Sometimes the old records that are the genealogist’s stock and trade just jump off the page (or in this case, the screen) and smack you upside the head, as we say in Oklahoma. Such was the case last week as I was researching my mother’s Easley family from Tennessee.
I was on FamilySearch.org trolling for Easleys when I saw three death records, all with the surname Easley but no first name. That’s never a good sign. When I looked more closely I saw that all three records listed the same parents. (As far as I know, I am not related to them.)
The first death record was for an infant boy. Prematurity was listed as the cause of death. This baby was born and died on Aug. 30,1925. The second record was for an infant girl, same cause of death. She was born and died on Aug. 16,1926. The third record was for another baby boy born and died Aug.24,1927. Three babies in a row, three Augusts in a row. I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like for that mother.
I’ve heard it said that mothers back then kept their emotional distance with their newborns and consequently didn’t suffer as much when they lost them. Personally, I think that theory is a bunch of baloney. It would take a pretty cold personality to maintain emotional distance when all the physiology and hormones in a mother’s body are working to do the opposite. And since the standard medical practice at the time was to whisk a sick infant away as soon as it was born, this mother likely never even saw her babies before they died shortly after birth. It’s not all bad news though. I did find the family in the 1930 Census and it showed them with two children: a daughter born about 1918 and a son born about 1924.
The death records indicate that one of the August babies was two months premature. Now, thankfully, babies born that early usually survive. My own twin sisters were born six weeks prematurely. It seems neonatal care hadn’t advanced much in the 30+ years between 1927 and 1959 because at just under four lbs. each, my sisters were at the edge of survivability. In fact, my mother’s doctor told her that she would most likely be taking home only one baby. Happily, that was not the case and the sister in question not only lived but proceeded to be a thorn in my side for our entire childhoods! I’m happy to report that as (alleged) grown-ups we are now close friends as well as sisters.
Childhood and infant deaths are something family researchers must deal with frequently but that doesn’t make them any less sad or us any more grateful that our own little ones face much better odds than the children of our ancestors.
Photo from the Library of Congress
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