Well, I’m now 3 for 3 on successfully receiving copies of early 1900s death certificates that I’ve requested, with the most recent from Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this 1929 death certificate for Caroline Richter (view/download JPG) only has one piece of new information and just leads to more questions.
I was hoping to document Caroline’s birth date, birth city, parents’ names, and cause of death. Here’s what I found, with important facts highlighted in the image above:
- Birth date: not listed. Her age is noted simply as 88, so she was likely born in 1841 but possibly in 1840. I already knew that from her obituary.
- Birthplace: Germany. So not helpful! Did her children not know in which city she was born, or did the registrar think that just listing the country was sufficient?
- Name and birthplace of father: Name “cannot be learned” but he was born in Germany.
- Name and birthplace of mother: Name “cannot be learned” but she was born in Germany.
- Cause of death: “Carbon monoxide poisoning, acute. Illuminating gas. Accidental, Found dead on floor of room.” Fascinating new information! The obituary stated that she had died after a brief illness.
- Place of death: 13 No. Summer Street, Adams, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Which is the home of her daughter (my great-great-grandmother) Clara Postler.
- Length of residence in city or town where death occurred: 3 days. So she had just been visiting Clara for a few days.
- Residence (usual place of abode): Holyoke, Mass.
- Place of burial: Southview Cememtery in North Adams, Mass.
- Date of burial: August 12, 1929.
Overall, I didn’t get much of the information I was hoping for. I still don’t know which area of Germany she was from, nor do I have her parents’ names or any additional geographic clues. I’m going to have to look for that information from other sources.
The new information I gleaned from this death certificate definitely lends itself to a fascinating old family story. Poor Caroline died from carbon monoxide poisoning! And worse, it was in the home of her daughter whom she had just come to visit.
Perhaps Caroline was not feeling well (the obituary stated that she had a brief illness) and retired early to her room for the night. Did the gas lamp have a leak? Or did Caroline extinguish the flame but not turn off the valve completely? However it happened, I can only imagine the horror that her daughter must have faced when she found her mother dead on the floor. And what sort of reaction would Clara’s sister Marie Gartner have had? After all, Caroline was living with Marie in Holyoke and was just visiting Clara in Adams. Because of the nature of the death, did Marie resent her sister for any perceived negligence? Was Clara overwhelmed with guilt?
I could be creating some drama here, but I think it’s important to remember that our ancestors were human just like us and not necessarily immune to those sorts of feelings. Then again, at age 88, Caroline was pretty old for the era, so maybe everyone was a lot more accepting of the situation than I’m postulating.
So where do I go from here in learning more about Caroline Richter? Well, luckily I know that she had four children who all lived in the same region so I can do some more digging in town and church records to learn about them and perhaps find some new leads. It’s amazing how much can be learned from small newspaper articles. The most practical next step is to locate Clara’s German birth record. I know her birth date and will use that as a starting point when I find records from the Kunzendorf/Konczyce region.
I’m also going to take those two instances of “Cannot be learned” as a challenge rather than a stopping point in learning about Caroline’s parents. Maybe it couldn’t be learned in 1929… but that was before the Internet!