Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Death and its secrets

Death certificates are often overlooked by family historians. Once a death is identified in the index, its mere existence giving the where and when, is usually sufficient in its own right.

But the death certificate can reveal useful information and this was never more apparent than when I discovered a real gem in the aforementioned "box of old documents in the attic".

In 1868 in England and Wales, the facts to be found on a death certificate would be:

  • name, age, sex and occupation of the deceased
  • address at which he or she died
  • cause of death
  • date of death and of its registration
  • name and address of the informant

The discovery of an Australian death certificate, 
issued in the district of Paddington, New South Wales in 1868, amongst our treasure, however, as well as being a complete surprise, (no one in the family had ever hinted that an ancestor had travelled to Australia, never mind lived there for a period of time) revealed considerably more than any death certificate had it been issued in England.

As we deciphered the copperplate handwriting on the folded piece of paper, a sad story unfolded.

Charles Gabriel BAKER, aged 32 and born in London, England, was a music teacher. He'd arrived in the Australian colony 6 months before, in November 1867, but for the past 2 years had been suffering from a chronic lung disease. Sadly, on 15th May 1868, while living in Vernan Street, Woollahra, near Waverley, his condition finally killed him. His death was confirmed by C. Muller, the medical attendant who had seen him last on 3rd January that same year.

Charles had  been 21 years of age when he married his wife Susan, nee Sawyer, in Essex, England . The couple had had 6 children; 4 boys were still alive but a boy and a girl had since died. Charles's father was Gabriel Baker, a valet, and his mother was Jane, nee Vyner.

Charles was buried at Haslam Creek  on 17th May 1868, the undertaker being C Kinsella and Son. His burial was witnessed by Henry Kinsella and Henry Abbott and Reverend Young, a Church of England minister, had performed the funeral.

Henry Gale, registrar, confirmed the document to be a true copy of the register of deaths in his office, signed it and dated it 10th June 1868.

How much more we family historians would learn about our ancestors if UK death certificates had been as thorough!

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