Some 15 years ago I found two family headstones side by side in a double plot. The first commemorated my husbandís great grandparents, Edward and Lavinia ROWSE with a son who had drowned at sea, and beside it was the tragic commemoration of a 20 year old, with her 19 year old sister and their parents. Although this familyís name was WEBBER, the close proximity suggested to me there must be a strong family connection, and sure enough I discovered this to be the resting place of the family of Edward and Laviniaís first child.
At one stroke I had identified 7 members of the family, and while I sadly speculated on what could have caused the death of these two young women, I confess I was too excited by expanding the family tree to dwell for long on the sad nature of their deaths. Mentally I had made a connection with the Spanish Flu out-break after World War l, so I was interested when, l happened to catch a docu-drama about the pandemic that killed 70 million globally, with some 228,000 victims in Britain. It was a very gritty programme and it left me feeling I really MUST bite the bullet and discover exactly what had caused the deaths of our young ancestors; those morning flowers gathered in their fragrance (to para-phrase the headstone).
Today the postman delivered copies of the entries of death from the (UK) General Register Office, which were ordered on-line exactly one week ago. Having obtained the references from the freeBMD web site, the process is very simple, and I applaud and thank the GRO for the speed with which they completed my order.
Aside from the fact that I found it very distressing to discover the precise causes of death, ( and as a parent I am, again, acutely aware of how painful it must have been for the family,) the certificates provide several pieces of the jig-saw.
1. Date of death.
2. Place of death. Could this help you find some elusive census information?
3. Name, age and gender of the deceased. If you have a Marion or a Vivian, this could be very helpful! In my case I now know what a middle initial stands for, and have made the connection with historical events at the time of birth.
4. Occupation of deceased. Ask yourself just what the entry means. Should you research around this? Was it potentially hazardous in terms of chemicals, fibres or stormy seas, etc.?
5. Cause of death. I had to look up a cause on both certificates. Then I looked at the history and treatment of one cause. Now I can speculate on why these two young women do not have an occupation specified.
6. Consider the name of the person who certified the death. I have found a female M.B. in 1920. I shall research the numbers of women doctors in the UK in 1920.
7. Signature, description and residence of informant. I have one genuine Uncle, and one unknown. More searching on the census for you perhaps??
8. Date of registration.
9. Signature of registrar. This can sometimes be surprising too.
I have no doubt I am not alone in the avoidance of gathering death certificates, and I must admit I have applied for many more copies of marriage certificates during the years of my genealogy quest; but there is a wealth of information to be had from this source, as I have tried to show, indeed burying our ancestors, while often upsetting, can be as useful to our research as marrying them!
Should you now be looking for a last will and testament??