Wedding Wednesday: Shotgun Count

I was thinking that I would try to determine how many of my female ancestors were knocked up before their weddings. It's not something I can really figure out reliably, what with miscarriages, stillbirths, children who died before the census, uncertain birthdates, and revised birthdates, but I can still see if anything shows up and ponder the scenario.

Luckily, I've already nerded along a parallel area when looking at my female ancestors' reproductive history. (Because someone is impatient for menopause and was hoping to see some kind of promising trend.) So, I already have a spreadsheet with the ancestors' ages when they had their first child.

Let's go generation by generation.

Grandmothers (2, both known): They both married young, but neither had buns in the oven when they eloped down down the aisle. (Yes, both of them eloped. They really were that young.)

Great-grandmothers (4, all known): Nanny had her first child nine months and one week after they married; I hope for the sake of raised eyebrows that she didn't start showing early.

GG-grandmothers (8/8 known): Quick starts on the families, as farming families did then, but nope, no hint of hanky panky. I don't know the birth date of Grandma Trimble's first child, though, a daughter named Mary. If not for the recollections of her granddaughter, my cousin Dott Louise, little Mary Trimble who died at about 18 months would be unknown to us. That's what too often happens to young people who pass away between the censuses. The 1910 census tells us that Grandma Trimble said she'd had five children, four still living, but that's just a tickmark, not a name, not the same. Where's Mary buried? Does she even have a stone? We don't know.

GGG-grandmothers (15/16 known): Everything explodes.

Allow me to introduce the players (with the /r/ pronounced):

  • Angie
  • Caroline
  • Eliza
  • Jane
  • Jennie
  • Lizzie
  • Manerva
  • Martha
  • Mary E.
  • Mary Jane F.
  • Mary Jane R.
  • Matilda
  • Sarah
  • Susan
  • Vashti
  • (Unknown)

Now here they are again, with the united colors of Benetton: (Argh, Self, stop! You are not a Gilmore Girl! You've only seen the show twice! I do watch Bunheads every week, though.)

  • Angie
  • Caroline
  • Eliza
  • Jane
  • Jennie
  • Lizzie
  • Manerva
  • Martha
  • Mary E.
  • Mary Jane F.
  • Mary Jane R.
  • Matilda
  • Sarah
  • Susan
  • Vashti
  • (Unknown)

KEY

Marriage documented. Birth date of first child known and more than nine months after marriage. (Again, birth dates of children that come from death certificates, headstones, or the census are often wrong enough to not be able to take this as gospel.)

Marriage documented, either through contemporary record or the later recollection of the bride. Birth date of first child not certain. While the birth date is uncertain and the marriage date might be fudged later, children seem to have been born after the wedding date.

No idea when the couple married.

Unknown ancestor is unknown.

How scarlet is your letter, Granny?

I should point out that I'm not judging any of these possibly unwed mamas in my tree. I don't know their circumstances, but even if said circumstance was that they just enjoyed having sex, good for them! No wagging fingers here.

However, we all know, given that this was mid-1800s-ish, that the communities and families probably were not so jazzed when an unmarried woman found herself with child. We can't assume that our ancestors created actual scandals (not when the early Quaker records routinely call people out for fornication), or even that anyone officially noticed, but by doing the math and taking note of the situation, we have the fun of a little more to wonder about.

And so, let's round up our four finalists and get to know them better.

Angie, born Angelina A. Williams in Wisconsin in the winter of 1852, the daughter of an American-raised Brit and his midwestern wife. Angie was the eldest of seven, and by the time she was eight, the family had settled in northern Missouri.

Three days after turning 20, she married William Andrew Stanley. If her granddaughter's Bible record and her grandson's input on his father's death certificate are correct, her first of two known children was born seven weeks after her wedding.

Or was he?

Son Charles Franklin Stanley's kids both thought their father's birthday was 12 March 1872. But wait, in the 1900 census, Charles said he was born in March 1873. Oh sure, birth reporting in the 1900 census was often a creative exercise, somehow even worse that the previous censuses that only asked for age, not month and year of birth. But what's the simplest answer here?

The 1880 census taker came to Angie and William's home in Nebraska in June. If Charles was born in March 1872, he would be eight. If March 1873, seven. Which is it?

Seven.

Verdict: Probably not pregnant at marriage.

Who knows? I don't know. I'll never know. I'm just musing.

Caroline, born Mary Caroline Perry in Arkansas circa 1861, is the mother of the daughter who married Angie's son. Hmmm. Will we find that the ladies had something else in common?

First, let's get a look at Caroline. I was beyond delighted when a distant cousin shared this photo last year. Caroline has always been an elusive one, so the notion of ever getting to see a photo of her was more than I dared to dream.

Lewis M White and Caroline Perry

I beg of anyone with old photos who hasn't digitized them yet, please, please do so and share them online. Doesn't matter where - Google will find them.

I can't really see Caroline's face, but her jaw looks capable. That posture! The belt buckle!

All I knew of her before this photo was that she died when the family moved to Oklahoma and that - please don't roll your eyes - she was supposedly part Native American. Yeah, everyone has those stories, but I have a mysterious tintype in a cigar box of family photos.

The Mysterious Tintype - Possibly GGGG-Grandfather

On a June day in 1878, Caroline - age 18 - married Lewis Marion White. Not quite four months later, along came her daughter Sarah Elizabeth, aka "Big Grandma" to me.

Or did she?

The family Bible and her death certificate say so, but we've cast doubt on those same documents and people already. How does the census play out?

1880: age 1 (before June). Hmm. Baby Lizzie could be 8 months or 20 months and still be recorded as one, but officially babies under a year old were enumerated in months. Officially, yes, but not always.

1900: She says she was born in October 1878.

1910: Age 31 (before May). Yeah, that works out to 1878. 1920: Age 41. Ditto. 1930: Age 51. 1940: 61.

I don't think I've ever seen an age reported so consistently before.

Verdict: Caroline came to the altar with a baby bump.

Is that why the brief biography of her probable mother and brothers in a cemetery book neglected to mention their little sister? (Or was that just the sexist side of our hobby?)

And did the baby belong to Lewis? I'm not implying something rude about Caroline, but you never know. Desperate women sometimes end up having to make desperate decisions.

I have some DNA matches at Ancestry.com with paper trail ties to the prolific Stout family of New Jersey, from which Lewis' mother almost certainly descends. As more DNA tools become available on that site, I'll know more, but I see no reason to start questioning anything yet.

Jane is next, my gateway to the bon temps of Louisiana French heritage. And thus we should note her proper birth name: Eugenia Montpelier.

Jane was born in Saint Landry Parish in 1823, the daughter of a deputy sheriff who died when she was only nine years old. Her mother remarried and the family moved to the northern, more Protestant, area of the state, away from her mother's generations of Louisiana heritage.

Nobody knows when Jane married her first husband, so we'll have to examine instead her second marriage, to Levi Potts. They wed in the little town of Trinity in July 1853. Five months later, their son Joseph was born.

Or was he?

His headstone says so: 5 January 1854. His death certificate pegs him around that time. Joseph said on the 1900 census that he was born in that month and year. How about the earlier census, when it's harder to lose or gain a year?

1860: age 6 in May. 1870: Age 17 in June. (Great, now we're jumping ahead of the wedding.) 1880: Haven't found.

According to some unattributed notes I have, passed through the family (dated 1970), and that have otherwise proven reliable, in November 1873 Joseph was legally declared 21. If we had that document, we might have another source for his actual age. Was he 19-going-on-20 or 18-going-on-19? Either seems plausible.

Verdict: I'm leaning toward Jane having been pregnant the second time around.

I briefly wondered if she might've been pregnant by John Scott, her first husband, when she remarried, but no - he died at least two years before Joseph was born. As to whether Levi was the father, my DNA won't help us. I descend from Jane's third husband, John Stockman.

Vashti, a name I've only heard in "real life" once, as in folksinger Vashti Bunyan. Thank you, Pandora, for giving me this song:

My Vashti, who liked to smoke a corncob pipe when she was older, was born Vashti Wells in Mississippi in December 1833. Or 1832. Or 1831.

Jane's first son from her third marriage (my ancestor) married Vashti's first daughter from her first marriage (also my ancestor). Kind of a cute coincidence after Angie/Caroline.

Vashti's family moved to central Louisiana just as she was turning 18. According to those unattributed notes mentioned above, which include a transcript from what I think was a family Bible, Vashti married Joseph Smith in late June 1857. (Summer weddings really are a tradition, eh?) In six years Joseph and three of their five children would be wiped out by sickness within a matter of weeks, one of the children being buried in the same coffin as her father, but on this happy June day, none of that was in sight. Nope, all Vashti could probably think about was her big belly holding the baby that would be born in six weeks.

(Say it with me: "Or was she?")

Daughter Emma's birth date is on her cemetery marker. The only other source we have is the census. 1860: age 3 in July. (Interesting. That would put her birth in 1856.) 1870: age 12 in July. 1880: age 23 in June. 1900: Said she was born in August 1856. 1910: Age 52 in April. 1920: 62 in January. 1930: 72 in April.

Verdict: I don't trust the marriage date, to be honest. That's why I just consulted my scan of those original notes.

1856.

They married in 1856, not 1857.

Oops.

Sorry, Vashti. Sorry, Emma. But, wow, what an ace lesson in checking the source for yourself and not trusting someone even if they appear to be a thorough researcher. Nearly two decades ago, my finger must have slipped.

Here's a photo of Vashti with daughter Emma and most of Emma's children. (My great-grandfather is Charles, in the back, on the right.) Do you think they forgive me?

(Note: I hope it goes without saying that I'm too OCD to have written on a photograph. This is my distant cousin's copy that she kindly shared on Ancestry. I'll make a hi-res scan of my grandmother's original when I get to Texas.)

What does all of this mean? Nothing. Just painting scenery.

30 January 2013 |



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