When was Mary Turck born?

Just when you think you know the answer…

A few days ago, Clark House museum director Nina Look asked me a simple question: when, exactly, was Mary Turck Clark born? So I looked in my database and I came up with…two answers: Mary Turck Clark was born on either May 4th, 1820 or May 3, 1821. So I reviewed my dates and sources, and today’s post is about what I (re-)discovered, and what I still have to investigate.

Haven’t we been over this before?

Why, yes, we have. Here are links to earlier posts on essential sources of Mary Turck Clark birth date and birth year information, starting with my second Clark House Historian post, this now-outdated post about Mary from 2016. Other, more recent, posts have gone into detail examining Mary, her family, and their likely birth dates as found on the U.S. federal decennial censuses:

I’ve not yet blogged about Mary’s 1870 or 1880 federal censuses—both enumerated in Milwaukee—but I’ve seen them and used them in my research. More on these in a moment.

Is Mary on the census before 1840?

Mary should be enumerated on the 1830 federal census as a member of Peter Turck’s family, and possibly on the 1820 federal census. I have not been able to find the 1820 census for Peter Turck as head of household. (If Mary was born in 1821, she would not be found on the 1820 census anyway.)

But I think I have finally found the Turck family on the 1830 census, enumerated as Peter Turk, Palmyra, Wayne County, New York (NARA Series: M19; Roll: 117; Page: 49; Family History Library Film: 0017177). I’ll write a full post on the Turck 1830 census, but for our current purposes, I can say that this census records Peter as head of household, and has check-marks for family members of all the ages and sexes that I would expect to be enumerated as part of the Peter Turck family as of the official census date of June 1, 1830. (There is also an additional male, aged 15 through 19 living in the Peter Turck household in 1830. We’ll figure him out later.) The 1830 Peter Turck family includes one female, between the ages of 5 and 9 years. That would be correct for Mary, as the eldest Turck child, if she were born in 1821—and not in 1820.

Know your official census day

Even before the “every name census” began in 1850, collecting information for the decennial census did not happen in one day. It took a while—sometimes months—for census enumerators to physically travel through their assigned districts and record the required information. During the collection of each census some residents would be born and others would die, complicating the census count. To make an official, national count, the decennial census always has an official census day. No matter how many days or weeks it took a particular census enumerator to actually get to each residence and write down each family’s information, if you were alive on the official day, you were counted on the census. Each decade, from 1830 to 1880, the official census day was June 1.

The official day is especially important if a person was born, or died, during the census year. For example, let’s think of the census for 1830. The official census date was June 1, 1830. If a person was alive on June 1 and died on June 2nd (or later), but the census enumerator did not get to that house until after the death, that person still would be counted as a living resident of the U.S. for the purposes of the 1830 census.

Similarly, if you were a girl born in May, 1820, for the 1830 census you would be counted in the category of a female of age “ten and under fifteen” years. But if you were born in May, 1821, you would be enumerated on the 1830 census as being a female of age “five and under ten” years.

(And, for the sake of completeness: if you were born on June 2, and the enumerator visited your family on June 2 or later, you would not be counted on the 1830 census. You may have been a living, breathing newborn, but you were born after the official day and would not be enumerated until the next decennial census. Or—at least—you weren’t supposed to be counted; sometimes enumerators did not always follow the census instructions exactly.)

What do Mary’s census records say?

Mary Turck’s census records are consistent from decade to decade and—assuming she was born in May—suggest a birth year of 1821. The 1830 census has her in the age “five and under ten” age group and the 1840 census has her in the age “fifteen and under twenty” age group. The all-name censuses are even more precise:

All of these censuses suggest a birth date of no earlier than June 2 of the year before each census, and no later than May 31 of the year of the census. Since our records show a birthdate for Mary of May 3 or May 4, then she certainly appears to have been born in May, 1821. Not 1820.

So it’s settled then?

Of course not! Another essential document for Clark family birth (and a few death) dates is what I refer to as The Clark “Family Record”:

Clark “Family Record.” Image courtesy of Liz Hickman. See History Mystery No. 2 for discussion of provenance, contents and accuracy. Click to open larger image in a new window.

This document has been so helpful in establishing some essential Clark family information, especially names and birth dates of Jonathan and Mary Clark’s children. My original surmise was that Mary kept a record of her children’s birth dates in a handy bible page, one that already had death information for Jonathan M. Clark written in a different hand. The Clark “Family Record” is also our one (and only) source for a Mary Clark birth date of May 4, 1820.

Now that the preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that Mary was born in 1821—not 1820—I will need to re-think aspects of this document. Were these “Family Record” birth dates compiled by Mary, or someone else? And if Mary’s birth year here is incorrect—as seems likely—I wonder if the May 4 date is correct.

New evidence!

It comes as no surprise that we don’t have contemporary documentation of Mary’s birth. Organized record-keeping for births was sporadic at best in the early 1800s. It now appears that the Clark “Family Record” is not completely accurate. And, typically for her era, Mary’s marriage documents do not list her birth date or birth year. In the 19th-century, the only other place we would expect to find a birth date record would be at the cemetery.

Mary is buried in the Clark family lot at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee. She purchased the site on November 16, 1878, and had the bodies of her husband, Jonathan M. Clark, and children Henry and Josie, moved from “the Cedarburg Cemetery” to the new family lot. They were all reinterred there on November 16, 1878. Mary was buried there on June 30, 1881, two days after her death.

An online FindAGrave memorial for Mary is here. As you’ll see, there is no individual gravestone for Mary, and her birth and death dates are not engraved on the family obelisk. But I’ve recently uncovered a new record, from the early Forest Home burial registers. They have been microfilmed, digitized and are available at FamilySearch.org. Here’s the double-page entry with Mary’s burial information; see the June 30 entry between the two July 1 entries, just above the middle of the page:

“Clark, Mary” in Forest Home Cemetery, Interment Record, lots and single graves, v. 2, May 11, 1878-May 9, 1893, FHS DGS no. 007899281, item 2, image 163 of 573. Click to open larger image in new window.

This record is our only source for some essential information about Mary Turck Clark. It states that she was born in Athens, [Greene County,] New York, on May 3, 1821. Greene County lies along the west bank of the Hudson River, and was for many decades the home of Mary’s mother Rachael Gay, her parents—the Gay and Groom families—their ancestors, and many close relatives. Greene County was just across the river from Columbia County, N.Y., the home of Mary’s father Peter Turck and his parents and siblings.

Mary, born in 1821, was the eldest of Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck’s eight children. We know from other sources that their second child—Mary’s brother Joseph Robert Turck—was born in Athens, New York, in 1823. It seems very likely that the Forest Home record for Mary’s birth place—Athens, N.Y.—and birth year—1821—is correct. And we know that other information in the register is correct, such as her residence at time of death and her status as a widow. So…

When was Mary Turck Clark born?

Based on the available sources and evaluating them for consistency and accuracy, I believe Mary Turck Clark was born on May 3 (possibly May 4), 1821, in Athens, Greene Co., New York.

And that means 2021 will be a year to celebrate Mary Turck Clark’s bicentennial! I hope we can all meet at the Clark House for cake.