Death and Burial

17 Years of Cheers, and No Green Beers

Paddy's Day brew pub sign

Paddy’s Day brew pub sign

Meant to post this on the 6 September (my Dad’s birthday), but got busy and distracted….

My dad spent the last few months of his life at an assisted living facility above a brew pub.

Yes, only Johnny Moran would agree to not go gentle into that good night above a damn brew pub. It was a pretty good pub, though: tasty chips, and the beer not half bad.

My father died on 14 March 2013.

On 17 March 2013, on a day when we were waking our Dad, a cousin and a sister of mine “borrowed” (some might say “stole,” but why quibble?) this sign, which I now have in my possession.

Here’s to you, Dad, and, as always, no green beers.


Cause of Death: Pulmonary tuberculosis

The Family of Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade

I’ve written about tuberculosis before. See, for example, Tuberculosis in Ontario; and also see a list of those who Died of Tuberculosis in the Ottawa Valley Irish database.

Here’s a family that was hit hard by the scourge of tuberculosis in a five-year period from 1915 to 1920: the family of Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade. Two parents; eight grown children:1 and no fewer than four of these ten people died of pulmonary tuberculosis between March 1915 and December 1920.

Mary Catherine McGlade was the daughter of Michael McGlade and Bridget McNulty. She was born in the (civil) parish of Forkill, Co. Armagh in 1864; and she emigrated to Pennsylvania with her parents and four of her siblings in the early 1880s.2 While her parents and four living siblings would head north to Perth (Lanark Co., Ontario, Canada) by 1883 or 1884,3 Mary Catherine McGlade stayed in the United States, where she married a Hugh Walsh in Leetonia, Ohio in 1883.

Hugh Walsh was born in Ireland about 1856, the son of an unknown Walsh and of an Elizabeth Lee, and emigrated to the States about 1864. He appears to have been an iron worker for many decades, first in Leetonia, Ohio, and then in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; several records describe him as a “puddler.” For a brief account of the family’s move from Leetonia to Pittsburgh in pursuit of employment in the iron and steel industry, see this obituary for daughter Sister Mary Hugh Walsh, MM (born Elizabeth Irene Walsh), a Maryknoll Sister.

Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade had nine known children, all born in Leetonia, Ohio between 1884 and 1889, with the youngest, Hugh, dying in 1905 at the age of six before the family moved to Pittsburgh.4 So: eight children moved with their parents from Leetonia, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania between 1905 and 1910; and of these eight, three would die of pulmonary tuberculosis within the next decade or so.

Here’s the ‘died of pulmonary tuberculosis’ death toll for this family:

  • Thomas Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 9 October 1910
  • Patrick J. Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 14 March 1915
  • Alice Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 23 June 1918 (Alice, who died at a sanatorium at the age of 22, was listed as a Telephone Operator in her death record: for some reason, I find this detail unbearably poignant)
  • Hugh Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 9 December 1920

So there we have it: 40 percent of a family wiped out by an airborne infectious disease (tuberculosis) that is now treatable, in the space of 5 short, and sorrow-ridden, years.

Folks, modern medicine is our friend: and if you don’t believe me, please take a closer look at your family’s tree: all those little Johns and little Marys who were carried off before the age of 5 by childhood diseases that are now almost entirely preventable. And please, please, please, inoculate your children against any and all preventable diseases. (End of pro-vaccination earnestness.)

Btw, I first learned of the existence Mary Catherine McGlade through her father Michael McGlade’s obituary in the Perth Courier (20 January 1905), which listed a surviving daughter as a “Mrs. Hugh Walsh, Latonia, Ohio.” Yes, the name of the town (Leetonia) was misspelled; but the information was basically sound, and verifiable. Never ignore unexpected or seemingly random details in an obituary (those details may be a bit muddled, but they’re not random!): always follow up and follow through.

  1.  The ninth, and youngest known child, Hugh Walsh (born 7 July 1899), died on 15 October 1905, at the age of 6.
  2. According to Michael McGlade’s obituary in the Perth Courier, four other siblings died and were buried in Armagh.
  3.  Michael McGlade’s brother John had been living in Perth since about 1851.
  4.  The family can be found in Pittsburgh by 1910.

The hazards of early settler life

As I’ve mentioned before, 19th-century Roman Catholic burial records did not generally record a cause of death for the deceased, but there were exceptions to this general rule. In cases where a death was considered unusually tragic, dramatic, or violent, the priest might note the cause of death in the parish register.

Here’s an interesting example of some exceptions to the rule, which speak to the very real hazards of early settler life in Upper Canada (more specifically, in the Bytown [Ottawa] area). These two pages of burials for the years 1831 and 1832 are from the index of baptisms, marriages and burials for the parish register of Notre Dame Basilica, Ottawa.1 (More on this index in an upcoming entry on search tips for this register).

notre dame ottawa burials 1831 1832

Burial listings from 2 July 1831 to 7 July 1832. See footnote 1 for citation.


notre dame ottawa burials closeup 1

Burial listings from 2 July 1831 to 1 August 1831. See footnote 1 for citation.


notre dame ottawa burials closeup

Burial listings from 3 June 1832 to 7 July 1832. See footnote 1 for citation.


On the page which lists burials from 2 July to 27 December 1831, most listings do not have a notation of the cause of death, which was in keeping with standard practice. On the page which lists burials from 2 January to 7 July 1832, on the other hand, 15 of the 24 listings do have a cause-of-death notation, which was a bit unusual.2

The causes of death recorded in these two pages offer a rare glimpse into the living conditions of a frontier environment that was fraught with perils and pitfalls. Death by drowning, for example, was an occupational hazard for lumbermen; and there were also some drowning fatalities experienced by labourers working on the construction of the Rideau Canal. And in performing the settlement duties of clearing and cultivating one’s acreage (a requirement for gaining a grant to Crown land), a man might be killed by the fall of a tree (“killed by a tree” is noted for several men on the above two pages).

And if the water or the woods didn’t kill you, if you were in Bytown in 1832, there was a very real chance that you might be carried off by cholera.

In the spring and summer of 1832, a cholera epidemic swept through Bytown, which “prompted the creation of the first Board of Health for Bytown” and which “also increased existing hostility towards immigrants, who were largely blamed for the outbreak of the disease” (“Cholera Wharf,” Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal []). In the image above (burial listings from 3 June 1832 to 7 July 1832), there are four cholera deaths recorded, for one adult male and three adult females. And in the three pages that follow (burials from 7 July 1832 to 19 November 1832), there are 37 cholera deaths recorded out of a listing of 58 burials. Men, women, and children alike might succumb to this dreaded disease: when it came to age and sex, cholera was an equal-opportunity scourge (though not when it came to social class: the poor were much likely than the wealthy to be struck by cholera, which was most often transmitted through contaminated drinking water).

“Drowned;” “killed by a tree;” “killed by a gun;” “cholera” (all of which causes of death can be found in the above images): Roughing It in the Bush really was quite rough, evidently.

  1.  Basilique Notre Dame d’Ottawa (Ottawa, Ontario), 1829 (Index), image 1411 of 1836, Funerals, 1831 and Funerals, 1832, database, ( accessed 25 April 2015), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.
  2.  Another unusual, and especially poignant, exception can be found in Notre Dame’s burial listings for July and August 1847, where we find page after page of typhus deaths.

Burial of Four Irish Orphans

From the register of Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, the burial of four Irish orphans on 2 August 1847.1 Apparently all girls, their names unknown, and with only a guess as to their ages:

Burial of four Irish orphans, 2 August 1847

Burial of four Irish orphans, 2 August 1847

The record reads (in translation):

The second of August eighteen hundred and forty-seven I the undersigned priest have buried four Irish (female) orphans who died the day before yesterday and yesterday at the Bon Pasteur Monastery of this city, one of them aged about ten years, two of them aged about eight years, and the other aged about six years. Witnesses Benjamin Desroches and Isidore Godin who have declared that they cannot sign. Nercam, priest.

These orphans (and their parents) were no doubt victims of the typhus epidemic of 1847, which killed thousands at Grosse Île, and which also spread to other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa (Bytown), Kingston, and Toronto.

  1. Basilique Notre-Dame (Montréal, Québec), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1847, image 184 of 309,  S.S.S.S. Orphelines Irlandaises (Burial of four Irish orphans): database, ( accessed 13 March 2015), Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.

Death of George Vallely

When and where did George Vallely die?

Sometimes the records just don’t add up. Oh, I don’t mean numerically or arithmetically: genealogical research is not double-entry bookkeeping, after all. What I mean is that sometimes the information found in one record will directly contradict the information that is found in another record.

A case in point:

Death of Alexander Michael Moran

The Ottawa Journal, 1 February 1939.

The Ottawa Journal, 1 February 1939.

Newspaper obituaries often supply loads of genealogically useful information, along with interesting forename and surname spellings.

Here, for example, is the obituary for my paternal great-grandfather Alexander Michael Moran (1871-1939). A fairly standard obituary, which informs readers of the death of A.M. Moran, and supplies practical information about the arrangements for his funeral and burial. But from the perspective of a genealogical researcher, this obituary offers a good deal more.

In addition to listing his birthplace (Huntley, Ontario) and his place of death (231 Armstrong St., Ottawa), it also supplies information about his former employment. (He worked for the Grand Trunk Railway, and then for the Canadian Pacific. My father always told me he was a machinist for the GTR.)

And it names 12 other people:

There is also a reference to seven grandchildren, but these grandchildren are not named. My father was one of these seven.

There is one obvious typo-type error in the list of names: “Annie N. Benton” should be “Annie M. Benton” (for Anna Maria Benton). And there is also a surname spelling variation (I hesitate to call it an error, since I’m always insisting that spelling doesn’t count in genealogy, and that you mustn’t cling to the notion of a “correct” surname spelling if you want to find your ancestors’ records) which might prove misleading, if I didn’t already know the name. The obituary names the mother of my great-grandfather as “Mary Levoy, of Pakenham.” If I didn’t already know that she was the Irish-born Mary Leavy [Levi/Levy], originally of Co. Longford, Ireland, I might go looking for a French/French-Canadian Marie Levoy.

For me, it is somewhat poignant to read that “the death of Alexander Michael Moran occurred at his residence, 231 Armstrong street, suddenly on Tuesday” (31 January 1939). Poignant because it makes me think of my now-deceased father (who died 14 March 2013), who once told me about the death of his grandfather, some of the details of which he could still recall so many years after the event.

231 Armstrong Street was also the home of my father at the time of his grandfather’s death: my dad, with his parents and his older sister Rosemary, lived upstairs at 231 Armstrong St., while his grandparents, Alec and Annie (Alexander Michael Moran and Anna Maria Benton), lived downstairs and ran a small grocery store out of the front of the house. My father recollected that he used to love to go for car rides with his grandfather, to go with him to deliver groceries from the shop or to make deliveries for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He also recalled that his grandfather played the fiddle, and that he loved to drink buttermilk. “He was a quiet man,” said my father, “and very kind.”

My father (born September 1934) was four years and four months old in January 1939, and was at home when his grandfather died. Some seventy-odd years after the death, he still had a vivid memory of seeing his beloved grandfather lying dead. Apparently my great-grandfather had been outside shovelling snow, and, feeling unwell, had gone inside, where he suffered a massive, and fatal, heart attack.

How much of my father’s memory of his grandfather’s death can be attributed to a direct recollection of a dramatic and traumatic event? and how much of it had been mediated by later retellings of the story over the years? This I do not, and cannot, know. But I’m pretty sure that my dad did remember something of the awful drama surrounding his grandfather’s death, even though my father was only about four and half years old at the time. In the world of my father’s childhood (and it really was a different world, in so many respects), adults didn’t try to hide the reality of death from even very young children, the way we now do.

Anyway, to return to the main idea of this post:

Newspaper obituaries can be extremely useful genealogical sources, but are often riddled with errors and inaccuracies. Follow up on all possible clues (and a close and careful reading of an obituary will often yield important clues), but never, ever assume that because it was printed in the papers, it must therefore be officially, and incontrovertibly, true.

  1. Two other brothers had predeceased him. John Moran, born 1854, died at Rochester, Minnesota in 1921. James Moran, born about 1858, died at Nepean Township in 1899.
  2. One other sister had predeceased him. Margaret Jane Moran, born about 1856, died at Huntley in May 1873, at about sixteen years of age.

Scarlet fever deaths in March Township, 1870-1871

You know you’re a census geek when you find yourself reading the “Nominal Return(s) of Deaths” from the Canadian census returns.

The “Nominal Return of the Deaths within the last twelve months” (1871 Census of Canada, Ontario, Carleton County, Township of March) for the Township of March records twenty deaths in the township for the period roughly covering April 1870 to April 1871 (census enumeration officially began on 2 April, 1871, and the schedule of deaths was to cover the past twelve months).

Of these twenty recorded deaths, I count three adults, and seventeen children.

I am counting James “Houricane” [= James Hourigan, son of Thomas Hourigan and Mary Moran] as an adult, though he was only eighteen years of age when he died, in October 1870, apparently of “Inflammation on the Lungs.” In oral family history, as recorded, for example, by Peter Alexander (“Alec”) Lunney (see “‘My Maternal Ancestors,’ by Alec Lunney”), James Hourigan’s death has been attributed to the Great Fire of 1870. While his death did not occur on the night (the night of August 17, 1870, that is) of the Great Fire, perhaps his “Inflammation on the Lungs” was a result of injuries sustained through exposure to the fire? Or did James Hourigan’s untimely death, coming so soon after the dramatic event of the Great Fire, get mixed in with accounts of the fire, so that it was (mistakenly or confusedly) handed down as a result of that fire, when it was the result of some other cause entirely?

Three of the deaths (one adult, with two of his children) were undoubtedly the tragic result of the Great Fire of 1870. John Hogan, aged 35, and his sons John (aged 9) and Richard (aged two months) were “Burnt to death on the night of the great fire of the 17 of August.” A ghastly incident. I’m sure I have come across an account of John Hogan’s desperate, and unsuccessful, attempt to save his two young sons — in a local history, perhaps? At the moment, I cannot remember where.

In addition to James Hourigan and John Hogan, the other adult death was that of Mary Williams, who died of “Dropsy” in June 1870, at the age of 33. 1

Nominal return of deaths in March township

Nominal return of deaths in March township

So: three adult deaths, at least one of them the result of Great Fire of 1870 (but possibly two, if James Hourigan’s “Inflammation on the Lungs” was fire-related), and two childhood deaths also the horrible outcome of that fire. The remaining fifteen deaths were those of children, several of them infants, and most of them very young.

A Michael (here given as “Michel”) Moran died of “infantile debility” at the age of one month (no connection to my Morans of Huntley Township that I know of, by the way).

At least eight of the children died of scarlet fever (or “Scarlet Feaver,” as written above). And some of the deaths are not attributed to any recorded cause: for “Disease, or other cause of Death,” there is just a blank, with no information supplied. But some of these blanks immediately follow upon ditto marks for the cause of “Scarlet Feaver” — perhaps more ditto marks were implied, so that even more of the deaths were the result of scarlet fever? In any case, of the fifteen childhood deaths that can presumably be attributed to childhood illness (and not to the dreadful calamity of the Great Fire), over half (at least eight) were reportedly the result of scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever (a highly contagious bacterial infection) was once a horrible scourge, but thankfully is no longer: “once a very serious childhood disease,” it is now “easily treatable” by antibiotics.

So many childhood illnesses that used to run rampant, unchallenged and unchecked, through villages and towns and communities, and carry off too many infants and children in their wake: now readily treated, or easily prevented through vaccination.

  1. On “dropsy” (= excess fluid buildup) as a “symptom rather than a cause of a disease,” see “Dropsy, and Researching Other Archaic Medical Terms” at Kim Smith’s Dead and Gone.

Death by Fire (Two Moran Children, Ages 4 and 2)

While Catholic burial records can supply a wealth of genealogically significant information, the cause of death was not something that the priest was required or expected to record. And as I’ve mentioned before, 19th- and early 20th-century Catholic burial records did not generally record the cause of death of the deceased.

In some instances, however, the priest might have included the cause of death in the church burial record — most typically, in cases where the death was considered especially dramatic, horrific, unusual, or violent. So, for example, an elderly parishioner who died of pneumonia? That cause of death is unlikely to have been recorded in a 19th- to early 20th-century Catholic burial record.1 A young child who was burned to death in a horrible accident? There’s a chance the priest might have recorded this awful detail in the child’s burial record.

By way of illustration, here are the Catholic church burial records for James Moran (son of Alexander “Sandy” Michael Moran and Mary Ann Leavy, and husband of Sarah Jane Dooley); and for his two youngest children Julia Gertrude Moran and James Joseph Moran (daughter and son of James Moran and Sarah Jane Dooley). James Moran died in March 1899 at about 40 years of age; and his two youngest children, Julia Gertrude and James Joseph, died a year and a half later, at the ages of about 4 years and 2 years, respectively. All three records (the one for James Moran dated 21 March 1899; and the two for his children Julia Gertrude and James Joseph dated 30 September 1900) were written and signed by the Reverend Father John Andrew Sloan, parish priest at St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield (and also at St. Isidore, March township):2

Burial of James Moran, 21 March 1899, St. Patrick's, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Moran, 21 March 1899, St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Joseph Moran and Julia Gertrude Moran, 30 September 1900, St. Patrick's, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Joseph Moran and Julia Gertrude Moran, 30 September 1900, St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield.

Note that Father Sloan inserted “by fire” in parentheses after “died” in the burial records for the two young Moran children. Father Sloan only very rarely recorded the cause of death in his parish registers; his departure from the norm here surely speaks to the sense of communal grief over the awful deaths of these two very young children. Their Ontario civil death registrations record the cause of death as “Accidental Burning,” by the way.

But while the father of Julie Gertrude Moran and James Joseph Moran had died at an age (about 40 years) that nowadays would be considered quite unusual and highly tragic, James Moran’s untimely and unhappy death apparently did not meet the bar (unusually dramatic, horrific, or violent) for a reference to the cause of his death in his RC church burial record. Father Sloan makes no mention of it. (And the cause of death for James Moran is the subject of conflicting accounts, by the way, as discussed here: was he kicked by a horse? or was he fatally injured in a threshing accident? or did James Moran die, as per his Ontario civil death registration, of emphysema?). But note, also, that Father Sloan was not actually present at the burial of James Moran: the parish priest’s after-the-fact record of the burial of James Moran relies on the eyewitness testimony of Thomas Troy, David Villeneuve, and Elizabeth Casey.

My guess is that the young Moran children were the victims of a terrible kitchen accident, but this detail we may never know.


  1. For Ottawa Valley-area Roman Catholic burial records, the cause of death, whether horrific or not, is increasingly likely to have been recorded from about the 1920s or 1930s. The more recent the record, the more information (including, again from the 1920s or 1930s, whether the deceased had received last rites, or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick).
  2. St. Patrick (Fallowfield, Co. Carleton, Ontario), Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1851-1968, p. 89, S. 4, James Moran; p. 115, S. 14, James Joseph Moran; p. 115, S. 15, Julia Gertrude Moran; digital images, ( : accessed 30 Nov. 2013), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.

A 9-year-old boy who died “of the disease of Irish emigrants”

This was posted on Facebook, by the Institut généalogique Drouin (but the screencap below is from Quebec, Vital and Church Records [Drouin Collection], 1621-1967). It is the burial record for a nine-year-old boy named Henry Gill, “décédé de la maladie des émigrés irlandais” ([who] died of the disease of Irish emigrants):

Burial record for Henry, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

Burial record for Henry Gill, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

“La maladie des émigrés irlandais” (the malady, or disease, of Irish emigrants) was, of course, the dreaded typhus. For a brief account of the typhus epidemic of 1847, see History – 1847: A tragic year at Grosse Île (Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada).

The priest did not have the names of the boy’s parents (“fils legitime d’un père et d’une mère d’ont nous n’avons pas avoir les noms”/”legitimate son of a father and a mother for whom we have not acquired the names”), but he noted that Henry Gill was the brother of Patrick and of Catherine Gill. A commenter at Facebook notes that Henry Gill and his siblings Patrick and Catherine were the children of John Gill and Mary Lynch, and links to a database of Les orphelins irlandais arrivés à Grosse-Île en 1847-48 (Irish orphans who arrived at Grosse Île in 1847-48), where the Gill children can be found at Reg. Nos. 176, 178, and 177.

Kind of amazing to see these records online, and to see people commenting, and cross-referencing, and cross-linking to other records and databases.