yaledo Registered User

I remember shortly after I got started on genealogy, I discovered my wife's great-great-grandmother's census entry. It showed she had had 10 children, of whom only 2 had survived. From my point of view, this was just another interesting data point. It was only when I started cheerily showing this to my wife's granny, that I realised the awful tragedy it represented. The two children in question were of course the mother uncle of my wife's granny.

Recently, I was trawling through death records for Galway city in the 1930s. I noticed that about half the deaths in the city seemed to be of young people dying from TB, with the informant being a member of staff of the isolation hospital in Renmore. People in their 30s, their 20s, teenagers and even children.

I found it too upsetting to continue, so I stopped that line of research. I suppose that you just need to 'suck it up' sometimes. Maybe it helps to realise that in a way, just by reading their names and the tragic circumstances of their deaths, you are honouring their memory.

pinkypinky Moderator

Here's something I find useful in these circumstances.

We're always going to discover infant, child or young adult deaths in our research. And sometimes these people have been entirely forgotten. I like to think of it as restoring them to family memory, even if there's no one now alive who would have known them. Last year I discovered my grandfather was one of 5 boys not 4. An older brother had died just before his 2nd birthday, before my grandfather was even born, but now we know again that there was another little boy called James, who was loved and lost, because I thought to check for others, just in case.

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Jellybaby1 Registered User

I agree with pinky. It strains the heartstrings when you start but eventually you come to realise that you are honoured with recording them and their short lives. It was a surprise for me to find I had an uncle I didn't know about. He died at the age of 1 year and 11 months - hard to imagine any uncle that age. When I was searching for my grandfather I was looking for an old man. He died at the age of 23 from TB. I don't think I've ever 'sucked it up', but they can now at least take their place on our family tree. Remember, you're doing a good thing.

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kanadams123 Registered User

Wow..that is truly tragic.

I have a family in my tree that had 13 total children..and 5 of them died before age 4 and 1 died aged 14.
What i found more upsetting was, one of these children was named Daniel, and died age 3. Then, 2 months later, the couple had another son, whom they named Daniel, again. This Daniel then died aged 2.

srmf5 Registered User

There are many tragic events when doing research and sadly my tree is riddled with them.

My great grandmother was one of 7 girls. However, I had only known of 3 sisters with one having died aged 19 of TB. The other two sisters had died as infants and the third when she was 6 from debility so it could have been from anything really.

I also only learned from research that my grandfather who I had thought was the eldest along with his twin had an older sister who lived for less than a day. I found out how my grandfather's brother died in a newspaper article.

My 2x great grandmother's sister lost all four of her children in one month ranging in ages from 2 to 10 from diphtheria. In the same month, she gave birth to twins who lived long lives and had three subsequent children. She fostered her nephew who had the same name as her second eldest whose own mother had died 13 days after giving birth to him.

I found records of my 4x great grandmother as a widow taking out poverty relief loans during the famine and eventually dying in the workhouse as a pauper aged 60 twenty years later. I came across articles in the newspaper that described the destruction of their land and homes by the moving bog leaving the place looking like an eviction scene causing a dispossessed widow to go mad, descriptions of land agents burning down or destroying houses so the evicted tenants couldn't move back in. Throughout all of that, there are the stories of neighbours helping each other out such as a stone mason in the local town coming to the area to rebuild a house with the help of others during the night for a widow that had been evicted and her house destroyed.

My great grandfather was the youngest of 10 and lost his mother and siblings to TB spanning 7 years and was only 7 when he lost his mother. He himself later died when my grandmother was 16 in an accident. I did find something lovely when researching him. In the 1901 census when he was a scholar, both he aged 13 and his father aged 66 could only read with my great grandfather's name spelt incorrectly. When I looked at the 1911 census, both he aged 23 and his father aged 76 wrote down that they could read and write. When I looked at the image of the census record, his father was able to sign as the head of the family in a shaky scrawl while in 1901 he could only leave his mark. I thought that it was lovely that he must have taught his father how to write even though his father had gotten that far in his life without needing to write. He must have just wanted to be able to write for himself and I find it lovely that his son must have taught him while attending school.

It's hard to imagine how some of these people kept going but it shows great resilience. I often find that doing family research really does put your own life into perspective. I suppose that all of the tragic events are balanced with the stories of family members doing well for themselves and the great sense of community that you get as well as admiration for those who faced so many struggles and managed to keep going despite it all. As others have said, I like the fact that I'm finding these people and by me knowing them, they're not forgotten. My 2x great grandfather's nephew died aged 38 and I found his memorial card that had written on it, "Gone, but not forgotten, Never shall thy memory fade, Sweetest thoughts shall ever linger, Around the grave where thou art laid."

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p15574 Registered User

I still remember my shock when researching a relative of my wife's in a rural townland of Donegal to see that they died of the measles. That wasn't the surprise - it was when I zoomed out of the death register and saw that on that page, and the surrounding pages of the register, about two thirds of the deaths, both children and young adults, measles was the cause.

It makes me angry to think of today's anti-vaxxers - they don't realise what they've got.

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Wyldwood Registered User

One of the saddest stories I've uncovered in my research is my 2 x great-grandparents who lived in Killaloe and lost 6 of their 7 small children to famine fever. After the 6th died they moved to Westmeath where my great-grandmother was born in 1855 and thankfully survived or I wouldn't be here.

Jellybaby1 Registered User

What was famine fever? Starvation?

L1011 Moderator

Typhus I think.

Jellybaby1 Registered User

One of the twigs on my tree died from typhoid, that shocked me more than TB did. Never heard of typhus being called 'famine fever' before.

dennyk Registered User

Found a rather shocking tragedy in my own family's history. My great-great-great grandfather Thomas was born in Tipperary around 1820 or so and emigrated to the US a few years before the famine began and married a girl in Virginia. After making some money, he started sending for the rest of his family back in Ireland to join him. Both his sisters arrived safely and started new lives in the US, but when he at last sent for his mother and his brother, tragedy struck. Before departing for the US, they stopped at Liverpool and stayed the night with a friend in the city. However, their friend's wife was away from the house and their friend was left to manage the cooking himself. Being unfamiliar with the kitchen, when making biscuits for breakfast in the morning he confused the rat poison for baking powder, and Thomas's mother and brother as well as their host and his entire family "save one" died of poisoning. (Unfortunately the family member who compiled this history didn't record the names of Thomas's parents or brother, only his two sisters, so I've had no luck so far tracking them down as of yet...)

Jellybaby1 Registered User

That's a shocking story. Biscuits for breakfast sounds quite an American thing. Only thing I can think of would be bread or scones. Amazing at that time for a man to be baking. I wonder if anyone can trace the story in the newspaper archives for this Liverpool tragedy. It would be good for you to have names at least.

dennyk Registered User

Jellybaby1 said:
That's a shocking story. Biscuits for breakfast sounds quite an American thing. Only thing I can think of would be bread or scones. Amazing at that time for a man to be baking. I wonder if anyone can trace the story in the newspaper archives for this Liverpool tragedy. It would be good for you to have names at least.

Probably meant scones or something similar, I'm sure; such things would be called "biscuits" by us heathen Americans ('cause we call biscuits "cookies" ). The story was told by one of Thomas's daughters to her grandson, who was compiling an extensive record of his family history and genealogy.

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pedroeibar1 Registered User

Researching those who died and recording their existence is a form of paying respect; by ‘naming’ them genealogists complete a cultural ritual that is evident worldwide.
High mortality rates for infants, young children and women after childbirth were the norm in an era before the development of disease control (vaccination) and the advent of new drugs. We have to view our ancestors through the eyes of their eras – which means accepting high mortality rates as a norm and not as ‘shocking’. Even in the first decades of the 1800’s when on these islands the State began to become involved in welfare (PLU’s, Dispensary Districts, etc), understanding of disease, hygiene, etc., was minimal.
Mortality rates were linked to occupation, social class and the urban/rural divide. In 1842 Edwin Chadwick published his 'Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain' showing that life expectancy in the country was much higher than in the cities.

But epidemics like TB (phthisis),cholera, typhoid) and crises e.g. peritonitis (burst appendix) hit everyone. Rich as well as poor died from causes that today could be cured by a pill. For example, Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston, in 1921 slipped when wearing new shoes and broke her ankle. Gangrene set in so her leg was amputated but medical difficulties persisted and she was dead with a fortnight. An antibiotic pill or cream, common two decades later, would have saved her life.

In England, smallpox vaccination was in use in the early 1700’s (long before Jenner who is credited with its ‘discovery’ in the late 1700’s). Supposedly it was first introduced to England by Lady Wortley Montagu in about 1720. She had encountered it in Turkey where her husband was ambassador. There were heavy pro and anti campaigns, one bishop stating that it was against the ‘will of God’ Caroline, Princess of Wales in 1722 had her children vaccinated but only after it was tried on six orphans and on six condemned criminals, who if they should survive be granted freedom. All patients survived and the condemned walked free.

Smallpox vaccination was made compulsory in the UK in 1853 and in Ireland in 1863 when it was linked to the registration of births. Parents and guardians were made responsible to ensure vaccination took place within six months of birth and were liable to be prosecuted if they could not prove compliance. See a record here

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Jellybaby1 Registered User

That's a great record pedro. Are there similar books for other counties? Its interesting to read that vaccination was compulsory because in the 1950's my mother wouldn't sign the consent form for us to be vaccinated.

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