Your ideas, comments and advice
On your What’s On page (August), the talk at the Bramhall United Reform Church from the Bramhall branch of the Cheshire Family History Society entitled ‘What Did He Die Of?’ caught my attention. As Bramhall is reasonably close, I persuaded my husband to go. It was very informative and interesting. Even my husband, whose eyes often glaze over when I enthuse about our ancestors, asked questions.
When I started researching our families over 20 years ago, I thought that death certificates were a waste of money as they did not appear to move my tree forward. This despite the advice to “kill off your ancestors”, and the fact that my first certificate revealed my great great grandfather had died in a mining explosion, which provided me with considerable research opportunities.
However, recently I have found that death certificates are packed with useful information. They can indicate lifestyle, environmental conditions and employment hazards, and can help with identifying relatives of the deceased.
One example is my great great grandmother Sarah Powell who had an illegitimate son, George. After Sarah’s marriage, George took the husband’s name for two censuses. I followed who I believed to be the correct son, and for years had his family in my records. It was not until I received Sarah’s death certificate showing the informant as her son that I realised he had reverted to Sarah’s maiden name, which he was baptised with. I had to find a new family. I did, and the proof was that in 1939 George’s widow was living with Sarah’s granddaughter.
We also got a clue for one of my husband’s ancestors from the wife’s certificate, as her status was recorded in relation to her husband and gave his occupation of “well sinker”, not in any other record. The husband’s certificate threw an entirely different light on the family. I found newspaper reports of him being drunk and disorderly, suggesting he was ‘a bit of a lad’, but his death certificate showed he died of “chronic alcoholism” – not good for a well sinker, a dangerous occupation, or for family life. I also have several death certificates involving accidents, including being “accidentally killed by a ferocious bull”. They provide a fascinating view of our ancestors’ lives, albeit at the end.
Ann Simcock, by email
Editor Replies: Thanks for inspiring us Ann!
Ann’s great great grandfather died in a mining explosion in 1881