In an earlier post about The Cambrian Index and its value in researching the POOLE family in Swansea, I mentioned that a death notice in 1856 for Elizabeth POOLE mistakenly listed her as the “wife of Charles POOLE, tailor, Little Wind Street.” Prior research into vital records and censuses led me to conclude that in fact she was the wife of William POOLE, tailor, with whom she had two sons, Charles Frederick and Edwin Manley, both textile dyers.
Frequent advertisements in The Cambrian list 3 Wind Street as the address of Charles’s business. Elizabeth and William were probably living with Charles at the time of her death, and it was easy to see how the newspaper might have substituted the better-known name of the son for that of the father. I ordered the death certificate with the expectation that it would list the correct name of Elizabeth’s husband.
Those who have been doing family tree research for some time approach death certificates warily, considering them clues rather than proof for anything other than the death date and the cause of death as attested to by a doctor. Even if the informant was a member of the family, she might not know all of the other information requested or be too upset to convey it accurately. Often enough, the information is provided by a third party, such as a representative of the mortuary responsible for preparing the body for burial, who knows little or nothing about the deceased.
Elizabeth’s certificate provides details missing from the newspaper notice: the specific date of death and the specific address of 3 Little Wind Street, confirming that she died at her son’s residence/place of business. But the certificate also lists her “occupation” as “Wife of Charles Poole, Tailor,” which indicates that The Cambrian obtained its information directly from the death certificate and not from a family member or other person who knew the deceased. It seems likely that the newspaper periodically sent an employee to the registrar’s office to look for recent births, marriages and deaths.
Why would this important information be incorrect? The identity of the informant, Ann MACARTY, seems to provide the answer. Although she was present at the death, she doesn’t appear to be a family member since that surname has not been found in any other records. Mary ELLIS, the third wife of Charles Frederick POOLE, would have been busy with the care of the seven children in the household, who ranged in age from two to 17; she might also have played an active part in the textile-dyeing business. Ann was probably brought in to nurse Elizabeth, even if only during the last four days noted on the certificate, when congestion of the lungs would have made full-time care of the sick woman advisable.
Ann, in her brief stay with the family, could easily have thought that both father and son were named Charles and that both of them were tailors. She signed the death certificate with an X, which indicates she wouldn’t have been able to read the sign on the front of Charles’s business to verify his occupation. (If the living quarters were approached via a separate entrance, she would not have had the opportunity to see what business was being carried on.)
Reporting a death might not have been part of her usual duties but, given the circumstances of the busy household and the time of death, she could likely have been the only person present when Elizabeth died. As someone with little education, she might have been somewhat intimidated by the procedure in the registrar’s office and therefore nervous enough to make a mistake about the name and occupation even if she knew the correct information.
On the plus side, such an inaccuracy prompts a careful researcher to review all of the research surrounding the event in question, thus providing an opportunity to identify missing information, re-analyze the facts, and discover sources that have been published since the original research was done.