Often, in genealogical research, we encounter things that don’t make sense. Dates don’t match up, name spellings differ between sources, records are incomplete or illegible (you’d think our ancestors would have put someone with legible handwriting in charge of record keeping!) Unfortunately, records are no more perfect than the humans who keep them.
One mystery from our own family was my great-grandfather, Thomas Herman (“Herman”) Curry. The headstone on his grave indicates that he was born April 20, 1890, and passed away March 5, 1958. Seems pretty straight forward. Except that several sources show a Thomas Herman Curry in Green Turtle Cay who also died March 5, 1958, but was born in 1887.
I was tempted to just accept the 1890 birth date. After all, you’d think Pa Herman’s wife and daughters – who presumably ordered his gravestone – would know his correct birth date. However, I learned that there existed records showing that Thomas Herman Curry was baptized in 1887. How could a child born in 1890 be baptized three years earlier? For months, I thought this might just be one of those questions whose answer is forever lost to time.
But then, two things happened…
First, my cousin, Evan Lowe, who writes a blog called Out Island Boy, forwarded a link to an online listing of Bahamian births, deaths and marriages between 1850 – 1950. (Be warned: this is a terrific resource but it takes a great deal of patience. There’s no index, meaning you have to click through hundreds of pages to find what you’re looking for.)
Then, a few days later, while assembling information about Pa Herman and Ma May’s descendants, I noticed that their youngest daughter, my great-aunt Belle, had exactly the same name – Agnes Mirabelle – as her older sister (known as Mirabelle) who died the year before Aunt Belle was born.
It got me wondering about Pa Herman, so I hunkered down to search the Bahamian birth and death records. A couple of days later, I had my answer.
Turns out there were two Thomas Herman Currys. And, like Aunt Belle and Mirabelle, they were siblings. The first Herman was born to my great-great-grandparents, Thomas Wesley Curry (“Pa Wes”) and Lilla Carleton on August 14, 1887.
Sadly, the records show that, on June 30, 1888, the infant Herman died from “teething.”
On (or around) April 21, 1890, Pa Wes and Lilla had another son, whom they also named Herman.
This was my great-grandfather, Pa Herman, who passed away March 5, 1958.
I did some digging and discovered that, strange as it seems today, naming a child after a recently deceased sibling was common in years gone by. Parents knew that one or more of their children likely would not make it to adulthood. When a child died, his or her name was simply passed down to next child of the same gender.
In fact, I’ve since learned that professional genealogists suggest that when searching birth records, you not stop when you find the name you’re seeking. Rather, they recommend searching a few more years of records, since the first child may have passed away, and your ancestor may in fact be a subsequent child with the same name.
Related: Out Island Boy: The Unknown Curry