near-strangers, and may not have spent very much time living with their spouses or even their own children, depending on the time, place, and circumstances
For Dutch records I've primarily restricted myself to the basics, birth, marriage and death. But, on the anglophone North American side (US & Canada) records likes births, baptisms, marriages and deaths are quite often not recorded in the public record, or if they were, the mother's identity was obfuscated or sometimes entirely lost (my own grandmother would be known as Mrs. John R Dunbar in many cases).
Eric, if you'll indulge me a moment longer, I think genealogy as a hobby has a bit of a classist problem (along with many other problems).
I hadn't really thought too much about this but I have started thinking about how my own experience of a stable two parent household is so profoundly different from that of my ancestors (especially in certain parts of the Netherlands--I can see why they were so desperate at times to emigrate since it seems like my contemporaneous Ontario ancestors lived longer, and had fewer spouse... of course, the only way you could detect a family's children was every 10 or 20 years when a census was taken so infant deaths would often go unrecorded so that could very easily bias any conclusions).
illegitimacy, infidelity, divorce, spousal abandonment, etc., shatters those idylls.
And, I think this is why genealogy without DNA evidence is not too much more than historical fiction. A well documented family tree is vital, but now that we have the opportunity to use DNA to confirm its validity we should.
Almost certainly any tree that goes back more than three generations has undocumented crimes and tragedies that the official records never will capture. These violations should be recorded so we can appreciate where we came from--both the good and the bad.
I've often wondered what happened in the households with one adult man, a wife and young female servants of childbearing age. How many of the "children" in these families were consensually conceived? How many of these children were given the wrong mother in the official record to maintain respectability?
My paternal grand-father's great-grandfather goes missing from the public record in Ontario around the 1880's. His wife is listed as single or married over the subsequent four decades but never widowed. She also always lived with one or more of her three sons, never with their father in sight.
What is interesting is that someone in the UK thinks that he started a family in England in the late 1890's. It's not a bad hypothesis since this person at one point may have been listed as a barrister but not working as such (and my ancestor was a barrister in Canada and two of his three sons became lawyers). However, the problem is that there is another man with his name (Alexander Dunbar) who is a cousin of his also born in the same year and in the same area as he was born.
Since that person shares the same surname as me we should be able to establish a DNA connection if it exists. Although, we may never know for sure that it was him because there is that cousin of his with his name same birth year and same general area.
My ggrandfather ended up living in a "retirement home" (mental institution) for the last 30 years of his life. I've also found families where the cause of death of a person was hanging, or, in one case, a gunshot to the head slash diabetes when their 70's (it was a deadly disease in the early 20th century that could not be controlled).
One thing I've noticed about the Dutch records vs. the Ontario records (if they survived) is that the cause of death is oftentimes not recorded in the Dutch records while it is in all its tragic detail in Ontario.
One the most tragic stories I found was that of a young woman who married her (German?) music teacher in Montreal who in turn rose to considerable prominence as the official Montreal something-or-other musician in the 1890's. They had a rather substantial family but she ended up hanging herself in her late 60's, and being buried in an uncle's grave far away from her husband and her children. What caused her to be away from her children and to take her own life?
Or, one time I found a man who was found dead "op de Almelosestraat". What happened to him? Was he murdered? Did he die of a disease? A heart attack?
One thing that I suspect the official record glosses over is how many people took their own lives in the past. So much for the clean moral simplicity of the burgerlijkestand. In fact, now that I think about it, the burgerlijkestand is a shield that allows us to ignore the messy details of people's lives. Children born to mothers who lived in shame. I once found a woman in Utrecht who had no fewer than three children without a father according to baptismal records. What caused her to have so many children without a recorded father? She experienced an early death and only one of the three children went on to get married and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and... (that's where I stopped looking... she at least had a legacy, even if she herself had a rough life). She happened to have a name that I was searching for in a different part of the country but I figured I'd create her family from the bottom up.