Ancestors Say the Darndest Things: What’s My Wife’s Name?

Lucinda Barrow Hahn 4

Identified as “Mother Hahn,” this photograph of Lucinda Barrow Hahn was made in Cincinnati about 1870—seven years before her husband would famously forget her name. 

By James Pylant
Copyright © 2016
Do not post or reprint without written permission

Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Roberts

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A lifelong Ohioan, Abner Hahn didn’t venture far from his native Newtown, Hamilton County. He had lived in nearby Cincinnati as a craftsman, served as one of the trustee in Anderson Township,1 where Hahn supported his wife and their six children as a merchant in 1850.2 Several other times held a couple of minor offices. By 1877, Hahn was back at his birthplace and working mostly as a farmer. Since the 65-year-old was known to be one of Hamilton County’s “very oldest residents,”3 the Newtown postmaster turned to him to solve the problem of an undeliverable letter, one addressed to a Lucinda Hahn. Although they shared the same surname, the farmer told the postmaster that he didn’t know anyone with that name.

After returning to his farm three miles away, Abner Hahn asked his wife, “Do you know a woman anywhere by the name of Lucinda Hahn?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered, “That’s my name.”

“Well, well,” he said, scratching his head, “I have called you Mother so long—nearly forty years—that I had really forgotten your first name. There is a letter in the post office for you at Newtown.”

News of Hahn’s forgetfulness spread to his one-time stomping ground, Cincinnati, where the newspaper shared the story and told of his making a second trip to the post office. “So back he went, got the letter, and now knows his wife’s first name,” quipped the editor.4

Lucinda Barrow had become Abner Hahn’s bride on 23 December 1838. Despite the memory lapse of his wife’s name, the couple stayed together another 14 years when Hahn died in 1891. His widow survived him by seven years.5 “His descendants will not feel ashamed of their ancestor,” predicted local historians in 1881.6 One such descendant identifies Lucinda as the granddaughter of noted Baptist minister David Barrows, who had a change of heart about slavery and freed those whom he had held in bondage. Barrows, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, represented the president at the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.7

  1. Henry A. and Mrs. Kate B. Ford, History of Hamilton County Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches ([no place:] L. A Williams & Co., 1881), p. 415.
  2. Abner Hahn household, 1850 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Ohio, population schedule, Anderson Township, p. 204, dwelling 908, family 912; NARS microfilm M432-685.
  3. Ford and Ford, History of Hamilton County Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, p. 415.
  4. “Batavia,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 28 March 1877, p. 3.
  5. Lucinda Barrow Hahn memorial, no. 95651835, Flagg Spring Cemetery (Newtown), online database and images (www.findagrave.com : accessed 8 December 2015), includes a photograph of a double marker; Lucinda Hahn’s inscription is below that of her husband.
  6. Ford and Ford, History of Hamilton County Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, p. 415.
  7. Email message from Barbara Roberts to James Pylant, 22 February 2016.