Thursday, May 1, 2014

Not Exactly Bookends

I managed to locate a copy of the birth certificates for two of the children of John and Johanna Lee of Chicago, Illinois. One is for a son; one is for a daughter. One is dated in 1879; one was issued nearly ten years later.

Given that, upon the event of the 1900 census, Johanna Lee declared that she was mother of ten children—seven still surviving—one would think I could achieve a better score than that. But what can be said for online resources which have had to retract digitized public documents that they once were able to offer? Despite vast resources of information, notables such as and still put much reliance on published indexes of such material. And we still have to go to the source to retrieve the information we seek.

If indexes can be relied upon, here is what I’ve found for our family’s Flanagan descendant, Johanna, and her husband, John T. Lee:

·       An unnamed son, born June 21, 1877
·       An unnamed son, born October 24, 1879
·       David Lee, born November 17, 1884, son of “Johannah”
·       An unnamed daughter, born January 29, 1886, again to “Johannah”
·       Mary Elizabeth Lee, born May 16, 1888

Oh, dear. That is nowhere near seven children, let alone ten.

At least, there were other hints which, pieced together, gave me the identities of the unnamed children. The son arriving in 1877 was most likely George A. Lee. His brother, arriving in 1879, turns out to be John J. Lee. The unnamed daughter should be Deborah V. Lee.

What is interesting is that, on the birth certificate for the child born to John and Johanna in 1879, there is an entry declaring this to be the “5th child” of the couple. The only descendant of this couple I’ve found with birth information preceding John and George is William, born in 1875—for whom I have no documentation other than references in the 1880 and 1900 censuses. What happened to the other two children?

The other birth certificate for which I’ve obtained a copy belonged to Mary Elizabeth Lee, who certainly belongs to the right John and Johanna, seeing her father’s occupation as cooper matches prior records, and the family’s address on Lowe Avenue corresponds with other records. However, in the line on her record for the prompt, “Number of child of this mother,” the answer provided was “seven.”

There is a problem with the math here.

You see, assuming her brother David and sister Deborah fit in between Mary Elizabeth and John J. Lee, that would make her at least the eighth child, if John were indeed the fifth child.

Not to mention, I also have record of a daughter Lillie, born in 1881, to squeeze into the midst of this birth order. And a son, Edward, who arrived in 1883.

Perhaps this is what modern educators call “The New Math.” I know this wasn’t the kind of counting I learned in grade school.

Yet, if John as child number five gets added to five younger siblings, wouldn’t that make ten children total, just as was reported on the 1900 census? Or was a civil servant sleeping on the job when John J. Lee’s birth certificate was filed in 1879? If only I can count on finding names and dates for two more Lee babies born before 1875, it will all add up.


  1. Another puzzle for you to figure out! :)

    1. I'm thinking this one looks like a trip to a microfilm-reading long as I can get my hands on a film of parish records for the south side of Chicago. Those early Chicago birth records are nowhere else to be found :(

      We are so spoiled now, with digitized records and search capabilities!

  2. With infant mortality like it was - how did they count miscarriages and the still-born? I would assume a "Catholic" family would count them as children - while others might not (for better or worse and I'm not trying to start an argument on such a delicate topic!)

    1. Good point, Iggy. Yes, as Catholics, they would consider each one a person, no matter how short the life. It certainly is a valuable lesson to keep in mind the frame of reference of the people and time period we are researching. It's so easy to take off, using assumptions we hold nowadays, rather than checking to see what the prevalent mind frame was at the time.

      On the other hand, with the count of young lives lost rising higher, as it did in some families of that era, would that mean that one would lose track of the count at some point? Or that the mother just became numb to all the loss?


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