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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS, edited by Frances Coe. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Newspaper Death and Funeral Notices
In the case of Mrs. Bardell, there is a list of pallbearers and also a list of flowers. While the names may be familiar, there are bound to be unknown ones. If there is a family member to ask, consult them about who these people are; they may be relatives whose existence is new to you. Another hint is that being asked to be a pallbearer is an indication of favour; therefore, cousins who are pallbearers are ‘close’ cousins (emotionally speaking). This is useful in understanding our family relationships.
The flower list can also be useful in the same way. Since faraway attendees or flower-givers in the list often have their place of residence given, we can learn what happened to relations who have disappeared. If there are several bouquets from people of the same name, ask why: are they a group of cousins? There are several Johnsons on Mrs. Bardells list, who probably represent her daughter Emma’s family. The most interesting name in the list is A. Gray of Vancouver. Mrs. Bardell’s maiden name is given as Grey, but with the newspaper habit of misspelt names noted above, Gray and Grey might be the same family. A. Gray of Vancouver might be a brother or nephew whose location the family researcher did not know, and this clue will put them on the right track, using a Vancouver city directory, voters’ list or similar record.
In the obituary section of Mrs. Bardell’s notice, the family background information is particularly valuable. It will be easy to find her family in England, because both a year and place are given, with details about her parents’ names and her father’s age at death. While all of this might well have been found elsewhere, the one detail which would probably have been lost in the mists of time if not recorded here is ‘leaving a wife, Ann, with five small children whom she raised without parochial assistance.’
It was a matter of some pride that Mrs. Grey did not have to go on welfare although she was left a widow with children at a time when widows had few job choices. The family historian will want to make a note of this for her biography in the family history.
| Mrs. George May passed away on Saturday|
The death occurred in the Nanaimo General Hospital Saturday night at 4.25, of Mrs. George F. May, a native of England, aged 46 years, a resident of Nanaimo and district for the past forty years.
Besides her husband she is survived by two daughters, Mrs. H. C. Sterling, Vancouver, and Miss Edith, at home; one son, Alan, also at home, her father Mr. Alex B. Crump, Dashwood; her mother having died only last Tuesday, one brother Samuel, three sisters, Mrs. P. L. Good, Mrs. L. Thourlborn, all of Dashwood, and Mrs. C. Tippett, Nanoose Bay.
Funeral this afternoon The funeral of the deceased too place from the D.J. Jenkins Parlors this afternoon at 2 o’clock, interment in the Nanaimo Cemetery.
Rev. Mr. Anderson conducted services at the parlors and graveside, the pallbearers being Messrs. Walter Beresford, Harry Botley, Phil Fort, John Kerr, David Ross and Arthur Dixon.
In addition to a beautiful pillow from the family, floral tributes are gratefully acknowledged from the following:
Mr. and Mrs. Kerr and family, J. L. Williams & Co., Ltd., Mr. C. Wilson, Mr. J. DeLong, Mr. and Mrs. Kinkade and Gerald, Mr. and Mrs. David Ross, Mr. May, Dr. and Mrs. Ingham, Mrs. McDonald and family, Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Crump, Mr. and Mrs. P. L. Good, John May and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Tippett, Mr. and Mrs. L. Thurburn, Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Ingham, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. tippett, Mr. and Mrs. S. Crump, Mr. and Mrs. G. Fraser.
(Nanaimo Free Press, 22 December 1930)
For a two o’clock funeral to appear in the same day’s paper, the account was certainly written ahead of time. There are several interesting points in this obituary:
- Mrs. May’s own name never appears in it
- She had a stepmother (her father is named as surviving her, but not her mother, but among the floral tributes is one from ‘Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Crump’); since her mother died only the previous Tuesday, is it possible the parents were divorced?
- Her one sister is named as Mrs. Thourlborn in the survivors, but as Mrs. Thurburn, a more likely possibility, among the flowers
- ‘A beautiful pillow’ is a reference to a form of funeral flower now rarely seen; in those days there were a number of standard elaborate floral arrangements, often given by family members, but now usually considered too costly to produce
- Mrs. May was buried from a funeral home, at a time when most funerals were still conducted at home
Cards of Thanks
Cards of thanks are notices from the family to those who called or sent flowers when a relative died. They are occasionally still seen but have been largely replaced by personally-addressed cards supplied by the funeral home. In fact, direct notes of thanks were always considered more appropriate than the blanket notice in the newspaper.
In Memoriam Notices
In memoriam notices are remembrances, usually published on the anniversary of the death of a loved one.
| In loving memory of our dear wife and mother, Elizabeth Hannah High, who passed away Sept. 25, 1932.|
We mourn the loss of one we did our best to save
| —Never forgotten by her Husband and family. (Medicine Hat News,25 September 1935)
In loving memory of our dear son and brother Alfred Ranger who passed away Dec. 23, 1928.
| Many a day his name is spoken
And many an hour he is in our thoughts
He has gone from our home but not from our hearts.
|—Inserted by his Father, Mother and Family (Nanaimo Free Press,22 December 1930)|
While these memorial notices are unpredictable in publication and hence impossible to search for, finding them by accident is an added bonus to our research. While these two examples are from a time recently after the death involved, some can be seen which mention a death many years earlier. These are the ones which will probably be the most useful in genealogical research.
Accounts of inquests can be very useful for providing details about how a relation met their death; about illnesses they may have suffered and about how others reacted to the death. While most inquests which will be reported in the newspaper probably involve a violent or otherwise sudden death, they can be helpful. Coroners’ records have a low survival rate, and those that exist may be sealed by the relevant government jurisdiction for long periods. The newspaper item may be the only source of information. Also keep in mind, in criminal cases involving death, that the account of the inquest in the newspaper can add to the court files which researchers will find in the provincial archives.
Finding the account of the inquest may be difficult. If you know from other sources that the death was sudden, it will be worth asking if there was an inquest. The death certificate may provide an indication of this. If so, a newspaper search can be made, but as there may not be a time limit (the inquest may take place even weeks later), both patience and perseverance may be needed.
Here is an example of a newspaper coroner’s inquest report:
| Coroner’s Inquest: On the 21st instant, an inquest was held in Niagara, before William D. Miller, Esq., Coroner, on the body of Thos. Langan, lately a labourer on the Welland Canal. It appears that on Friday last, Perry Loftus, John Gray, Anthony Langan, Robert Hagarty, Patrick Cooney, Patrick McAndrew and the deceased were liberated from gaol. Between two and three o’clock in the afternoon of that day, Anthony Langan, Patrick McAndrew and the deceased were seen in company on the Swamp Road, opposite the residence of Thomas Butler, Esquire—all intoxicated, but deceased more so than either of the others; they appeared when first seen to be assisting him forward, but he frequently fell, and Anthony Langan was observed to strike and kick him. Finally they left him to his fate, and he was found on the road in a state of utter helplessness and conveyed to the Inn of Mr. Noble Keith, where he was visited by Dr. Rolls; but medical aid was in vain, and after lingering until seven o’clock on Saturday evening, he died. Dr. Rolls examined the body after death, and deposed that he had found the left ear cut completely through, parts of the scalp and brain congested, and the bone of the skull fractured on the right side; and was of opinion that the blow on the ear, which must have been given by some very hard substance, was the cause of death. The Jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Anthony Langan, and the Coroner forwith [sic] issued a warrant for his apprehension. (Bytown Gazette, 8 February 1844) |
The kind of detail beloved of the Victorians—full medical details and dramatic descriptions of helplessness and lingering—is evident. It is odd that this report was published so far from where the inquest happened. It occurred in Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) but was printed in Ottawa; perhaps some of the participants had connections there, or it could be simply be that the Gazette’s editor found the gory details inviting. From this period, there are sure to be no surviving official records of the inquest, although there may be court records if Andrew Langan was caught and tried. There may also be longer accounts of the inquest in newspapers in Niagara, Welland or St. Catharines.
Genealogical societies realise the difficulties of accessing coroners’ records, and have already begun acting to make them easier to find. In British Columbia, those coroners’ records which are publicly available are being indexed and entered into a database in quite a professional manner, with even the causes of death being verified by someone who is medically qualified. More information about this project can be found in the Journal of theVictoria Genealogical Society, v. 24, no. 3.
With the advent of the internet, there has been a movement to begin recording obituaries online. One resource is Canadian Obituary Links. Many newspapers make their obituaries available in their online versions, but the online sources tend to disappear shortly afterward. If the newspaper is very large, it may be worth enquiring if they have compiled an online obituary index, and how to access it. ____________________________________________________________
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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