Ok, ladies I have a question for you. Would you ever marry your brother-in-law? If you would, I suggest you not tell your husband. It would likely start a nasty fight.
This is the story of two brothers: Stefan "Steve" and "Nat" Gula and "their" wife, Maria "Mary" Smey. These two brothers are my great grand uncles. Steve and Nat were born in the small village of Wolowiec in present day southern Poland. Records show that Steve was born on November 10, 1880 and that Nat was born about 1891. Mary was born about 1883. I am not sure where Mary was born, but likely she was Rusyn and was born close to where the Gula's originated.
Steve immigrated to the US in 1899. His original destination was listed as Cleveland, OH. Not clear how long he spent there, but he did eventually return to Wolowiec for a time. He married Mary sometime prior to 1907 and returned from Wolowiec on August 14, 1907. He and Mary lived for a time in Ansonia, Connecticut.
Steve and Mary had 5 children: John "Iwan", Peter, Joseph, Michael and Stephen.
In the 1920 US Census, Steve Gula is listed as an invalid. He died on December 6, 1921. In a death notice it states he was ill for 8 years prior to his death and died when only 42 years old.
When Steve Gula died all of his children were all still quite young. I am sure his death was a devastating blow to the family. In the 1920's it would have been very difficult for a woman with small children to support the family. Even prior to Steve's death things must have been tough financially. Steve and Mary's oldest son, John, had been living in Wolowiec with an uncle (Teodor Smij) since he was an infant. John would have never really known his father as he didn't return to the US until after his father died. Also, since Steve had been unable to work they had taken on 4 or 5 boarders (according to the 1920 US Census).
On Nov 24, 1923, Mary Smey Gula remarried Nat Gula. There was obvious financial need for her to remarry and to do so quickly. But did they fall in love? Did Nat feel a responsibility to support his sister-in-law and nephews? Was there some necessity?
Nat Gula and Mary had at least 4 children of their own: William, George, Harry and Mary.
Mary died March 23, 1936 at only 53 years old.
Nat lived to be 71 years old and died October 27, 1962.
When I started my research into the Gula brothers which included my great grandfather, George Gula, I had no idea about the Steve and Nat "sharing" a wife. When I found obituaries from Steve and Nat's children I was getting confused because they all mentioned Mary as their mother, but the names of the father would differ. I had thought this was some sort of variance do the americanized name versus the Rusyn or original name. I was quite shocked when a distant cousin corrected me and told me that the brothers had both married Mary. I had never considered that possibility.
The realities are that even though the marrying a brother-in-law wasn't common, it may have been a financial and even cultural necessity in some cases. This sort of marriage situation is even addressed in the Bible and is referred to as a Levirate Marriage. This type of marriage is an obligation on a brother to marry his brother's widow. It was seen as protection of the brother's widow and family and was common in tight, close ethnic groups.