First, I’ll apologize in advance for writing this without my research notes in front of me. I have documentation, but I won’t be able to cite it here (Bad genealogist! Go lie down by your reference manuals!).
While researching my great-grandfather, Edmund Batchelder, the other night, I found something that I didn’t expect. My grandfather had three sisters, not just one.
While growing up, I had only ever heard of and met my great-aunt Helen. She was the younger sibling of my grandfather, and the only girl. When her mother passed away, she took on part of the role of raising her younger brother, my great-uncle Ken. Aunt Helen and Uncle Ken had always been close, living on opposites of the mountain from each other, but visiting frequently. Family and relations were always a topic of conversation at family reunions and other gatherings. So why had I never heard of the other two sisters?
Both were stillborn.
While researching Edmund, I naturally looked at census records. The 1900 and 1910 Federal Census records list the number of children born to mothers. In Edmund’s case, I noticed that both his first and second wives had more children than I was aware of, and in each case, the unexpected child was not living at the time of the census.
Digging into birth records, I found the reason why. I found the two girls, both children of Edmund, one born to each mother. On each birth record, only the surname was listed. For the child of the first mother, I found a death record, dated the same day as the birth. The death record noted “stillborn”. In the second case “stillborn” was noted right on the birth record.
I doubt that Aunt Helen, Uncle Ken and my grandfather ever knew that they had other sisters.
The point of this, and what I reminded myself, is to always pay attention to what the records are telling you, even if it doesn’t match the reality that you’ve come to expect. In my case, I “knew” that the family had only one girl. As it turns out, the family really only had one *surviving* girl. The other two died before even being named. It also told me something about my great-grandfather. We were raised to believe that he was completely grief-stricken due to the death of his second wife, which is how my relatives described his behavior in later life. In truth, losing his second wife was one more loss in a line of losses. As strange as it sounds, knowing this makes me feel a little closer to a man I’ve never met.