Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Death's in the Mail

It's Mother's Day today. And I got the usual question from my spouse, "What would you like?", which is better than happens to my sister. Her spouse likes to surprise her. She says some of the surprises are still in their boxes.

So what do I like for Mother's Day? Or birthday or Christmas for that matter?

Simple - death certificates.

My idea of an exciting gift. Yes. I know. I am weird.
Oh, sometimes I mix it up and get birth certificates, or marriage certificates. But this year it has been, yet again, death certificates.

Death certificates can be problematic. The person who fills them in doesn't always get it right, sometimes the person filling in the certificate doesn't really know the deceased. This is particularly the case with older certificates. In the past, death certificates had to be filled out by the head of the household in which the deceased died. This isn't too bad if the deceased was at home, or in the home of offspring or siblings, but what if they were visiting someone? What if that someone just thought they knew about the friend's parents, birthplace, etc? What if there was no one for the friend to ask?

If someone died in hospital it got even worse. Then it was up to the doctor to fill in the certificate, and he may or may not know and may or may not listen. If you want to see the mess that a doctor could make, have a look at my post about Laurence O'Toole.

Sometimes people deliberately lie on death certificates. They see it as an opportunity to rewrite history, for whatever reason. James Leake did this on Annie Leonard's death certificate, and I know that he knew the truth, because he knew Annie's previous husband, he knew all her children, but he chose instead to try to write Laurence O'Toole out of the family history. I'd love to know why he did this, but I guess I never will.

And then, as I have written before, there is the difference between the UK and Australia. Australia wanted a LOT more information than the UK. We don't realise how spoilt we are until we try to order a certificate from Great Britain. You can read more about this in my post on the death of George Valentine Leonard.

Even working out which is the correct person can be problematic. I was supposed to get two death certificates, but I am only getting one - for Emily O'Toole  ni Butler (it didn't arrive in time, c'est la vie). I wanted the certificate of Annie's mother, Ann Leonard ni Allen. All I get to help me choose is the name, age (if I'm lucky) and district. Nothing else. Look at NSW BMD and it is a different story. You get mother and father's names as well. That little bit extra is a huge help (providing it is filled in. Usually it is, but not always, and not always correctly, so you still have to be careful).

So I looked for Ann Leonard. There are three possibilities. But the women all have similar birth years (worked out from the ages) and they are all three in the right part of London. It will take a while to work out which one is my Ann Leonard. But when I do it will be Mother's Day all over again.

In the meantime, each to their own. I hope you had a great Mother's Day, or you helped someone else have a great Mother's Day. Me, I've got mine coming in the mail.

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