Letters

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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