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Another look back at large families

In the 1880s and 1890s, large households were the norm 

Most commonly in Hartselle homes, when the town first came into existence in the 1870s, there were four or five children, and the mother and father were in their forties. Couples who had no children in their homes were exceedingly rare. A couple with nine or more children was not seen as unusual.  

Women had the responsibility of caring for the children, while men worked at the increasing variety of stores that characterized early Hartselle.  

The federal census classified the work the men did as skilled, semiskilled or unskilled. Almost all the men had been raised on farms outside of Hartselle. Some were already married when they moved into town; others found wives after settling here. 

Aug. 20, 1882—Matt Roberts died today at age 85. When he was 12, his parents moved the family from Tennessee to north Alabama.  In 1817, Matt Roberts married the former Susan Wells, who was the mother of 18 children, four of whom died in infancy. The remaining 14 lived to maturity. He bore the suffering associated with the sickness that led to his death with Christian manliness, scarcely ever complaining. 

Nov. 28, 1889—The Alabama Enquirer (predecessor of the Hartselle Enquirer) paid tribute in this week’s issue to Robert Vest. He was identified as “a most excellent man, industrious, economizing and honest as a proverb. Robert and his wife Elizabeth have nine children. He owes no man anything.” 

July 11, 1895—Thomas Weeks, age 92, might be the oldest man in this part of the country. He is the happy paternal ancestor of a family that is almost exceptional in point of numbers; he has 15 children and 23 grandchildren now living. He is still hale and hearty and apparently in the prime of life. 

July 24, 1905—Lawrence and Sybilla Waldsmith, who reside in the home (Rosebud Cottage) on Main Street formerly occupied by Enquirer editor and Mrs. Asa Rountree on East Main Street, are the proud parents of a baby girl born today.  (Ultimately, Mr. and Mrs. Waldsmith would have seven children—two girls in addition to Annie Ruth, the name given to the baby born on this date, and four boys. When Hartselle’s foremost exponent of classical music died Oct. 26, 2000, at age 95 she had outlived all her siblings. Even though she never married, she was a surrogate mother to the hundreds of children she regularly welcomed into her home to study the music that could be made on her well-worn piano.) 

Jan. 31, 1907John M. Chenault, age 77 years, died at his home in south Decatur tonight. He leaves a wife and 10 children – two of his sons, C. S. and F. L. Chenaultbeing prominent physicians in New Decatur. Both see patients from Hartselle regularly. 

July 25, 1907—Hartselle’s Billie Vest has a large family. He is grandfather to 70 children and is greatgrandfather to 96 children. One hundred thirty-three of the total of 166 – 55 grandchildren and 70 greatgrandchildren – are living. Uncle Billie Vest, as he is familiarly called, was 85 years old the 30th day of May, 1907. He was born and reared, and has lived on the same place, barring a few years, his entire life. He is the father of 11 children, eight of whom are still living.  

Jan. 12, 1922W. W. Parker was laid to rest five miles south of Moulton today. He was a Primitive Baptist minister with that strength of character that has marked men of that faith for the past two or three centuries. Twelve of his 13 children are still living. 

May 1, 1924—Pinkey Pitts, who lives near Good Hope, has a family that would have delighted the heart of the late Theodore Roosevelt and other advocates of large families. Mr. Pitts is the father of 32 children. He has been twice married and is about 60 years of age. This is the largest family that is known in this part of the country.