Only Minutes of Life: QUESNELL Daughter — 1914

Those of us who’ve been avidly watching the British series “Call the Midwife” might believe that we know a lot about giving birth at home at a time and place when this was the common method. Despite some dire living conditions in the area of postwar London featured in the series, most of the babies are born alive and well, thanks to the skills of the professional midwives.

However, my most recent finding about my husband’s father’s family has raised questions about home births that didn’t have a happy outcome. A Death Record from the Cape Province of South Africa shows that my husband’s paternal grandmother gave birth to a baby girl on 21 Jan 1914. Sadly, the infant died of “congenital weakness” within “1/4 hour” of being born. She was given no name and was listed only as “Child of Joseph QUESNELL — Female.”

Excerpt from 1914 Death Notice for Infant QUESNELL Source:

Excerpt from 1914 Death Record  for Infant QUESNELL

What was “congenital weakness?” It seems to have been a generic term for a number of conditions that modern medicine would probably be able to identify more precisely. The Birth Injury Guide website lists seven specific conditions, but concludes with a description of hypotonia, “a medical condition marked by weak and/or limp movements, and … often referred to as ‘floppy infant’ syndrome.” Two causes that might apply to this infant are genetic disorders and birth trauma or injury.

Regardless of the cause, there was probably nothing that could have been done for such an infant born at home in 1914. Even if the birth had taken place in a hospital and the child had survived, she might well have done so with serious disabilities at a time when there were few treatments for such defects.

It’s not clear whether Dr. Forsyth, named on the Death Record, was present for the birth or was called when it appeared there might be difficulties with the birth or after the baby had died. Since Alice had given birth several times before, she might have been attended by a midwife, at least in the early stages of labor.

For a family historian, other questions push to the fore.

Where were the other three children during the birth and its aftermath? Victor was 15 years old, Richard was eleven, and my husband’s father, Harold, was only seven. Did their father take them to be looked after by a neighbor or a relative once labor started? Or were they told to stay in their rooms until called to see their new sibling? The Death Notice doesn’t state the time of death; perhaps they were asleep during their mother’s labor.

Were there other births in the nearly eight years between the births of Harold and this infant? It seems likely although no records have yet been found for additional children. Alice WÜRGES was 32 or 33 in 1914 so she would have been in her prime child-bearing years before then. Given the spacing of two to three years between prior births, I would expect to find at least one other birth during this period.

Where is the infant buried? According to the Death Notice, she was to be buried in Maitland Cemetery, but she is not included on the common gravestone (see photo) with her brothers and her mother.

What effect might this death — and possibly those of other younger siblings — have had on Harold? I don’t recall my father-in-law ever talking about other siblings, even his older brothers, and always thought him to be an only child. Perhaps these early memories had faded by the time I met him. Perhaps such memories were too painful to be mentioned to a newcomer to the family. Then, too, certain topics were not addressed so openly by South Africans of his age and courtliness as they were by Americans of the time.

Alas, as too often happens, the chance for asking such questions evaporated years ago, leaving us with only our imaginings.

Next Steps

1) Ask researcher Anne Clarkson in Cape Town to obtain the burial cards for the QUESNELL family in Maitland Cemetery.

2) Ask my mother about the circumstances surrounding the home birth of her youngest sibling when she was nearly five years old.

Posted in QUESNELL, WÜRGES | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Provisional Findings: The QUESNELL Family in Port Nolloth

Perhaps the symbols used in genealogy to indicate various events in an ancestor’s life should be expanded to include one that means “provisional,” which can be used in conjunction with any other symbol to show that more work needs to be done to find proof of the event. Until then, the word “provisional” in the title for this post is meant to alert readers that research continues, even as I share what I’ve found so far about the QUESNELL family in Port Nolloth.

The Children and Grandchildren of
Richard John QUESNELL (1836 – 1917)
& Caroline Jane MCGARRY (ca. 1837 – 1914)
Married 6 Jan 1862 in Cape Town

(1) Elizabeth (1862 – ?)

(2) Caroline Jane (1865 – ?) = Henry Josiah COOPER (ca. 1864 – ?)

Arthur Richard (2 Jun 1890 – 13 Jun 1890)
Herbert Henry (19 Sep 1891 – bef. Oct 1893)
Christopher (27 Oct 1893 – 29 Mar 1894)
Edgar Ernest (20 Jan 1895 – ?)
Gwendoline (31 Dec 1896 – ?)
Gertrude Alice (27 Jan 1899 – 7 Feb 1899)
Olive (21 Mar 1900 – ?)
Edward (5 May 1902 – 5 May 1902)
William (23 Nov 1904 – 25 Nov 1904)

3) Elizabeth Mary (1869 – 1937) = William JANSEN (ca. 1855 – 1915)

Elizabeth Mary (21 Jun 1890 – bef. Sep 1937)
Minnie (4 Aug 1892 – bef. Sep 1937)
Richard John (11 Feb 1894 – bef. Sep 1937)
Edgar Ernest (13 Jan 1895 – ?)
Edith Gladys (6 Jan 1898 – ?)
Arthur Alexander (? – ?)

4) Harriet Annie (1873 – ?) = John HAMER (? – ?)

5) Wilhelmina Rebecca (1875 – ?) = Sydney Smith JONES (1866 – ?)

David Evan (5 Apr 1895 – ?)
Iris Baden Powell (24 Mar 1899 – 7 Feb 1999)
Vivien (1902 – ?)
Claude Redvers (1906 – 1999)

6) Joseph Robert (1877 – 1965) = Alice WÜRGES (ca. 1882 – 1939)

Victor Robert (7 Mar 1898 – 23 Oct 1918)
Esme Doris (4 Dec 1899 – 23 Dec 1902)
Richard John (Jan 1903 – 14 Sep 1926)
Harold (8 Mar 1906 – 29 Aug 1981)

Research Notes

As always, specific sources are available; simply send a comment requesting them.

(1) Elizabeth — It is assumed that Elizabeth died, probably in Cape Town, since she is not found in the marriage or burial records for St. Andrew’s in Port Nolloth. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town has no records of burials. Although church records from St. Andrew’s show that her sisters served as godparents and witnesses to marriages, no one I can identify as the original Elizabeth is mentioned. Her younger sister Mary added the name Elizabeth at some point to her baptismal name. Given the ages of those who usually stood as sponsors to baptisms and witnesses to marriages, I am assuming that Elizabeth Mary is the person shown in the records.

(2 ) Caroline Jane — The civil birth registration for their son Edgar Ernest gives a marriage date of 2 Oct 1887 for the couple, but there is no record of their marriage in the St. Andrew’s records, and the civil marriage records for Port Nolloth have not yet been published on FamilySearch. All of their children’s births and some of their deaths are found in the St. Andrew’s records.

(3) Elizabeth Mary — Marriage 21 May 1889. Only Edgar Ernest, Edith Gladys, and Arthur Alexander are listed on their mother’s September 1937 Death Notice. I have assumed that the other children died before that date.

(4) Harriet Annie — The St. Andrew’s records show that the couple married 7 Dec 1895, but no children are found in the Port Nolloth records. Harriet Annie might have married a second time, but I’ve not yet searched the records for proof.

(5) Wilhelmina Rebecca — Marriage 4 Mar 1894. The civil marriage record shows that William could not sign his name, which was recorded as William JOHNSON, and that his mark was attested to by Richard QUESNELL and Harriet Annie QUESNELL.

(6) Joseph Robert — Joseph and Alice were married 4 Oct 1897. Their oldest child was born in Port Nolloth; the other children were born in Woodstock and Somerset West, although not all of the baptism records have been found.

Posted in COOPER, HAMER, JANSEN, JONES, MCGARRY, QUESNELL, WÜRGES | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Finding A Daughter: Caroline Jane QUESNELL (b. 1865)

Focusing too intently on finding “vital” information, such as birth and death dates and places or the names of parents, can cause one to treat ancillary facts as “white noise.” If I had rigorously examined such facts on her mother’s death record, I might have discovered Caroline Jane QUESNELL much sooner.

As it was, I only learned of her existence and that of her older sister from the baptism records of St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Cape Town (see earlier post). She would have been too young to have married before her father, Richard John QUESNELL, moved his family to Port Nolloth sometime before November 1877. had published records for four of her siblings who had married in Port Nolloth, including my husband’s grandfather, Joseph Robert. I assumed those records were complete and that Caroline Jane had probably died before the move.

However, just as I was preparing a post based on this assumption, Christine in England e-mailed several documents, one of which showed that Caroline Jane had married a man named Henry Josiah COOPER. This led me to re-examine the records.

It turns out that I had unknowingly encountered Henry Josiah as the informant on the death registration for his wife’s mother, Caroline Jane MCGARRY, who died 14 Dec 1914.

Extract from the death registration of Caroline Jane MCGARRY - d. 14 Dec 1914 - Port Nolloth Source:

Extract from the death registration
of Caroline Jane MCGARRY
d. 14 Dec 1914 – Port Nolloth

When I first found the record several years ago, I thought that the situation was odd. The  death was not reported by the widowed husband, but by someone named H. HOOPER, an “occupier” of the house. A boarder who happened to be present at the time of death? I shrugged and quickly moved on to more exciting and seemingly germane facts.

Experienced genealogists are undoubtedly shaking their heads at my shortcomings in analyzing this record. The surname might look like HOOPER with a flourish on both legs of the H. However, the first letter of the signature is also an H, but with no flourish on the second leg. Hence, the last name does not begin with H. Two visible periods separate initials, indicating that the informant had two given names. Now that I know those two names, the signature quickly resolves itself into “H. J. COOPER” (although I think Henry’s teachers should have drilled him on making a more definite curve for the letter C).

Whatever the informant’s name, it was one I hadn’t seen in my research, which should have led me to investigate further. I did not even ask myself the obvious question: Who is the most logical person other than the widowed spouse to report a death? A child, a child’s spouse, or some other close relative. My assumption about the three known married daughters in the QUESNELL family, none of whose husbands was named COOPER, blinded me to the possibility that another daughter existed and that she and her husband lived with her elderly parents.

Too often we grumble about not having all of the information we’d like about a family we’re researching. If we scrutinized every bit of data in their file, might we not find that we have enough to keep us busy for many hours? At the very least, I shall now be training a magnifying glass on every signature I find.

Posted in COOPER, MCGARRY, QUESNELL | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment