The beauty about researching family history amid the abundance of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.) means that information that one person may know of can suddenly be shared amongst a sea of people from all around the world. In this instance, credit is due to Fi from Dance Skeletons (check out her blog!).
Though I regularly use the wonderful website Family Search (it’s free!) I had absolutely no idea that they also had records with online images. Of particular interest to me were the Tasmanian Civil Registration records.
My Great x 3 Grandmother, Frances Elizabeth Digby was born on 25 May 1847 in Launceston, Tasmania. She was Ephraim Digby and Frances Cusick’s fifth child. Apart from Frances (who left Tasmania in the 1860s and moved to Western Australia) I believe the Digby family remained in Tasmania.
Frances Elizabeth Digby photographed in Melbourne in the 1860s while en route to Western Australia.
As I’m sure you can imagine, since discovering this invaluable resource, I have been happily searching through the records and looking for the documents which correspond with my family members. I found Frances’s birth entry and was much surprised to find that her name was left blank. It now explains why the online register lists her name as “F” (which in fact would probably stand for Female and not Frances) but it doesn’t explain why it was left blank.
Likewise, her sister Esther and brother Matthew William also had blank spaces where their names should have been but in Esther’s case, there was a note made in the far right column.
Perhaps they simply hadn’t thought of names yet and their names were subsequently listed in baptism records but never updated in the births register.
Ephraim and Frances had ten children altogether, four of whom died when they were only young. This meant that that the death registers were of particular interest and revealed a few unusual causes of death.
Matthew William Digby died on 3 April 1852 at only nine months old from teething.
My 21st Century mind immediately reacted with “What?!”. But, there were also two other children who were listed on the same page of the register as having died from teething and a quick search yields some interesting information.
Teething infants sometimes suffered infections of the gums as the teeth erupted leading to pain and swelling. If the infection became systemic, it could lead to convulsions, diarrhoea and even death. Another explanation of teething as a cause of death is that infants were often weaned at the time of teething and may have encountered contaminated milk or food.
The other three children all died in 1853 and my assumption has always been that there may have been an epidemic that they succumbed to. As it turns out, all three causes of death were different.
Jemima Digby died on 21 March 1853 from convulsions. She was only three days old.
Samuel Ephraim Digby died on 1 November 1853 at age 10 years and 11 months from water on the brain.
Esther Digby was only four years and six months old when she passed away on 11 November 1853. So far, I’ve been unable to decipher what exactly her cause of death was. Sculetin? Something else? If anyone can shed some light on what the cause of death could be in the below image, I’d be very grateful.
Though all four of these causes of death seem quite odd in the modern world and, on the face of it, look to be separate illnesses, they may in fact each be a symptom of an unknown sickness. The problem is, during this time period, a lot of children passed away at very young ages and back then (with medical knowledge being extremely limited) they simply may not have known the true cause of the child’s death.
What about you? Have you ever come across an unusual cause of death?
- Records obtained courtesy of Family Search’s online catalogue; specifically, ‘Australia, Tasmania, Civil Registration, 1803-1933’ [https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2125029].
- Information on teething courtesy of: http://www.thornber.net/medicine/html/medgloss.html