The importance of death records

Posted on 20/03/2017 Category in Blog

How many of us order death certificates to enhance our family research? I suspect that more birth and marriage certificates are purchased in England and Wales because of the details they provide about another generation in our family tree. But information about deaths can really improve our understanding of family life.

I was aware from the death index that my great great grandfather James Armstrong, died at the young age of 48. There was even a family story that he had sat down for breakfast and died in the chair. While it was interesting to be told this information I had no idea whether it was actually true. I ordered his death certificate which helpfully told me that he had died as a result of ‘The visitation of God’ on 9 March 1875. This seemed to cover a multitude of possibilities.

What was actually far more useful and extremely interesting was the Coroner’s Inquest, held as a result of his sudden death. Laid out before me were details of not only the day of his death but also his health up until a fortnight before. The family story that he had died in his chair at breakfast was true. James had felt unwell for two weeks before he died and was taking prepared charcoal to relieve his apparent indigestion pains. On the morning of his demise the charcoal was not effective so he asked his niece to light his pipe for him as he believed this would relieve his chest pains. His niece Ellen heard him fall to the ground within minutes of leaving him, and, after a brief struggle he died.

Details of the inquest were also reported in the local press which provided yet more information about his wife and seven young children. So it’s useful to bear in mind that information about deaths can be just as useful as births and marriages for improving your knowledge about your ancestors and also for confirming whether family stories have been passed down accurately.

James and Mary Ann Armstrong

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