Canada Newspaper Local News
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. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
- 1 Births, Marriages, and Obituaries
- 2 Births
- 3 Marriages
- 4 Engagement Announcements
- 5 Pre-Nuptial Parties
- 6 Weddings
- 7 Death Notices
- 8 Death Cards
- 9 History of Death Announcements
- 10 Obituaries
- 11 Newspaper Death and Funeral Notices
Births, Marriages, and Obituaries
The part of the newspaper we think of first in genealogical terms is the birth-marriage-death column (BMD). For this reason, there is an assumption that this column exists in all newspapers and will be there for us to consult if we wish it.
Many also assume that everyone made a point of entering their loved ones’ birth and death notices in the newspaper. None of this is true.
Styles in the announcing of births, deaths and marriages change through time, it being fashionable to have lengthy and flowery, if uninformative, obituaries at one time (the turn of the 20th century), no obituaries at all (large cities in the 1930s) and, now, obituaries which list all family members and often the dead person’s occupation and interests.
Some of the extra wedding announcements, with full descriptions of showers and the wedding day itself, have gone now because newspapers no longer have the room to include them. If we find them for family members in their heyday in the mid-20th century, they make fine additions to the family history.
Pioneer newspapers might have no BMD column at all, these events being sufficiently publicised by word-of-mouth in a small community. The publisher of the first newspapers in New Hamburg, Ontario, wanted to fill his columns and thought that marriage announcements might be suitable, but no one was bringing them to him.
His solution was to visit the local clergy and ask if they had married anyone lately. The resulting columns would make a modern reader think that only a single clergyman at a time was performing weddings in the community.
While later BMD columns had paid insertions, these early ones were regarded as news items of sufficient interest to be included at no cost.
Some editors might not regard BMDs as worthy of space, and many newspapers would not include them. An alternative was for these bits of news to be incorporated into the social column or as news items.
Finding them requires careful reading of the social columns.
Nineteenth century birth announcements are not very informative, but they do provide the basic information in the form:
|At the Branch, on Monday the 14th inst., Mrs. Wm. Beach, of a son. (Brockville Gazette, 25 September 1829)|
|Eaton—In Toronto on the 7th inst., the wife of Mr. T. Eaton, of a son. (St. Mary’s Argus, 18 August 1881)|
This at least provides the birthdate and place, and the father’s name. The form is somewhat incomprehensible, but the part omitted for reasons of space is ‘was delivered’ as in ‘was delivered of a son’. These very brief announcements provided the news and nothing more was considered necessary. The era’s view that the woman’s contribution was peripheral is obvious in the format. This family is indeed that of Timothy Eaton of department store fame.
Stillbirths were treated as births and not as deaths as they are now. The birth announcement would usually read as for a live birth, with the addition in parentheses (Stillborn). In the present day, stillbirths are presented in the deaths column with the usual account of surviving family members and funeral services, which are often private and conducted at the graveside. Many stillbirths were not recorded in the newspaper.
In the past, genealogists omitted reference to a stillbirth from the official record. Now, it is more likely they will want to include mention of the event in a narrative family history, although genealogies or generational charts may still omit them. For many decades after the turn of the 20th century, birth announcements were less common in newspapers. It is not clear why, although newspapers had begun charging for publication, which may be why, or it may be that people regarded the event as more private and the sending of printed or hand-lettered birth announcements through the mail had become the usual form. After World War II, there was a return to public announcement of births, which continues now.
|Bennett: To Mr. & Mrs. Robert C. Bennett (née Maureen Constance Drummond), 6074 Argyle St., at Grace Hospital on April 19th, 1947, a son, Robert Lindsay. (Vancouver Province, 25 April 1947)|
The full name of both parents now appears, including the mother’s maiden name, address, birthplace (hospital), date and baby’s name. The baby’s name may not be published if the parents have not made a final decision as yet.
It has taken a full week for the announcement to be published, in which time, presumably, all the close friends have already been informed, so the newspaper item may be regarded as a formality, or to include those outside the immediate family circle.
The address is included so that people might not confuse the family with any other Robert Bennetts, and to make it easier to send congratulatory messages. This form of birth announcement is much more useful genealogically than the brief nineteenth century version.
The current-day birth announcement will probably not include an address (fearing an avalanche of commercial importuning) but the other additions of 1947 will still be there. Other possibilities are the names of older siblings (‘a brother for Joel’) and happy grandparents or great-grandparents (‘a seventh grandchild for James and Hannah McKee’). Birth weights, of undoubted genealogical interest, may be given also.
The most recent change in birth announcements deals with parents who have different last names, either because they are not legally married or because the mother has retained her birth name.
|Abicht-Warder: Walter and Hilary are pleased to announce the birth of Alexander Harry Lewis Abicht on August 11, 2002, at Kingston General Hospital. Alexander is the grandson of Marshall and Betty Warder of Kingston and Harry and Helga Abicht of Waterloo. (Globe and Mail, 24 August 2002)|
It is helpful that the baby’s last name is clearly stated (which it often is not), since in modern families there may be some uncertainty on the subject. The residences of the grandparents will make some future genealogist happy, since it makes tracing them easier.
It might be useful to consider the newspaper birth announcement as genealogical evidence. Many jurisdictions, particularly in Canada, restrict access to birth certificates. Will a newspaper birth announcement do in place of a certificate? Since it is contemporaneous with the event, and probably placed in the newspaper by the parents, it should have a high evidential value. In addition, a scanned copy of the newspaper birth announcement is a good illustration for the family history.
Of the three forms of announcement in the BMD column, the marriage is the most common. Many people might omit births, for reasons of privacy or lack of general interest, and deaths were often announced using the printed death card. Marriages, however, could be announced two or three weeks after the event without spoiling the effect, and everyone in the community would want to join in the rejoicing for the happy couple. Weddings were actually news in a way that the other events were not.
Early wedding announcements varied more than births did, but they had a basic form:
|Miles-Hunking: In London, on the 9th inst., by the Rev. A. Brown, Mr. J. W. Miles, painter, to Lizzie, eldest daughter of Mr. Wm. Hunking. (St. Mary’s Argus, 18 August 1881|
The two family names are given with the groom’s name always first. The place is given, the date, the clergyman’s name and the names of the participants. This example includes the groom’s occupation, which is unusual. The bride’s first name is given, here using only a diminutive, with her father’s name following. As with the birth, the mother’s role in parenting is ignored.
The form of the bride’s name (‘Lizzie, daughter of Wm. Hunking’) reflects the thinking of that time that a woman was ‘somebody’s daughter until she was somebody’s wife’ no matter what her age.
Genealogically, this is a good announcement because the researcher has the full date and place. The fact that the clergyman’s name is given will lead to further research to confirm the date using the church records. The church can be located by looking the clergyman up in a city directory of the time. The directory will connect the clergyman to his church, and researchers can then determine if the church still exists, if it has been replaced by another institution or if it is defunct, and where its records are now located. In addition, Lizzie’s position in the family birth order is given, a help if not known from another source. The use of ‘eldest’ tells us Mr. Hunking had at least three daughters.
|On Wednesday the 21st inst., by the Rev. Wm. Smart, Mr. Hiram Mott to the amiable Miss Selina King, both of Elizabethtown. (Brockville Gazette, 30 October 1829)|
This charming announcement contains a one-word editorial on the subject of the new Mrs. Mott’s personality.
Although marriage announcements in this form continue to be used today, especially in large urban newspapers, the general interest in hearing more about weddings led quickly to longer announcements. These were removed from the BMD column and placed either in a column of their own (sometimes confined to the Saturday or Sunday newspaper) or mixed in with other social news. These longer announcements grew and grew as time went on, until they became detailed accounts of the wedding which included descriptions of the clothes and flowers. Usually, only very small-town newspapers continue to publish these lengthy pieces now, although even such a large publication as The New York Times has wedding announcements which include information about the participants’ social background, occupations and even tales of how they met. In August 2002, the Times announced that its weddings page was changing it policy and would be renamed to ‘Weddings/Celebrations’ and would for the future include gay and lesbian weddings, and joining celebrations of a non-legal nature, which shows how things continue to evolve, as they have from the beginning of the BMD column.
In the Oshawa Daily Reformer under the heading “Women’s Daily Interests” the following wedding appeared:
|Lyon-Fice A quiet wedding took place yesterday afternoon at the King street United Church parsonage when Minnie May Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Fice, East Whitby, became the bride of Norman Victor Lyon, also of East Whitby. The young couple were attended by Miss Gertrude A. Fise, sister of the bride, and Mr. John G. Lindsay, both of East Whitby. Rev. C. W. DeMille officiated. (7 January 1927)|
This announcement includes two unusual spellings which modern readers will wonder about; the first is the small ‘s’ on ‘street’. It was a newspaper convention that street-names were spelled this way, and the compositor has done so even though in this case it is a proper name. The second is that the maid of honour’s name has been misspelled, as proper names often were in newspapers of that time. Although the Fice name is given three times in the short paragraph, it appears correctly twice and wrong once.
|This uncertainty about spelling of names in old newspapers is something which genealogists should both be aware of and beware of.|
Many weddings took place at the parsonage, not in church, at this time, as a way of saving money. The use of ‘quiet wedding’ was another convention in newspaper descriptions and meant that very few people were attending, as was natural in a parsonage wedding. The bride’s full Christian names are given, and she is still someone’s daughter. Both her parents are mentioned. The groom’s parents are not mentioned, although by this time it was possible they would be included. Later in the century, wedding accounts would certainly have told us their names too.
Names of attendants (or witnesses) are given, and the maid of honour’s relationship to the bride. When this information was first included, only a blood relationship with one of the participants would be mentioned (as here, where Mr. Lindsay’s friendship with the groom is not specified). Now, if there is no blood relation, the phrase ‘friend of the groom’ or ‘friend of the bride’ would be added.
This account is very valuable genealogically. We have the participants’ full names, residences, her father’s name (and the fact that both of her parents are still alive), and the date of the wedding. Regarding her parents, if one were dead, they would be referred to as ‘the late’, as in ‘Mr. Edward Fice and the late Mrs. Fice’.
The fact that the account appears quickly (the day after the event) means that the details may have been given to the newspaper ahead of time, and that it was possible to print things in record time. Social pages in modern newspapers are usually typeset a day or two ahead of time.
Although the civil registration record of this wedding is not yet available to genealogists in 2002, it may be possible to verify the date with the church records. (With care, however, as the King Street United Church no longer exists, but still operates under another name and location.) This would be wise, as there are probably some details in the original record not included in the newspaper.
By the same token, the relationship between Minnie and Gertrude Fice would not be specified in the church record, or their father’s name given. It is therefore to the genealogist’s advantage to look at both records to obtain the maximum information.
Weddings generated many other newspaper items, beginning with the engagement announcement.
Mrs. George Boyes, Collingwood, announces the engagement of her youngest daughter, Florence, to Mr. Arthur Somerville Boddy, son of the late Mr. Wm. Boddy and Mrs. Boddy of Toronto. The marriage will take place quietly at Collingwood the middle of April. (Nottawa News in the Collingwood Bulletin, 31 March 1927)
This short item is crammed with genealogical information. We learn:
- Mrs. Boyes is a widow (otherwise, her husband would be included)
- Her residence (Collingwood)
- Florence’s place in the family birth order and that she has at least two sisters
- Arthur’s full name
- The fact that William Boddy is dead already
- The probable date of the wedding
One thing is ambiguous: whether it is Arthur Boddy or his mother who lives in Toronto.
The researcher can then proceed to search April 1927 issues of the same newspaper for the wedding announcement, or failing that, church records in Collingwood.
The form of name used for married women in this announcement is one which was adopted in the 19th century and continued until the present day. After marriage, a woman was always ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ and her own name might never appear in print again. The present writer has seen an obituary in the 1990s in which the dead woman’s own name was not mentioned at all, except in the form similar to ‘Mrs. George Boyes.’ This is dying out, however, and only the most old-fashioned or elderly women now adher to this form. Most women who conformed to the ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ form in the 1950s are now happy to use their own names, either as ‘Leona Boyes’ or even ‘Leona Baxter Boyes’ which is a common modern usage in genealogical circles.
Some modern readers might think that the omission of the husband meant Mrs. Boyes was divorced. The form of her name tells us differently, as there were strict rules concerning formal names in announcements such as this. Until the 1970s, wording of engagement and marriage notices, as with the wording of wedding invitations, was regulated by conventions set forth in etiquette books and followed by newspapers as well as other printers. Now, people write their own announcements and invitations, and suppose it has always been done this way. The formal nature of the old announcements enables researchers to interpret the information being given exactly.
Engagement announcements have the following uses genealogically:
- They may yield a great deal of data, as in the example above
- They will provide a hint where and when to look for the wedding information
- They may provide a useful illustration for the family history
They traditionally include some indication when the wedding will take place, a clue useful for researchers. Since the wedding may take place far from the original homes of the participants, a statement about its location is helpful. Had the above said, “The wedding will take place quietly in Regina in mid-April,” the research strategy would change.
Many engagement announcements, especially in later times, will include a photograph. In the 1950s and 1960s it was often newspaper policy to include a photograph of the bride only in both engagement and wedding announcements, confirmation of the old joke that the groom was only a minor appendage at his bride’s big day. This is no longer true, and any modern account which omitted the groom would be regarded as eccentric.
Formal double portraits of the engaged couple, part of the engagement announcement, can be taken from the newspaper and added to the family history. Now, these portraits tend to be more informal, and are often charming and friendly pictures which would be welcome illustrations in a published narrative.
The danger in using engagement announcements is that they may not have led to a wedding at all. Many engagements are broken. Even including information about a broken engagement in biographies may be dangerous, unless all the characters involved are historical.
Following the formal announcement of the impending wedding, various pre-nuptial parties might be reported in the newspapers and will add to our genealogical treasure trove.
The Vancouver Daily Province of 25 April 1947 included a column headed “For the Brides-Elect” which illustrates both the rather coy manner associated with weddings at the time, and the types of parties our forebears might have enjoyed associated with their weddings:
| April is a month of showers, both those of the dewy nature which are part of the weatherman’s fare for this month of the year, and the bridal variety honoring those who will walk altarwards about the time May flowers are in full bloom. |
Among the brides-elect who are enjoying pre-nuptial parties is Miss Pamela Duncan who is being much feted prior to her marriage May 16 to Mr. John L. Menzies.
Mrs. H. D. Burbidge will entertain at a tea next Friday in her honor while the following day Mrs. W. P. Barker will entertain after-five for the affianced pair. That evening the ushers at the wedding, Mr. Jack Simm, Mr. Arthur Ryan, Mr. Allen Ker and Mr.Basil Pinney will be hosts at the home of Col. and Mrs. E. J. Ryan.
The evening of May 5, Miss Jacqueline Skinner will entertain and the next day Miss Joan Thompson will give a dessert party.
The next day, Miss Anne Laird, who is to be a bridesmaid will entertain at a shower and May 8 another bridesmaid, Miss Joan Stratton, will be hostess at a bridge party. The maid of honor, Miss Jean Palfrey, has issued invitation for a dessert party May 9 and the next afternoon Bill Pearson who will serve as bestman will be host at an after-five party. That same day, Miss Lorna McKenzie and Miss Elaine Spinall will be co-hostesses at a luncheon for Miss Duncan. A tea hour party has been arranged by Miss Betsy Fripp for May 11.
Prior to the wedding of Miss Phyllis Rae Nicolson and Mr. Gerald H. D. Hobbs next Thursday at the Chapel of St. James with Canon W. Cooper officiating, assisted by Rev. Lawrence Amor, a number of pre-nuptial parties have been held.
This evening, Mr. P. A. D. Hobbs who will be bestman for his brother and Mrs. Hobbs will entertain at dinner. Sunday, Miss Jean Matheson will fete the bride she is to attend at a tea hour party. Next Tuesday, the groom-elect’s mother, Mrs. C. D. Hobbs, will entertain at luncheon.
Modern readers will immediately notice some vocabulary which is either unfamiliar or no longer used the same way. This is a situation which arises in all reading of old newspapers, which are always written in a vernacular peculiar to their own time and, sometimes, to newspapers themselves.
The term ‘bride-elect’ is one we rarely see now and simply means ‘prospective bride’. In our day we might use ‘fiancée’ although this word has taken on more the meaning of ‘live-in girlfriend’ in 2002. The Province also uses ‘groom-elect’ in the excerpt above, although this is not a common usage.
This use of ‘elect’ was prevalent in the nineteenth century, when it was also used for anyone who was about to assume an office, whether actually elected to it by a vote or not—such as mayor-elect, chairman-elect or, in a famous joke from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, daughter-in-law-elect. The Crown Prince, Nanki-Poo has run away rather than marry Katisha, who always refers to herself as the Mikado’s ‘daughter-in-law-elect.’ When Nanki-Poo elopes with another woman, the new bride refers to herself as the ‘daughter-in-law-elected.’
The Province’s social editor has an eccentric usage in ‘bestman’ which is always seen as two words elsewhere.
Including the full text of a newspaper item such as these in a family history would be interesting because it gives a picture of the social life of an affianced couple in the late 1940s (in a certain stratum of society), some of it surprising. For example, men play a more prominent role: the ushers are jointly giving a party (not, it should be said, a stag party) for the Menzies-Nicolson couple, and the best man and his wife for the Hobbs-Matheson couple. Many of the parties include both men and women, unlike modern pre-wedding parties. The word pre-nuptial is used here in more than a legal context.
Not all the pre-nuptial affairs are showers, but include lunches, teas, ‘after-fives’ (cocktail parties) as well as evening parties, which do not presume gift-giving, but only celebration.
Actual accounts of the wedding may include descriptions of the flowers and clothing, the bride’s dress getting detailed attention.
- The bride was daintily attired in a gown of lilac georgette, with white accessories and madonna hat. She was attended by Mrs George harris, who wore an attractive swagger suit. (Medicine Hat News, 11 October 1935)}}
The unusual vocabulary (‘daintily attired’) is again in use. Some of the words—georgette, swagger suit—might require use of a thirties fashion dictionary. Extensive reading of weddings from the past reveals that many brides did not wear the huge white dresses which are universal today, but chose something more affordable, or which might be used again. The fabrics vary from time to time also, with satin popular in the 1930s, peau-de-soie everywhere in the 1960s and new man-made textiles appearing now.
An ad for Eaton’s from the same issue of the Medicine Hat News offers “Attractive celanese crepe affairs with long bias cut skirts neatly belted with charming novelty belts. A bewildering variety of delightful styles—puffed and cape sleeves—velvet touches—contrasting colours. Sizes 4 to 20. Each $1.95.” Aside from the cost, this ad offers a number of unknown things to think about (celanese crepe, cape sleeves, bias cut skirts) and an interesting range of sizes. It can also provide a discussion point for a family history interview; one observer said that her mother (who died in 1940) was very fond of cape sleeves, and pictures of this woman from the 1930s show her almost always wearing them.
Here is a more extensive wedding report from the same period:
| Rosemary Connolly and John Gourley are Married Here: |
Lovely Wedding Solemnized in St. Patrick’s Church Followed by Breakfast at Cosmopolitan A lovely wedding of much interest took place at 9:30 o’clock this morning in St. Patrick’s church, when Rosemary, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Connolly of Medicine Hat, was united in marriage to John Joseph Gourley, second son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Gourley of Calgary. The Rev. Father M. J. Fitzpatrick officiated. While Mrs. J. F. Kane, organist of the church, played the familiar wedding march from ‘Lohengrin’ the bridal party entered the church, the bride being given in marriage by her father. She was attired in a lovely lace-trimmed white satin gown, with veil and orange blossoms and long white silk gloves, her bouquet being of premier roses and lily-of-the-valley. The bridesmaid, Miss Alice Kuntz, wore maize-colored silk organdie with matching accessories and carried a bouquet of blue-shaded delphiniums. Two enjoyable vocal solos were presented by Mrs. C. P. Klein, of Calgary, and Mrs. Harold Scott, of Medicine Hat. Mr. Percy Giroux, of Calgary, acted as best man for Mr. Gourley. The ushers were Charles Connolly and Edward Kane. The altar was beautifully decorated with autumn flowers, while the front pews were marked by snapdragons and white satin streamers. Immediately following the ceremony, a wedding breakfast was served in the Cosmopolitan hotel. The guests were received by the bride’s mother, who wore a becoming gown of black crepe trimmed with lace, with hat to match. The centre table was decorated with sweet peas and centred by a three-tiered wedding cake. The toast to the bride was proposed by Father Fitzpatrick, and answered by the bridegroom. Those who attended the wedding breakfast were: Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Gourley, Mr. and Mrs. A. Connolly, Charles Connolly, Norman Connolly, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Bechtel, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Winter, Mr. and Mrs. D. Nicholson, Mrs. Fred Mills, Miss Rose Galonski, Rev. J. M. Fitzpatrick, Miss Alice Kuntz, and Mrs. A. Gourley, Sr., Mrs. A. Gourley, Jr., Mrs and Mrs. G. Percey, Miss Peggy Gourley, Mrs. and Mrs. C. P. Klein, all of Calgary. Mr. and Mrs. Gourley are leaving on today’s 5:30 train for Lethbridge, where they will spend their honeymoon. They will make their home in Calgary. (Medicine Hat News, 25 September 1935)
This account would certainly have been written ahead of time, to make the same day’s newspaper. In addition to elements of wedding reporting we have seen in the shorter versions above, here the reader is almost a participant, hearing the wedding march as the bride enters the church, with full descriptions of the principal frocks and flowers. The list of guests is useful, since it includes a number of relations. In that more formal age, most are referred to as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ but what about the two who are not, Charles and Norman Connolly? The missing ‘Mr.’ makes it clear these are boys, not yet old enough for the title. Young women, such as Peggy Gourley, are more likely to have the ‘Miss’ added to their name despite their youth.
Mrs. Connolly’s black dress is most unusual, perhaps indicating that she is in mourning, although the wearing of mourning was no longer the rule in 1935. It was generally considered a faux pas to wear black at a wedding, even for a guest.
Flowers have fashions too. The orange blossoms on Rosemary’s veil are a relic of an earlier age, when brides always carried or wore them. Roses had become the flower of choice for bridal bouquets and remained so—in fact, are probably still the most commonly used flower. Auxiliary flowers in the bouquet change through time, to baby’s breath in the 1950s, stephanotis in the 1960s. Brides now have a greater choice, including wild flowers. The use of ‘garden flowers’ such as delphiniums and snapdragons in this wedding is a homely touch. In fact, the flowers at this wedding point to past customs in the use of orange blossoms and flowers from the garden, perhaps even picked by the bride and bridesmaids on the morning of the wedding, and to future usage in the florist-made formal bouquet carried by the bride. The interest in these customs make including the details in your family account more desirable.
Many wedding accounts include information about where the couple are going to live, which will be helpful to genealogists who are on the trail of lost relations.
Details missing from this piece but which we might find added to similar accounts are the titles of songs sung by the two soloists, and what was eaten at the breakfast. Meals following traditional morning weddings are always referred to as ‘breakfast’ because of the Roman Catholic tradition of including a full mass with the wedding rite. Anyone intending to participate in the eucharist would be expected to fast from midnight on, so the post-wedding meal would really be a time to break the fast. Many people in the period when railroads were most in use took a train journey to be married. This may have been done without letting their relations know ahead of time, but it may also have been planned by the whole family. Taking a short journey, getting married in a ‘quiet’ ceremony and then returning home was a way of avoiding the costs of a large wedding celebration and the elaborate planning required. People might simply go to a nearby town, to a railway hub, or to another city which would afford the pleasures of a honeymoon also.
Genealogists looking for marriage records for these people may have trouble finding them, because the town where the wedding was accomplished may have no other connections to the family or to the couple in question. One way out of this problem is to find a news item which tells about the wedding in the couple’s hometown newspaper. The town will be mentioned and the researcher can then look for the record there.
|Samuel Earl and his wife, née Miss Prince, were passengers on Wednesday’s train from Salt Lake City, where they were married on the 8th. (The Alberta Star, 18 April 1908)|
|Miss Mabel Foster and Wilfred (Curly) Commodore were married in Medicine Hat, Saturday, Sept. 7. The bride’s aunt, Mrs. J. Wethereldt of Wild Horse gave a big wedding dinner for the bridal pair, relatives and friends on Sunday, Sept. 8. (Medicine Hat News, 21 September 1935, in the Manyberries community news)|
The Commodore-Foster notice, which is from a rural community social column, shows that the family knew Mabel and Curly were going to be married, because Mabel’s aunt would have needed time to prepare the ‘big dinner’ the following day. An informal celebration following a ‘railway wedding’ would not be unusual and would have the same festive purpose as a formal reception, without the expense.
Readers of The Alberta Star would soon notice that a great many couples from Cardston, where the newspaper was published, went to Salt Lake City to be married. In fact, the social column reveals that a great many visitors from Cardston went to Salt Lake City all the time. It becomes clear that the community had a large Mormon population, and the editor of the paper was perhaps Mormon, too.
The newspaper may be a source to indicate the return from the honeymoon (in the social column), for couples who have been away for a time. In that section of society which went in for formal visiting, a new bride would be expected to be ‘at home’ to everyone she knew, especially those who had attended her wedding. This occasion might be the cause of a newspaper item after the fact, to describe its success.
Some women would not have appreciated their ‘at home’ or similar social functions being reported in the newspaper and in all likelihood the newspaper would not notice them unless they requested it. There was a school of thought which said that ‘a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times, when she was born, when she was married and when she died.’ This is not entirely accurate, since at the time, a baby’s name did not appear in the birth announcement, but the idea was that a lady did not court the publicity of newspaper social notes. This may have been applicable in the more rarified parts of Montreal or New York society, but for most people, having their doings noticed in the newspaper was a pleasure.
Researchers may be faced with a wedding announcement which says the couple was wedded ‘recently’ or (as with the Gosh wedding below) ‘the other day’ with no more enlightening date. In this case, you have a year of marriage only, without month or day. This must lead to further research to find an exact date, using civil registration or church records. In some cases, no more certain date will be found.
Newspapers of the past enjoyed publishing jokes, usually of a mild kind acceptable to everyone, such as this from the Alberta Star of 13 August 1909: “According to a Springfield, Ill. paper, Charles I. Gosh was married the other day to Anne B. Damm. The bride revised her name downwards.”
Reports of deaths in the newspaper might come in the brief form of a death notice or in a lengthier description of a life, the obituary. Both are welcome to the genealogist. Contemporary death notices, often restricted by space in newspapers, are a combination of the two, giving the bare details of the old-time death notice, but also including information about the person’s life and interests.
The one-line death notice which is a familiar part of most early newspapers looks like this:
- At Perth on Sat. the 4th inst., Maria, wife of William Bell Jr., aged 28 years. At Perth on the 11th inst., William Hawley, infant son of William Bell Jr. (Brockville Recorder, 16 March 1837)
These two deaths, which took place a week apart, were published in the same weekly newspaper as consecutive announcements. They tell a common story of the time, of a young wife’s death in childbed, followed by the death of the baby shortly after. We learn the date and place of death and a family connection from these announcements, and that is all. Occasionally a birthplace or occupation will be mentioned.
The Berliner Journal, a German-language newspaper, said that Andreas Keotsch was born ‘in Lindenkreuz near Gera, Sachsen’ which can’t be faulted as to exactitude and is a real find for a researcher who did not know where the family came from. More general birthplaces might be given in the form ‘a native of Fifeshire’ or ‘of Aberdeen’ which require further work, but they do at least narrow the field somewhat from the broad ‘of Scotland’.
People described as being ‘of Aberdeen’ or some other large city may indeed have come from that urban area, but it was common for people to describe themselves as coming from a city nearby their actual birthplace, if it was small or they were from a rural area.
An Englishman who was asked where he came from, and who said ‘Horsham St. Faiths’ would probably be asked, “Where’s that?” but if he said ‘Norwich’, he would be understood because it is a large and well-known city. Researchers should keep this habit in mind, especially if they have found someone ‘of Aberdeen’ but then had no luck finding that person in the Aberdeen records.
Another Berliner Journal death notice for Anna, Hermann and Wilhelm Jahn said they died “of an illness the same as cholera. Eight year old Louisa was not affected, and is the only comfort the widower has left.” Mr. Jahn’s wife had died the previous week. Although the deaths were in St. Louis, Missouri, they were reported in the Berlin [Kitchener] newspaper because Mrs. Jahn’s father lived there.
The researcher has an interesting sentence to add to the family history, and can consult a medical expert about what might be meant by ‘an illness the same as cholera’. Causes of death were of great interest to the Victorians (and to us, as well) and were often included in death notices.
- In Edwardsburgh, on Friday the 9th instant, Mrs. Bass, aged upwards of 80 years. (Brockville Gazette, 16 April 1830)
Here we face the old problem of vagueness, both about the dead woman’s name (which Mrs. Bass is it who died?) and her age.
- At Nicolet on Sunday afternoon, the 3rd inst., after a few days of very severe sickness, Thomas Anderson Squire, Wincasles, son of S. M. Cresse, aged 3 years, 6 months and 18 days. (Bytown Gazette, 16 April 1840)
To those unfamiliar with the family, the name of the dead boy is uncertain—is his family name Squire or Cresse? However, a researcher searching for the family will know and will be glad of the detail, including the fact he died after a short illness in the afternoon.
His exact age, in years, months and days, is in a form often given in death notices of this century. We may think that calculating his birthdate from this clear information would be easy, but the irregular number of days in months makes this difficult. There are formulae for making the calculation, which were often published in genealogical newsletters in pre-computer days. Now, it is easier to let your software make the calculation for you.
- At Bytown, on the 1st inst., Mrs. E. B. Wilson, relict of the late Capt. Andrew Wilson, R.N., aged 67. (Bytown Gazette, 7 December 1843)
This early 19th century death notice still gives Mrs. Wilson her own name, not her husband’s as would be common later, although in the form of initials. This is included to point out that the form ‘Mrs. Andrew Wilson’ was not universal or historical as some pre-feminists would wish, although we did see a use of that form from 1829 in the Beach birth announcement, above. The term ‘relict’ is one all genealogists should know, and means ‘widow’. It comes from the Latin and means literally ‘one left behind’.
Most Canadian researchers would not recognise the abbreviation ‘R.N.’ and would need recourse to a dictionary. In fact, this might be difficult to find in a North American source. It stands for ‘Royal Navy’ and indicates Captain Wilson was an officer in that service.
Later death notices become fuller, until they reach the form of a full-blown obituary. Even more than with the birth or marriage announcements, the researcher should keep an open mind concerning what might be learned from an obituary, and where that obituary might appear.
Here are some considerations to remember:
- Although death notices usually appear immediately, there might be delay in publication
- A death which occurs in Ontario might be reported in a Nova Scotia publication if the dead person lived there or had children living there
- Death notices may be written by close relatives or by strangers (such as now, when they are often the work of funeral home personnel); try to verify all information found in them
- The death notice may not appear in the nearest newspaper, but in another slightly farther away for reasons of transportation, politics or family interest
- Information included in death notices varies so much, it is wise for researchers always to consult them even if the date of death is known from another source.
The Collingwood Bulletin for 10 March 1927 includes the obituary of a woman ‘called suddenly to rest’ while visiting her daughter in Calgary although she was born and lived in Collingwood and was buried there. A researcher looking for a death certificate for this woman would not find it, because she died in a different province, but the newspaper notice would explain why it was missing.
The same title’s issue of 31 March 1927 announces the death of Elizabeth McDonald in Toronto. Although McDonald spent much of her life in Toronto, her death was announced in the Collingwood newspaper because she had been born there.
When searching for a death notice, researchers having a choice between big-city newspapers and smaller ones might choose the smaller because they can be easier to search and are more likely to have been indexed or abstracted. In many big cities, residents do not bother placing death notices in the newspaper because of the expense.
There may be neighbourhood papers to use instead, but the family may have relied on word-of-mouth and the use of death cards. The Oshawa Daily Reformer of 4 January 1927 includes several death notices, all from out of town. A local death which we might expect to find there does not appear. Why would this be? At this time, the more common way of announcing deaths was using the death card. These were pasteboard cards, usually folded, which announced the death on the left hand side, with the person’s place of death and age, and on the right gave details of the funeral arrangements. The stock phrase ‘friends will kindly accept this intimation’ indicated anyone who wished could attend; ‘funeral private’ meant a personal invitation was required.
These cards were sent through the mail to relatives (at the time, people could expect next-day delivery to nearby locations) or handed to neighbours. More importantly, they were displayed in store windows, or in glass-fronted boxes on the main street of towns. People went by these displays on a daily basis, and would learn who had died, and when the funeral would take place from them.
In a small or rural place, where the newspaper came out only weekly, a person might die and the funeral have taken place before the next issue of the paper. Using the death card was a more efficient way of informing friends than the paper was.
This time period also saw a growth in the number of telephones in houses, and communication of the melancholy news of a death could be made that way, eliminating the need for a newspaper announcement.
As time went on, towns grew larger and people no longer went through ‘the downtown’ on a regular basis. This made the death card display less effective. The larger urban areas had daily newspapers and thus a return to the regular announcement of deaths in the newspaper happened. Learning about deaths, and funeral information, from newspapers is now the standard, and obituary columns in newspapers from the late 1940s to the present will always be a rich resource for genealogists.
History of Death Announcements
We can see a pattern in the publication of death announcements in newspapers as society or settlement evolves:
- In the pioneer era, deaths are found occasionally but not regularly in the newspaper because the paper may serve too wide an area or may not regard local deaths as newsworthy
- As the area is settled, death announcements become more regular, although they are often brief and without detail
- With the growth of towns and the development of the telephone, death announcements are once again rarer. It may also be the newspaper has begun charging for the publication, which many people find objectionable.
- As towns become cities, there is a growth in the death columns, with more informative announcements
- In very large cities, some people may use neighbourhood or local newspapers rather than the large regional publication
| Death of Kimball Kime |
Kimball F. Kime, a well known and high respected farmer of Pickering township, and beloved husband of Helen J. Williams, residing about two miles west of Whitby, on the south side of the Kingston Road, passed away recently after a brief illness, and at the age of 66 years. The funeral took place on Monday from his late residence to Groveside Cemetery. The service at the home was conducted by Rev. V. M. Irwin, pastor of Almond’s Church, which deceased attended, and the funeral was attended by quite a number of friends and residents. Deceased is survived by his wife, two daughters, Miss Winifred at home, Mrs. Mark of Oshawa and one son on the farm. (Oshawa Daily Reformer,
This is an example of an obituary published slightly far away from home. Mr. Kime’s obit might be expected in the Pickering News, a flourishing weekly, but here it is in Oshawa, and published too late for readers to attend the funeral.
Internal evidence provides some possible explanations: he had a daughter in Oshawa, and he was buried in a cemetery close to Oshawa, indicating some other family ties in the area. This example does emphasise that we might find obits in unexpected newspapers.
Otherwise, this obituary has other characteristics of interest to genealogists. In the vague way newspapers of this time had, the date of death is not given (although the day of the funeral is), nor his second daughter’s full name or any name at all for the son.
It is interesting that, given the cavalier way with the other names, the wife’s full maiden name is included.
The reference to the church and the cemetery provide hints for sources which might provide the date of death, aside from the civil registration record, that is, the church registers and the cemetery burial records.
Recent Deaths: William M. Horsey
This splendid obituary is for a politician, hence rather longer than usual, but the detail it contains will be valuable for any family historian. It includes:
- birthdate and place
- date of emigration
- places of residence § occupation
- full name of wife and her original residence (possibly birthplace)
- public offices, with some dates
- wife’s death year
- names of two of his five children (the omission of the dead sons is typical of the time)
- details of the funeral and pallbearers
Birthplaces given in obituaries, especially of the very old, should always be treated skeptically until proven. It is interesting that Mr. Horsey continued to be Police Magistrate in Bowmanville until he was 94 years old.
Obituaries are a good possibility for information about emigration and about other residences, which might answer the question ‘Why can’t I find this person where I expect him to be?’ In Horsey’s case, he went back and forth between Bowmanville and Kingston at least three times. Knowing he had left Frontenac county for Durham in 1858 might lead us to expect to find him there in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, if we did not know he had returned to Frontenac for a time.
This obituary and that of Mr. Kime were published in the same day’s newspaper, but on different pages. Horsey’s appeared on the local news page (‘Oshawa and District’) while Kime’s was on the ‘Women’s Daily Interests’ page, along with another obit, for Mrs. John Timlin of Centreton, some distance to the east. Obituaries often appear in unusual locations in the newspaper as they were used to help fill space. Mrs. Timlin’s notice had been sent to Oshawa by the Cobourg reporter for the paper and is short and uninformative. It is probably a truncated version of the original submission, added simply to fit a blank spot. Researchers might find a more detailed notice in a Cobourg newspaper.
| It is essential for researchers to look at all pages of the newspaper.
Never assume that the BMDs you are searching for will be found in a BMD column, or that the column will appear on the same page in every issue. While this may be the case most of the time, there are bound to be exceptions, and you don’t want to miss a vital record.
One of the earliest obituaries to appear in the pioneer Edmonton Bulletincomes on 26 November 1881, almost a year after the newspaper began. It was published on page one:
|Peacock: on the 14th of October, of congestion of the brain, in Burrows’ survey camp, near Touchwood Hills, in the 24th year of his age, Alexander Peacock of Ottawa, brother of Mr. John Peacock of this place. The body was interred at Qu’Appelle.|
This short notice poses several questions and answers some others. Touchwood Hills is in Saskatchewan, far from Edmonton, and Alexander Peacock has no clear connections with Edmonton, except for his brother living there. This notice was published for the benefit of John Peacock’s friends, as news. Alexander’s cause of death is mysterious, and would need referral to a book of Victorian medical terms to determine what was meant. There are several of these published specifically for genealogical work. A Canadian publication is Before modern medicine: diseases and yesterday’s remedies, by Elizabeth Briggs and Colin J. Briggs (Westgarth, 1998).
The researcher will be glad to know that Alexander was working at Burrows’ survey camp, that he came from Ottawa (as did John, presumably) and that he is buried at Qu’Appelle. It might be possible to find the grave, if needed. Information about the survey camp might be in government records. Earlier records about the Peacocks could be found in Ottawa.
This is a fine example of a death notice found in an unexpected place, but it is unlikely that a Peacock researcher would have looked for, or found it, without an index reference. It was published far from the event, in a newspaper which did not normally publish obituaries, and long after the event it describes. This illustrates the value of newspaper indexes as pointers to the unexpected.
|The young couple were new-comers here but by their faithfulness and diligence had won for themselves the confidence and esteem of the people of Cardston and in the passing away of his companion the young man will have the sympathy and condolence of the entire community. (Alberta Star, 18 April 1908)|
This fulsome notice for ‘the wife of Mr. Wm. Klippert’ (her own name is not given) is typical of the flowery nature of some Victorian writing, especially in obituaries. It says very little. Although it might be included in a family history, too much of this sort of thing wears out its welcome quickly to the modern ear. It can serve as a reminder that no one is under oath in a eulogy.
Contrasting to this, and a most unusual death notice, is that of ‘Dr. Geo. Verzy’ [actually Verey] in the Edmonton Bulletin of 21 November 1881. It gives details of the doctor’s medical background as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England and service as a military physician in the China War. He had served in the American army at Benton, Montana, as medical officer and signal observer.
It then goes on to say he was ‘of a somewhat wandering and melancholy disposition’ with ‘a craving for ardent spirits’. He died of an overdose of chloral while delirious.
Very vivid detail is included: “The funeral was to have taken place on Monday at one o’clock, but owing to decomposition having set in it was not thought advisable to delay it until that hour. It took place at eleven o’clock.” It ends with the note that ‘He had made a will but it had not been found up to the present.’
The sensational nature of this notice is in direct opposition to that of Mrs. Klippert, and provides a genealogist with much more useful information. Aside from his military service and professional qualification, which could be checked in reliable sources in Britain and the United States, the information about his personality is probably something which has not been handed down in family tradition. Certainly the physical detail about his funeral would have been forgotten and it once again takes the researcher directly back as a first-hand observer of the ancestral event. Wills, a matter of some delicacy because of their connection with money, were not usually referred to in death notices.
The fact that the doctor’s name is misspelled so badly in the heading (but corrected later in the notice) probably means it would turn up only under ‘Verzy’ in any index made of the Bulletin. This could serve as a reminder to researchers to search widely in any indexes you find, keeping in mind old newspapers’ predilection for misspelt names.
Other death-related notices in newspapers are accounts of funerals, cards of thanks, in memoriam notices and inquests.
Accounts of funerals
Accounts of funerals, as distinct from obituaries which include funeral information, appeared in the past, not only for grand personages but even for quite ordinary people. In places where weekly newspapers were the rule, or if the notice of death appeared some time after the event, the obituary would often include the funeral information.
| E. Elizabeth Bardell buried here after service in Redcliff
Funeral services for the late Mrs. Ellen Elizabeth Bardell of Redcliff were held on Thursday afternoon from St. Ambrose’ church, Redcliff, the Rev. H. S. Hamnett having charge of the service. Pallbearers were G. Worts, K. Johnson, A. Dubeau, A. E. Sanderson, W. Smith and W. Hill. Interment was made in Hillside cemetery, Medicine Hat. Mrs. Bardell was born March 7, 1852 in Hertfordshire, England. Her father was James Grey of Hertford, a building contractor, who died at the age of 36years, leaving a wife, Ann, with five small children whom she raised without parochial assistance. Her late husband, Henry Bardell, formerly a coach-builder in Lincolnshire, England, came with her to Manitoba in January 1906, later moving to Bowell, Alberta in 1909. They resided on their Bowell homestead until Mr. Bardell died in 1915, after which Mrs. Bardell remained on the homestead with her son Ted. Surviving relatives include two sons, Harry and Charles Edward (Ted); one daughter (Emma), Mrs. Harry Johnson of Redcliff; one sister, Mrs. Harry Wells of Reading, Berkshire, England; also four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, living in Alberta and British Columbia. Floral tributes Mrs. and Mrs. Harry Johnson, Mr Ted Bardell, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Bardell and Mr. and Mrs. W. Willis, Mr and Mrs. R. Johnson, Mr. Albert Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Firgel Nels and Vernon, Mirror, Alberta; Mr. and Mrs. A. Gray and family, of Vancouver, B.C.; Mrs. and Mrs. Keetley Johnson and family, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. W. Hill; Mr. and Mrs. A. Dubeau, Mrs. and Mrs. R. Cann, Mr. and Mrs. Broughton, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cann, Mr. and Mrs. S. Leach, Violet and Johnny, of Vancouver, B.C., Mr. and Mrs. Roeser and family, St. Ambrose’ W.A., S.E. Gust Stores, Social Credit Group, Redcliff; Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson. (Medicine Hat News, 4 October 1935)
Material in a funeral account in addition to the usual obituary information includes:
- names of pallbearers
- names of those sending ‘floral tributes’
- attendees from out of town
- details of the service (who read, who sang)
- place of burial (often also in the obituary)
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
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
<ref> tags exist, but no
<references/> tag was found