"Let me see generation times, will we hear children singing rhymes? Sweet memories gone by..."

15 July 2012

Birthday Mystery

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand. 
-- "The Stolen Child" by William Butler Yeats

Roughly 120 years ago today, my great-grandfather Clarence Milton Campen was born.  I can't say with exact certainty what year he was born because it seems like each time he wrote his birth date on some form or other, he used a different year.  The year 1892 is my best guess.

Usually when trying to verify a date, I go with the earliest source.  For Clarence, that would be the 1900 census.

Unfortunately, the person who gave the information couldn't keep all the names and dates straight.  Of the nine family members, I've been able to confirm that at least one of the names and five of the dates are wrong (more on this later).  Clarence's is certainly wrong - he was not born in February.  So the census record is in no way reliable.

Next is Clarence's draft card from World War I, with a birth date of July 15, 1892.

And here is his World War II draft card, with 1891 instead.

In 1943, Clarence applied for a Social Security number.  On this form he also used 1891.

Clarence's 1945 baptism certificate goes back to 1892 as his year of birth.

On Clarence's death certificate, his wife Grace gave his birth year as 1890.

And finally, just to confuse matters, the Social Security Death Index has Clarence's birth year as 1893.  I'm not sure where they got their information from.

One of my ongoing research projects has been to track down a birth record for Clarence at the Maryland Archives.  The good news is that Baltimore City was issuing birth certificates at the time.  The bad news is that the records for the Campens have not been easy to find.  And, as seems to happen a lot in genealogy, finding an answer to one question inevitably leads to more questions.

The problem is that Baltimore's early birth records did not require a name for the child.  They simply noted the date of birth, the child's sex, the parents' names, the father's occupation, and how many previous children the couple had.  Locating a birth certificate requires searching by the father's name, going through the microfilm index year by year... and hoping that the name was spelled right (most often, it's not).

So far, I've found birth records for four of Clarence's siblings:  Caroline on June 13, 1884;  Leonora on August 17, 1885;  John on March 26, 1889;  and Emma on May 9, 1897.  Not one of these matches the info on the 1900 census record above.

Yet to be found are Bessie, Clarence, Henry... and another child...

Caroline, Leonora, and John's birth records indicate that they were the second, third, and fourth children, respectively, of Louis and Mary.  The couple must have had a child prior to Caroline, whose birth record I've been unable to find.  Most likely the child died young, since s/he isn't listed with the family in the 1900 census, but I haven't had any luck finding a death record, either.   Perhaps Faeries made off with the baby?  Another mystery for my ever-growing list.

But back to Clarence.  Bessie, who was the child immediately before him, has records giving her date of birth as either December 3, 1890 or 1891.  With Clarence born in July, they couldn't have been born in consecutive years.  If Bessie was born in 1890, then Clarence would have been born in 1892;  if she was born in 1891, then Clarence would be in 1893.  Since Clarence himself never used 1893, the former seems more likely, thus... 1892 it is!

So happy 120th birthday to Clarence!

P.S.  For my D.A.R. paperwork, I have to use his Social Security form in place of a birth certificate - so as far as the D.A.R. is concerned, Clarence was born in 1891, and I'm not going to go out of my way to explain otherwise, thank you very much.

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