Death certificates, I was warned, tend to be suspect because the person in question is unable to fill it out -- for obvious reasons. However, in the past year or so, I've developed a whole new respect for death certificates. How a life ends, it turns out, can give an idea of how a life was lived. A death certificate places someone in time (and helps you not to look for that person after that time); it tells you where s/he was and who else may have been there. This is also as good a time as any to introduce you to some of the branches of both my family and that of my husband.
|The 1893 death of my husband's great-uncle Herbert William Goddard in Folkestone, Kent|
Let's start with a relatively lateral, uh, relative. This is my husband's great-uncle. Until I started doing family research seriously, my husband thought his maternal grandfather had two brothers and two sisters. I've since managed to unearth - if you'll pardon the expression - three more siblings. Two little girls died as newborns, bless 'em, but Herbert here died, as you see, at age 13. As far as I can tell, no one in the family ever mentioned him again. Certainly none of the family living in 1981 (when I first began research) seemed to be aware of his existence. I suppose that's why I couldn't resist ordering his death certificate, because if there's one thing I can't stand, it's someone being lost to memory because no one wanted to talk about them.
What do I learn from this certificate? I have further confirmation that Herbert existed (in addition to two censuses and his christening record) and that his father was William Day Goddard, my husband's great-grandfather. I deduce this from the initials "WD" and the address - 98 Guildhall Street in Folkestone - which was the family home for at least fifteen years between 1886 and 1901. I know this was one of a heart-breaking list of deaths for which W.D. Goddard was the informant. According to Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms (a fabulous resource), "Acute Rheumatism" means rheumatic fever, a big killer and disabler of children in those days before antibiotics (still a problem in developing countries today). Herbert may have sickened suddenly, or he may have been frail for a number of years, finally being finished by pneumonia.
Three years before the death of his son, William Day Goddard registered the death of his mother-in-law, also at his home at 98 Guildhall.
|The 1890 death of my husband's great-great-great-grandmother Mary Hyde née Reddington in Folkestone, Kent|
All I really know about Mary Hyde (née Reddington), my husband's great-great-grandmother, is that she was born somewhere near Beauchamp Roding in Essex between 1805 and 1810. Death certificates are really poor documents for confirming ages; the informant is unlikely to know exactly unless he or she is the parent - I doubt Mary herself knew for sure. "Senile Decay", according to Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms, is the progressive loss of mental capacity that leads to dementia and personal helplessness. The majority of the cases recorded were most likely Alzheimer's disease. So, happy times at the Goddard household....
|The 1890 death of my great-great-grandmother Mary Hales née Rose in Haringey, Middlesex|
Now, off to Wales, where my relatives were also dropping like flies.
|The 1872 death of my great-great-great-great-uncle Samuel Edwards in Ceidio Fawr, Caernarvonshire, Wales|
Actually of the seven Edwards brothers, I would be hard-pressed to say which of them didn't preach, at least on the side. My ggg-grandfather David Edwards was a farm labourer, but preached on occasion at the Ramoth Baptist Chapel at Cwmfelin Mynach, according to my very helpful distant cousin Jim Edwards.
I had hoped that this death certificate would help me pin down whose funeral great-great-Uncle Thomas attended. I'm pretty sure it was either Samuel or Jonah Edwards -- although it could also have been Warriote, who is listed, along with Samuel, in the Surman Index at the Centre for Dissenting Studies. Samuel - the Independent Minister, as you can see in his death certificate - died in Ceidio Fawr, Jonah (the Calvinistic Methodist minister, according to censuses) in Llanwinio in 1871, and Warriote (a bookbinder who also preached and is named, according to cousin Jim, for a family for whom the Edwards family worked over the generations) in Llanboidy in 1872. Since the likeliest Glandwr for the burial of that Edwards uncle is the Glandwr about four miles to the northwest of Llanwinio and four miles to the north of Llanboidy, I guess this certificate has ruled Samuel out. Thomas would have been about twelve or thirteen when these uncles died.
|The 1900 death of my great-great-great-grandfather William Lewis in Llanboidy, Carmarthenshire, Wales|
Nearly thirty years later, Thomas Lewis' father died -- my great-great-grandfather William Lewis, grandfather to my maternal grandfather Aneurin Lewis. William's father and grandfather were master blacksmiths, as were his sons Benjamin (my great-grandfather) and David (the son who was the informant for this death).
I ordered this mainly to confirm I had the correct death year, but this certificate gives me two bonuses: 1) confirmation that, in 1901, my great-great-uncle David was alive and living at "Pont-y-Fenni", the name of the house and forge where the Lewis family lived for at least between 1851 and 1900 -- although my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Lewis (another master blacksmith who was also the son of a blacksmith) was living next door to "Pont-y-Fenni" at the time of the 1841 census; 2) The note from the registrar in the margin on the far left indicates that my great-great-grandfather William died on the 24th and not on the 23rd -- a mistake that also appears in the probate calendar.
I'm also rather grimly amused to see that the registrar had to take a second run (sorry about that) at the spelling of "Diarrhoea".
|The 1879 death of my great-great-great-grandmother Matilda Grattidge née Clewlow in Stafford, Staffordshire|
Finally, more often than you'd think, a certificate delivers a shock to the solar plexus, even when it concerns a death that took place over a century and a third ago. I knew my great-great-great-grandmother Matilda Grattidge née Clewlow had been running The Castle Inn in Stafford after her husband's death -- my great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Grattidge, great-grandfather to my maternal grandmother Kathleen Griffiths -- in 1863 and that by 1881, it had been taken over by their son Daniel. However, I had no idea that Matilda had committed suicide.
Why did she hang herself? Well, there is a familial tendency to depression on that branch of the family. Also she had, within a very short time just before this, lost her daughter Matilda Rowley and her grand-daughter Emmeline, daughter of the same Daniel who took over the inn. We'll never really know, will we? My heart goes out to her eldest daughter Anne who was in Wolverhampton in the midst of having ten children. This news must have been a heavy blow to a mother of young ones, to say nothing of Matilda Grattidge's other children and several brothers and sisters.
I've said it before and I'll say it again and often: Family research isn't for wimps. And death certificates, treated with due caution, can be a wealth of information.
Wait. Is that another sheaf of envelopes from the General Register Office in my mailbox?
*At a Yale reunion dinner (my maternal aunt's husband was an alumnus), two entomologists who happened to be sitting at their table had a conniption fit when they learned who my aunt's dad was: "This is EA Lewis's daughter!"