Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cancer, Colic, Chest Complaints & Constipation: Causes of Death

Following my Birthplace Pedigree post, I’m turning my attention to a more macabre topic: a Cause of Death Pedigree.

Victorian Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

This is based on evidence provided in death certificates, so is time limited to after the introduction of General Registration in July 1837. Burial entries in parish registers have provided a cause of death for some of my ancestors prior to this date. However, given the small numbers this applies to and the fact these are normally reserved for “unusual” deaths, for the purposes of this exercise I decided against including them.

As its based on the General Registration period it goes beyond the popular five generation format for my English lines. For my Irish ones I’ve had much less success. The other tweak is I’ve started with my grandparents as, thankfully, my parents are still alive. Something I didn’t think would be possible this time last year when my dad was living under the shadow of a terminal cancer diagnosis and given a matter of weeks to low months to live. That turned out to be a misdiagnosis, only discovered 12 months later…..but that’s a whole new story.

I’ve also gone beyond a simple cause of death. I’ve included ancillary conditions listed on the death certificate. I’ve also included an age and year of death to see if the length of my ancestor’s lives improved in line with medical and public health advances. Where I have no proof of birth date I have accepted the age of death given on the certificate, although for some I do have doubts. If I know the age is definitely wrong on the death certificate, through other documentary evidence such as a birth certificate or baptism entry, I have amended it to reflect my ancestor’s correct age at death.

I’ve created separate charts reflecting the lines of all my grandparents. Those charts containing Irish ancestry are significantly shorter than the ones for my English branches.

The first, for my paternal grandmother, is one such example. This is very limited in terms of cause of death information. As yet I’ve to trace death certificates for three of my four Irish 2x great grandparents.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandma Hill 2

Chart 1: Paternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The next charts (2a and 2b) reflect the causes of death in my paternal grandfather’s line. His is a mix of English and Irish ancestry. Because of the size I’ve split this one in half. The cross-over point is my 3x great grandparents, who feature in both parts. Hopefully this makes things easier to read than a 17th century document!

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3a

Chart 2a: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

 

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3b

Chart 2b: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

The next set of charts are for my maternal grandmother, a purely English line. Again, given the size, I’ve split this into two parts. My 3x great grandparents are the cross-over point featuring at the end of  3a and the start of 3b:

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1a

Chart 3a: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

 

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1b

Chart 3b: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The final pedigree chart is another Irish one, my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandpa Callaghan 1

Chart 4: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

One feature I was pleased, and surprised, to see is the relative longevity of both my maternal and paternal lines. I’m hoping that holds true, given my impending surgery. The average age of death for mum’s line is 71 and dad’s 66, far higher than I anticipated before doing this analysis. It illustrates yet again childhood was the most dangerous period. By their very nature direct line ancestors survived till adulthood – and mine seemingly fared well in the longevity stakes.

The range of death causes, particularly on dad’s side, also struck me. Looking at his line the most common death cause appears to be general old age. And sticking with this branch, in terms of diseases traditionally associated with Victorian England, phthisis (TB) struck a couple of ancestors, and that was it despite living in increasingly urban areas of Yorkshire.

Of note is the ovariotomy resulting in the death of my 3x great grandmother in 1881, a procedure with a lamentable success rate in this era. In fact, controversially during this period, an ovariotomy could be performed to remove normal ovaries, not just for treating diseases such as cysts and tumours.  This practice started in 1872 and it became the fashionable treatment for menstrual madness, pre-menstrual syndrome, neurasthenia and “all cases of insanity“. The practice of removing normal ovaries was supported by distinguished gynaecologists and psychiatrists, becoming one of the great medical scandals of the 19th century.

Turning to mum’s side, other than general old age, chest problems feature prominently. Some are occupational, but others are definitely not. These range from bronchitis and pneumonia to long term conditions such as asthma. There are also a number of possible stroke-related deaths. The diabetes-related death of my great grandfather has health repercussions in the family today. And once again there are very few of those historic infectious diseases particularly associated with the 19th century. There is a single case of typhus.

A few other quick points, not rocket science but amply illustrated in this “cause of death” sample:

  • the imperfection of diagnosis in the 19th century. Not a shock, given my 21st family example. But it’s interesting to see concrete demonstrations back then. One of my ancestors has a death certificate which actually states “1 day ill, cause not known“.  Another certificate stated “cramps“;
  • linked to these diagnostic limitations, perhaps some of these cases of old age, general debility and natural decay, as well as prostate gland enlargement, masked other illnesses such as cancer. Cancer started appearing in death causes for my family in the early 20th century, particularly on my paternal line;
  • illnesses manageable or treatable today, such as bronchitis, asthma and diabetes, were fatal back then. Some other conditions are curable. One of my ancestors died of an obstruction in the bowels from costivenes (a word for constipation). Again an imperfect diagnosis, possibly cancer, but potentially eminently treatable in the 21st century; and
  • despite the passage of time and medical advances, my oldest ancestor in this sample died in 1852 age 96. So luck plays a part.

I’ve found this exercise particularly worthwhile and informative on a number of levels. Apart from the causes of death and ages, it has highlighted there are three English death certificates on my maternal line I need to track down. So a genealogical help, encouraging a critical review of information and information gaps. Also, looking to the future, there are definite identifiable illness susceptibilities which feature in the descendants of these ancestors today. So potentially a medical help.

My “Holey” Birthplace Pedigree: The (Bad) Luck of Irish Ancestry

Everywhere seems awash with birthplace pedigree charts based on the one created by J. Paul Hawthorne. His template can be found  here: http://bit.ly/1RjfZEZ

So, as a bit of Easter fun, I thought I’d have a go at my own. I’ve modified his template and created two charts. One for my dad’s origins:

Birth Pedigree Dad

Paternal Birthplace Pedigree

The other is for my mum’s side of the family:

Birth Pedigree Mum

Maternal Birthplace Pedigree

What strikes me is how geographically constrained my family is: a mix of Yorkshire and County Mayo on both maternal and paternal sides. Only in the 18th century does my English family extend beyond the Yorkshire boundaries – and then only into County Durham and Northumberland on my paternal side. This is beyond the scope of the generations on the charts. This is why I’ve made an adaptation, to include the birthplace and year. Otherwise my chart is way too boring – and I haven’t broken the geographical mould. Guess it’s an illustration of how wonderful Yorkshire is!

The  other notable feature illustrated in the chart is the challenging nature of discovering my County Mayo ancestry. Whereas I can extend my English roots back to the 18th and, in some cases, 17th century there is no such luck with my Irish side. From the 1850’s onwards things are difficult with my County Mayo ancestors, but no real brick walls. Prior to this date it’s a real struggle. In fact I only know the names of two of my 20 Irish 3x great grandparents, and can only assume they all hailed from Mayo. And I’ve had to make that birthplace assumption for six of my 2x Irish great grandparents, based on the fact it’s their location in the earliest records I can find for them.

So I’m very envious of those who can fill in all their pedigree chart ancestral locations, many covering a wonderful array of almost holiday-like destinations. Sadly my birthplace pedigree chart will never match that, even in the unlikely event of tracing my Mayo roots.

 

 

What a Difference a Year Can Make – Calendar Confusion

I spent last week recording data on my Family Historian software, ticking off another of my genealogy New Year Resolutions. It included a raft of 18th century parish register entries. Entering the information I was reminded of one of my early family history basic errors which I need to re-visit in my family tree file.  I recorded a swathe of entries under the wrong year.

In my first enthusiastic rush into ancestral research I totally failed to appreciate the calendar change of 1752, the amended start to the year and the implications of this. In fact in those early days I probably didn’t even know a calendar change occurred.

I couldn’t understand why some dates didn’t fit, with babies being baptised at the beginning of March 1747 to couples who married in April 1747. I thought I’d unearthed a family scandal, but there was no hint of illegitimacy in the normally brutally censorious registers.

I assumed the calendar back then was the same one in operation today, with 1 January marking the start of the year. How mistaken I was.

I subsequently discovered from around the 12th century in England the year started on 25 March, Lady Day. So, for example, the day after 24 March 1747 was 25 March 1748.

Not until 1752 did the year start on 1 January, as a result of the 1750 Calendar Act and the 1751 amended Act. Also known as Chesterfield’s Act, it brought the start of the new year into line with England’s European neighbours and ones even closer to home: Scotland adopted 1 January as the official start of the year from 1600.img_0595

It meant that in England 1751 was a short year to take account of the change. It started on 25 March and ended on 31 December.

1752 also had a reduced number of days, as this Act moved England from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar used by many European countries. It meant September 1752 was reduced to 19 days, with 2nd September being followed by 14th September. These lost 11 days were a result of a correction to an anomaly in the Julian calendar.

Chesterfield’s Calendar Act Extract

The Christian world throughout the Middle Ages used the Julian calendar. Based on a 365 day year with an extra day every fourth year it was devised to to ensure seasonal stability in an agrarian society.

But here’s the simplified scientific bit. The 365 ¼ days of the Julian calendar cycle did not accurately reflect the time taken by the earth to rotate the sun. It was too slow. Only fractionally. Less than 11 minutes annually. But it made the calendar too long. Another way of looking at it is there were too many Leap Years. However the cumulative effect of this discrepancy meant by the 16th century the year was 10 days ahead of where it should have been relative to the earth’s cycle. Significantly, apart from any agricultural seasonal impacts and the affect on navigation, for the Catholic Church there were implications for Easter.

Corrective action was needed. Enter Pope Gregory XIII who in 1582 enacted a papal bull introducing the new calendar, named the Gregorian calendar. This omitted 10 days to bring things back into line with the earth’s solar cycle. It also included a mechanism around Leap Years to account for the actual length of a year in future. From now on Leap Years only occurred in the last year of the century if their first two digits could be divided by four (ie/ only in 1600 and 2000).

Religious politics now came into play. Catholic states generally fell into line using the new calendar. Protestant countries such as Britain and Ireland and its colonies (such as the USA) resisted – they did not wish to follow any Papal edict. But gradually, given its obvious agricultural, commercial, legal and international relationship benefits (for instance by the 18th century what was 20 June in France would be 9 June in England), uptake increased.

By the time England came round to accepting that the benefits of the Gregorian calendar outweighed any religious reluctance, it was 11 days out of sync. Hence the missing 11 September days in 1752.

img_0596

But even with the 1751 Act things aren’t straightforward as far as the New Year is concerned. I’ll use some West Yorkshire parishes associated with my family history to illustrate this.

Leeds Parish Church complied with the Act and entries on 1 January displayed the New Style year of 1752. This also applied to Kirkburton All Hallows and Mirfield St Mary’s.

However it wasn’t universal. Some parishes were behind the pace.

One such example is St Peter’s Birstall. The combined baptism, marriage and burial register acknowledged the September change. An entry at the beginning of September 1752 stated:

September hath 19 days this year

Then, after a baptism entry on 2 September:

According to an Act of Parliament passed in 24th year of his Majesty’s Reign in the year of our Lord 1751 the Old Style ceases here and the new takes place and consequently the next Day which in the old account would have been the 3rd is now to be called the 14th so that all the intermediate Days from the 2nd to the 14th are omitted or rather annihilated this year and the month contains no more than 19th Days as the Title at the Head expresses”.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Explanation for September 1752 Calendar Changes

No similar note mentioning the New Style calendar affected the start date of the year. This part of the Act wasn’t implemented on 1 January 1752 in Birstall. The New Year in this parish register did not start until Lady Day in March. In other words no difference.

1 January 1753 came and there was a tiny entry, a mere nod at the change. Almost imperceptibly tucked away in miniscule script. Certainly no fanfare announcement along the lines of the September change.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Low-Key Entry for January 1753

Contrast that with the shouty heading marking the first post-Lady Day christening of 1753. By 1754 though they were fully towing the line.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Fanfare Entry Post-Lady Day 1753

The neighbouring Parish of Batley similarly adopted the New Style from 1 January 1753 rather than 1752. The register does briefly explain the September 1752 issue, but without the pointed remarks about “annihilation” of days.

So some parishes implemented the Act with the year starting on 1 January from 1752. And from my unscientific example others didn’t adopt the change until 1 January 1753, seemingly grudgingly. Others, however, even went beyond this.

Wakefield All Saints’ register retained the Old Style up up to and including 1755, with the change only made from 1756. There may be examples of other variations if I delve deeper. And there may even be instances of it pre-January 1752, as acknowledgement of the difference did occur in documents prior to the official change.

To sum up even knowing the year change was supposed to take place on 1 January 1752, it still pays to check the register if at all possible to ensure the switch did indeed take place on the prescribed date. And accurately record the year to indicate whether the date is Old Style (O.S.) pre-calendar change or New Style (N.S.) post-change. I use a “double dating” format for those 1 January to 24 March days prior to the calendar change. So, for example, I record 23 March 1747 O.S. as  23 March 1747/48. This indicates the event took place in 1747 according to the O.S. calendar, but 1748 in the N.S.

After all that year could make a big difference to your family tree and subsequent research.

Sadly (?) I don’t think I’ll progress my family history to pre-12th century to concern myself with any calendar in use then.

Footnote:
I’m not going as far as adding in the “annihilated” 11 days to my Family Historian package à la George Washington’s Birthday though! Born on 11 February 1731 according to the then-used Julian calendar, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar the corrected date celebrated is 22 February 1732. But that this may have happened is worth noting too.

My St Patrick’s Day Mystery: The Missing Callaghan (Callahan) Sisters of County Mayo – Location Massachusetts

I have a more than a drop of Irish blood in my veins. As such, the run-up to St Patrick’s Day seems appropriate to write about one of my County Mayo brick walls. But this one isn’t so much tracking back as going forward.

My grandpa John Callaghan, born in 1895, came from Carrowbeg, (sometimes spelled Carabeg/Carrabeg in records), near Kilkelly. One of nine children born to Michael Callaghan and Mary Murphy, he was the last son to leave his birthplace and move to England. All the Callaghan boys settled in either Lancashire or Yorkshire, before the autumn of 1920. The latter county had family associations for a number of years prior to their eventual move, with either Michael or some of his sons coming over seasonally to help at harvest time. I will return to the boys and their parents another time.

But it is my grandpa’s three sisters I have “lost”. The girls all crossed the Atlantic.

Bridget, the eldest, went first. The family intended selling a cow to fund her passage. There’s a tale here as the brother tasked with taking the cow to market pocketed the money! And it appears in the end another family member paid the fare.

Bridget set sail from the Irish port of Queenstown (now known as Cobh) on board the White Star Line ship S.S. “Teutonic” on 23 September 1909, arriving in New York on 29 September. But her ultimate destination was 22 Winchester Street, Boston, Massachusetts to stay with her aunt Lizzie Callaghan. A diminutive 5’2”, she was described as fair complexioned with brown eyes and hair. So possibly taking after her mother’s side of the family in colouring. She described her occupation as a servant. And she displayed creativity with her age. Born in 1886 she claimed to be 19.

Ellis Island duo 1

Ellis Island  – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Mary was next to make the journey. But this was several years later after the death of her parents. All her brothers had left Ireland too at this stage. Her prospects in the U.S.A were far better than remaining in rural Mayo. And she had family to go to, though possibly not her sister Bridget. But more of that later.

Initially Mary travelled to England to make her journey. Did she meet up with her brothers one last time before departure? Certainly the port she sailed from, Liverpool, was within easy reach of her Lancashire-based brothers.

She left the port of Liverpool on board the S.S. “Carmania” on 9 November 1920. The ship had returned to trans-Atlantic service in December 1918, after seeing action in the Great War. Mary left her sister Catherine, sometimes referred to as Kate, behind in Ireland.

Ellis Island duo 2

Ellis Island – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Arriving in New York on 20 November 1920, the 27 year old domestic was also bound for Boston. This time to her aunt Bridget Hayes at 39 Border Street. The passenger list describes her as 5’3” with a fresh complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.

Interestingly Mary’s surname is recorded as “Callahan” on the lists, reflecting its pronunciation. It so annoyed my grandpa when the letter “g” was enunciated.

Finally it was the turn of Catherine. The youngest of the Callaghan siblings, she was the last to leave their Irish homeland. Her closest relative in Ireland was her aunt Mary Caulfield. She too lived in Carrowbeg. In 1911 the widowed Mary lived in a house built for her by her brother Michael, close by the Callaghan farm. Whether Catherine now lived with her aunt is unclear, as the Callaghan farm was still retained by the family.

Her sister, Mary, paid her passage from Liverpool to Boston, on board the S.S. “Ausonia”. By now Mary’s address was 2 South Cedar Place, Boston, MA. Catherine’s passenger list entry indicates her intention was not to remain in Boston. This was purely a visit, and she planned eventually to return home to Ireland. The timing, sailing on 9 December 1922 and docking on 20 December, suggests her stay was arranged to coincide with the festive season. Whatever the intention was, Catherine ended up settling in America permanently. She was of similar stature to her sisters, standing at 5’3”, with fresh comlexion, brown hair and blue eyes. I gather she too subsequently adopted the “Callahan” surname variant.

I would love to know what became of the three sisters. This was one of the mysteries I hoped genetic genealogy might solve. This is a wish shared by my mother, and one of the factors which swayed her into doing a test.

I know the family gradually lost touch. One of the sisters, possibly Bridget but this is unconfirmed, ended up marrying a French-Canadian and settled in Canada. This might explain why when Mary went to Boston she stayed with an aunt. I also understand this Canadian-settling sister adopted a boy who corresponded with one of my mum’s brothers. Sadly this brother died in 1955 in tragic circumstances and contact was lost.

I do have a postcard my grandpa addressed to a “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic]” (below). No date, or message and the postcard was never sent. It contains a picture of a church associated with the family in County Mayo. Is Mrs Lovell the married name of one of his sisters?

Grandpa’s Mystery Postcard

And I did have a brief ray of optimism with a very close Ancestry DNA match to my mum and my tests. No tree, but someone who appears descendant of one of the sisters. But unfortunately no response after the initial match confirmation. I’ve not given up hope though.

Maybe one day I will solve the mystery. Fingers crossed it is sooner rather than later.

Sources:

  • 1911 Census – The National Archives of Ireland
  • UK Outward Passenger Lists, New York Passenger Lists & Massachusetts Passenger and Crew Lists – Ancestry.co.uk

A Bit of Good News

In my post Education, Education, Education I said I would be embarking on an online course, “Searching for Wills and Administrations in England and Wales”. This was my final module in the Pharos Tutors and the Society of Genealogists Family History Skills & Strategies (FHSS) (Intermediate) with Certificate programme.

I completed the module at the end of February and I’ve now received the result. I’m pleased, and relieved, to say it was a distinction. Relieved because, having achieved that level in all the other modules, I didn’t want to slip up at the final hurdle. And it means that overall I’ve passed the FHSS Certificate with distinction.  

 I can definitely recommend the Certificate. I’d been researching my family tree for about seven years prior to undertaking the courses, but I discovered there was so much I hadn’t considered.  

Apart from having a lot of fun in a wonderfully supportive environment, I’ve learned so much about a broad range of records across many aspects of family history research. But beyond these sources, the certificate courses helped me focus on the importance of research planning as well as critically analysing and interpreting the records, putting them into their historical context.  

As a direct result of implementing the knowledge and skills I’ve gained through the Certificate, I’ve made many breakthroughs in my own family history research. The “Wills” module was no exception. I hope to write about this latest brick wall demolition in the coming weeks.  

So now I’ve completed the FHSS Certificate I’ve to decide on my next steps. Do I want to push on with my genealogy education? Do I want to take on more research for others than I do currently? If so what are the options? The Pharos Tutors/Society of Genealogists Advanced Certificate? IHGS? Or a University of Strathclyde or Dundee course? Can I even commit the time to further structured learning, given I have a “day job, albeit part-time? Or do I take a step back and concentrate on my own research? I’ll decide in the coming weeks. Possibly after “Who Do You Think You Are? Live

A Shout Out for Libraries – A Family History Gateway

My local library has been so much a part of of my life I can’t imagine a world without it. It has been there at all stages: from the magical joy of childhood stories; to the text and reference books for my school studies; the escapist pleasure of novels transporting me to different worlds, times and places from my armchair (or bus seat); and full-circle taking my own little girl to choose her first books.

But more than that: 10 years ago it provided my gateway to family history. 

When I took my first tentative family history steps, they took me to the familiar surroundings of Batley library. There I got used to operating the microfilm and microfiche readers to look at the local censuses, newspapers, parish registers and cemetery records. There I practised deciphering old handwriting and making transcripts and abstracts.

image

Batley War Memorial & Library – Jane Roberts

In those early novice days I don’t think I would have dreamed of going to West Yorkshire Archives. The prospect was far too daunting. It would be full of experienced, serious researchers. Not a place for a “newbie” like me who didn’t have a clue what a microfilm reader was, let alone how it worked.  

I felt far more comfortable going to my local library where I knew the staff. And they had endless patience showing me what records were available and how things worked. 

Their holdings provided a very local focus. Beyond the newspapers and parish registers they had those peculiarly local resources, often provided by researchers with a love of and affinity with the area. From the card index of local War Memorials compiled by Christopher Frank, (I still don’t know who he is but I’m eternally grateful to him because it was through his index that I had the jolting realisation that one of my ancestors was on the Memorial, a fact never mentioned by the family), to the research piece by Janice Gilbert on “The Irish in Batley”.

Even now my local library is a go-to family history research location. It is still the place for local newspapers – neither “The Batley News” or “The Batley Reporter & Guardian” are on the British Newspaper Archive or FindMyPast. Not all West Yorkshire Parish Registers are on Ancestry. There are resources such as Batley Cemetery Records, Batley Borough Council minutes, Directories, Batley Grammar School Magazines and various programmes, brochures and memorabilia from a multiplicity of local events. Then there is the wonderful Soothill War Register which I wrote about in a recent post.image

One of my particular library favourites are the annual Reports by the Batley Borough Medical Officer of Health. I briefly referred to them in “A Short Life Remembered“. They provide a fascinating and detailed insight into all aspects of health, disease and social conditions of my Batley ancestors: from school-by-school statistics of Batley children, to breakdown of causes of death; from birth rates and infant mortality to incidence of infectious diseases. I find them an invaluable source for giving context to the times, lives and deaths of my ancestors.image

They even have free computers, Wi-Fi and Ancestry access! 

The impressive Batley Market Square library building is steeped in history. With funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie it opened to the Batley public in 1907. I imagine my ancestors browsing through the thousands of lending and reference library books or catching up with latest local, national and international events in the newspaper room. And over a century later I am researching the lives of those ancestors in the very same building.

In an era of Government spending cuts and their knock-on impact on Council funding for services, libraries are easy targets. “My” library was a fundamental first step up the genealogy tree all those years ago; and it is just as relevant for me today. I do so hope that such valuable community hubs, important at all stages of life, are not lost. 

Given the subject it seems appropriate to post this on World Book Day.