Details, Details (Cause of Death Uncovered, or at least Strongly Inferred)

Like most people who get hooked on genealogy, I’m attracted to the detective work aspect of the enterprise. A clue here; a detail there; another hint here, which, combined with a few previously discovered clues and details, finally provides a solid lead; and then: bingo! a nice little nugget of documented and verifiable information, which may then serve as a clue for some other discovery; and on (and on!) it goes.

It’s very easy to overlook a relevant detail, though.


Pierre Dubeau (1829-1898), son of Pierre Dubeau and Cléophée Cheval dit St. Jacques, married Anne Vallely (c. 1839-1875), daughter of George Vallely and Anne O’Hanlon, around 1862 (marriage record not yet discovered). The couple lived at Otter Lake (Leslie, Clapham and Huddersfield) in Pontiac Co., Québec, where they had a family of six children (or so I believed until earlier today, when a chance discovery uncovered a seventh): Anne; Mathilde (= my great-grandmother, who married Joseph Derouin, son of Jean-Baptiste Derouin and Ester Robillard); Pierre; Joseph; Malvina; and George. Anne Vallely died 27 February 1875; and her widowed husband Pierre Dubeau then married (24 October 1875) a Julie Corriveau who was the widow of a Joseph Lusk.

Now, given her age (about 36 years old) at death, I had certainly wondered whether Anne Vallely had died of some awful complication related to childbirth. And yet, until earlier today, when I was looking through the parish register for Ste. Anne, Calumet Island (L’Île-du-Grand-Calumet) for some other detail entirely, I had completely overlooked the record of the baptism of her seventh and last-born child: Aurélie Dubeau, born 27 February and baptized 30 March 1875. The baptismal record for Aurélie occurs several pages after the burial record for her mother in the parish register for Ste. Anne; and I suppose that I must have initially stopped looking for Dubeau-Vallely records in that register after encountering the burial record for Anne Vallely. But as I learned today, Pierre Dubeau and Anne Vallely had not six children but seven, and my great-great-grandmother died the same day that her last child was born.
Given that there was no separate civil registration in the province of Québec until the day before yesterday (1 January 1994, to be more exact; and before that, copies of the church records served as the civil records), I will never find another death record for Anne Vallely than the church record of her burial, which does not list the cause of death. I will never find an Ontario-style civil death record, in other words, which would list an official Cause of Death, and which would perhaps also give the Name of Physician in attendance (but many of my Ontario ancestors whose deaths were recorded in such civil registers have “None” listed under Name of Physician; and a record is only as useful as the actual detail that it supplies, so). But given the dates (date of birth of child corresponding with date of death of child’s mother), I now feel confident in asserting that Anne Vallely died of complications from childbirth, about which I had previously only vaguely speculated.
It’s the details that matter, of course. And the detail of the date of one person’s death, when combined with the detail of the date of another person’s birth, can be powerfully suggestive of the cause of that first person’s death, when combined with a few other key details (names and places, and so on). You know, unless your ancestor was somebody famous or infamous, about whom ballads were sung, or broadsheets were circulated, or narrative histories written, you will probably only ever uncover anything interesting or informative by a close and careful attention to the details (which details are all to easy to overlook). And so, even when you think that you’re done with an individual or a couple or a branch of your family, it may be worth taking another look, say six or twelve months later, to see if there isn’t some key detail that you hadn’t noticed the first time around.