Young woman kissing baby in bassinet.
c1912. Library of Congress
Yesterday I taught a workshop on beginning genealogy research. It was a wonderful time and there was really only one question that threw me for a loop. Someone asked if they should put miscarriages or still births in a family tree. Usually, I can give a matter of fact answer to these types of questions but yesterday was different. You see I was already thinking about the post I wanted to write for today so the subject of pregnancy and infant loss was already churning in my head.
Not only is October National Family History month but it is also National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month with October 15th being the day that those who have lost children light a candle at 7pm to remember their babies. If you have read my blog for the last several years you know that I tend to write very openly about my story and those of my ancestors who lost also children.
To be frank, I am very happy that I live now, in the 21st century where the discussion of these subjects are no longer a taboo affair. Plus that fact that I am here to tell my story because even a decade before neither I or my son would have survived. 1 in 4 women will lose a child in their lifetime to miscarriage, stillbirth, or before the child's 1st birthday due to unknown causes (SIDS). It is a statistic that seems unreal with medical advances, and many couples never believe something that this could happen to them. That is until it does.
Recently I had lunch with a couple of friends who are also genealogists and we turned to this subject. The three of us had struggled with our pregnancies and periodically talk about medical advances, or to just lean on each other when we need it. That day we talked about the unnamed and unknown children in our family trees. The uncles, aunts, and cousins whose lives were cut short. All the stories that we were uncovering in our own family histories with the cycles of pregnancy loss and childhood death.
As I talked yesterday about including these unknown children in family trees I noticed how quiet the room became. I have this wonderful ability that when I am "performing" I can stay on task and on target with what I am doing. Even though the subject of losing my own daughter is usually hard to discuss I did not stumble and I gave my own thoughts on the matter with ease. Then I noticed the glistening eyes in the room and exactly how silent everyone was. The 1 in 4 came back to me; someone in that room had experienced what I was speaking about.
At that point I also went a bit off topic and started to talk about finding patterns in our research to help with our family health histories. A topic that not many American genealogists talk about or do but I know is a very popular topic in other countries. Due to my work in genealogy I was able to trace several diseases in my family as well as other patterns which have helped doctors with my own health problems. Not only because of the number of early births and pregnancy losses in my family but also with cancers, diabetes, and other disorders.
My answer to the question yesterday was yes, you should include pregnancy losses and childhood deaths in your charts, or at least place them in the family notes. I especially do this is there is any type of record available with the thought that future generations are going to find it so why keep it a secret. Most importantly though, I do it so they will not be forgotten. Our ancestors never forgot their children who died even if they never spoke, aloud, about them again. It may be a simple thing to put a name and a date in a family tree, one that may seem to some ridiculous since they were unable to lead a full life, but I am here to remember and honor my family. What better way to remember and honor the memory of a family member than to make sure future generations know they were here, even if it was not for a very long time.