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:
- his parents, Alexander Moran and Mary Levoy [Leavy] (2)
- his wife, Annie N. [M.] Benton, of Arnprior (1)
- his two sons, Allan J. [Jerome] Moran and Orville A. [Alexander] Moran (2)
- his brother, Thomas E. [Edwin] Moran (1)1
- his six surviving sisters: Mrs. E. Boldman (Mary Ernestine Moran); Mrs. Jule Morris (Julia Amanda Moran); Mrs. Michael Sullivan (Helen Elizabeth Moran); Mrs. M.H. Fagan (Mary Eugenie Gertrude Moran); Mrs. Annie Sullivan (Anna Moran); and Mrs. E.J. Delaney (Mary Emelia Moran) (6)2
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.
- 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. ↩
- One other sister had predeceased him. Margaret Jane Moran, born about 1856, died at Huntley in May 1873, at about sixteen years of age. ↩
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
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.
- 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. ↩
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
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.
- 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). ↩
- 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, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca : accessed 30 Nov. 2013), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967. ↩
This was posted on Facebook, by the Institut généalogique Drouin (but the screencap below is from ancestry.ca: 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):
“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.
Or: What a Difference Twenty-Some Years Can Make
Death and Burial of Margaret Jamieson
When Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran, died on 12 July 1882, her death generated two records: a Roman Catholic church burial record; 1 and an Ontario civil death registration, based on the RC burial record.2
Note the spelling variations for both forename and surnames. In the church record we have Margarette, and in the civil record we have Margret, for the first name that I’ve decided to standardize as Margaret.3
And in the Ontario civil death registration, we have Morin for Moran; while in the church burial record, we have Jameson (and perhaps also Jemeson?) for a surname that her descendants most frequently spell as Jamieson.
And btw, and as noted before, that “Jameson alias Moran” does not mean that my 3x-great-grandmother had been travelling under a false identity, nor that she had been caught up in the cloak-and-dagger world of international espionage. By “alias,” the priest (Fr. O’Malley) just meant “otherwise known as.” So: Jameson (or Jamieson, to her descendants), her maiden or family name, but otherwise known as Moran, her married name.
- St. Michael (Corkery, Carleton), Baptisms, marriages, burials 1864-1884, Vol. 4, S. Margarette Jameson alias Moran, p. 147: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/: accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923. ↩
- Margret Morin, Ontario death registration 1882: microfilm MS 935, reel 30, Archives of Ontario; database, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947. ↩
- I doubt very much that she herself adhered to a standardized spelling, that she would have insisted on Margaret or Margarette or perhaps Marguerite (this last a spelling which some of her descendants favour). ↩
Courtesy of Bruce B. Gordon, a response (with a great photograph!) to my query, ‘Was Thomas Dunn buried at St. Bridget’s RC Cemetery at Stanleyville?‘
Thomas Dunn, who died 30 December 1886 at North Burgess (Lanark Co., Ontario) and whose cause of death was given as “Frozen — 12 hours,” was indeed buried at St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Cemetery at Stanleyville, North Burgess Township, Lanark County, Ontario:
Thomas Dunn was born about 1820 in Co. Armagh (presumably parish of Killevy), the son of Owen Dunn and Ann Rocke (or Roche?), and had emigrated to Canada by 1851 (probably in the 1840s). His first wife was an Anne Ward (possibly the daughter of Edward Ward and Anastasia Molloy?), who died between 1857 and 1861. His second wife was an Anne Murphy, daughter of James Murphy and Mary (maiden name unknown). His sister Bridget was my great-great-grandmother, who married John McGlade (my great-great-grandfather) in 1856.
Bruce B. Gordon has posted many headstone photos for St. Bridget’s, Stanleyville at findagrave.com.
A couple of family connections have told me that James Hourigan, son of Thomas Hourigan and Julia Moran, died in the Great Fire of 1870. Their source of information was apparently Alec Lunney’s “My Maternal Ancestors,” which I posted here.1
But looking closely at Alec Lunney’s “My Maternal Ancestors,” I can’t help but notice that he doesn’t actually say that James Hourigan died in the Great Fire of 1870. Rather, he refers to James Hourigan as “James who died as a youth of 18 in the year of the Great Fire of 1870.” Well, details, details…but so much of genealogical research has to do with the details; and there is a difference, after all, between dying as a direct result of a catastrophe, and dying of some other cause altogether around about the time that the catastrophe occurred.I have not (yet) found a church burial record for James Hourigan, though I do have his baptismal record (see above). Nor have I discovered an Ontario civil death registration, and this document I do not really expect to find: for the province of Ontario, the registration of deaths only began on 1 July 1869, and for the first decade or so after its inception, the record-keeping was quite spotty.
- From Alec Lunney’s “A Collection of Family and Ottawa Area Information.” ↩
I have not yet found an RC burial record for Patrick Galligan/Gallaghan, who was born about 1807 in Co. Cavan (probably parish of Kilmore), Ireland, and who emigrated to Canada about 1843. I have checked a number of Roman Catholic parish registers (e.g., St. Michael’s, Corkery; St. Michael’s, Fitzroy Harbour; St. Peter Celestine, Pakenham), but so far, no burial record. It may be that I am overlooking something obvious; it may be that I am overlooking something obscure. Or perhaps his burial was recorded and the record was subsequently lost, misplaced, or destroyed. Or perhaps his burial was never recorded in a parish register at all.
In any case, despite the lack of a church burial record, I do have three different records of the death or burial of Patrick Galligan:
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
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.
- Daughter of James Lavelle and Margaret Boyle, and baptized (30 June 1861, Pembroke Mission, Renfrew Co.) Bridget Adelaide Lavelle. ↩
- 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. ↩