This weeks genealogy blogging prompt about anomalies brings many things to mind…
My Grandma told me about her red headed brother, John Jackson. John was born three weeks before the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. In the turmoil, John got sick and died.
Fast forward to the 1990s. I’m sitting at a microfilm reader looking for the Jackson family in the census. Hey, what’s this in the 1910 census? Harry Jackson, wife Margaret, son John, daughter Margaret…son John??? After writing down the information, I went to the 1920 census. Harry, Margaret, John, Margaret, Anna, Julia, Violet. There he was again!
I compared what I knew about the baby who died to this John. They were born at the same time in the same place. But, this John lived to adulthood. What gives?
One day I phoned my Grandma and screwed up the courage to ask her. The answer was somewhat baffling “Oh, that was my other brother.” Her other brother? Wait a minute! No one ever mentioned another brother! This brother married someone named Mary and had some kids, though she couldn’t remember.
I did some more research and no other child for Harry and Margaret appeared in records. No death record came up for the mysterious baby John. Even more strange, I found an old insurance policy for my Grandma dated around the 1940s and she listed John as a living sibling.
I began to realize that something was up with my Grandma’s story. I did some poking around with cousins and found out the truth. John did not die as a baby as I was told. John was the black sheep of the family. I could never get what John had done, but I found out he was kicked out of the family. My Grandma killed him off in her memories and to her he died as a baby.
I eventually tracked down his death certificate, not an easy task when you’re looking for John J. Jackson who died anytime after 1930. It appears from the very brief information given that their father (who was also estranged from the family) was the only one in contact with John. He was divorced and their were no mention of kids (though they may have existed). He died of pneumonia at the age of 36 in 1943.
This “anomaly” showed me that even family stories told by people who should know can be wrong. You have to take into account failing memories and possibly reason for changing history. In this case, whatever John did, according to my Grandma he died as a baby. I may never know what it was he did, though I won’t stop trying to find out.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com