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A Mother for Mahala

Laura Riddle (1853-1933), my great-grandmother, had a cousin named Mahala Dunbar (1850-1939). We have long wondered who Mahala’s parents might have been.

When she was a child, Mahala appeared on two easy-to-find census records for Stow, Summit, County Ohio.

In both 1860 and 1870, the adults in the household were Benjamin S. Dunbar (1812-aft. 1880) and Rebecca Dunbar (1817-1873). These two were brother and sister. Which one was Mahala’s parent? Neither census record tells us family relationships. We do learn from these that Mahala was born in Ohio.

No other record uncovered so far has told us anything about Mahala’s parentage. Her obituary and her biography in the county history do not mention them. Neither Benjamin nor Rebecca left a will.

One tantalizing clue that remained to be searched was the 1850 census. The official enumeration date for that year was June 1, and children born after that day were not to be counted. Mahala was born on August 13. As expected, a search for her name produces no results.

Rebecca Dunbar lived in a Stow, Ohio household with only her younger sister Laura in 1850. The enumeration date recorded on the census record was September 10. Mahala would have been a month old by then. She was not recorded as a member of this household. Was this because the census taker strictly followed the guidelines and listed only people living there on June 1, or was it because she was not present the day the information was recorded?

What about Benjamin’s household? He had married Lucy Jaquays in Ohio in 1846. Perhaps they were Mahala’s parents, but I spent years searching the 1850 census for them with no luck. This week I tried again.

This time instead of looking for Benjamin, I did an Ancestry search for Lucy Jaquays. The hints list included an 1850 listing for the Norris Jaquays household in Noble County, Indiana. This place is a long way (220 miles) from Summit County, Ohio where I thought Benjamin had always lived. It turns out Norris Jaquays and his family were pioneers of Noble County, arriving there from Ohio in the late 1840’s.

And there were Benjamin and Lucy Dunbar in 1850, living in the household of the man I hypothesize was her father. Yet again, there was no Mahala. She would have been eleven days old when the census taker visited the Jaquays household on August 24. Again, were the rules being strictly followed, or was Mahala not there?

Even though Mahala was not counted on the census in 1850, locating this record makes me suspect that Benjamin and Lucy were not Mahala’s parents. They were living in northern Indiana just eleven days after Mahala was born in Ohio.

If they had been in Indiana on the June 1 census date, it seems unlikely they would have spent a week traveling back to Ohio for the birth of a baby in August. A baby of theirs would much more likely have been born in Indiana. Mahala consistently gave her birthplace as Ohio, and she grew up there. Benjamin returned there after his marriage to Lucy broke up.

I surmise that Mahala was born in Ohio to an unwed mother. Was she 33-year-old Rebecca or 21-yer-old Laura? Either way, Rebecca was the mother Mahala knew.

The baby arrived too late to be counted on the census that year. Still, she was likely present in the household, being cared for by her mother and her aunt, when the census taker came around.

The failure of Mahala’s biographical information to mention her parentage points to the same conclusion. Unwed parents were not something to advertise in the nineteenth century.

Mahala’s descendants have a photo of a woman labeled “Mother Dunbar”. I wonder if this was Rebecca.

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