One of my most cherished family photos is the professional photo of my great- grandmother Bessie Beauchamp and her siblings Fred, Frank, and Lillian. I fondly recall seeing this photo on top of my grandmother’s roll top desk and hearing the sad story early on that Bessie’s brothers and sisters died after the photo was taken during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
Over the years the story around the picture changed a bit and eventually settled to become that Bessie (a solemn looking 8 year old in the photo) and her three siblings were the sole survivors of a large family that included many children who died during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
And like most instances of family legends or lore, some of this story is true and some is not. Either way, as I dug in and began to uncover the truth behind the family photo, I discovered records that allowed me to know much more about my family that I ever thought possible.
Truth be Told
As it turns out, my great-grandmother Bessie Beauchamp did come from a large family of at least eight children with just five of them living to adulthood: Fred, Frank, Bessie, Lillian and Mary. (Mary was born in 1905, presumably after this photo was taken.)
Two other children, and possibly a third, have been identified as Bessie’s siblings through census, cemetery, and death records of Chicago.
1900 Census Residence
In 1900, Henry and his family consisting of his wife Stella, and children, Fred, Frank, Elizabeth and Lillian, are enumerated at 173 W. 16th Street in an area known as West Town in Chicago. Henry is listed as being born in Canada and his occupation is listed as Carpenter. His sons Fred and Frank are listed as attending school.
Census records don’t tell us how long Henry and his family lived at this residence; however, while researching Chicago death records, the following death certificates list 173 W. 16th the residence at time of death:
- 65 year-old female Elizabeth Beauchamp died March 2, 1898 at 173 W. 16th Street. The cause of death is listed as bronchi-pneumonia. She is buried at Calvery Cemetery. This is assumed to be Henry’s mother, and Bessie’s grandmother.
- 2 1/2 year-old child Henry Bouchamp on January 18, 1899 at 173 W. 16th Street. The cause of death was Scarlet Fever & Diptheria. The child is buried in Waldheim cemetery.
- Exactly two years later, on January 18, 1901, City of Chicago Death records list the death of Eddie Beauchamp, two-month old child living at 173 W. 16th street. Burial is at Calvary Cemetery.
- The next day, on January 19, 1901, City of Chicago Death records list the death of Joe Bouchamp, two-month old child living at 173 W. 16th street. Burial is also listed as Calvary Cemetery.
The above records point to the connection between the residence of 173 W. 16th street and the family name of Beauchamp as proof that Henry, Eddie and Joseph were the children of Henry and Stella and Elizabeth the mother of Henry. However, there is always rooms for doubt (and additional research!)
Luckily for us we have another record for Eddie and Joseph that tie them directly to Henry living at 173 W. 16th Street and that is their baptism record.
The record is from Sacred Heart Parish located at 818 W. 19th street and within walking distance of 173 W. 16th street. The baptism records lists the “in private baptism” of Joseph and Edward, as the sons of Henrico Beauchamp. A notation on the baptism notes in latin “mortue sunt” translated as “they are dead”.
Henry is an Unknown
Without any additional primary source records, Henry’s parentage is a little bit more uncertain. It’s entirely possible that one of Bessie’s uncles was also living, or staying, with Bessie and her family at 173 W. 16th Street when they lost a child in 1899. Here’s why:
- Henry (d. 1899) is buried at Waldheim and not Calvary cemetery where his brothers are buried
- Henry Jr’s death certificate in January of 1899 at the age of 2 years and 6 months, place his birth date at July of 1896. The problem is we have Bessie’s own birth known as Aug/September of 1896. (Her birth month/year in the 1900 census is listed as August of 1896.) Either Bessie was Henry Jr.’s twin or Henry had different parents living at 173 W. 16th street in 1899.
The Search continues
In conclusion, we now know that Bessie did in fact have at least two, possibly three, young siblings die when very young. Within a few years after this photo being taken, another sibling, Mary “Dolly” Beauchamp, was born in 1905 for a total of eight known Beauchamp children being born to Bessie’s parents Henry and Stella. And to complicate things even more, in 1910, Bessie’s mother Stella reported to the census taker that she was in fact the mother of 12 children, with five now living.
Truth is we may never know the names and dates of the missing children. My hope is that as I continue to unravel the stories of the Beauchamp family, including why there are no birth or baptism records for any of the five surviving children, we’ll finally know the true story of Bessie’s siblings.