A Brief Life: Esmé Doris QUESNELL (1900 – 1902)

Today is November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, a fitting time to remember a newly discovered member of my husband’s paternal family who died as a child over a century ago.

For the past few months, Ancestry24.com, the largest online archive of South African records, has been adding images of gravestones from Maitland Cemetery in Cape Town. A recent search on the QUESNELL surname turned up a stone listing my husband’s grandmother and three of her children who had preceded her in death.

QUESNELL Gravestone - Maitland Cemetery - Cape Town Used with permission of www.Ancestry24.com

QUESNELL Gravestone – Maitland Cemetery – Cape Town
Used with permission of http://www.Ancestry24.com

The inscription reads as follows:

(Left side)

OCT. 1918 AGE 20 YEARS

(Right side)
DIED DEC. 1902


The order of the names, the inclusion of her oldest son who was buried in France, the self-effacing reference to herself at the end, and the space left after her name (presumably for her husband’s name, age and death date) all lead me to believe that Alice herself wrote the inscription before her death in 1939.

Both Victor and Richard have been the subjects of earlier posts, but Doris is a name not known to my husband and his brothers. This is not surprising, since she died four years before their father was born so he would have had no direct memory of her to pass on to his sons.

The decision by FamilySearch.org to publish records online as soon as they have been digitized and not wait for them to be indexed allowed me to follow the brief life of this child by way of her Death Record and baptismal record.

Excerpt from 1902 Death Notice for Esme Doris QUESNELL As found on www.FamilySearch.org

Excerpt from 1902 Death Record for Esme Doris QUESNELL
Source: http://www.FamilySearch.org

The Death Record lists her given names as Esmé Doris, although she must have been known to her family by her middle name since that is the only name on the gravestone. Sadly, she died just two days before Christmas, after being sick with diphtheria for six days. Her father, Joseph Robert QUESNELL, reported her death the same day, probably because the government offices would have been scheduled to be closed over the holidays and a certificate would have been required for burial.

The couple’s oldest child had been born in Port Nolloth in 1898, but at the time of Doris’s death in 1902, the family was living in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town. The browsable records at FamilySearch for the Anglican parish of St. Mary the Virgin show that she was baptized there on 18 Jan 1901. Her godparents were her maternal grandmother Sarah WURGES and her father’s sister Wilhelmina and her husband Sydney [Smith] JONES. (Doris’s parents had stood as godparents for Sydney and Wilhelmina’s daughter the week before.)

Excerpt from Jan 1901 baptismal records for Esme Doris QUESNELL  and her cousin Iris Baden Powell JONES St Mary the Virgin Parish, Woodstock, Cape of Good Hope Province, South Africa Found at FamilySearch.org

Excerpt from Jan 1901 baptismal records for Esme Doris QUESNELL
and her cousin Iris Baden Powell JONES
St Mary the Virgin Parish, Woodstock, Cape of Good Hope Province, South Africa
Source: http://www.FamilySearch.org

The baptismal record gives Doris’s birthdate as 4 Dec 1899, but her age of two as shown on both her death notice and her gravestone would mean that she was born 4 Dec 1900. It is doubtful that both sources of her age at the time of her death would have been in error. It is more likely that the mistake was made by the parish clerk, especially since baptisms were often not recorded until several days later.

Perhaps the clerk mixed up Doris’s birth year with that of her cousin in the previous entry, who was baptized several days before. However, other sources indicate that her cousin was also born in 1900. If the parents stated “last year” instead of naming the specific year, the clerk might have made the common beginning-of-the-year error and considered that it was still the year 1900 and that “last year” meant 1899. Certainly the clerk was not meticulous in recording the facts; in three different places in the two entries, he spells “Quesnell” as “Quesness.”

The poignancy of Doris’s death so near Christmas and at such a young age is compounded by the fact that Alice was pregnant at the time of her daughter’s death; she gave birth to a son in January 1903. For this reason, might the doctor have forbidden Alice to enter the sickroom? Even if she was able to nurse her daughter, what would have been her fears for her own health and that of her unborn child?

If Alice had indeed determined the layout and the order of names on the family gravestone, placing Doris right above her own name would seem to signify how close to her heart she held her daughter.

Research Notes

Alice’s husband, Joseph Robert QUESNELL, remarried and died in 1965. According to church records, he is also buried in Maitland Cemetery. It has yet to be determined if his grave is located with those of the rest of his family. Ancestry24.com states that it abstracted information from the cemetery’s register; however, it displays this information only for Alice.

FamilySearch.org has improved its browse feature considerably since I last used it a few months ago. Formerly, the site would allow just a few views of images before it froze up or returned only partial images; this time I viewed nearly one hundred before the site froze. The images also load in much less time, closer to the time it takes me to scroll through a microfilm. However, due to the method of recording deaths in South Africa, locating Doris’s death notice still took nearly two hours.

In searching for Doris’s Death Record, it’s apparent that most deaths around the same time were of young children. Although diptheria was the cause of death for a few other children, there did not appear to be an epidemic of the disease in 1902.

Fortunately, in 1901 Woodstock had only one parish for what was then known as the Church of the Province of South Africa, now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The age of baptism varies widely in that denomination; hence, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether the clerk erroneously recorded the birth years for Doris and/or her cousin.

The burial records for St. Mary the Virgin parish do not yet appear on FamilySearch.

In contrast to the brief life of Doris, according to an online tree at Ancestry.com, her cousin Iris appears to have married a man named BROWN, lived to be 99 and died in Kent, England.

Next Steps

1) Contact the Maitland Cemetery to establish the location of the grave of Joseph Robert QUESNELL.

2) Check back regularly with FamilySearch to see if it has indexed the Woodstock St. Mary burial records.

This entry was posted in BROWN, JONES, QUESNELL, WÜRGES and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Brief Life: Esmé Doris QUESNELL (1900 – 1902)

  1. Heather says:

    Brilliant article. My grandmother was Beatrice Woodland was born in Port Nolloth I’m 1898 with her 10 siblings and later the family moved to Woodstock. I would no be surprised if the family knew one another?

    • Mary Beth says:

      Heather, Thank you for your kind words. The two families must have known each other, since both Beatrice and my husband’s uncle Victor were baptized at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Port Nolloth. If you click on the tag and select the post “Port Nolloth Pastor,” you’ll see a photo of the tiny church.

  2. BetsC says:

    ah . . . such a sad report – but . . . we have another person whose existence is now recorded for your family (well, Colin’s . . . but it’s ‘yours’ . . . not just because of the in-law relationship, but because you are making it yours with your work) . . . so that she can be cherished . . . gone too soon – b

  3. Pingback: Only Minutes of Life: QUESNELL Daughter — 1914 | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

  4. Pingback: Cemetery Discoveries: H. WÜRGES and H.A. & E.M. QUESNELL | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

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