to use their maiden name for their children. So my brother is the one male on our horizontal tree line and his son too is the one male. My sister in law having no nieces and nephews, my nephew/her son is also the only child on his horizontal line on their tree. No pressure then, kid!
When we look at our family trees, the general trend is usually for families to have dwindled in their numbers of siblings since birth control became possible. No longer did a woman have to risk having six children when she actually only wanted (and could cope with!) two. Of course, big families were not seen as a bad thing in, for example, the Victorian age. Partly people aspired to the standard set by Victoria and Albert's huge brood of prince and princesses, partly (sadly) not all children were expected to survive childhood. A woman may go through eight births but only half of these children might survive. And for the poor, a big family was both a blessing and curse. Many mouths to feed and people to clothe but later, extra workers to contribute to the family pot and live-in childcare for those children still too young to work.
It is unimagineable to us - brought up with the NHS and medical breakthroughs and knowledge of infection and so on - that you might lose a child every couple of years. But on my Anglo Indian family tree, there are a number of examples where a couple have produced three or four children and none or just one have survived. I have not looked as closely yet but I imagine that there will be similar situations on my maternal side.
There are still cultures in the world which prize male heirs above female. Even in the UK, it has only just become possible for a first born royal female to inherit ahead of a younger brother. Of course, William and Kate have obligingly managed to produce a boy first time so this is probably not ever going to be an issue anyway! But our long reigning queen was actually the bottom of the heap - no more boys to inherit instead of her - the same with Elizabeth I and Victoria.
If I was to imagine that my family tree were heirs to a great estate or a throne (!) and these principles still applied, my father would be king, followed by my younger brother and then my nephew. Despite being the eldest, I would be bypassed, as would my children and grandchildren unless something awful happened to my brother's line. This is where you can begin to feel sympathy with all those medieval princesses, Tudor queens and various princes for their scheming (although not for their methods!). Sometimes they must have been so close to the throne that they could almost feel it and then another baby would come along and oh, not your turn next, sorry..... Of course, the flipside of this was, as with the Tudors, the pressure to produce male heirs....
And on that note, to return to my lovely nephew, I have gone through most of my family tree now for five or six generations (at least) of the Shaller name and I suspect that the nearest holders of the surname who are related to us are in America. I have not yet got access to US records (Ancestry and others charge separately for this typically - don't get me started...) but we believe that one male may have died in Vietnam. It remains to be seen if there is another line. My grandfather had three sisters but his father had brothers and one of these seems to have emigrated to America well before the Partition of India. A whole new mystery to explore. But not until I have the current mass of information under control (see previous posts!)....