Thursday, August 15, 2013

The "Edna and Charlie Tew" Mystery Photograph (August 15, 2013)

My paternal great grandparents, Arnold and Margaret Tew, had five children born between 1885 and 1901, but only two of them lived beyond two years old -- my grandfather, Arnold G. Tew, Jr. and his older sister (my grand aunt), Edna Lillian Tew.  Edna was the only girl and was said to be the oldest of the five children.

The photograph above was taken circa 1888.  The reverse side of the photograph states in the handwriting of two different people -- one in pencil and the other in blue ink respectively, "Charlie 2 years 3 months Edna 3 months" and (with a line to Charlie) "Died at 5 From Whooping Cough & Complications." 

The problem is immediately obvious -- if Edna is the oldest of the five children, her brother Charlie cannot be sitting beside her in the photograph!

While I do not yet have birth certificates for Edna's three brothers who all died before age three, I do have the birth certificate for my grandfather showing he was born in Central Falls, RI on October 15, 1896.  Courtesy of my cousin Bruce (Edna's grandson), I also have a scanned copy of the Record of Birth for my grand aunt Edna.  She was reported to have been born in Central Falls on August 19, 1885. 

Having visited the family plot at Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls, RI and seen the headstone for Charlie Tew, it appears he was born on or around August 25, 1886.  His headstone -- which is not in good condition -- appears to read, Charlie E. Died June 15, 1888 Aged 1 yr. 9 mos & 21 days.  The headstone for the deceased brother Henry E. Tew is also not in good condition, but it appears to indicate he was born June 18, 1888 and died April 9, 1889.  The headstone for the brother John H. Tew is clear and it states John was born April 23, 1901 and died December 2, 1903.  

 All of the above information presents a conundrum with regard to the photo of the two children in the chair.  Additional research and analysis is definitely needed and the place to start is obviously the birth and death records for the three deceased brothers.  As of now, there is no way to definitively say who the children are in this family photo notwithstanding the supposed identifying information handwritten on the reverse side of the photo.   There are several possibilities:

     1.  The baby is my grand aunt Edna, but the boy is not any of her brothers if she was indeed the   oldest child of the family and so the boy in the chair is some friend or relative.  Or perhaps Edna was not the oldest child in the family and there is another unknown older brother who is pictured in the photograph with a 3-month-old Edna.  [But then why is that boy not buried in the family plot along with all the others?]  
    2.  The baby is not Edna, but the boy is Charlie and thus the baby is possibly Henry; but for that to be so, the headstone information on Henry or the age information on the reverse of the photo is wrong (or perhaps both are).  The headstone information on Charlie and Henry indicates that Charlie died three days before Henry was born -- so there could not be a photo of Henry at 3 months old with Charlie.
     3.  The photo cannot be of Charlie and John if the headstone information is correct because John would have been born almost 13 years after Charlie died. 
     4.  The photo cannot be of Henry and John if the headstone information is correct because John was born just over 12 years after Henry died.

My working hypothesis is that the photograph is not of baby Edna, but rather is of Charlie and his brother Henry and that the headstone information for Charlie and Henry is either incorrect or the condition of the headstone has caused an error in interpreting the dates on them.

Next step to try to solve this mystery . . . get birth and death records for Charlie and Henry Tew of Central Falls, RI.
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All photographs in the collection of the author.  Photograph of the children and scan of Edna's birth record courtesy of her grandson Bruce.  Headstone photograph by the author.
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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