ancestryink fisherman

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Of William...decoding the death record further"

Once again scouring the death records, this time for the Tobin family of Boston during the mid-late 1800's:

Ellen (Sheehan) Tobin, age 76, died in Boston, Mass. on 29 Jan 1873, according to her death record.* The Ellen Tobin I was researching was married to Robert Tobin, both born in Ireland.  Records show that they immigrated to Boston in 1852 during the peak period of Irish immigration, became established, had family - and passed away there.  Later, their daughter Anne T. Tobin would marry Timothy Connolley of another Irish immigrant family in Boston, and the couple would give birth to Mary Louise Connolley.  This daughter Mary would soon meet William Manning Connell and be married, continuing the Manning/Connell line in Boston - a family whose wealth sprung originally from William Manning, one of the first undertakers in the city of Boston in the mid-late 1800's.

And that is the path of research that led me to Ellen Tobin's death record.  There is nothing particularly remarkable or different about her family or her death, however her death record brings to light an interesting detail worth noticing while analyzing the information from these records.

When a male deceased is listed,  his "occupation" (or lack thereof) is generally listed in one of the descending columns.  A woman will show no occupation but instead, as in the case of Ellen Tobin, will have listed there: "of William."  Females were listed as being "of" their husbands.  It was unusual for a woman to have an occupation outside of the home in the 1800's, and though the reason for this description is probably simply a practical means of identity,  something in my modern female heart still balks at the implication that a woman's occupation in life was listed as being simply the consort, partner, relict, wife, heir-producer, of her husband. 
Ellen Tobin, age 76, "of William"
But let me push aside my mild feminist sentiments regarding a woman's identity in the interests of our genealogical research.

The importance of this detail on the death record, other than the notable change in women's status in our community (and mindsets!)  that has taken place in the last hundred years or so - is the clue provided by this one little description: "of William."   In the case of Ellen Tobin where all other elements of the death record provided credible information for the person I was researching, that one little detail alerted me to the fact that this was indeed the wrong Ellen Tobin.  She was not the wife of Robert Tobin.

So, though we women may somewhat recoil at the reading, even if well over a hundred years ago,  as defined as being "of" our husbands, the information in that one narrow descending column is very valuable in determining true identity.

*[Source Information: Massachusetts, Town Vital Collections, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).]

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Death records in the 19th Century frequently list "Apoplexy" as a cause of death.  The connotation of this word for me leads to a disturbing image of some poor soul with their eyes bulging, suffering extreme, vessel-bursting tension or excitement, until they literally explode to death - an "apoplectic fit."

Death records often list apoplexy with an accompanying factor, but overall it occurs so frequently as a cause of death, I thought I would take another look at its exact meaning.  The following is Wikipedia's definition:

"Historical Meaning
From the late 14th to the late 19th century[2], the word "apoplexy" was also used to describe any sudden death that began with a sudden loss of consciousness, especially one in which the victim died within a matter of seconds after losing consciousness. The word "apoplexy" may have been used to describe the symptom of sudden loss of consciousness immediately preceding death and not a verified disease process. Sudden cardiac deaths, ruptured cerebral aneurysms, certain ruptured aortic aneurysms, and even heart attacks may have been described as apoplexy in the past."

So, it would appear that "stroke" is essentially what is synonymous with "apoplexy," in our modern language.  It was perhaps the final paroxysm suffered after an illness or accident - much like "hypertension" is listed as a cause of death, today, though the actual underlying cause may have been long term cancer, for instance. (This was true and listed as such, on my own father's death report.)

From Wikipedia: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott died of apoplexy.  Again, to Wikipedia:

"Alcott, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years,[11] including vertigo.[12] She and her earliest biographers[13] attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning. During her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury.[11] Recent analysis of Alcott's illness, however, suggests that her chronic health problems may have been associated with an autoimmune disease, not acute mercury exposure. Moreover, a late portrait of Alcott shows rashes on her cheeks, which is a characteristic of lupus.[11][14]

Alcott died at age 55 of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888,[12] two days after her father's death. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"[15]

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Vital Records of Hamilton Massachusetts

My mother did a fastidious job of keeping the Annual Reports from the town of Hamilton, Essex Co., Massachusetts (where I grew up.)  She began with the year she and my father bought their house : 1951.

I've gleaned the Births, Marriage, and Deaths pages out of the reports, and turned these into one PDF file, per report. Click on the link below to view these download/view these pages.

1951 Hamilton Report, Vital Records.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Rollinsford Public Library and Cemetery Lists

The Rollinsford Library is small but the history/reading room is a real asset - both to the town and to anyone researching the history of the town and it's early settlers.

While I was there the other day, I acquired the cemetery plot plan with names, for the Old Town Cemetery of Rollinsford.  Clicking on the link below will download the 6 page map of this small but fascinating cemetery.  If anything, it will give you a good idea of who was in town in the late 1700's and forward.

Old Town Cemetery, Rollinsford: Cemetery Map

Another great resource, full of the details of the people of Rollinsford and written like a good novel, is Catalfo's book:

I have searched for any kind of online printing of Catalfo's book to no avail, and I'm not sure how one would acquire it.  However, the Library holds this treasure and there's a very relaxing reading room with big windows, next to the rushing Salmon Falls, in which to kick back and spend a couple of hours engrossed in early days of Rollinsford.