Deaths of Mother & Son: Alice (1939) & Richard John (1926)

My husband and his brothers never knew their grandmother Alice QUESNELL (born WURGES); she died 15 Jun 1939, two years before any of them were born.

Her husband Joseph Robert filed the Death Notice on 23 Jun 1939. He had been present at her death at The Monastery, Sea Point, Cape Province, South Africa. He listed her age as “56 years, 10 months.”

A Death Notice is a document required for the administration of an estate. Although it yields much information of interest to the genealogist, it does not give the cause of death, which is only included on the death certificate. When questioned, the family thought that Alice might have had diabetes.

The recently published database “South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths. 1895-1972” on  provides detailed data about both her death and that of Richard John, one of her sons.

Alice’s death certificate, filed 22 Jun 1939, lists the immediate cause of death as a “Cerebral Haemorrhage due to Arterio Sclerosis” six days before. The doctor, I. WAYNIK, was careful to note that she had also suffered from the following conditions for the previous ten years: diabetes, myocarditis, chronic nephritis, and albuminuric retinitis.

Extract from Death Certificate for Alice (WURGES) QUESNELL
Filed 22 Jun 1939 – Source:

After researching the list of Alice’s conditions at various online medical sites, it would appear that diabetes might well have been the underlying cause. The fact that the family remembered that she had diabetes rather than heart trouble is perhaps slight proof that this disease predated the others.

Alice had been preceded in death by two of her three sons. Victor Robert, 20, had died in France of war-related injuries in 1918 (see earlier post). Her middle son, Richard John, 23, had died on 14 Sep 1926, and it is the cause of his death which raises questions when viewed in conjunction with that of his mother.

The Death Notice filed by his father on 27 Sep 1929 contains important details: Richard John had been born in Woodstock, Cape Province; he was a junior draughtsman who lived with his parents; he had died at home.

His death certificate shows a less complicated medical history than his mother’s; according to the doctor, R. FORSYTH, Richard John died of “Bright’s disease.”

Extract of Death Certificate for Richard John QUESNELL
Filed 14 Sep 1926 – Source:

Bright’s disease was at one time the term used for acute or chronic nephritis or inflammation of the kidneys.

The causes of acute nephritis can range from infections like scarlet fever, even if they occur earlier in life, to parasites like schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, which occurs in water supplies in less-developed areas of Africa. It is found most often in rural populations whose water supplies are contaminated with the fresh-water snail that carries the disease, but it can also be picked up by someone wading in a pond or swimming in a lake while on a recreational outing.

Chronic nephritis, which was one of Alice’s ailments, usually occurs secondary to another condition, and diabetics are often subject to it. Might Richard John’s nephritis have also been caused by diabetes?

The death certificate leaves some room for doubt as to which form of kidney disease he had. “Duration of the Disease or of Last Illness” is given as “one week.” Does this mean that he had shown no symptoms of any disease until just a week before his death? Or that he’d only become seriously ill, possibly from an ongoing condition, one week prior? Might the two doctors who treated mother and son have interpreted this question differently? In both cases, the informants were not the doctors themselves, but employees of the mortuary who gave their “Qualification” as “causing burial.” Did they also submit documents filled out by the doctors or did they just read them into the record with the possibility of omissions?

And finally, might diabetes have run in Alice’s family, making it more likely that her son inherited a genetic predisposition to the disease?

None of these questions can be answered definitively so long after the events and with the information at hand. However, if and when other members of Alice’s family are found, their death certificates may hold additional clues.

Research Notes

Alice’s death certificate gives the street address of The Monastery as High Level Road. However, even with this detailed information, I could find no mention of the institution online. I am assuming that it might have been a hospice run by a religious order.

The official title on both of the death certificates is “Form of Information of a Death” (“Informatievorm van Sterfgeval” in Afrikaans). However, I have used the term “death certificate” throughout since it is in more common usage and more readily understandable at a glance than the longer title.

The  site invited me to “browse through 2,216,270 images” in the Cape Civil Deaths database. It is considered a “searchable” database, which means it has been indexed only at a high level, in this instance by location within year (through 1952, not the promised 1972). For Cape Town in 1926, that meant browsing through only 2,891 records. My first guess of 1800 as a record number which might be in September was lucky; it was dated September 1! However, the ensuing page-by-page browsing took two hours to view 68 additional pages, mainly because the site would “choke” after displaying six to ten images and refuse to display the next image, requiring me to sign off and/or restart my computer. Although the site’s support team were responsive to e-mails, none of their suggestions for correcting the problem worked. Depending on your budget, schedule and patience level, it may be worthwhile to rent the microfilms you wish to search. In South Africa, check with the largest LDS FamilySearch Center in your area, which may have the microfilms on hand.

Source citation for the death certificate for Alice (WURGES) QUESNELL: “South
Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths. 1895-1972” images, FamilySearch ( accessed 23 Jul 2012), 1939 > Cape Town >
image 1890 of 4000, Alice Quesnell, 1939; citing South Africa Registrar
of Births, Marriages and Deaths, National Archives of South Africa, Pretoria.

Source citation for the death certificate for Richard John QUESNELL: “South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths. 1895-1972” images, FamilySearch ( accessed 23 Jul 2012), 1926 > Cape Town > image 1868 of 2891, Richard John Quesnell, 1926; citing South Africa Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, National Archives of South Africa, Pretoria.

To Do List

1) Ask a researcher in South Africa to find The Monastery in the 1939 telephone directory or business directory.

2) Find death certificates for both of Alice’s parents, Hermann and Sarah Maria WURGES, to identify the cause of death. Ask a researcher in South Africa to find their dates of death in probate records.

This entry was posted in FORSYTH, QUESNELL, WAYNIK, WÜRGES and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Deaths of Mother & Son: Alice (1939) & Richard John (1926)

  1. Pingback: A Brief Life: Esmé Doris QUESNELL (1900 – 1902) | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

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