Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Short Life Remembered: Death by Dentition

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It is another child discovered as a direct result of the General Register Office (GRO) birth and death index search facilities introduced in 2016. I’ve not found any baptism details for this child. She was born and died in between censuses. Her burial gives no family details. So tracing her relied on civil registration and mother’s maiden name in the new search options. 

What I find most shocking about this child is the cause of death, which is put down to an ordinary, if painful and occasionally distressing, right of passage for babies and toddlers today. 

Ann Jennings was born on 12 February 1869 at Carlinghow Lane, Batley. The daughter of coal miner Herod Jennings and his wife Ann Hallas, she had 10 older siblings. All were still living by the time of Ann’s birth. This was no mean feat in an era of high infant mortality, when the most seemingly trivial illness or incident could extinguish life. Poverty, locality, environment, housing, sanitation, medical care, public health and class all played a part. The 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) illustrates the perilous nature of early years survival. Looking at the under 5 age-group, between 1838-1871 out of every 1,000 girls, 62.7 died. The corresponding figure for boys was 72.6. In the five years 1866-1870 the figures were 63.4 and 73. And looking only at 1870, 64.4 per 1,000 girls under 5 and 75.0 of boys died. 

Ann Jennings was one of the girls in 1870. She died on 15 January 1870 at Spring Mill Yard. Cause of death was dentition. In other words teething. This seemed incredible, that something so innocuous resulted in death.  

Yes, it can be an unpleasant time. I remember my daughter’s intermittent episodes of irritability, sleeplessness, drooling, flushed cheeks and raised temperatures. Calpol and Bonjela became medicine cupboard staples during this period. Teething rings, some special cooling ones, were added to her array of toys. But that’s as far as it went. I never realised it could be a cause of death. So I investigated further – and became more astounded at how common it was.

A bit of background first. As with many childhood development milestones there are no hard and fast dates for the emergence of that first set of baby teeth. It normally starts at around the six to nine months stage, with each of the 20 teeth taking about eight days to emerge. The whole process lasts for around two years.

Back to the Annual Report of the Registrar General. This time I looked at the 33rd report covering the 1870 statistics, the year of Ann’s death. In the West Riding of Yorkshire 232 female deaths and 287 male deaths were attributed to teething. In total 4,183 deaths registered in England had teething as the cause.

In 1783 Frenchman Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes wrote “A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It”. In it he claimed teething “….may often be be found the cause of death of a great number of infants”. The view was still prevalent almost a century later. According to the 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General, looking at 1872 statistics: “Teething is one of the first marked steps in development after birth, and by inducing convulsions and other irritative reflex diseases, it is chargeable with a certain number of deaths”.

The conclusion reached by medical professionals of the time was because the teething coincided process with the ages of high mortality, it was actually responsible for infant illness and death. According to accepted medical wisdom teething led to a number of afflictions and displayed a variety of symptoms including convulsions, diarrhoea, bronchitis, croup, vomiting, neck abscesses, insanity and meningitis. The teething phase was perceived as fraught with risk, a process to be dreaded.

Added to misdiagnosis, teething treatments could in themselves prove fatal. Even today there are stories of homeopathic teething tablets causing death. Back in the 19th century treatments ranged from dangerous to downright barbaric, with some treatments a combination of the two.   

What could you do to make the passage of teeth through gum easier? Well, the obvious answer was to lance the gum, making a deep incision to facilitate the emergence of the offending tooth. This in a pre-anaesthetic, pre-sterilisation era carried it’s own risks. Leeches applied to the gums provided another solution.

Gum Lancing for Teething – “Cassell’s Household Guide”

And what could you do to relieve the pain, reduce excitement, regulate the bowels and induce sleep in the restless teething babe? Newspapers were full of the answers, with adverts for soothing remedies which parents, fearful of the dangers of dentition, were induced to purchase. In this unregulated, uncontrolled period of medicine druggists and pharmacists made their own propriety and patented concoctions with no details of ingredients. But these included opium, cocaine, mercury, morphine and alcohol, with rubbing whisky in gums of teething children even touted in more recent times. All of these could lead to addiction and death. The risk was not unknown. Cassell’s Household Guide of 1884 for instance acknowledged the danger of giving narcotics to children – but reassured parents that it was acceptable if such remedies were recognised as teething powders. So by trying to do the right thing and following advice, parents were in fact endangering their babies.

“Dewsbury Reporter” advert, 9 November 1872

In fact in 1869 a 9-month old girl from Gravesend, Catherine Sarah Cobham, was poisoned as a result of a chemist dispensing strychnine instead of powdered sugar as a teething remedy. Incredible too that sugar was touted for teething – presumably leading to tooth decay later if the baby survived! 

So who knows if Ann really did die as a result of teething. Was it actually a case of misdiagnosis, or even a teething remedy gone wrong. We will never know. So she is just another statistic, amongst thousands of others, whose death was attributed to dentition. Her funeral took place on 17 January 1870 at Batley Parish Church. 

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are: 

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death entries for Ann Jennings
  • 33rd Annual Report of the Registrar General (1870) 
  • 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) 
  • 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1872) 
  • A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It” by Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes (1783) – Google Books 
  • Cassell’s Household Guide to Every Department of Practical Life: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy Vol 1” (1884) – Internet Archive 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 9 November 1872 
  • Treatments for Children: Teething – https://www.rpharms.com/museum-pdfs/g-teethingtreatments.pdf
  • Parish Register – Batley (All Saints) Parish Church  

 

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Finding your Brontë links

One of my Christmas holiday viewing highlights was “To Walk Invisible.” Sally Wainwright’s drama focused on the years between 1845-1848, with the four surviving Brontë siblings and their father all together in Haworth. It portrayed Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s journey to become published authors, set against the backdrop of their increasingly bitter brother Branwell’s spiralling alcohol-fuelled (possibly with a touch of opium thrown in) decline and the bleak, isolation of their Haworth home. The Rev Patrick Brontë is shown as a distant but gentle figure, struggling with his failing eyesight and vainly trying to halt his beloved only son’s self-destruction. 

It is a story that has fascinated me. Haworth is on my doorstep, a short drive away, and a place I’ve visited frequently ever since childhood. The Parsonage Museum, the church of St Michael’s and wandering round its overcrowded Victorian graveyard, and a walk to Brontë Falls and onwards to Top Withens (Wuthering Heights) all feature on my things I like to do list. Although I have to be in an energetic mood for the latter. If not, a mooch up and down the cobbled Main Street, including the Black Bull frequented by Branwell is an alternative. Last year I, along with many others, walked from Haworth village to Penistone Hill to see the film set recreation of the Parsonage. 

Haworth Parsonage and the Recreated Film Set Parsonage – Photos by Jane Roberts

But even within minutes of my home there are a host of Brontë connections. The Rydings in Birstall was the early home of Ellen Nussey, Charlotte’s close friend who witnessed her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls in June 1854. The Rydings is believed to be the basis of Thornfield Hall in arguably Charlotte’s best known novel, “Jane Eyre”. Although not accessible to the general public, I was lucky enough to visit a few years ago on a Malcolm Haigh History Walk. Oakwell Hall, also in Birstall, right on my doorstep and a jewel in the crown of Kirklees Council, is the inspiration for Fieldhead in Charlotte’s novel “Shirley.” I have attached the link to a leaflet about local Brontë connections. Sadly Kirklees Council in its 2016 cut-backs permanently closed Red House Museum in Gomersal, home of another of Charlotte’s friends, Mary Taylor, and Briarmans in “Shirley.” 

The Rydings and Oakwell Hall, Birstall – Photos by Jane Roberts

The leaflet also highlights several local churches. Patrick Brontë was ordained into the Church of England as a deacon in 1806 and priest in 1807. He is most associated with Haworth, being appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth, Stanbury and Oxenhope in 1820, and remaining there until is death in 1861. However, prior to this appointment he held curacies at a number of other churches. The places associated with him are: 

  • Wethersfield, Essex (1806-1809), Parish Registers for St Mary Magdalene are available on Essex Archives Online 
  • Wellington, Shropshire (1809). Parish Registers on FindMyPast 
  • Dewsbury, Yorkshire (1809-1811), Parish Registers on Ancestry.co.uk and Bishop’s Transcipts (BTs) of them on FindMyPast 
  • Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Yorkshire (1811-1815). Maria Brontë’s baptism took place here. She was the eldest of the Brontë children and died in 1825. BTs are on FindMyPast. 
  • Thornton, Yorkshire (1815-1820). This is where Charlotte, (Patrick) Branwell, Emily and Anne were baptised, along with sister Elizabeth who died in 1825. The BTs of the registers, including these Brontë baptisms, are on FindMyPast. 

So if you have ancestors who were baptised, married or buried in these places, check the parish registers for the name of the minister. See if it was Patrick Brontë (or the early variant Brunty which appears in the Hartshead BTs). One word of caution. Pre-1813 registers were not standardised, so naming the person performing the ceremony prior to that date may only extend to marriages. From 1 January 1813, following Rose’s Act of 1812, printed paper registers with a standardised format included details of the person officiating, so this includes for baptisms and burials as well as marriages.

I did check, having ancestors in Hartshead, Dewsbury and Thornton. But unfortunately they are fractionally either side of the relevant dates for Patrick Brontë. One lot were, in any case,nonconformists. So I was unsuccessful in finding that hoped-for Brontë family connection to add family history colour.

However you may be luckier. You never know, you might find the officiating minister was Patrick Brontë, father of these literary legends. So you might have your very own (tenuous) Brontë link in your family history story. 

Sources:  

Is Family History “Proper” History?

This is my 100th blog post, and my first as an ex-civil servant. So to mark this milestone I’ve decided look at family history as a subject, and give my perspective on its place in the overall discipline of history. Does it actually deserve to be classed as history? 

Perhaps some do look down on it, thinking its a kind of “dumbed down” version of history. After all there’s nothing to collecting the names of a bunch of ancestors and tagging them with a few vital event dates. But that’s missing the whole point. Family history isn’t only about creating a tree full of connected names.

For me family history is a specific strand of history and is as valid a discipline as studying the Tudor period, or being an expert in the English Civil War. My history degree covered what are probably regarded as “traditional” history topics such as the origins of the Great War, the Russian Revolution, Latin American Independence Wars and politics, the Enlightenment and history of ideas or the foreign policy of the Chamberlain government. However, other elements had a definite family and social history slant. These included children in British society, parish registers, censuses, and various Factory and Education Acts.  

In fact family history encompasses a far broader time sweep than many specialist areas, with their comparatively narrow timeframes. More than that, it covers a wide breadth of elements. It requires a knowledge of international, national, local, economic, industrial, religious, medical, agricultural, demographic, political, judicial, legislative and social history – to name but a few areas. 

This broader historical perspective in turn leads to an understanding of when individual records so vital for family history were created and why, and crucially what is consequently available to further research. For instance parish registers and poor law developments down to the impact of the Civil War and Commonweath through to voting rights. 

At the same time geographical knowledge plays a part, from parish and administrative boundaries to the development of towns, transport links and migration routes and patterns. A bit of Latin and the ability to decipher handwriting akin to the meandering of a spider who has paddled in an ink puddle also helps.Family history therefore goes way beyond parish register and census hopping to create a list of names. It’s way more exciting.

To me family history ranges from contextualising the lives and times of my ancestors within events such as the Industrial Revolution, the English Civil War, or the First World War; it also drills down to putting specific life-changing decisions or events into the framework of national and international events, like the shelling of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool and my great grandad’s decision to enlist. Or the Irish Famine, its impact in County Mayo and the decisions made by my ancestors to remain or leave. 

Furthermore family history has enhanced my historical knowledge, drawing me to investigate areas that broader history would not touch upon. Lesser known events such as miners strikes in specific localities, such as Drighlington, and the impact it had on ancestral lives, leading onto coal mining communities and occupations generally; or the growth or decline of towns and villages, or industries and occupations and the associated migration patterns or job switches. It has also led me to conducting greater in-depth investigation into factors affecting their lives such as judicial changes, the Poor Law, various Factory Acts or diseases such as TB, diabetes and smallpox along with accompanying medical advances; without my family history hat on, for me these events would be looked at in a high-level generalised way and not considered in detail or applied to individuals who are my flesh and blood. Examining them in relation to my family makes them more real. And by extension it leads to communicating finds to other family members and hopefully making history more accessible, relevant and real to them.

And, as that’s the case, for me family history is truly one other strand of the various disciplines falling under the generic umbrella of history.  So done properly, and not a paper-chase exercise of populating a tree with thousands of names, the answer to those who cast doubts on its merits is an unequivocal yes: Family history is truly “proper” history.

Final Fanfare for 2016

Often it’s so easy to dwell on life’s failures and the things that didn’t go well, rather than remember and focus on successes. Many of us find it exceedingly embarrassing to blow our own trumpets. It’s not the done thing. Bushel-hiding comes easier to many of us.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the banes of my civil service working life was the mid-year and annual review process. Gathering documented evidence of achievements throughout the year was a part of this. It was contrary to my nature and I found it a hugely painful experience. 

However in hindsight this exercise may have psychological benefits. It serves as a positive reminder of success when things aren’t going so well. It’s a bit like a gratitude journal, but specifically focusing on one particular aspect of life.

So I’m going to apply it to my 2016 family history year, identifying what I regard as my top 10 positives, covering a broad range of topics on a number of levels:

  • My blog. This grew and developed throughout 2016. People have read it and taken time out to share, like and provide feedback. In viewing terms it has quadrupled since 2015;
  • Completing the last of my Pharos Intermediate Modules and passing all with distinction, achieving the top marks  overall in the 2016 cohert of completers. The ceremony at the Society of Genealogists in June has to rank amongst the top of my 2016 highlights;
  • Taking on client work. In 2016 I began undertaking work for others. It gave me immense satisfaction to connect others with their family history. Their obvious pleasure and positive feedback confirmed this is a valued service, and one I am proud of;
  • In June I sold the final copies of my St Mary’s Batley War Memorial book raising money for the parish roof appeal and the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal;
  • West Yorkshire Archives closed its Wakefield office in May in preparation for its move to a brand new building in 2017. In those final weeks before closure I set myself a target of going through the Batley Borough Court records. I had to fit it around work and an operation which effectively put me out of action for three weeks. But I did it and, in the process, found some useful family history information confirming parentage of three separate children;
  • Having a family history story about a census in-betweener published in the April 2016 edition of the Huddersfield & District Family History Society Journal. Thomas Gavan, the eldest child of my great grandmother was born in 1889 and died six months later. His death was the subject of an inquest;
  • Somme Visits. I was lucky enough to be awarded tickets in the ballot for the Somme centenary commemoration at Thiepval. An incredibly moving and thought provoking experience, which I feel immensely privileged to have been part of. I was back again in Flanders and the Somme in September, this time on the family history trail. I followed in the footsteps of a WW1 ancestor on the Ypres Salient thanks to battlefield guide Sabine Declercq. I met a distant relative for the first time at a 100th anniversary cemetery visit. And I experienced an amazing set of coincidences on the Somme, as featured here;
  • Newspaper articles. In July I featured twice in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. In one article I talked about family history, what got me into it and gave some quick tips. They also published one of my research pieces about the death of Annie Leonard, a Batley munitions worker in WW1;
  • Helping others, for example assisting with local research projects or providing general advice or information;
  • Finally those individual little pieces of success which make family history so addictive. This year these included the discovery that my 5x great grandmother, born in around  1748 was a one-handed gypsy. Also the find that my 4x great grandfather and some of his children gave evidence to the 1842 Royal Commission looking at the employment of women and children in mines; and I found several hitherto unknown children thanks to the additional information on the GRO indexes towards the end of the year, which have shifted the family history kaleidoscope picture. 

I really do suggest this as an exercise. It re-enforces self worth, especially in those inevitably bleaker times. It serves as a reminder of our indidual achievements and wider contributions, all too easily forgotten when things go wrong. Analysing what went well, just as much as what didn’t go as planned, can help replicate success in the future. And it spurs us on to do more. I  will refer back to this as a beacon of light in my darker moments of 2017.

My 2016 Blogging Year Review

I was a tad disappointed when I realised WordPress wouldn’t be doing their normal review of the year. So I’m doing my own version – minus the cool graphics.  

Image from Pixabay.com

First the headlines, as nicked from the previous WordPress review. The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed over 12,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it. 

My best day: Well that would be 7 September 2016 with 360 views. My most popular day was Wednesday with 19% of views. And my most popular time is 8pm with 10% of views. This chimes with my posting pattern, as I tend to follow a Wednesday or Thursday evening routine.

How did they find you: Over 2,500 reached my site via Search Engines. Where search terms were identified, the top one was “jane roberts of batley.” Facebook clicks were responsible for over 2,200 referrals and Twitter almost 1,500.  

Where did they come from: Unsurprisingly, as I’m based in England, over 7,600 were from the UK. Almost 2,000 from the USA. Australia and Canada views were around 600 each. But I had views as far afield as Hong Kong, Japan, Afghanistan, Argentina, India and Saudi Arabia. 

Top posts of 2016: Other than general home page/archives and about, these were: 

  • Which Type of Family Historian Are You? This was a tongue in cheek post assessing family historian characters; 
  • A German Family in WW1 England. This delved into the anti-German pork butcher riots and the impact on a Yorkshire family;
  • Death of a Barnbow Canary looked at the dangerous work undertaken by women in WW1 munitions factories, focusing on Annie Leonard from Batley. She died as a direct result of her work at Barnbow in 1916;
  • General Register Office (GRO) Index: New and Free. The exciting new index of births and deaths which gave a different set of information and search options to identify hitherto hidden ancestors; and
  • In a similar vein, Fabulous News for those with Irish Ancestry covered the free release of the Irish General Register Office (GRO) images of births of over 100 years ago, marriages of over 75 years ago and deaths of over 50 years ago. 

A couple of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five were my surprise discovery about my 2x great grandfather, the subject of two separate murderous assaults. And my look at how broader historical events can impact on family history, with my great grandfather’s decision to enlist in December 1914 in Happy Birthday and Farewell

My blog started in April 2015. In those first nine months it had a smidgen over 2,900 views What is pleasing is the enduring interest in some of my early posts, which remained amongst my most popular ones in 2016. For example my family connection to the 1915 Dewsbury tram disaster, likened to Ypres. Or Shrapnel and Shelletta, where I looked at baby names and their links to war, remembrance and commemoration. 

In 2016 I averaged roughly about 322 per views month. In 2016 this has grown to over 1,000 per month. My blog has developed into a mixture of personal family history stories, more general news updates, exploration of specific records and how they can be used in family history research and Batley-area focused posts. I’m also going to use my blog for my Aveyard one-name study and Healey, Batley WW1 project. Hopefully these topics and projects remain of interest, but any other suggestions would be welcome. I love reading the comments submitted and seeing the likes (well over 100 of each in 2016), as this alongside views really does help me gauge interest.

So what does 2017 hold? Well, as I said in my New Year Resolutions, I may not sustain my 2016 output as I want to focus on other in-depth projects and research. But I am committed to doing two posts a month, more if I have the time. So we’ll see how it goes.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful 2017.

Image from Pixabay.com

Sources: