Friday, November 19, 2010

Can You Say “Surprise Child?”

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Can You Say “Surprise Child?”

I recently mentioned the sampler of the Chester Goodale family found in his Revolutionary War pension file. Upon examination the sampler includes a warning to researchers seeking all the children in a family. Chester and Asenath are married in August 1790. The children then come as expected, the first 8 months later, the second two years after that, and the third two years after that. The careless researcher might then give up, missing the last child, Phebe, who is not born for another 9 years.

Sampler from the Chester Goodale pension file

But it seems the Goodale family was not done yet. A closer inspection shows one last child, almost a family footnote, added below the strawberry and vine border. Samuel Goodale was born nine years after Phebe, when his mother was 43 (and two older sisters were in their child-bearing years).

Detail from the Chester Goodale samplerSource: Laura Goodale, “Sampler of Chester Goodale,” ca. 1809; application file of Chester Goodale of Connecticut, Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, Record Group 15; NARA, Washington, DC.; digital image, ARC no. 1656127 ( : accessed 3 October 2010).


  1. I suppose it would also be careless research to assume that the surprise child is the son of Chester and Asenath... and not a "surprise" illegitimate from one of the older sisters? Not sure a sampler is primary evidence... but it is amusing!

  2. My great grandparents were married in 1888, and their first 5 children were born in 1888, 1890, 1891, 1893 and 1905.
    Then there was a gap until 1901 when my grandfather was born.
    And then 12 years after that in 1913, my great uncle Jim was born when my g-grandmother was 43.
    If you look at the 1901 English census entry for this family, they also seem to have had another son (entered as such)in 1900. Very local knowledge (my Dad) tells me that this is actually the son of my g-grandfather's brother, adopted into the family after his wife died in childbirth.
    Jo Fitz-Henry


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