Pull up a couch. This is gonna take a while. To make things simple, I'll drill it down for everyone. Pay attention. There'll be a quiz later. Maybe. =)
My father is an only child. However, he grew up with his first cousins in Haverhill and they were pretty much his siblings. My grandma Ollie was one of five. Seeing all the sisters around the dining room table growing up was awesome. Little old Italian ladies are great. Except when they take turns pinching your cheeks. They did that. A lot.
Grandpa Marco only has one full sister. However, like my dad he had a TON of cousins from the Tedesco family in Woburn, Mass to the Coppolas who, like my grandfather lived in Haverhill.
Back to my grandma Ollie. Her uncle, Rocco had about a dozen kids. Many my dad knew about. He knew of the Coppolas and some of the Tedescos, too. There were Ferraiolo cousins but they moved further away than Essex and Middlesex counties. They mostly settled in the Philly area as I found out recently.
Now we come to my mother's side. My mom is one of six. I am the second oldest of ten grandchildren with my brother being the oldest. Grandpa Hamel was one of five. Grandma Felker was one of five as well. As a result, my mom has I want to say 50 cousins. I remember working on the tree with her and having her help me list everyone. That took a while. I also talk to a few of her cousins on Facebook. So, that was helpful.
Her grandparents also came from incredibly large families. Henrietta was one of twelve. Her parents, Antoine and Lucy, were living in a small house with their in-laws and their kids in the 1880 census. I checked it out on Google Earth. Can't believe it's still there! I don't know how twelve people fit in that house! Basically two families were living there as one.
The same thing happened with my 2x great-grandmother Caterina's sister, Concetta and her brother, Paolo in the 1920 census! Huge families living together.
Great-grandpa Felker had many siblings and half-siblings as his parents got divorced. Gertrude married a Senter and had many children with him. Wilfred unfortunately left the picture so his grandfather, Jeremiah raised Austin. Wilfred ended up having many kids with a woman named Anne Pierce. My mom ended up knowing more of the Senters growing up than the kids from the Wilfred/Anne Pierce marriage.
My mom knew her great-grandparents, Joseph Laplante and Georgianna Ross. The families were large. REALLY large. So many kids I haven't finished adding all the Ross ones. I have a third cousin who has been helping me with that.
A challenge from being in a large family is trying to get everyone's name right. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a family event and someone runs up to me, gives me a hug and said how much I've grown. I turn to my parents and they tell me who the person is. When you put them all down in your favorite family tree making software, it can be a bit scary. You don't want to forget anyone. You need scorecards.
One of the benefits of course is that you get a lot of people sharing similar stories. Since my grandpa Marco died when I was four, my great-aunt was the one who ended up telling me everything about the Ferraiolos, Tedescos and Coppolas. Her daughter helped, too. With a lot of people giving you information, it gives you solid groundwork for your research.
Another benefit is that you get to know a lot of your cousins before you take a DNA test. I knew of a few potential third and fourth cousins growing up. Grandma Ollie kept in touch with the Carrabs cousins as Rocco, Pasquale and Rosina were nearby. Sadly after my grandpa Marco passed away we lost touch with the Tedescos. At least we're back in touch thanks to the advent of the Internet.
Having a large family also means that you get a lot of insight into what life was like. Even seeing large families as far back as my 2x great-grandparents gives me an idea. Some kids died young. Some lived to adulthood and had large families of their own. In the end you get to figure out how they lived and managed their large families. It was probably not easy for two large French-Canadian families living in a small house in Haverhill. I can tell you that much. The same could be said for Italians, too!
Large families give you stories. Some good. Some bad. Some sad. In the end, they are there to give you information even years after their deaths. And when you find that DNA match to a member of that family long since forgotten you can reconnect as if no time has passed.
To sum up. The movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was a like a documentary. =)