Cause of death: puerperal (childbed) fever?

On 7 April 1885, Bridget Adeline Lavelle,1 wife of James McCann, gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Margaret Adeline McCann. Ten days later, Bridget Adeline Lavelle was buried at “the new Catholic Cemetery of Perth” (i.e., St. John the Baptist RC Cemetery, on the outskirts of Perth).

Not surprisingly, her Catholic burial record supplies no information about the cause of death:2

Burial of Bridget Adeline Lavelle

Burial of Bridget Adeline Lavelle

Or, at least, there is nothing in the above record itself that would indicate a cause of death. On the previous page of the register, however, is the record of the baptism of Margaret Adeline McCann, born 7 April and baptized 14 April 1885 (with Michael John Hartney and Maggie Finnall serving as godparents). This is obviously a significant clue: when a woman dies nine days after having given birth, it is reasonable to suspect a childbirth-related mortality.

Is there any further information to be gleaned from Bridget Adeline (Lavelle) McCann’s Ontario civil death registration? As a matter of fact, there is:

Bridget Adeline McCann, Ontario death registration 1885: microfilm MS 935, reel 40, Archives of Ontario; database, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 17 December 2012), Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947.

Bridget Adeline McCann, Ontario death registration 1885: microfilm MS 935, reel 40, Archives of Ontario; database, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/:
accessed 4 January 2013), Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947.

Here we find the cause of death listed as “Fever. Eight Days.” Since we know that this 24-year old woman gave birth on 7 April, only nine days before her death on 16 April 1885, this record constitutes a very strong piece of evidence in support of death by puerperal (or childbed) fever.

Tip: Always check both church and civil records, when available. While an individual’s church burial record and her civil death registration will obviously  refer to the same vital event, the two records are not interchangeable. They were  written and produced by different officials, for different audiences, and to different purposes.  You will rarely find the cause of death in a Catholic burial record, for example; and you will not discover the names of the burial witnesses in a civil death record.

  1. Daughter of James Lavelle and Margaret Boyle, and baptized (30 June 1861, Pembroke Mission, Renfrew Co.) Bridget Adelaide Lavelle.
  2. St. John the Baptist (Perth, Lanark), Baptisms, marriages, burials 1880-1899, Intmt 14, Mrs. James McCann burial, p. 173: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/:
    accessed 4 January 2013), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.