Sympathy Saturday – Childbed Fever…Or Not

Emily Jane Sweeney

It’s interesting how setting out to write a simple blog post can result in confusion and/or changes to the information I already  have on file. I searched my family tree data for “childbirth” for today’s post; after all, what could be more suitable for Sympathy Saturday than a death in childbirth? However, after latching on to Emily Jane Sweeney Fogle, my second cousin 5 times removed, it appears that though sympathy is called for – it cannot be targeted at death in childbirth.

Emily was born in 1821 in Liberty, Casey County, Kentucky, the daughter of Joel and Obedience (Edwards) Sweeney and great-granddaughter of Moses Sweeney. The second of eight children, she married William McDowell Fogle on 17 February 1841 in Casey County. Emily died, still in Liberty, Kentucky, on 14 October 1852. This much does match the information I already had on file from the Descendants of Moses Sweeney CD compiled by Harvey J. Sweeney. From there, though, a few facts begin to differ.

The Sweeney compilation indicates that Emily Jane was born 4 January 1821 and probably died in childbirth, and lists a total of six children of the couple, including an unnamed daughter who was born and died in Liberty in October 1852. The 1896 Kentucky Biographical Dictionary, as well as the image of Emily’s grave in Liberty’s Napier Cemetery from the Find-a-Grave website, however, however, indicates a birthdate of 4 June 1821. The story of the infant who died also appears to have come originally from the Kentucky Biographical Dictionary, which indicates Emily “was the mother of six children: Marietta, Isabelle, Sarah Frances, Jesse Edwin, William McDowell, and a daughter who died in infancy, a few days preceding the death of its mother.”

However, Ancestry.com has now digitized Kentucky Death Records from 1852-1953 (which incidentally also provided the catalyst for my investigation into the murder of Emily’s second cousin three times removed). Here we find Emily’s death listed, but the cause of death appears not as “childbed fever” (unlike two others on the same page) but as asthmaI thought perhaps somehow this was still a complication from childbirth, but the Kentucky Death Records don’t indicate any other Fogle child who was born around October 1852 and died then or later. So it seems possible the Biographical Dictionary, written some forty years later, may have provided erroneous information. Two other interesting points are revealed by the Kentucky Death Records source – Emily’s occupation (after much scrutiny) appears to be listed as “Innstress,” and the Clerk of Casey County, whose name appears on the death notices, was none other than Emily’s own father, Joel Sweeney.

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