As children, my sister and I had always been told that there were fourteen children in my father's family, but we only knew the names of thirteen of them. We both remember being told that there was another child who had died, but that was the limit of our knowledge.
Yesterday, in doing a search for information about grandfather William W Poole, I came across a death record with his name on it. Not his death, but that of one of his children.
As I found out subsequently, the problem of "missing children" is well-known. Since a great deal of our genealogical information comes from census data, anyone who was born and died in the interval between two censuses doesn't show up without a special effort being made.
In this case, Thomas A Poole was born in June 1907 and died two months later. His entire life fell between the 1905 New York State Census and the 1910 US Census. Baby Thomas' death certificate gives murasmus as the cause of death. This is a form of malnutrition most prominent in children under the age of one. There can be a number of underlying causes and we have no information as to why this happened to baby Tom, but it's frequently associated with poverty.
Aside from resolving the mystery of the fourteenth child, this sad event tells us several new things about the family. For one thing, we now know that the name Thomas, subsequently given to the fourteenth child in the family, comes from this baby. This was a very common practice in Irish-Catholic families: the name of a child who had died would be reused when the next child of the same sex was born.
It also explains why there seemed to be a gap in record of births. Mary Poole had been bearing children at the rate of about one per year. Of course this is shocking today but it was fairly normal at the time in Catholic families, with abstinence considered to be the only acceptable means of contraception. In that light, the absence of a child in 1907 always seemed a little suprising and now we know why.
Finally, this record gives us yet another address where the family lived. The death certificate contains the address 53 Georgia Avenue, one we had not previously seen. While the specific address means little to us, it accentuates the picture we already had of an expanding family needing to constantly search for new places to live.
After stumbling across this new information, I eventually found an article telling how to perform a similar search deliberately. If you're interested, check out Remembering the Babies: Birth and Death Records for Genealogy.