Lying peacefully in a little Trilby cemetery are four sibling babies whose tombstones carry no names. Who they were and why their brief lives were cut short has been lost to time.
When historians find evidence of these tragedies within families too isolated or poor to leave detailed records, where can they turn to learn the stories?
Births and deaths often weren't recorded in rural areas, whether or not the government said they should be. In this case no vital statistics records exist for these children.
But their little tombstones do document their existence — and they cry out for a genealogist to place them within their family unit.
A plat for the cemetery shows Bradham infants were buried in each of these little graves. Buried near them were Henry and Mary Bradham — a solid clue to start the research; we can theorize that these were Henry and Mary's children.
Would the census be a good place to turn to find babies? Many would say "no," because we don't even know the children's names or when they died. But we can use the census to do more than track people with names and ages, and we can move forward on the theory that these were Mary's babies.
When Henry and Mary were enumerated in the 1900 census, their household included three children: Albert, 5; Joseph, 4; and Carrie, 6 months.
Some researchers would take that information and rush off to the next document, but the 1900 census contained some really important information to assist in this particular research. Two census columns ask "mother of how many" with "number born" and "number living."
The census shows Mary had given birth to six children and three were living. So, doing the math, the initial research shows that three of Mary's children died before 1900. We can narrow it even more by looking at another column that asks how many years the head of household and his wife have been married. In this case, they both answered 10 years. Two subsequent censuses reinforce that the couple married in 1890. If they married that year, their three deceased children probably were born in 1891, 1892, and 1893.
But there were four tombstones. So the research moves to the 1910 census. In that year we see that three more children had joined the household: Ethel, 8; Henry, 6; and Wilbur, 1 year and 1 month. We also see that Mary told the census taker she had given birth to nine children and six were living. This tells us that she didn't lose any more babies between the 1900 and 1910 censuses.
In the 1920 census, we see that Wilbur, then 10, still was the youngest child. Questions asked by the census takers changed with each survey. The 1920 census didn't ask those crucial questions about total births and living babies. So it would appear that between 1910 and 1920, either Mary had no children or the fourth child had been born and had died in that decade.
Henry died in December 1924, and by the 1930 census, the widow Mary and her youngest son, Wilbur, lived with her married daughter, Ethel Lowe. That indicates that Wilbur was Mary's last living child. Again, we don't know if Mary gave birth and lost the fourth baby between 1920 and 1925. We can see that Mary was 49 years old in 1920, indicating lesser odds of a birth after that age.
So we probably could conclude that the baby under that fourth tombstone was born between 1910 and 1925.
But not so quick. The censuses are notorious for errors. We should analyze very closely before we embrace what appears to be a logical answer.
Looking back at the 1910 and 1920 censuses, we can see there are five or six years between the births of Henry and Wilbur. There were no five-year time spans between the births of Mary's other children, so could that fourth baby have been born between 1904 and 1909, with Mary (or someone in the household) giving inaccurate answers about only three dead children in 1910? This possibility can't be discounted.
As we often lament, information from the census often frustrates the most jaded of researchers, but — as in this case — exploration and analysis of the often-ignored data from 1880 and later censuses is worth the effort.
This census information doesn't prove that the four Bradham babies were Henry and Mary's, but it does provide evidence that Mary lost three babies with logical explanations of when the fourth likely died. That factored with the closeness of the graves strengthens the theory.
When it comes to genealogical exploration, we should remember to keep our minds open while we continue to look for evidence that will prove or disprove our theories.