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Friday, July 12, 2013

Seeing double! Twins in the family and the need to study genealogical records with a careful eye

About fifteen years ago I was thrilled to connect with a Cowhey family cousin who sent me a typewritten family tree that another cousin had created. It listed, among other names, our shared immigrant ancestor Patrick Cowhey and his wife and children. At the end of the list of nine children: twins! 

This typewritten family tree provided valuable clues to the
Cowhey family's story but turned out to have many errors.
I had heard the rumor through my grandmother that twins supposedly "ran in the family", so this was an interesting bit of information. I had also heard about the existence of a Cowhey family Bible. How I would love to find that someday! What clues it might hold to our family's history!

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, when I had the chance to meet the son of the cousin who had sent me the family tree. We had corresponded for quite a few years, so it was a joy to finally meet in person. As he walked up the path to meet my family and I on the grounds of the guesthouse where we were staying, I noticed that he was carrying something under his arm. It turned out to be a dream come true for me: the supposedly long-lost family Bible. We took some photos that day, and after our visit he took the Bible home and scanned the record pages for me.

Ann Cowhey's Bible: this treasure has been in the family since the 1840s
Births, deaths, marriages, even the date of naturalization of our immigrant ancestor! This family Bible was more than I could have hoped to find! What a family treasure.

I've looked over the images of those pages many times since I received them, and have intended to write a series of blog posts about them and the Bible itself. With my excitement for this discovery, you'd think by now I would have each page memorized! Imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I realized that I had missed a very important piece of information that was hiding right before my eyes on the page listing the births of Patrick and Ann Cowhey's children.

I had read this page many times, but as I transcribed what I read there I made a new discovery. If you look at the list of the children's names and birth dates, you can see that beginning with the second child, William Cowhey, the birth year is listed on the line below. In some cases, this makes it look as if the birth year for the previous child actually applies to the child listed below. When I had input this data into my genealogy software, I must have accidentally put the wrong birth year for daughter Elisabeth Cowhey.

Patrick and Ann Cowhey had nine children.
Sadly, only five would live until adulthood. 

When I looked more closely as I transcribed the entire page, I realized that Elisabeth and Johanah were born on the same day of the same year: twin girls born two years before their twin brothers John and Michael!

By not taking the time to transcribe the Bible's list of births in its entirety,
I had completely missed the fact that two sets of twins had been born
within a two year period. 

The creator of the handwritten family tree had made a similar mistake and missed this fact also. Partly because we weren't looking for another set of twins (and would never have imagined it!), and partly because we didn't take the time to carefully transcribe the complete record at one time, we had missed this amazing discovery entirely.


Sadly, Ann Cowhey never had the chance to see her two sets of twins playing happily together. By the time the twin boys were born, both twin girls had passed away. Elisabeth died at age 6 months in April 1845. Johanah died at age 1 year in October 1846: two months before the births of her twin brothers, Michael and John. Of all four twins, only John would live past childhood. After the deaths of several of her other children in adulthood, and the move out of state of one of her daughters, John was the only one of her children remaining with her at the end of her life. He never married. He and his mother Ann shared a home in the years before she passed away in 1893.


Dorene from Ohio said...

What a blessing to get scans from the family Bible! And to sort out the mystery of the twins too!

wendy said...

So sad that the two sets of twins didn't get to grow up together. Your advice to really "see" all the information and transcribe it correctly is very good. Enjoyed the article!

Jacqi Stevens said...

Oh, Lisa, your heart must have skipped a beat when your eye spotted that family Bible. What a treasure! And how fortunate you are to have scans of those pages.

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Thanks for your comments, Dorene, Wendy and Jacqi. Yes, it was quite a gift to have the chance to see that beautiful Bible. This branch of the family has always fascinated me. I have done quite a bit of research on them lately, but am only beginning to even think about working it all into blog posts. Many exciting discoveries, and more in the works! Thanks again for reading.

Dana Leeds said...

Yes, this is similar to my overlooking the fact that my Edmund was 2 years old, not 24. And, I would've never thought about looking at the size of a plot to see if it was a baby, a child, or an adult. Thanks for the lesson!

Loved your story. It took me a minute to see the second set of twins. And, isn't it interesting that the month was spelled "Actober" one time but "October" the other?

I know transcribing helps us see things we might not see otherwise. But, I'm often too excited to go on to the next discovery.


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