Your family tree is full of couples with their children listed underneath. They make up a nice complete family group.
Are you SURE you have found the whole family group?
Let’s clarify that family group a bit more.
Your ancestor’s family group is made up of the husband and wife and their known children.
[Note: For this post, I am assuming the usual course of events related to marriage and the birth of children.]
Unfortunately the infant and child mortality was high in the years of our ancestors. Visit any older cemetery and you find many infants and children did not survive past childhood.
Children themselves in the 1800’s and earlier did not generate many records. If a child’s entire life span fell between two census years, the researcher must think “outside of the box” to find a child’s existence and name.
Finding Children Between the Census Years – It is Possible!
1. Family Bibles
Family Bibles are often the only source of a child’s existence. This example is taken from the Harward (Howard) family of Moore/Lee County, NC.
Christian S. Harward was born 2 November 1817 to George Harward and Elizabeth Suggs. Christian presumably died very young. In the 1820 census George Harward should have had three male children as under 5. Only 2 male children are listed as being under 5. Those two sons are known to be Allen M. [Mays] Harward and James A. Harward.]
[If you are a Harward/Howard researcher and would like more information on this family, leave a comment below. I’m happy to share.]
Not sure if a family Bible exists for your ancestor’s family? Check with other relatives, collateral relatives, collateral genealogy researchers, local archives and museums and the state archives. For example, the North Carolina Digital Collection has 1500 Bible records online. Also, check historical societies and even keep an eye out on eBay.
With sites such as FindAGrave and CemeteryCensus.com, researching the cemetery where your ancestors are buried is possible right from your home. Be sure and check back periodically for updates to their databases.
Gravestones are another source of information on an ancestor’s children who died young. This example is from the Maddox family of Chatham County, NC.
This is the gravestone on Viola Maddox. [Viola was the daughter of James T. Maddox and Martha Jane Lett as well as my great-grandmother’s sister. I never knew of her existence until I came across her tombstone in the Moore Union Christian Church cemetery in Lee County, NC.]
Viola Maddox was born 28 Feb 1889 and died on 2 Jun 1890 at the age of 15 months. With the absence of the 1890 census and no known family Bible existing, this is the only record found for Viola’s short life.
Tip: Take a close look at the cemetery where your ancestors are buried.
3. 1900 and 1910 Census Records
The 1900 census record records “Mother of how many children” and “Number of these children living”. The 1910 census record records “children born” and “children living”. Comparing a woman’s known children with the actual number of children she birthed will provide clues to previously unknown children.
The 1910 census also asks if the individual was “blind in both eyes” or “deaf and dumb”. [Note: Though not acceptable today, these are the phrases used on the census at that time.]. Learning an ancestor’s child had a disability can point you to records for their care such as special schools or asylums/institutions.
4. Oral History
Oral history should not be overlooked when searching for previously unknown children in a family. In the example of Viola Maddox above, I shared her existence with my family. A member of the family then stated “Seems like your grandfather mentioned Mattie [Viola’s sister] had a younger sister who died.”
I learned my lesson.
Tip: Ask your family members about children of earlier generations who died young. Don’t forget to ask the relatives of collateral ancestors!
Why is it important to find ALL of your ancestor’s children?
Finding these children that lived between census years will not progress your family line back further. It WILL tell these children’s brief story and the story of loss your ancestors endured.
Let’s tell their stories.
Now back to our original question….
Are you sure you have found all of a couple’s children?
Other posts of interest:
- Using Pre-1850 Records To Find An Ancestor’s Children
- Searching For Ancestors in the Catholic Heritage Archive
- What Is That Family Cemetery REALLY Telling You?