Saturday, 6 December 2014

The mysterious Mrs. Michael Fitzhenry and her 13 children

Occasionally a search result makes you sit back and think "That's amazing, how haven't I known about this person before?"

From the Lake Placid News (New York State, USA) 18 October 1929, page 5.

Perhaps it's because that person might not actually exist...
East Dedham, England certainly doesn't exist. There is a small village in England called simply Dedham (on the Essex and Suffolk border) but historically there were no Fitzhenrys there at any time.
East Dedham, Massachusetts (named after the little village in England) has a handsome population of Fitzhenrys. 
However I can't believe I had missed a Fitzhenry couple with such a spectacular child rearing career.

"Mrs. Michael" would have been born in 1888 or 1889 to be spoken of being 40 years old in the present tense in 1929.
To squeeze in 13 children AND to have had several of them old enough to have children of their own, she would have had to start in her teens. 

My all time record holders Enoch Fitzhenry and his wife Abigail Hartt had 16 children (no twins). Abigail was pregnant with her first child aged 16 and had her last at 43.

So I thought I was looking for a woman who married a Michael Fitzhenry between 1905 and 1910.

The only Michael Fitzhenry I could find in the database who came close to this number of children (and only managed a measly 12 children) was my own great great great grandfather Michael and his wife Sarah Phillips in the East End of London, but that was back in the 1830s.

Of the East Dedham Fitzhenrys, there was a Michael who married Catherine Bishop who was born in New Brunswick in 1888. But they didn't marry until 1920 and only had 7 children in total.

So I thought this woman would remain a mystery... or maybe just the figment of a slow news day and a column inch to fill, until I turned around the family tree to look at it from Catherine's point of view.

She had been married to a William Fleming in 1904 aged 16. She then had 7 children with him from 1905 to 1918. 
So although the newspaper article was almost correct - there were 14 children rather than 13! - only half of them were born as Fitzhenrys.

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