Monday, September 16, 2013

HOW many? A look at the children of Mary Madigan Mulcahy

I got a shock when I recently ordered the birth certificate of my great-grandfather's brother, Vincent Mulcahey, born 21 Feb 1909. He is the youngest of his siblings, and apparently the only one whose birth was registered with New York City at the time. (Two other relative, slightly older, show up in the index with certificate numbers that include an "S," which I believe means that they were delayed certificates and are only available at the NYC Municipal Archives. They're on my list for the next time I get there.)

I got read through almost the entire certificate before encountering anything that struck me as out of the ordinary.

Vincent was born on 21 Feb 1909, at 85 "Luquere" Street, the family home. His parents were Michael Mulcahy (occupation: Liquors) and Mary Madigan. Michael, 49, was born in Ireland, and Mary, 40, was born in Brooklyn, NY. Mary had had 19 previous children and currently had 10 living.

Birth Certificate of Vincent Mulcahy, 21 Feb 1909

19 previous children?! Could that possibly be accurate?

I know it's possible - larger families have certainly existed - but I had really never had any indication that the Mulcahys had lost any children at all, much less 50% of them. I had spent all these years thinking about how fortunate - or healthy, or wealthy, or otherwise privileged - this family had been that all their children had apparently survived to adulthood. Could I have been so wrong?

I always thought that the family's 100% survival rate was a bit unusual, so I wouldn't have been surprised to have a found a between-the-censuses baby somewhere. I aim to cultivate an open mindedness to new information, but *10* babies who had escaped my notice? This was stretching even my already-open mind. It was time to a trip back to review the records in my file, and see if I'd missed something or if this was inconsistent with the existing data.

 The Mulcahys first appear as a family in the 1892 NYS Census. Prior to that, Mary was always enumerated with her parents, Mathew and Margaret (Sullivan) Madigan.

Mulcahy, 1892 NYS Census
In 1892, Michael and Mary have two children, Maggie, 3, and James, 1. Although there's no address on the census, when Mary's father Mathew Madigan died later that year, the Mucahys' address was given as 227 Hamilton St., just down the street from the home where she was raised at 85 Luquer St.

In 1900, they are nowhere to be found. They are living at neither 227 Hamilton St., nor at 85 Luquer St., the home where Mary was raised and where they later raised their family. 

Mulcahy, 1905 NYS Census
In the 1905 NYS Census, they're living at 85 Luquer St., where they'll stay for the rest of their lives. They now have 7 children: Margaret, 15, James, 14, Mathew, 12, Joseph, 9, Michael, 6, Mary, 4, and John, 1.

Mulcahy, 1910 US Census

In the 1910 US Federal Census, the family has 9 children, including Vincent, and according to this record, Mary has only ever had 9 children. These children, Margaret, 20, James, 18, Mathew, 17, Joseph, 13, Michael, 11, Mary, 9, John, 6, Gerard, 3, and Vincent, 1yr 2 mos, are the only children I've ever encountered. They're the only ones who show up in census records. They're the only one anyone in the family has ever spoken of. 

The family continues to look pretty similar in the years following Vincent's birth, even as his parents eventually die and his older siblings get married and move out (rather: move to other apartments in the building, but for now we'll just treat the household). 

Mulcahy, 1915 NYS Census
In the 1915 NYS Census, the family appears all together for the last time - by 1920, Michael Sr. has died and the eldest daughter, Margaret, is married. For now, though, the family looks identical to what it looked like a few years earlier. No one's died, and there are no further children. I could keep going through the next 4 census records I have, but they wouldn't speak to any of the supposed 10 missing children who were born before Vincent. 

As I suspected, there is no indication that 10 children were missing. In fact, these census records bring to light one additional inconsistency: there's also no evidence that Vincent was the 10th living Mulcahy child. He appears to have been the 9th, instead. Now, I had heard from a relative that Vincent had a twin who died at birth, which could account for at least this discrepancy. However, the Italiangen indexes give no evidence of another Mulcahy being born or dying on 21 Feb 1909 or in the days thereafter. Had the twin been stillborn, he might not have been recorded in birth or death indexes, but he also shouldn't have been counted towards the number of children "now living." 

For a bit of context, the birth certificate was filled out 5 days later by G.W. Welty, who certified that he had attended professionally at the birth. I thought this name sounded familiar, and a quick search revealed that Dr. Welty was also the doctor who had attended the death of Vincent's grandfather, Mathew Madigan, 17 years earlier. Could this account for some of the discrepancies here? Long-standing family doctor though he was, had Dr. Welty just gotten confused by how very many kids Mary Mulcahy had given birth to over the years? 9? 10? What's a baby or two between friends?

I think that there are a couple of ways to interpret this information. Either the "19" is a mistake for "9," or it's not.

If it's not, Mary Mulcahy gave birth to a lot of babies who died young, and all 10 of them were between-the censuses babies. This is especially difficult to achieve considering that between NYS and federal census records, the family is enumerated almost every 5 years. There is, of course, a substantial enough gap between 1892 and 1905 to allow for plenty of babies to be born, but that gap seems to be pretty well filled by surviving children, born every 2 years or so. There are a couple of gaps large enough to be filled by other children, particularly between Mathew and Joseph (4 years), and then later a slightly smaller gap between John and Gerard (3 years). That suggests the possibility of at least a couple of children who didn't make it to the next census enumeration, but it doesn't seem to allow for 10. And yet, the number 19 is very clearly written on the birth certificate, isn't it?

If the number 19 is, in fact, a mistake for the number 9, one of 2 things is possible. Either Dr. Welty simply was wrong about how many living children the Mulcahys had (my guess is that 9 noisy, excited kids can sound an awful lot like 10 . . . or 30), or there actually was a child living in February 1909 who had died by the time the census was enumerated in 1910. I don't know why that child wouldn't have been included in the Mulcahys own count of how many children Mary had given birth to (the enumerator records "9" for both "mother of how many children" and "number of children still living), but 1 baby seems easier to miss than 10. Of course, searching the Italian Genealogy Group archives doesn't show death records for any probable Mulcahy children between 1909 and 1910.

So where does this very long, very detailed analysis leave me? As much as I hoped that this close look at the available documentation would give me an answer, it has not. The birth certificate is the only evidence of a high infant mortality rate in this family, but I'm not comfortable disregarding it entirely. The other evidence indicates a total of 9 children, but that "other evidence" is strictly census data, not always an accurate and in-depth look at a family's circumstances.

What conclusion would you draw?


Michelle Thiele said...

I'm no genealogist, so please forgive me if this is a moronic theory. Is it possible that he initially wrote "10" and then corrected it to "11"? If you look at the other 9s in the document, none of the loops are darker in the top portion of the 9. The loop in his "19" more closely resembles how he writes his "0"s. Granted, it sounds like 11 would still be incorrect, but it's at least a bit closer than 19.

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Michelle, that's really interesting and I never noticed it. It looks so clearly like a "9" that it never occurred to me he might have meant different a different number entirely, but you're right that it looks different from his other 9s.

An 11 doesn't exactly fit with the prior evidence, but it would be pretty easy to explain. If there were 1 baby I didn't know about, plus the alleged "twin who died at birth" - and if either of them were still alive at this point, there could have easily been 11 total children, 10 living when the certificate was filled out, and the 9 I can name who lived to adulthood.

Intriguing theory!

Nancy said...

I have another thought about this which may, or may not, be plausible. I know many women these days who have miscarriages but consider themselves mothers of those babies. If they have had 2 miscarriages and have 2 living children, when asked how many children they have, they answer without any hesitation, "4." Perhaps this is the situation with you ancestor.

I think the 9 in question looks very similar to the two 9s on the left side of the document.

Are there other sources for death information for the missing children? Have you checked with the cemetery where other family members are buried? Are there mentions in newspapers of the death of the missing children. (There probably wouldn't be an obituary for a child but sometimes death notices for children were printed.) Were county birth or death records kept for those living in NYC, too? (I don't have experience with NYC records.)

This seems like an interesting challenge. I hope you solve it!

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Nancy, that's an interesting thought. I had been wondering if the opposite were true - when Mary said in 1910 that she was the mother of 9 children, all still living, could she have not been counting babies who were still born or died very young?

NYC death indexes don't seem to show any Mulcahy children who look like promising candidates for this family. There were no records kept by other jurisdictions in the time frame we're looking at: they would have been kept by the City of Brooklyn prior to 1898 and by New York City post-1898, but all pre- and post-consolidation records have been integrated into NYC's records, as far as I'm aware.

I'll have to double-check cemetery records, as this is one family where I haven't looked at them very closely yet.