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February 17, 2010

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Dear Legacy

You have missed out on another explanation for gaps in families, perhaps for reason of being delicate.

Syphilis was fairly common up to the 1940s. In the early stages of the disease in a woman there can be difficulty in conceiving, later stillbirths are more likely, then viable babies that have congenital syphilis and finally, sometimes, healthy babies.

So if you have a family with a gap, with the gap ending with early deaths of the infant followed by children who have inexplicable or mysteriously-named illnesses, you ought to think of syphilis as an explanation.

In example #3, it is also possible that the month of birth for child #2 is incorrect. Had this child acturally been born in November or December, both children could still belong to the same parents and be born in the same year. Getting pregnant within months or even weeks of a delivery was not unusual. It is also possible that the boys were twins with one twin being born a month earlier than the other. In a line that I am researching, twins born a month apart happened not once but twice to the same mother.
You have to consider everthing when dealing with Mother-Nature. If genealogy research has taught me anything, it is that nothing is impossible and you should not be surprised at anything you find.

I have several families that have children with birthdates less than nine months apart - for some of these families, I have information indicating that at least one (sometimes both) of the children was adopted.

Or the gap could just be normal. There's a 10 year gap between me and my sister. Nothing to explain, the cycle just eventually lined up.

There are as many reasons for mysterious gaps as there are gaps, it seems. Perhaps a gap was created when one woman died, and the father remarried a woman with the same given name.

Also, some people had babies baptized in "groups"; when you have more than 2 children with the same baptismal date, be suspicious! At the minimum, check the original records. Triplets who survived were very rare in earlier days, and more were practically unheard of. There might be newspaper articles if it happened in the 1800's.

As for other gaps, check the occupation of the father/husband at the time. Often fishermen, or seamen, were gone for long periods; miners went to work in "foreign" mines to get a stake for the family; and don't forget military service.

Is it reasonable to accept that a woman over 50 was having babies in the 19th and 18th centuries? Not likely. Back to the original point - check for a remarriage.

John Powell's comment is highly relevant but is often overlooked because of present day stigmas attached to syphilis. If syphilis is the cause of the gap it is usually about 8 years, because that is the time that syphilis takes to "cure itself". It is laso worth noting that in the 19th century syphilis affected an average 10% of the population - perhaps more in urban areas.

Here is another possible reason for a gap which was quite common in the genealogies of Hawaiian royalty. A person of one generation marries the child of his sister/brother (a person one generation below)or an aunt/uncle (one genration above). Legacy does not quite allow arranging a chart to show this because the lines can't be moved independently.

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