Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wherefore Art Thou Thomas? - Revisited

I recently produced an article which attempted to unravel the three possible dates for the birth of CTR’s older brother, Thomas. One date was provided by the Allegheny burial site map, which had an entry to the effect that Thomas died on August 12, 1855, aged 5 years and 3 months. However, this entry on the document dates from decades after the event, and was therefore suspect.

I am extremely grateful to J who has gone back to Allegheny cemetery and photographed the complete burial record for Thomas from 1855. So now we have a contemporary document to consider, although it doesn’t solve the discrepancy at all.

So let’s have a look at the original entry from 1855.

Going in close for the entry for Thomas we read that he died of whooping cough, aged 5 years and 3 months, and was buried on August 17, 1855.

This means that whoever compiled the plan of the graves in the Russell plot copied out the entry accurately when they added Thomas’ details.

So where does this leave us?

First, we must remember that none of the information actually comes in Joseph or Ann’s handwriting. It is at least second hand – they provided information for others, and it is others who have recorded it.

We can certain do away with the incorrect March 1850 birth that turns up in various places. This is simply a misreading of the family’s 1850 census return which may look like 3/12 but turns out to be 5/12 when magnified.

So let us for the sake of argument assume that the burial register is correct. Thomas died in the middle of August aged 5 years and 3 months. On that basis he was born in the middle of May. But if that were true, we have a census enumerator recording events as they were on June 1, 1850, who describes a two week old baby as a child of five months.

If a mistake is going to be made somewhere – as is obviously the case from the discrepancy – I personally would expect it to be made at the other end of young Thomas’ life, at the time he died. In the register page reproduced above, the same hand made all the entries – names, where from, cause of death and age at death. So the appointed scribe received the information from elsewhere, either verbally or more likely written down and passed on. Would Joseph and Ann provide incorrect information? Here my theory in the original article about the numbers 3 and 8 being misread could still hold true – pushing Thomas’ age back to the January, which would tally with the 1850 census return.

Does it matter? Well, I concede there are far more important things to consider. But the date of Thomas’ birth will provide the approximate date of his conception, which will help us in establishing when Joseph Lytle Russell and Ann Eliza Birney were married. We know Ann Eliza was sent a letter under her maiden name in March 1849 – however you analyse or theorise, the marriage would seem to have taken place in the earlier part of 1849.

Maybe one day extra documents will come to light. One thing is clear, Joseph and Ann didn’t arrive from Ireland to America as a married couple in 1845 as suggested in the commentary of a history video. Joseph arrived before that, if his statement about five years’ residency in his naturalization declaration in 1848 is truthful, and Ann Eliza was single at that time. They both came from Ireland but they met and married in America, probably through their association in Pittsburgh Presbyterian Churches.

In the meantime, if any reader can propose a better explanation, then please do so.

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