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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree February 2019 > Your questions answered

Your questions answered

With our panel of experts Jayne Shrimpton, Tim Lovering, David Frost, Anthony Adolph and Janet Few


Babies barely seven months apart?

Q My 3x great-grandfather was William Cumberland, farmer, of Loughborough Parks, Loughborough; my 3x great-grandmother was Kitty (Catherine) Bilson. From Nonconformist records I have found their first three children were:

• John Bilson born 8 November 1808 (died March 1814)

• Thomas born 24 June 1809 (baptised 1 October 1809. No death record found though second Thomas was born in 1813)

• George born 20 January 1810 (died 9 March 1813).

Is it possible that Thomas could be born seven-and-a-half months after John and survive to be baptised if he was that premature? Then George is born barely seven months later and survives. It was the early 1800s, so wouldn’t this be unusual for babies born that prematurely to survive birth? (And I assume their gestation was not the seven months between births). Is it possible one or more of the children weren’t their natural children? The interesting thing is, I have been unable to locate a parish or Nonconformist register entry for George, but I have for all their other children, bar one. Sadly, only four of William and Kitty’s nine children lived to be adults.

I have often thought there must have been another William and Catherine Cumberland living in Loughborough Parks at the time, but have never located them.

As I mentioned, I have never found a death entry for Thomas prior to Thomas #2 (my 2x great-grandfather) being born. There is a Thomas of the first one’s age in the 1841 Census (married to Ann Heggs). This is why I have scratched my head for so many years. All the baptism entries, to me, indicate they are the same family.

This scenario sometimes arises when grandparents absorb the illegitimate child of an elder daughter into their own families

A The history of survival rates for premature babies is sketchy. Thomas’s birth date assumes that Catherine got pregnant days after John’s birth. This alone is improbable, as she would almost certainly have been breast feeding, which would inhibit her fertility. For the records to be correct, this immediate pregnancy would have to be followed by the exceptional survival of a child born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation. Given that there was nothing that could be done to aid premature babies at the time, this would be very unlikely. The premature survival rates for boys are poorer than those for girls, so Thomas would have been a miracle baby. Even if we accept the births of John and Thomas are just within the realms of possibility, the addition of George makes it virtually certain these are not all Catherine’s biological children. I have found George’s baptism on 19 March 1810 at Loughborough Wesleyan Methodist.

It is very unusual, but not unheard of, for parents to give two living children the same name but we have established Thomas (b1809) is not Catherine’s biological child. Ages in the 1841 Census are rounded down to the nearest five years, which may be relevant to the census entry you found, which matches the elder Thomas.

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What are your family history goals for 2019? Perhaps you'd like to get your family history notes more organised? To be sure you're searching the right ancestors? To take your research back further? To look into your family's lives in more depth? Or perhaps your goal is simply to take that first step and start finding out about your family tree? Our ultimate guide - in this, the Feb issue of Family Tree - has advice to help everyone become the best genealogist they can be... from the newly curious, to those with many research discoveries under their belt already, you're sure to find it a valuable read. Happy researching!