ancestryink fisherman

Monday, July 29, 2013

Maritime Monday: Cause of Death: Commotion & Who Do You Think You Are

The volunteer transcribers of have been very busy.  I am seeing many new records online, including not-seen-before death records and mortality schedules, for Massachusetts.  This is very exciting and many a mariner is included in these records. On the other hand, the speed at which these records are being transcribed is starting to yield a disturbing number of errors.

Here is one 1850 record of deaths in Falmouth, Mass., including that of a certain mariner, Albert Baker, that was pretty humorous.  (And a bit shocking.)

Here is the abstract:  Click for closer reading.

Cause of Death:  Commotion

Albert Baker, age at death 26, died in May of 1850.  "Cause of Death: Commotion."

Hmm,  was that a euphemism for someone who had lost their marbles?  Or had he died of a heart attack amidst a particularly busy or chaotic day? Could this be the 1850 version of "Hypertension," a cause of death that is used currently? Naturally, I went straight to the original document.

Here is the original.  Click on it for a closer view.

Commotion or Consumption?

Honestly?  I can completely understand where this curious cause of death came from.  At first glance, the penmanship reveals a word that looks much like Commotion.  But, if you scan down the document, it appears  that at least eight Falmouth citizen succumbed to Commotion, also.  Hmmm, I would think that curiosity at the odd death, and a little knowledge of common causes of death in the 1850's might prompt the indexer to see that Commotion is in actual fact "Consumption."  

Keep an eye out for errors.  But, this one record of death gave me a good chuckle.


Remember that show?  It was produced by Lisa Kudrow on the NBC network and was pretty popular for awhile, though it seemed to limp into the second season with a few too many contrived moments of "tears of emotion," perhaps. Anyway, I enjoyed it.  At the end of the season, however, it was unclear if it was returning to air.

Well, "Who Do You Think You Are" is back!  Yes, now aired on TLC, and still directed by Lisa Kudrow, the season began with Kelly Clarkson.  

I have to say, it was a fun episode.  She is a truly engaging, well-spoken young woman, and her ancestors had some really unexpected twists and turns.  The format is the same, as she travels hither and yon, in search of her ancestor, consulting knowledgeable historians along the way.  But there was none of the scripted "oh wow" and then the torturous wiping of tears stuff.  Her surprises and yes some tears, seemed genuine. 

Just my opinion - but  the whole show just seemed less "Hollywood" and more authentic. I actually do not really care who the celebrities are, as long as they have an intriguing ancestral journey.  I'm looking forward to the next episode.  You can read more about it on the show's website: WDYTYA

Watch it Tuesday nights at 9:00pm.


  1. This is not a mistake!
    I index a lot for familysearch and the indexers are required to index what is actually written in the documents ... we are not allowed to interpret!

    There are always at least two indexers typing down what they see on the document. (Even obvious typos.) After that an arbitrator compares the results from the indexers. And I understand even after that there is a person "final-checking" everything before it gets officially released on familysearch.

    And it makes sense too. :)
    You figured out quickly that the cause of death was consumption. Just goes to show we all have to look at the documents ourselves.

  2. Hi, Verena, Yes, you're right! You are not supposed to fix spelling, "interpret," or transcribe anything that is not there. I have indexed a lot in the past. There are supposed to be two indexers AND an arbitrator, to review the info. In this record with "Commotion," however, I actually do read the original record as "Consumption,"after scanning it once. I wasn't guessing or changing spelling, I actually saw it that way, the second time I read it. And I do believe that bringing knowledge to the indexing project is a good way to 'inform' the process. (That's why ancestral researchers already familiar with different kinds of records make great indexers :-)

    I was just suggesting that aiming for 'speed' sometimes encourages indexers to not look twice. I don't know about you, but I have come across more and more errors in the last few months. I find it upsetting! It can really throw you off your genealogical research, or, add many more hours of searching to figure out what's going on.

    Very few of these errors exist in the original document.
    I'm not blaming the Indexers at all. I just see FamilySearch really emphasizing how many records they've recorded which I think pressures the Indexer to hurry things along.