Friday, January 14, 2011

Emily Roebling Cadwalader: Lying About her Age or a Reflection on the Men in her Life?

Today's 'Genealogy Tip of the Day' by Michael John Neill of Casefile Clues is, What Were They Smokin' When They Gave that Information? I found this quite coincidental as for the last couple of days I've been amusing myself with an age mystery for a relative whose birth dates in various documents are quite inconsistent.

Emily Roebling Cadwalader (d. 1941) was the wife of my great-great-uncle, Richard McCall Cadwalader, Jr. (d. 1960) These two were never high on my list of relatives to research, so the fact that I'm posting on them is a bit surprising to me. This all started a couple of days ago when I was updating entries for the Cadwalader family to Find A Grave, and posted photos of both their graves. [Richard ; Emily]

I originally posted Emily's birth date as it appeared on her gravestone, September 9, 1881. Since I had done no prior research on this, and really had no intention of doing much more, I normally wouldn't have gone further. But coincidentally, a few days before I'd received a book via interlibrary loan on the Roebling family [1] which happened to be sitting next to me. So I looked up Emily Roebling and found the following:
"Charles Roebling married, January 25, 1877, Sarah Mahon Ormsby of Pittsburgh. ... Five children, including one dying in infancy, were born to the couple : two boys, Harrison Ormsby, born November 7, 1877, died January 12, 1883, and Washington Augustus, 3rd, born March 25, 1881, died April 15, 1912 ; two girls, Emily, born September 9, 1879, and Helen, born December 15, 1884."[2]
The book is unsourced and gives no basis for these dates. I took them with a grain of salt and shrugged them off. But it does note that Emily's brother, Washington, was born in March, 1881. If these dates were at all accurate, it calls into question Emily's Sept. 1881 birth date on her gravestone.

Next step... The 1880 U.S. Federal Census for Trenton, NJ lists 9-month old Emily M. Roebling living in the household of her father, Charles Roebling, with her mother 'Sallie' and 2-year-old brother Ormsby. The 1880 census form also asks for the month born, if the listed person was born within the last census year. Emily's month of birth is listed as Sept. The family was enumerated on June 8, 1880, making 9-month old Emily born in Sept. 1879 -- the same date as in the Roeblings book.

Emily's birth date is also listed as Sept. 1879 in the 1900 census, while living as a 20-year-old in her father's household. Her brother, Washington, also in the household, has a birth date of March 1881 --again agreeing with the Roebling biography.

However, after Emily's marriage, begins the period of irregular reporting of her birth date. In all cases, the fact the she was born in September remains consistent. Among census data, a passport application, and ship passenger lists, her birth year changes.

In thinking about this, I found several things interesting.
  • Emily birth date while in her father's household is consistently reported (based on sources found) as Sept. 1879.
  • After her marriage to Richard Cadwalader, her reported birth year changes, though month remains consistent.
  • None of the dates I found match what I believe to be Emily's real birth date - 9 Sept 1879, or the date on her gravestone - 9 Sept 1881.
  • Her husband's birth date for the same sources is consistently reported as 7 Nov 1878. The one exception I found in his reported birth date is his World War I Draft Card.
  • The date on the draft card -- 7 Nov 1877 -- is the only one to match the date on Richard M. Cadwalader Jr.'s gravestone.
I'm left wondering if the change in Emily's age was self-reported out of vanity of some sort. But I also wonder if her husband, who may have been reporting data on her behalf in generation of these sources, reported her birth date wrong -- but why? Might he not have remembered it consistently, despite being able to report a date for himself fairly consistently? Or more vanity? I have no answers, but I found it a curious problem. If I get to the New Jersey State Archives some day, I can look up Emily's birth certificate on microfilm.

[1] Schuyler, Hamilton. The Roeblings : A Century of Engineers, Bridge-builders and Industrialists : The Story of Three Generations of an Illustrious Family, 1831-1931. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1931.

Note: I borrowed this book as Schuyler wrote another work I used recently in my research, 'A History of St. Michael's Church, Trenton,' and was interested to see his treatment of the Roebling family.

[2] Schuyler, p. 315.

Edited for image readability.

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