The Cincinnati Irish “Unknowns”
By: Dominique DiFalco
One of the fascinating aspects of the digitized Cincinnati birth and death records is what is not revealed. There are 53 total Irish birth and death records that contain the term “unknown” somewhere in the entry, a few of which contain it more than once. Searching this term leads to a broad analysis. With unknown information, some of the analysis is drawn from a supplemented knowledge of the era and living conditions of the time. Of the 53 entries, there are a total of 22 births and 31 deaths.
In the 22 birth records, there are 68 facets of the births that are unknown, there are four entries with no last name, two entries without a first name, and two entries with no name at all. Of the names, two are not technically unknown, one listed as “F[emale]. Harrison” and another as “Infant Colgan.” The lack of names, be it first or last, may be due to the birth of a child that died shortly after birth, or perhaps was put up for adoption. In all but one of the entries that has an unknown name, first or last, there is an unknown parent, usually the father. During the 1800s, having children outside of marriage was a social death sentence for many mothers, leading one to the conclusion that these “unknown” children were given up to protect both the family and the child from being a social pariah.
Although nearly all entries have a known birthdate, “F. Harrison”, is only known to have been born at some point during August of 1889, without a specific date. There are an additional eight birth entries where parents have occupations:
- William Unknown, Saloonist
- Albert Unknown, Teamster
- Unknown Unknown, Coachman
- Unknown Flaherty, Stone Mason
- Unknown Colton, Agent
- Mamie Welsh, Fireman
- Theresia Scully, Shoemaker
- Bernard L. Whelon, Brick Mason
indicating they may have also been immigrants. The majority of other records have unknown occupations.
For the births themselves, two entries have unknown doctors, perhaps because they were home births or births outside the hospital with the aid of a family member and three were born with midwives attending. One entry states that the doctor was “filed per affidavit, Unknown 9/26/1940”. This leads one to the conclusion that this entry, Bernard L. Whelon, who is on the aforementioned list of entries with an occupation, was most likely recreated to act as proof in a court case, nearly 50 years after he was born on 11/20/1890.
In 31 total entries for death records, there are 209 unknown aspects of them. The majority of these are having unknown mothers or fathers, with 30 unknown entries each, unknown hospital is close behind with 29 entries, there are 27 unknown occupations, 15 unknown morticians, 13 unknown doctors, 12 unknown ages, 11 unknown cemeteries, seven unknown addresses, two unknown first names, two unknown death dates, and one each with unknown sex, race, full name, and last name.
The only entry that has an unknown full name died on June 2, 1887. He was an unknown white male who died from unknown causes. But, the strangest aspect is that they know his father was John Mahoney and his mother is Mary Barrett. This odd example is the only entry that has a full unknown name, though he has two known parents. My thoughts are that this may have been a baby that died closely after birth of unknown causes and did not get named before death.
With the 29 unknown hospitals, Good Samaritan and City Hospital are listed as the only two that are known. Close behind, there are 27 unknown occupations, but two with known ones:
- Patrick McCleanus, Laborer
- James Green, Laborer.
Strangely, there is one entry “May Lambert” that has “none” listed as an occupation, implying she was without one, it wasn’t just unknown.
Two intriguing entries are the following:
- Lewis Pumy, Unknown Death Date (11/1868)
- Charles Koch, Unknown Death Date (1868)
These have a relative date, but it is not specified. This leads me to believe that their deaths may have been discovered after-the-fact or recorded at a later date.
Overall, this examination of the records demonstrates that much of the relevant information for births and deaths was provided by family members or other individuals familiar with the person, but did not know many of the specifics asked for in recording vital records data.