Three Sages

In thirty odd years of researching family history, I, like you, have seen a lot of unusual things. From the recesses of my own DNA to the penumbral prose in a dear friend’s oral history, there’s a whole lot going on out there among Ye Olde Branches. Recently though, I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. Notwithstanding “the numbers” per se, I’m told it’s an event that only happens once every nine thousand times. It has, however, been a discovery that, although comparatively unique, has attained little in the way of genealogical ‘glory.’

You see, in all these many years of researching all da folks, I’d never come across the birth of triplets. (I know, kind of weird, right?) Sadly, and in this instance, I happened to stumble upon a tripartite of nearly forgotten and unnamed baby boys. Yes, even for a ‘big tough guy’ like me it was a little disheartening not to find mention of these wee lads anywhere you might expect them to be. (You know, like in some reasonably well applied ‘copy and paste’ family tree?)

So, in light of their trebled births, and a revelation of old tenebrosity, I decided to give these boys a name. I call these little chaps [my] Three Sages. And as best I can, I’d like to try and tell you some of their family story, or at least what there is of it. Before I begin, though, you should know that part of what stirred me to tell this tale was in realizing that these boys weren’t some obscure or distant connection. They were really quite nearby in the branches, hidden just out of sight.


Last year, I started “filling in the blanks” for the siblings of my great-grandfather Samuel S. Sage (1863-1947). “Grandpa Sam” (as I like to call him) was born into a big family. His parents, Selah Sage (1817-1874) and Mary Ann Burr (1821-1872), had thirteen children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. Now, linking Sam to his parents and siblings (at least beyond the scope of A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of David Sage…) isn’t the easiest thing to do. Fortunately, this was made easier when, in 1914, Grandpa Sam was involved in a lawsuit over water rights and ordered to appear before the Wyoming Supreme Court. The lawsuit named Sam and several of the Sage siblings ‘together’ in a ‘summons’ that appeared in the Cheyenne State Leader. This, along with a statement that Grandpa Sam’s brother John (also involved with the whole water rights issue) had been placed in an asylum, helped me to link “Grandpa Sam” to his siblings. (There’s nothing like disputed water rights and a touch of insanity to bring a family together…) 

There’s nothing like disputed water rights and a touch of insanity to bring a family together…

With the impetus of all this ‘genealogical liquidity,’ legal, mental, or otherwise, I decided to look into the life of my great-grandfather’s older brother John P.H. Sage (1854-1936). Now, John P.H. Sage lived a colorful Old West sort of lifestyle, but as I studied John’s life it became more than clear that he’d spent the better part of it quite literally in the Colorado State Insane Asylum. As I explored more about John P.H. Sage’s circumstances, I neglected to delve much into the life of his wife Sarah Rishling (1852-1920) or that of his only child, John Frederick Sage (1884-1947), or even further, into John Frederick Sage’s descendants. Please allow me to explain…


John Frederick Sage was born at Xenia in Sarpy County, Nebraska 10 April 1884 to John P.H. and Sarah (Rishling) Sage. Many members of our mutual extended Sage family [that of Selah and Mary Ann (Burr) Sage] lived at Sarpy County after migrating from New England through Indiana, and before ‘splintering off’ further westward. Many of the older Sage family members (like Selah and Mary Ann) are buried in Sarpy County.

I was able to confirm the names of John Frederick Sage’s parents as “John P. H. Sage” and “Sarah Rishling” through his 1940 Social Security Application, and the names of his grandparents as “Selah Sage and Mary A. Burr” on John P.H. Sage’s March 1883 Nebraska marriage record to Sarah Rishling. These, along with the legal notices in the Cheyenne State Leader, gave me a foundation for my own relationship to them, and would later augment my connection to and discovery of three unnamed baby boys. I guess it’s about ‘here,’ though, that the story ‘kinda’ starts to get complicated.

As you might have guessed, things didn’t work out too well for young John Frederick Sage or his mother Sarah. With his father away at the asylum and otherwise engaged, life surely must have been difficult. Indeed, as early as 1900 J.P.H. Sage is missing from the household, and Sarah (Rishling) Sage is claiming to be widowed even though she isn’t. Sarah and John Frederick are living with Sarah’s other (allegedly illegitimate) son Willard, John Frederick’s much older half-brother, and a guy who seems only to obfuscate the record. Heck, even John Frederick’s mother Sarah has her own eventual mental health breakdown. By 1920, Mrs. Sarah (Rishling) Sage is enumerated at Yankee Hill, another state-run asylum for the insane – just like dear old dad.

Sometime after the turn of the twentieth century (ca. 1906), and after all this dysfunctional family stuff had gone on, John Frederick Sage must have said “To Hell with this” and gone to California. Here he met and married the lovely and talented Carrie DeMoss, at Oroville in Butte County, on 20 November 1906.

I can’t say that things went all that well for John Frederick and his new bride.

I can’t say that things went all that well for John Frederick and his new bride. They had a nomadic life, with an address history stretching from Oregon to San Diego. John Frederick’s employment history was sketchy too, though his and Carrie’s ability to have children and many mouths to feed doesn’t seem too encumbered by any of this. Heck, they even tried life out near where I live in Sacramento – my, how different things might have been! Unfortunately, by 1930 John Frederick and Carrie are living separately, and Cousin John Frederick Sage is listing himself that year as divorced.

John Frederick Sage and Carrie (DeMoss) Sage were married about twenty-five years. As I studied the family and the births of their five surviving children, all born in California, I was prompted by Ancestry to look at a birth record for an unnamed baby boy born in Jackson County, Oregon in 1910. The record indicated that this “unnamed baby boy” was the child of John Federick Sage and Carrie DeMoss. At the time, this didn’t seem all that strange, though submitted family trees for John and Carrie didn’t list any “unnamed children” (or mention any babies who had died). While none of this is unusual, still, I thought I’d check it out. It was there in the “birth order” of an unnamed baby boy born to John and Carrie that something rather surprising caught my eye – number three.

Wait a minute!? Number three? Were the five known children of John and Carrie Sage any part of this menagerie? If not, then just who and where were babies “one and two?” A perusal of the Oregon Birth Records brought me some answers, as Baby Boy #1 and Baby Boy #2 quickly appeared with nearly identical birth records, and all for that same day, 19 October 1910. I had found triplets. I had found the Three Sages.

I had really hoped to find flourishing people behind all that birth order business. I guess I’d hoped to find one of those triplets with descendants in Sacramento or another one with great-grandkids living in my home town of Long Beach. Heck, I’d have been happy to have discovered just one of their darn names. Sadly though, none of those baby boys, those Three Sages, lived. In the end, this was all I found:

In the course of a day…

So, I guess I have to take this genealogical ‘glory’ as I found it – as in the glory of life itself. It’s both a simple and a complicated part of my own genealogical journey. The very unusual birth of triplets in my family within the last three generations is, for me, pretty cool; especially as unknown triplets and as close as second cousins to my mom.

I wish I’d been able to find out anything more about these three babies, but sadly, their existence seems relegated to this small discovery…

I wish I’d been able to find out anything more about these three babies, but sadly, their existence seems relegated to this small discovery, and to a page on At least I can add them to Ye Olde Branches. And while they may not ever have proper names, they will no longer go unaccounted for. There’s even an odd “Easter Egg” in all of this if you will. Check out that Death Index above – did these three boys also have an unnamed Sage brother born the year before? It’s hard to say.

John Frederick Sage died in Los Angeles County in 1947, and Carrie (DeMoss) Sage died quite a few years later, at San Diego in 1971. I still haven’t located their graves, and the graves of those triplets (if there ever were any) are surely lost to time. John Frederick Sage and Carrie (DeMoss) Sage had many Sage descendants through the offspring of the five of their children who lived. Their last living child, Cleone (Sage) Lyons, died at San Diego in 1998. I have no doubt that John Frederick Sage must have fled Nebraska and Colorado to escape the insanity that seemed imbedded to his ancestry and to dog his every move. Here in the west, he and Carrie were only to find another kind of loss. The loss of three angels, now known simply as Three Sages.

As of yet, I can’t believe their whole story has been written.

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

17 thoughts on “Three Sages

  1. A branch of the Stufflebean tree supposedly had quadruplets who all died at birth in the mid 1800s. I’ve never been able to document it, though. Nice to see the Three Sages remembered.

  2. I’ve actually found triplets in two very different branches of my family tree.

    “Daniel, the son and Mercy and Abigail the daughters of John and Mary Huntting were born October ye 3rd 1713,” in Dedham, Massachusetts; they were siblings of my 7th great-grandmother, Rebecca (Hunting) Hartshorn.

    On 11 August 1745, Momme Melfsen’s three children, one son and two daughters, were buried in Deezbuell, Schleswig-Holstein. The following year, their brother was born; named Momme for his father, he was my 5th great-grandfather.

    1. Jane, Have you researched Daniel, Rebecca’s brother? This is my relative and I need help??

      1. Renee, I think you must be looking for a different Daniel, since Rebecca’s brother Daniel, one of the triplets, died as an infant.

  3. I like that you documented their birth and parents. Thank you for sharing their touching story.

  4. I found a listing of births in a Vermont town record that showed my 2 GG parents had triplets – one boy and two girls, only one of which survived to live a long and interesting life. There had never been any mention of the other babies who were stillborn. The same couple also had another stillborn a year earlier.

    1. I have found several mysterious gaps in some of my ancestors child-bearing, with no mention of still-birth. I wonder if this was a way of coping with what was at the time a common occurance at a time when every woman went into childbirth knowing that either she or the child might die (particularly given the circumstances of most of the births).

      One variation of this was a cemetary here in Vermont during the harsh time in the early 19th century, when multiple factors (including the “Year of No Summer”) resulted in malnutrition and susceptibility to illness. The graveyard is dotted with little clusters of tiny gravestones. A beautiful place, but heart-breaking to walk though.

      The stones are (frustratingly) no longer readable, but in the early part of the 20th century, some blessed soul had transcribed by hand all the stones then present- which included many which no longer exist. The state had the transription notes imaged and made available online. And so I found the names of many of the babies, most under 1 year, and a good many died the day they were born. Quite a few were simply labeled “Baby”, with the date and the initials of the parents, whose graves they flanked. I guessed that these might be children who never drew a breath.

      I am apparently related in one way or another to nearly everyone in that cemetary, which represented the multi-generational web of a small, rural community. The single surviving son of one of those families is part of my line, one of my 2nd great grandparents. He migrated as a teen, eloping with his young girlfriend. In fits and starts, they made their way west, through poverty and hardship to relative success. It seemed to me that he was seeking a community and a family to replace the one he’d lost.

  5. I have a college friend named Quincy (a birth order name meaning “fifth son,” though she in truth is a daughter). She was named to memorialize the two triplets who died when her older sister was born. The family already had a son, and went on to have two more…but they were NOT named Sixtus and Septimus!

    I know another woman who was the only survivor of triplets whose family referred to the two who didn’t survive as “the twins.”

  6. My paternal great grandfather, Charles Knox born in Lebanon, Maine in 1852 was a triplet. His brother John died at 7 months and his sister Susan died at 16. Charles lived until he was 74. Sadly, their mother only lived less than three weeks after giving birth to them.

  7. I have twins,- a boy & girl; my father is a twin – 2 boys, his grandfather is a twin – boy & girl and their grandfather is a twin – 2 boys.

  8. Interesting find and story. Did you trace the birth certificate of the Sage born one previous year to see who parents are? What about corresponding death certificates. My first thought when hearing about all the issues of both parents and one son, was perhaps hard metal contamination in water, soil or air where they had lived. Is there any way to follow that thought?

  9. My mother-in-law had always heard that her grandmother had five children in one year, a story she always dismissed as nonsense. I discovered that her grandmother had twins, and about ten months later, a set of triplets, so the story was actually true. Sadly, all the babies died. They were just too small to survive on a rural farm. It’s so heartbreaking to think of the loss the family suffered, and the small lives cut short, but it’s comforting to know that even though we don’t have names for them, they are now known and in the family tree, and remembered.

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