View from an Outlier

There’s been a breakthrough in Laura Ingalls Wilder research. The grave for Rose Wilder Lane’s and Claire Lane’s infant son has been tracked down–in Utah, of all places, and the information, including the death certificate, is all over the Internet. (I don’t know who made the first discovery, but if anyone can share who, we’ll credit them here. Edited to add: the woman who made the discovery is named Melody Farnsworth, who posted it to the Facebook group Remembering the Real Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thank you Marilyn Bryson for the information!) It’s being treated as quite the breakthrough, and to everyone discussing it, it is.

But personally, I don’t know. Try as I might, I can’t hitch myself to that wagon.

Let me say first that this is me, Sandra Hume–not speaking on behalf of anyone but myself. (And as a reminder, anyone can submit a guest post for consideration on Beyond Little House–just send us an email.) And although I am a journalist, I am not a historical researcher. I don’t relish digging in historical documents to find that missing fact the way I’ll track down a health study or an elusive statistic to support the article I’m writing. I truly get that some people do relish this type of archival research, even enjoy it, perhaps the way I relish identifying a 1980s one-hit wonder I was sure I’d forgotten about or reading that beloved book for the thirtieth time. We all have our own interests, careers, and tendencies. I begrudge others nothing, as I’m sure they do for me.

So I’m an outlier. In fact, I’m an outlier in a lot of Little House ways. I’m not fond of sunbonnets, except on Laura, in a book, ideally hanging down her back, or on Melissa Gilbert circa age 12. I’m honestly not all that interested in history, and I certainly don’t want to live in pioneer times. We all find our own ways to Little House, and every time I try to talk about MY way, I end up finding myself in the doorway of a little house, passing through to the cozy kitchen where Ma is making cottage cheese balls with onions, and I don’t even like onions. Or I’m in the barn where Pa and Laura have that heart-to-heart. (Yes, the TV and book worlds, tilted this way, are often indistinguishable.)

For me, Little House is family.

Here’s the way I felt when I heard about this discovery: sad. I thought about Rose as a mother–a mother who had carried a baby through a pregnancy only to never be called a mother again. I thought about Laura, in her very early twenties, able to enjoy her baby boy just for a few short weeks before she lost him. I thought about Caroline, who lost a lively, robust, full-of-personality baby who was headed towards his first birthday. Again, a baby boy. And I thought about that baby boy’s siblings, who would ache from his absence for the rest of their lives.

I’m sure some of this comes from having had three babies myself, two of them boys, one of whom is not yet three. It also comes from me, perhaps, not fully appreciating the value of a truly historical find in the most unexpected of places. But I can’t celebrate it. I’m full of sympathy, and I wish these mothers, all three of them, above all else, peace. Privacy, too, but mostly peace.

Posted in Rose Wilder Lane Tagged with: ,
18 comments on “View from an Outlier
  1. Related to your comment here:
    “Here’s the way I felt when I heard about this discovery: sad. I thought about Rose as a mother–a mother who had carried a baby for forty weeks only to never be called a mother again. I thought about Laura, in her very early twenties, able to enjoy her baby boy just for a few short weeks before she lost him. I thought about Caroline, who lost a lively, robust, full-of-personality baby who was headed towards his first birthday. Again, a baby boy. And I thought about that baby boy’s siblings, who would ache from his absence for the rest of their lives.”
    There was almost certainly a matrilineal genetic problem in this family that led to the early demise of the male children born–keep in mind, also, that Carrie and Grace Ingalls were both married and yet, had no children–it is very likely that there were miscarriages for both, probably of male offspring. Finding the grave of this little boy may–may–lead to exhumation of the body and genetic/DNA analysis that could lead to an answer. There are still living descendants of the family–I am friends with a woman who is the great-great granddaughter of Peter Ingalls, (“Uncle Peter”) and she–and several relatives–have had miscarriages of male offspring so there is potential for data in this that could reveal a problem that may, or may not, be correctible in the future as DNA research leads to early corrections or cures of genetic disease so, from that standpoint, our own grief as mothers–I too have lost infant children (two boys) may not be in vain. Thank you so much for your work with this website; I enjoy it a great deal.

    • sparkysweet says:

      Caroline & Charles were married for at least 4 years before Caroline became pregnant with Mary. Maybe there were miscarriages of male offspring during the early years of their marriage. I read somewhere that Laura spoke of her brother, Charles Frederick (Freddie) Ingalls, as a sickly child. That he was always a sickly child.

  2. Marilyn Bryson says:

    The gal who originally posted the death certificate was Melody Farnsworth. She posted it to the fb group Remembering the Real Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was very cool. I had always thought that he was buried with Rose. I had no idea that he was lost.
    The death certificate says that he was stillborn but it also says that he was premature (6 months) so maybe Rose, Laura and Caroline were expecting to hold him in 3 months and were never given that opportunity. Very sad. But I am glad that he has been found.

    • Melody Farnsworth says:

      Thank you Marilyn for letting folks know. In the intervening months, I have found that others, professional researchers, have known, but not published this information as they were waiting for their books to come out. So, not the first, just the first to post it.

  3. Rebecca Brammer says:

    I would surely hope they wouldn’t exhume the body for testing. If indeed there is some genetic problem in the family line, they can test currently living members of the family who are experiencing the problem.

    While feelings of sadness for Rose are certainly justifiable, I DO celebrate this find rather than mourn, because we have known for a long time that she lost this baby, and already felt that sadness in the loss. I find this worth celebrating because her baby was found. People are talking about her baby over a hundred years later. How many miscarried babies are still known all this time later, or cared about? As a mother, I would be glad to know that people CARED about my baby, that his short little life meant something to someone. That he wasn’t forgotten about in an unknown grave in an unknown location, but that now people know where he is and remember him, and think of him. I think Rose would be glad to know the little boy she never got to know has been found.

  4. Sandra Hume says:

    “I think Rose would be glad to know the little boy she never got to know has been found.”

    This was specifically what hovered in my mind. To her, he wasn’t lost, at least not in that sense. She was there when it happened; she knew where he was. She died never revealing where he was (or one can assume she didn’t, at least not in her writings, because if she had, someone would have read it). I don’t think she wanted him “found.”

    Just my opinion, of course–colored by my own experiences.

  5. Sue Francis says:

    I am so glad that infant lane’a grave has been located many years ago I lost a baby boy I still carry that lost with me I know. How am laura rose felt when they lost their sons. But some how we put back in our minds and never think of the lost until that date of the worse day in your life comes around the next year. But if you look into the ingalls family you will see: Lansford Charles laura rose all lost a son. Some think it could be RH Factor or SIDS. No one will ever no. But to carry a baby for either six or mine months and loose it is the greatest heartache a mother can bear. This happening in Laura. And rose life one can understand why they never had anymore children. They may of thought it would happen again. But baby lane has been found and if he knew how many love him today rose would be happy

  6. Becky H says:

    Male babies are more likely to die as infants than female babies. Even in 21st century developed countries this is true, so I don’t necessarily believe there is a matrilineal genetic issue. We know from Laura’s books that Carrie was never in good health after the Long Winter. That and her marriage at the age of 41 could be why she never had children. I keep thinking of the comment Rose made about Laura in regards to Baby Boy Wilder: that her mother never spoke of him. I wonder how she would feel about all of this – if she would be comfortable with the scrutiny and speculation. And I agree with Sandra – Baby Boy Lane was never lost. His mother always knew where he was. I don’t think we should assume we are automatically granted that privilege. And I fervently hope no one exhumes that little boy’s body.

  7. Sandra O'Brien says:

    Beautiful. Thank you, Sandra Hume.

  8. naomi says:

    Wow! So interesting.
    A couple of comments:
    I note that on the death certificate, Rose’s place of birth is listed as North Dakota.
    The baby wasn’t miscarried — he was a stillborn premie, which is very different.
    Given what we know about the deaths of Laura’s brother, her son, and now this baby, the situations are so different that it seems unlikely that there is any common genetic cause — just statistical bad luck.

    Thinking back to other things I’ve read about this baby, it seems to me that most sources mention that Rose had surgery after the birth, which left her unable to have more children. With the new info that baby was premature and stillborn, this might suggest a placental abruption.

  9. Rachel Luther says:

    Sandra this is so beautifully written! As a genealogist, the find of a death certificate thrills me, but I do agree that sometimes I feel a little voyeuristic searching for information on these long-gone people.

    One thing it reminded me of is all the people who have posted ancestry trees about this little boy and named him and filled out all kinds of info! It has been a long time since I looked, so I went back through some of the posted trees at Lots of “Wilder Clare Lane” with dates of August 12-24 (usually of 1910). Some of them saying he died in De Smet. I think they are getting the dates from the Wilder baby. Many of the same trees that list this baby will also list an “Infant Lane” and or a “Baby Boy Lane” in 1909 or 1911. Sometimes listed a baby in all three years! Of course I wonder — if they have a made-up name for this baby, why not a made up name for Rose’s brother?

    Being more serious, that saddens me the most. Making up and conflating information and then posting it so it gets re-posted and copied over and over.

  10. Sandra, I am so glad you wrote about this. And many of the comments ensuing echo things I have been thinking about ever since the original find was posted on facebook. I, too, feel that, while it is fascinating and somewhat exciting to put a place and date alongside the knowledge of Rose’s baby, I feel there is also a bit of voyeurism going on that is…unsettling.

    From an historian’s point of view, first, I was unnerved by the idea that people immediately began discussing a monument. And collecting money to fund it. Without having a crucial third piece of evidence to cross-reference that the death certificate’s information about the cemetery, and the plot location on find-a-grave, are indeed correct. The cemetery records would have to confirm that indeed this is the resting place of the correct Infant Lane. Lane is a common surname, and infant deaths in a city the size of Salt Lake in the early 20th century would hardly be unusual. So, right away, before anyone makes any plans, the rest of the research needs to be done.

    More importantly, I wonder at the idea that so many people are so taken with the loss of infant boys in the family. The more I consider this news, the more disturbed I am at the many reactions of people who want to pry into Rose’s medical records or exhume an infant’s corpse. Infant mortality is, unquestionably, always tragic, but, particularly in our past, it was quite common. As someone who has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours researching on-site in cemeteries from the 17th through 19th centuries, I can attest there are many infants buried without so much as an indication of gender, let alone age or even the year of death. Many stones simply say, “Our Babe” or “Infant” and nothing more. So many families lost multiple infants or young children and the only clues as to why might be in the rare instances when birth and death dates are included on the headstone, and those dates coincide with other family members’ death dates, such as a mother who died within days of the child’s birth, or siblings and other family members who died around the same date. I suspect the reason many of these infants are often not publicly named has more to do with the pain of the family’s experience, and the desire to avoid speculation and repeated, difficult interactions with others, because they simply had to carry on with life. Perhaps some of these lost infants DID have names, but the family kept it closely guarded? Or, perhaps in some cases, if the child had not been baptized, then the family elected not to assign a name post-mortem. We really can’t know.

    And, something else we will never know is how many miscarriages happened. Women rarely, and I mean ALMOST NEVER, mentioned their pregnancies in writing prior to the birth of the child, so we can’t expect to know much about how many babies were lost the way Rose’s baby boy was. And, whether the certificate uses the term “stillborn” or not, he would not have survived even if he had been born alive–at that point in history, children born so early had essentially zero chance of survival, as the medical technology simply did not exist to sustain a child so physically undeveloped. Yet, when people speculate about the apparent loss of so many boys, specifically, in Laura’s maternal line, I have to point out the likelihood that girls were lost too. We just don’t know because they weren’t all documented. But Caroline had two older sisters named Martha–the first died about 4 years old–and the “Aunt Martha” who corresponded with Laura while she was preparing early manuscripts in the 1920s was named after her. Caroline herself may have had several miscarriages. Consider she and Charles married 1 February 1860 but Mary was not born until 10 January 1865. In the four years prior to Mary’s conception it is perfectly plausible that Caroline lost a pregnancy or two. And, in the several years between Carrie’s birth (3 August 1870) and Freddie’s (1 November 1875), a similar situation is possible, as well. But, if Caroline wanted to document these things (assuming they may have occurred), she chose not to.

    And then there are the questions about “operations.” I really hope no one tries to dig up medical records for Rose, or Laura, or anyone else. Although they likely do not exist, it is my fondest wish that anyone so morbidly fascinated with the idea of what sort of surgery Laura or Rose might have undergone will please just accept the idea that it is none of our business. We don’t have a right to know everything, and this feels like a line that simply should not be crossed. If anyone really wants to know what happened, I suggest they do some research on the history of women’s medical care in the late 19th and early 20th century. You’ll find enough information to satisfy your curiosity with a good medical history monograph. And if you want the cliff notes version, get in touch with me. But I promise, it isn’t pretty. And, I still say, we have no right to the specifics for Laura or Rose. Let’s just allow them the dignity of some privacy, for once, okay?

  11. naomi says:

    I don’t think I (or anyone here) was suggesting that we should go poking around 100+ year old medical records. But the fact that books HAVE mentioned Rose’s surgery would suggest that the information isn’t as closely guarded as all that. It is known that she had surgery. Exactly what was done is not known.

    As for the general idea of ‘privacy’ — one thing I remember learning in my journalism classes back in college is that when people choose to become famous (as in becoming published authors…) they do voluntarily give up a certain amount of privacy — and this was true even before the internet made privacy in general a scarce commodity.

    So — does this mean we SHOULD go digging through old medical records? No. But it also means that when Rose and Laura chose to be ‘famous’ they knew that they could reasonably expect that people would be interested in their private lives … and that interest would not end when their lives ended. Who is being harmed by discussion and speculation? (There are, after all, no direct descendents.)

  12. naomi says:

    Also, regarding ‘cross-checking’ information on whether or not this baby is THE baby — the death certificate (linked in the initial post) gives the parent’s names, and the place of burial. While Lane is a common enough last name, the odds that another “Baby Boy Lane” was born to a mother with the maiden name Rose Wilder, buried in that cemetery at about the right time in history would be … improbable.

  13. Unfortunately, Naomi, there were several people online (facebook, not here) who were talking about exhumation, DNA testing, and contacting the hospital about Rose’s records, so that is what I was referencing.

    As for the death certificate, just because it lists the name of the cemetery, that is not conclusive evidence. Death certificates only list what was reported at the time of completion of the certificate; they do not guarantee accuracy of events. As it is, the certificate incorrectly lists “North Dakota” as Rose’s place of birth. Likely a simple mistake caused either by the clerk filling in the form incorrectly, or by Gilette giving incorrect information because he either mis-remembered or was not sure and was the person providing the information. But the listing of the cemetery on the death certificate doesn’t meet the test of confirmation of facts. Assumptions are made, plans change, forms have mistakes. To have absolute proof this is the correct site, the details need to be corroborated by the actual records from the Mt. Olivet Cemetery, which would have a record stating the identities of the parents of the infant in that particular plot, and the date of death/burial of the child. Without confirmation from the cemetery, the death certificate and the find-a-grave listing (which, btw, find-a-grave has a great deal of incorrect Ingalls- and Wilder-related listings), are suggestive but not absolute evidence. So, I have to stand behind my original statement.

  14. Melody Farnsworth says:

    Hello Melanie;
    I just wanted to clarify a few things about this post and some of the replies. I had thought about, and discussed, a memorial stone, but never collected a dime toward it. I did check with Mount Olivet Cemetary, went there personally in fact, and yes it is the correct Infant Lane. I would NEVER suggest exhumation of the child, for DNA or any other evidential purposes. And, finally, I went through all the proper channels I could find, with help from a lot of published researchers, to both verify the information, and get permission for any memorial. There will be no memorial, by the way, as I never received permission from the heirs of the Lane Estate. For me, it was all about the excitement of finding something reasearchers up until that time had only speculated about (and which I came across quite by accident), and about knowing that there was a place for me to visit to say my hellos to a part of a family that was deeply influential to me as a child, and even as an adult.
    Thank you for your beautiful post, and for taking the time to blog about it!

  15. Melody Farnsworth says:

    Sorry Melanie; I addressed that to you when it was Sandra I needed to address it to. Must be getting on toward the end of the day, eh?

  16. I hesitate to even intrude into your group, but my husband is John Lane Fowler. I know that he is a descendant of Roses husband,(since they had no living children). Briefly, how would I begin to trace this lineage? Thank you in advance for any help you might provide me.