“Families repeat themselves. What happens in one generation will often repeat itself in the next. The same issues tend to be played out from generation to generation.” – Family Systems Perspective

I’m a former psychotherapist, and have used systems theory repeatedly in my work. When I applied it to information I obtained about my great grandfather I got valuable insight into the behavior of close relatives which was a source of personal empowerment.

My search started with my grandfather. I discovered he was married in a town in Illinois. I called the County Clerk’s Office to obtain the names of his parents.

With their names in hand, I begin to search the online census records for my grandfather’s family. I found them right away; however, when I saw the next census I begin to think my search would be a little more complicated than what I originally thought. My great grandfather and his two sons were missing; additionally my great grandmother had checked “widow.” I assumed my great grandfather had died and the boys were probably living with another relative. I wanted to verify my theory so I searched for the boys in census records. What I found put a new spin on my research. They were listed in the census as “inmates” at the Fairmount Children’s Home.

Questions swirled in my mind.  Their mother was living so why were they placed in a Children’s Home? Were they delinquent? What crimes had they committed? I wanted to find out the nature of the Home, sure that would provide me the information. I Googled the name of the home and discovered it was a temporary dwelling for indigent children under 16. I called the phone number at the bottom of the page. I was connected with the Department of Human Services. The social worker explained the nature of the home, and offered to mail me their admission forms after I provided identifying information.

When I received the records, I found yet another mystery. There was a note on the admission forms which stated that their father has criminal tendencies. My curiosity peaked. I was sure I would never find out the reason for my great grandmothers comment, But, I wanted to give one final place a try before putting it to rest. I searched I could not believe my eyes when his name appeared. The article, dated 1828 gave the answer. My great grandmother was divorcing my great grandfather because of “extreme cruelty.” Clearly this family had many issues, and passed them on to future generations.

Applying systems theory to my research gave me insight into the functioning of this family, and helped me understand why some of my relatives behaved the way they did. I hope your research will be as fruitful as mine did.


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