Civil Records, Newspapers, Oral History, Stories

Cause of Death: Conflicting Accounts


James Moran (1858-1899)

James Moran was born about 1858 in Huntley township, Carleton Co., Ontario, the third of twelve children born to Alexander (“Sandy”) Michael Moran and Mary Ann Leavy.

On 27 November 1883 (St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield) James Moran married Sarah Jane Dooley, daughter of Thomas Dooley and his second wife Mary Coughlan. The couple had nine (known) children, with six of the nine surviving to adulthood.

Their eldest son Alexander (1884-1887) died at age two years and five months (cause of death listed as croup); and on the 28 September 1900 (a year and a half after the death of their father), their two youngest children Julia Gertrude (almost four years old) and James Joseph (2 years old) died in a ghastly accident: “by fire,” notes Father J.A. Sloan in the children’s burial records (St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield), with the cause of death listed as “accidental burning” in the Ontario civil registration of the deaths. Another daughter, Sarah Jane Moran, known as “Jennie,” died in early adulthood: she was a nurse who died in Ste. Agathe, Québec (presumably at the tuberculosis hospital).

James Moran and Sarah Jane Dooley farmed at Lot 15, Concession 6 in Nepean township, on land that had presumably been given or sold to the couple by Sarah Jane’s father Thomas Dooley (1810-1891).

In the 1891 census (Ontario, Carleton, Nepean, family no. 23), James Moran (here spelled Morin) is head of a household that includes his wife [Sarah] Jane; their children Mary, Thomas, and Matilda; Sarah Jane Dooley’s still unmarried sisters Mary and Matilda Dooley; along with a Home Child named Daniel Driscoll, and another domestic servant (probably not a Home Child) named Lizzie Casey. By this time, the 82-year old Thomas Dooley had apparently retired from farming and moved to Ottawa, where he lived with his son-in-law Michael Harrington and his daughter Maria (one of the daughters from his first marriage to Catherine Quinn, and a therefore a half-sister to Sarah Jane Dooley) (see 1891 census: Ontario, Ottawa City, St George’s Ward, family no. 179).

Oral tradition has it that James Moran “had his own thrashing crew and worked on many farms in the valley;” that he “also played the violin in a band, performing at all the local gigs;” and that “he was a capable though untrained vet of Fallowfield, Carleton County, near Ottawa, and was very good with animals.”1 He was also, apparently, quite close to his first cousin Thomas Hourigan, son of Thomas Hourigan and Julia Moran.

Thomas Hourigan had grown up with his Moran cousins in Huntley, spending at least some portion of his childhood in the household of his (and James Moran’s) uncle Thomas Moran, their aunt Henrietta Moran, and their grandmother Margaret (Jamieson) Moran. This was after the death of his father (about 1860) left his mother Julia Moran a widow with four small children. Indeed, while the 1871 and 1881 census returns find the widowed Julia (Moran) Hourigan living with her four children at their farm in March township (Lot 19, Concession 2), in the 1861 census, the recently widowed Julia and her children can be found in the household of Julia’s brother Thomas (along with several other siblings, including Henrietta, and their mother Margaret Jamieson). Moreover, in the 1891 census, Thomas Hourigan is found not on his farm in March township, but again in the household of his uncle Thomas Moran in Huntley.

When Thomas Hourigan died of pneumonia on 11 March 1899, at the age of 42, his address at the time of death was listed as Lot 15, Concession 6, Nepean township: the home of his cousin James Moran. And he left one hundred dollars to his cousin James Moran, as stipulated in his last will and testament:

To my cousin James Morin of Fallowfield I leave one hundred dollars to defray expenses for my present illness, as well as my funeral expenses. To father Lavin of Packenham, Ont. I leave fifty dollars to have low masses said for the repose of my soul. To father Sloan of Fallowfield, Ont., I leave fifty dollars to have low masses said for the repose of my mother’s soul. I leave my foal to my brother in law, Hugh A. Lunny, and my bycicle to my nephew Bernard Lunny. To my sister, Mrs. Hugh A. Lunny, I leave my farm consisting of South quarter of Lot No. 19 in the 2nd concession of March.2

Little did Thomas Hourigan suspect, no doubt, when he drew up his will, that his cousin James Moran of Fallowfield would survive him by a mere eight days.

James Moran died on 19 March 1899, also at Lot 15, Concession 6, Nepean township. He was about 41 years old at the time of death, and he left his wife Sarah Jane Dooley a widow with eight children. How he died is a bit of a mystery, given that we have three conflicting accounts of his cause of death.


According to family lore, James Moran died after being kicked by a horse, and, due to lack of drugs, “it took four men to hold him down while he died” (Allison Moran, The Moran Family Tree). However, the Ontario civil registration of his death records the cause of his death as “Empyzema” (emphysema: a somewhat unlikely cause of death for a 41-year old man?). Moreover, and to further complicate the issue, a newspaper item from 15 December 1898 (Ottawa Citizen) indicates that James Moran/Morin  suffered a horrible farming accident on 14 December 1898, from which it was feared he might not recover. This accident involved not a horse but a wheel from the tramper of a straw cutting machine. As per the Ottawa Citizen article, James Moran was hit on the side of the head, which fractured his jaw and “[inflicted] other severe injuries.”

How to reconcile these conflicting accounts?  In terms of the family history story (kicked by a horse) and the newspaper account (struck by a wheel), I see two possibilities: 1) he suffered two farming accidents several months apart (struck by a wheel in December 1898, and kicked by a horse in March 1899), and it was the second one that killed him; or 2) he suffered one farming accident (struck by a wheel in December 1898, the injuries from which eventually, three months later, killed him), and as the details got lost in the retelling over the decades, this fatal incident was recalled some seventy or eighty years later as an accident involving a horse (a not uncommon type of farm accident, after all). My guess is with 2), though it is just a guess, and of course 1) is a possibility.

But what of the Ontario civil death record, which lists cause of death as emphysema? Here I see three possibilities: 1) he really did die of emphysema, which death happened to occur after having suffered either one or two farming accidents; 2) the injuries sustained in a farm accident (whether by horse or by machinery) involved damage to his lungs and/or respiratory system, which his doctor (a Dr. Danby, according to his death record) interpreted as emphysema; or 3) there is an error in the death record (e.g., a transcription error). Here my guess goes with 2), which, again, is just a guess.

James Moran is buried at St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield, with his wife Sarah Jane Dooley.

1 Allison Moran, The Moran Family Tree (privately published family tree with stories).

2 Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of South March